One of the first major offseason items for NFL teams is a trip to Mobile, Alabama for the Reese's Senior Bowl. Over 100 of the nation's top seniors, and a handful of juniors (graduates, of course), descend on Alabama for the opportunity to make an impression on all 32 NFL teams. I would say they're looking to make a first impression, but the scouts that have been on the road have seen, met and studied these players multiple times throughout this and other seasons.
Even with that background knowledge of these players, the Senior Bowl becomes a valued trip for all NFL teams for a number of reasons. First and foremost, those on hand get a chance to see the best of the best face the best of the best. It's all-star like talent put into an NFL work week like setting. Some players use the week in Mobile to enhance their profiles and no one did that more than former Pitt star defensive tackle Aaron Donald in 2014. That was my first Senior Bowl and I just remember Donald absolutely wrecking the best offensive linemen. Because he dominated Senior Bowl talent as he did in the ACC as a senior, it just took his draft status on a steady climb all the way to the number 13 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Secondly, each team gets to interview players of interest down in Mobile prior to spending time with prospects at the NFL Combine. The earlier a team establishes a relationship with a player, the better off all will be when it comes time to turn in the card on draft weekend. Throughout the weeks I've been in Mobile, I consistently see players and scouts and coaches co-mingling, even if it's just a handshake, a greeting and a "we'll catch up later" sort of thing.
Third, this is really the last event before the true grind of the draft offseason begins for teams. It's a work week and there's a ton to do, but teams like to take some time to chow down on some Wintzell's seafood/bread pudding and Panini Pete's beignets, in addition to a trip across the street to Veet's.
This is one of those weeks where you'll always remember the players you saw first, so to speak, in Mobile. I remember the complete chaos Donald brought to the 2014 Senior Bowl and what he's now become in the NFL. In 2015, I will never forget the name D.J. Reader because someone kept screaming it in my ear as I watched the soon-to-be Texan dominate offensive linemen with ease. I will never forget seeing former UCF star linebacker Shaquem Griffin put on a show throughout the week in Mobile. Last year, Ohio State wide receiver Terry McLaurin was a late add to the Senior Bowl roster but once he got down to Mobile, he was the best receiver by a mile and then had one of the best rookie seasons in recent memory. Those that have been to the Senior Bowl all have a moment, memory or a player etched in their minds that they'll never forget. As they say, it all starts in Mobile and I can't wait.
The Houston Texans roster in photos.