By Rob Staton
A lot of negativity has surrounded the decision by some prospects not to attend this week's Senior Bowl. Charles Brown (OT, USC), Trent Williams (OT, Oklahoma), Brandon LaFell (WR, LSU) and Jerry Hughes (DE, TCU) are amongst the no-shows. There are some more obvious absentees - but nobody really expected Ndamukong Suh (DT, Nebraska) to turn up.
Critics have labelled it a 'missed opportunity' that prospects like Brown, Williams et al haven't landed for work outs. Personally, I'm not surprised. They are the guys with the most to lose. It's a unique environment, around people you've never played with before. You're working out for new coaches with a lot of press and scouts watching on. The chances of you putting in a poor display are more likely than you perform lights out and boost your stock. Very few prospects come out of a senior bowl with that kind of bonus. I can think of two in recent years - Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and B.J. Raji. Neither entered work outs with a big reputation or bigger expectations.
Of the seniors drafted in the top ten last year, only Raji attended the Senior Bowl. No Aaron Curry, no Eugene Monroe, no Jason Smith. Michael Oher did attend and he ended up tumbling down many teams draft boards after an inconsistent showing. In the strange environment, Oher didn't look comfortable. Teams who had seen a dominant, skillful blocker for Ole Miss began to find faults. Interviews went badly and by the time the combine rolled around - the Smith's, Monroe's etc had over-taken Oher as the top ranked linemen in the draft.
At the moment, Charles Brown has a late first/early second round grade. He weighed around 280-290lbs at USC, which isn't big enough for the NFL. If he turned up at 290lbs in Mobile and then didn't perform too well, it would linger in scouts minds. Brown now has a month to work out and get bigger before the combine, when running and benching are his only tasks - not blocking for many watching eyes during scrimmages. It's the same for Williams, LaFell and Hughes. They aren't likely to enhance their stock - they have more to lose than gain. Nobody's criticising the 'sure things' for not appearing - Suh, Okung etc. What's the difference? They're all protecting their stock with little to gain. It's just that some guys are realistic top ten picks and others are aware that they're stock might have peaked lower down the board.
It's admirable that Tim Tebow is there - good for him. That's the competitor that he is. However, all we're hearing for scouts, journalists and onlookers is how poorly he's performing taking snaps behind center. We're hearing about his inaccuracy throwing. We're hearing about his lack of footwork. Tebow carried a mystique, an interest, before arriving in Mobile. Sure - there are concerns, but maybe he'll just land in the NFL and it'll come together? It's very possible that mystery has been taken away in some scouts minds. Even Tebow's biggest admirers, thinking they take a gamble on Tebow in round one or even round two, might be having second thoughts.
Clearly, the Senior Bowl is a better event for those whose stock is in the 2nd-3rd range and lower. They have a chance to rise up with a good performance and maybe get into round one. The guys from smaller schools (Iupati anyone?) can show they deserve to be first round picks. The prospects who haven't been on the radar can enter scouts minds and force them to dig out the tape.
However, we know what Charles Brown can or can't do. We know what Trent Williams can or can't do. There's a years worth of tape from 2009 alone to reference and that's where you really find out about prospects - not in arranged work outs and a practise match on Saturday.
We want everyone to be at these events, but in some cases it makes no sense to risk your stock when there's millions of dollars on the line. It's a shame, but that's the harsh reality of a NFL draft the rewards rookies with veteran contracts. Rather than criticise Charles Brown and co, I'm more tempted to say they've absolutely made the right decision. See you at the combine.