MOBILE, Ala. – When it comes to NFL pre-draft events, few spectacles compare to the annual Senior Bowl. With nearly a week of one-on-one coaching from an NFL staff and hoards of scouts and media on hand to watch, it’s hard to beat the exposure for the college athletes looking to make the jump to the next level.
Oh, an there’s a nationally televised game on Saturday to showcase the week that was.
Each of the football stars in attendance this week arrived to take care of a task, or a set of tasks. Be it gaining attention, attempting the climb draft boards, show off improved skills against some of the best talent around … there are a plethora of goals to achieve at the Senior Bowl.
In addition – for one reason or another – some players just have something to prove. Take Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, who spent his time at the 2015 event transitioning to defensive back. The Senior Bowl can be a training arena, a testing site or the ultimate proving grounds.
Here are four players with the most to gain from a week at the Senior Bowl (practice sessions start Tuesday at 2:15 p.m. ET):
Jonathan Williams, RB — Arkansas
Williams enjoyed a breakout 900-yard sophomore season and added on to his growing repute with 12 touchdowns and 1,190 rushing yards during his junior campaign. The lead-up to his senior coup de grace did not go according to plan.
During an August scrimmage, Williams suffered a left foot injury that forced him under the knife. He missed the entire 2015 season.
Few players have such a wide range of potential draft slots. If Williams looks sluggish; if he’s appears a long way from complete recovery from his foot injury, he may find himself a Day 3 draftee. But if the former Razorbacks rusher can show glimpses of his punishing running style; if he looks like he’s close to 2014 form – he’s could potentially jump all the way into the second round.
Malcolm Mitchell, WR — Georgia
Mitchell arrived on campus as one of the more hyped four-star recruits of the 2011 class. He had the tools of an imposing, never-lose-sight-of pass-catching threat and had elite size and route-running skills.
He tore his ACL after landing awkwardly during a post-touchdown celebration and battled knee issues for a huge portion of his career at Georgia. It wasn’t until his senior season that he topped 50 receptions (58 for 865 yards and five touchdowns) and his combined 16 scores over four seasons wasn’t near where the bar was set for Mitchell.
If Mitchell shows out at the Senior Bowl, he could put the idea into scouts heads that he’s ready to enter the NFL and produce the kind of numbers that everyone in Athens, Ga. expected.
Reggie Ragland, ILB — Alabama
Ragland has already been pegged as a player with the most to lose in Mobile this week. Already a projected first-round pick and arguably the best middle linebacker in the draft, what could the former Alabama star gain from moving to outside linebacker at the Senior Bowl?
If Ragland can show he has the pass-rushing chops to survive in the NFL as an attack-the-passer linebacker, his NFL value would skyrocket. Few defensive tools are more important at the next level than a go-everywhere (Ragland has already proved this) linebacker that has the ability to punish offensive tackles and sack the quarterback.
Not only could Ragland’s draft stock improve with a successful week, but he could instantly become a three-down force on Sunday’s.
Jake Coker, QB — Alabama
What an interesting path Coker took to become a national championship quarterback. He carried a clipboard for Jameis Winston at Florida State then transferred to Alabama only to get stuck with the clipboard again during the 2014 season. That wasn’t the plan, but Coker may have made the most of his time with Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin in Tuscaloosa. Ala.
Something clicked during Coker’s championship run – he transformed from pure gunslinger to part cannon, part carry-his-team leader. Starting at Alabama’s seventh game of the season at Texas A&M, Coker completed 72.4 percent of his passes and connected on 10 touchdown passes and was only picked off twice. Those nine games give a small blueprint to NFL scouts that Coker needs to build upon at the Senior Bowl.
Coker is likely a Day 3 draft pick, but his stock could absolutely be bolstered with a number of wins in Mobile.
More from the 2016 Senior Bowl: