The 63rd Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., kicks off Saturday (Jan. 26, 2013) at 4 p.m. EST on NFL Network — or Ladd-Peebles Stadium, if you want to scout from a front row seat. Jim Schwartz and the Detroit Lions are coaching the South squad, with Dennis Allen and the Oakland Raiders leading the North team.
But here’s what to really watch for between the lines once the game gets going:
1. Elite Left Tackles
Texas A&M true junior Luke Joekel isn’t eligible to compete at the Senior Bowl; he’ll probably be kicking it with Johnny Football attempting ridiculous trick shots or gambling or something else crazy. Joekel is considered this year’s top left tackle prospect — and a legit candidate to go No. 1 overall in the draft to the Kansas City Chiefs.
But a pair of first-round candidates will be in Mobile. Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher (6’7”, 305) will man the blindside up North and Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson (6’6”, 303) handles the big money spot down South. Both dancing bears have been cashing in during practice all week, with Fisher working his way into fringe-top-10-pick range.
2. QB Shuffle
Before arriving on the scene at Super Bowl XLVII, Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick were low profile Senior Bowl quarterbacks from Delaware and Nevada, respectively. But they aren’t the only recent success stories, four Senior Bowl quarterbacks have been taken in the first-round over the past three drafts.
This year crop of QBs includes NC State’s Mike Glennon, Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson, Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib, Florida State’s EJ Manuel and Miami (Ohio)’s Zac Dysert. With so many teams still unsettled at quarterback, one of these signal-callers could make a late charge up draft boards like Vanderbilt’s Jay Cutler (No. 11 in 2006) or TCU’s Andy Dalton (No. 35 in 2011).
3. Family Traditions
Several familiar surnames will be doing pops and/or big bro proud in Mobile.
Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant studded out during practice this week and might have earned a first-round grade — although he won’t go as high as Marcus Trufant (No. 11) did out of Washington State back in 2003.
USC safety T.J. McDonald weighed in at 6’2” and 205 pounds, with a similar frame to his old man Tim (6’2”, 215) — who went on to a six-time All-Pro and Super Bowl XXIX championship career after being the No. 34 pick in 1987.
Oregon O-lineman Kyle Long is the son of Hall of Famer Howie Long and brother of former No. 2 pick Rams defensive end Chris Long. After measuring in at 6’7”, 312 with shorter than expected arms, Kyle may have to kick in from tackle to guard — but he’s still likely to carry on the Long tradition of his NFL family.
4. Denard X-Factor
The Senior Bowl has proven to be fertile proving ground for quarterbacks-turned-receivers/runners/return-specialists like Indiana’s Antwaan Randle El (MVP in 2002) and West Virginia’s Pat White (MVP in 2009) — both of whom went on to be second-round picks after MVP efforts in the Senior Bowl.
This year, Michigan’s Denard Robinson has had a choppy week of practice while trying to prove he can successfully transition from quarterback to triple-threat playmaker. “Shoelace” will have one last shot to perform in pads — after a career that saw Denard X. pass for 6,250 yards, rush for 4,459 yards and account for 91 total TDs.
5. Raw, Unreal Athletes
Although Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker won’t play in Saturday afternoon’s game, Danny Lee Jesus stole the show during weigh-ins earlier in the week — checking in at 6’5”, 355 pounds and carrying his weight with impressive ease. Fluker's fellow Crimson Tide national champion, linebacker Nico Johnson, will give local Bama fans a reason to yell "Roll Tide," however, so Nick Saban's club will be well represented.
On game day, all eyes will be on potential 3-4 elephant man Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, BYU’s 6’5”, 270-pound pass rushing specimen who has only been playing football for three years but has been called the “next Jason Pierre-Paul” by some. A few splash plays in the Senior Bowl would go a long way to securing Ziggy’s status as a first-rounder.
Arguably the biggest boom-or-bust prospect in the Senior Bowl — and maybe the entire 2013 draft pool — is 359-pound Georgia nose tackle John Jenkins. To no one’s surprise, Jenkins was the heaviest man on the scales in Mobile and will be one of the players with the most ground to gain or lose on Saturday.