The power of all-star games

When most football fans begin tuning in to college all-star games in a few weeks, they won’t realize that the majority of the scouting work is already complete by the time the game starts.

There will be three featured games this year:

The Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., on Jan. 30. This is the big dog as it gets the top college players. The uniqueness of this game is that the majority of NFL decisions-makers are here during the week of practice. The week in Mobile has evolved into a convention for coaches, agents and top NFL executives. This is the only game where you can see Al Davis, Bill Parcells, John Harbaugh, Bill Belichick, Jerry Jones, and GM A.J. Smith evaluating players up close. And when teams set up evening interviews with players, it’s a rare chance to interface with the top decision-maker from each team.

For the players, it’s an opportunity to make a powerful first impression, especially to the coaches who have just finished the season and have yet to examine college prospects. And we all know first impressions can be very meaningful. Most coaching staffs will be there with the exception of those headed to the Super Bowl. NFL coaches do impact the scouting process as they give evaluation input on a certain number of players at their positions.

The East-West Shrine Game will be played in Orlando on Jan. 23. This game has a great history and will feature top talent which is currently ranked as mid-round draft picks. Every team will have scouts present at this game, and you might find several GMs there as well. A lot of scouts and GMs love the atmosphere of the practices because there’s little in the way of a side show. Evaluators can watch practice and get to know players without the distraction of a convention-like atmosphere. Romeo Crennel and Marty Schottenheimer will coach the teams.

Texas vs. the Nation will be played in El Paso, Texas, Feb. 6. This game is relatively young but has solidified itself as a legitimate platform for players to be evaluated. Every team will have at least one scout there, and the game is attracting some personnel directors as well. Of the 119 players who played in the game last year, 111 went on to sign NFL contracts.

The most interesting components in these games is what happens Monday through the Wednesday at practice. Coaches provide a lot of one-on-one competition between the offense and defense. Offensive and defensive linemen go one on one in the trenches. Wide receivers and tight ends work against defensive backs and linebackers. QBs get a chance to show off their arm strength and accuracy.

The power of these games is that they can move a player’s draft value up or down a round or two. They can especially benefit a small-school player. In 1996, I accompanied highly rated client and offensive lineman Jermane Mayberry to the game. Because he played at Division-II Texas A&M-Kingsville, Jermane had some skeptics. But on the first day of one-on-one drills, he stopped a 320-pound highly rated D-1 tackle dead in his tracks on a pass-blocking drill. The next day, he tweaked his ankle and didn’t practice the rest of the week. The one session of one-on-ones solidified him as a first-round pick.

In 2005, Kyle Orton attended the East-West Shrine practices with his draft stock climbing due to his final performances at Purdue. He had a terrible week of practice, however, and subsequently was drafted in the fourth round.

The bottom line is that one great dominating play can help a player dramatically on draft day. The names of players being most talked about by mid-week of practice will be the ones we hear early on draft day.

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