By Monday evening, the seafood restaurants on the Mobile Bay causeway -- along with seemingly every hotel lobby in the area -- will be overrun with people wearing NFL team logos on their polo shirts.
Tuesday morning’s weigh-in officially kicks off Senior Bowl week in Mobile, Ala., and less officially, the NFL draft season.
The delineation isn’t as clear as it once was: The East-West Shrine Bowl and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, both held this past weekend, are gaining prominence, as more and more of the national fan base ascends (or descends, if you like) into draft-geek status.
But this is still the event that tends to draw more NFL general managers and head coaches, and more media attention. When the draft commences, April 23 in Las Vegas, you will hear repeated references to how such-and-such a prospect fared during Senior Bowl week.
The predraft process is especially important this year for the Eagles, who expect to have 10 selections in April, equal to their 2018 and 2019 draft hauls combined. The Eagles haven’t selected as many as 10 players since 2011, when they made 11 picks in what turned out to be a disaster of a draft (Danny Watkins, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Curtis Marsh, Casey Matthews, and Alex Henery were the first five picks, preceding Jason Kelce and Dion Lewis, the only players on the Eagles’ list still active in the league.)
This is shaping up as an Eagles offseason of change, overall, with 15 pending unrestricted free agents and current coaching vacancies at offensive coordinator, wide receivers coach, defensive line coach, and defensive backs coach.
We don’t know how free agency might alter the picture, but wide receiver and cornerback certainly are key positions to be upgraded, looking at the current roster, followed by linebacker and safety.
It’s important to note that if the Eagles make a first-round selection at one of those spots, that player is unlikely to be someone they tracked this week in Mobile. Over the past decade or so, the Senior Bowl has become a victim of its name. Increasingly, the best college talent comes out early, after a junior or redshirt sophomore season. The Senior Bowl only takes underclassmen if they have graduated.
So you won’t be hearing about the exploits this week of speedy Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs, mocked to the Eagles in ESPN draft expert Todd McShay’s first attempt at parsing the first round. (McShay did this before the order was set, and had the Eagles picking 18th overall instead of 21st, where they ended up.) Ruggs just finished his junior season, hasn’t graduated, and doesn’t turn 21 until Friday. Ditto Ruggs’ universally lauded teammate, Jerry Jeudy, but the Eagles aren’t drafting Jeudy anyway unless Howie Roseman engineers some sort of huge first-round move-up trade. Eight of the top 10 draft-bound wide receivers, according to ESPN’s Mel Kiper, are underclassmen.
If the Eagles go corner in the first round, there is a name from Senior Bowl week to consider: LSU’s Kristian Fulton. Fulton has an interesting backstory, as a five-star prospect who served a year of what originally was going to be a two-year NCAA suspension, for tampering with a urine sample in a test for performance-enhancing drugs.
The tester, after catching Fulton trying to cheat, obtained a non-tampered sample. It tested positive only for marijuana – not what the NCAA was even looking at, which raises the question of exactly how smart Fulton is. He did return to the field for two subsequent stellar years for the recently crowned national champions.
Bear in mind that the Eagles are looking to draft nine players after the first round, and some of those guys definitely will turn out to have been on Senior Bowl rosters. Speedy Ohio State wide receiver K.J. Hill right now is often pegged as a second-day pick in a deep pool of WR prospects, as is USC’s Michael Pittman, though Pittman doesn’t offer the burst the Eagles need.
After Fulton, none of the Senior Bowl corners really projects as a first- or second-day pick, though we’re early in the process. The second-best Senior Bowl DB prospect might be Cal safety Ashtyn Davis, who walked on and became a star, while also winning the Pac-12 110-meter hurdles title. There is another intriguing safety, Kyle Dugger, from tiny, Division II Lenoir-Rhyne, in Hickory, N.C. Scouts will want to see how Dugger performs against the big-school guys.
Given the importance that Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz places on the pass rush, you can never discount the possibility of an early-round pick on the defensive line. Edge rusher Jabari Zuniga from Florida currently is touted as a first- or second-day pick, and five of Kiper’s top 10 defensive tackles have accepted Senior Bowl invitations.
Temple is represented this week by center Matt Hennessy, Penn State by linebacker Cam Brown and defensive tackle Robert Windsor.