With apologies to the East-West Shrine Game, Senior Bowl week is when my excitement for draft prospects and hidden gems really starts up. There is a great mix of talent here with top players able to compete away from more heralded underclassmen, and impress their way high up draft boards.
Two of last year's stars were WR/RB Dexter McCluster and OG Mike Iupati, both of whom I coveted for the Rams at various points. McCluster showed unprecedented playmaking-ability-per-pound and shot up from a fringe fourth round pick to the 36th overall selection by the Chiefs; Iupati showed enough versatility and raw power to rise from an early projection in the mid-30s (which would have made him a nice target for the Rams) to 17th overall (and second offensive lineman taken) by the 49ers.
This year is our first on the Bloguin network, and we're pleased to find our very own neighborhood draft experts at OptimumScouting.com (@OptimumScouting on Twitter), and thrilled that they will be in Mobile all week long, tweeting and blogging from the press conferences, the practices, and the game itself. To prepare us for this goldmine of pre-draft intel, here is a quick Q&A with Erik Galko of Optimum Scouting.
My questions, his answers, and a look at where the Rams might be scouting this week, after the break:
RamsHerd: First off, give us an introduction. How long has Optimum Scouting been around?
OptimumScouting: Optimum Scouting as a professional scouting service in only in it's 2nd year, but as a website, we've been scouting as NFLHouse.com and OS for around 6 years now.
RH: Is the Senior Bowl an annual trip for you? And how important is it, in your mind, to these players' draft stock?
OS: This is actually a first for me at the Senior Bowl. I'm going to be busy all week. It can be very important for prospects at the game. It give seniors a chance to show how they fit into pro schemes, puts all the talent on relatively equal playing field, and gives scouts a chance to see how these players practice and interview, both important to see work ethic and character issues.
RH: What's most important, or what do you look for most at these exhibitions? Measurables? Playing techniques in practice? Intangibles (i.e. how they react to scrutiny, performance in interviews)?
OS: I think technique and the overall nuances of the game are big during the week. I've watched the practices on TV and talked to scouts, and for the most part, they've seen these guys more than enough to know their athletic ability, and the Combine will test the 40, Shuttle, etc. It allows for no size or college system issues and sometimes becomes a great learning experience for these players to see exactly what scouts, NFL teams want them to do.
RH: The Rams have big needs at CB, WLB, WR (though Julio Jones, an underclassman, is first on the wish list) RG and DT. Who should we watch?
OS: I think if Julio Jones is there, they'll pull the trigger. It's too perfect of a fit. If he's gone, I think Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA is an option, though Spagnuolo is known for not needing elite-talent OLB for his scheme. I think it may come down to more DL help, where Spagnuolo loves to have plenty of pass rushers. Quite possiblly it could be a DL like JJ Watt or a DE from the Senior Bowl such as Allen Bailey or Cameron Jordan if they trade down.
RH: How does this draft class compare to years past? Strongest & weakest positions, in your mind?
OS: I think the RB class is very strong. 12 underclassmen declared, and only 12 RBs were drafted last year. I would say that only 3-4 of the RBs at the Senior Bowl will be drafted. Also, I like WR this year, Only Green and Julio are clear cut #1 WRs, I think the 2nd-4th has plenty of #2 and slot WRs. And finally I like DT this year. Not many true nose tackles, but a lot of impressive pass rushers and fits at the 3-4 DE spot.
Many thanks to Erik for taking the time to answer these questions, be sure to add him to your must-follow list for this week's Senior Bowl festivities. Also, I'm told to look out for an Optimum Scouting interview with Sam Bradford, scheduled in February! Great stuff from a fellow Bloguin-er.