MOBILE—As the NFL's two Super Bowl teams were to be decided in New England and Atlanta, the pursuit of next year's Super Bowl begins here today, as scouting staffs gather to evaluate the postseason all-star games' best assemblage of draft prospects.
The 2013 Senior Bowl includes a crop of quarterbacks made intriguing by the recent success of Colin Kaepernick, RG3 and Russell Wilson, and the emergence of the read-option as a hot-new trend in the NFL. All of a sudden, a quarterback crop that wasn't that interesting has become the talk of this draft class.
E.J. Manuel of Florida State is such a prospect. He can run as well as throw and his draft stock has clearly been improved by the read-option craze. Manuel is one of three quarterbacks for the South team this week. The other two are Landry Jones of Oklahoma and Tyler Wilson of Arkansas, both of whom are more conventional pocket passers. North quarterbacks include fast-rising Zac Dysert of Miami of Ohio, North Carolina State's Mike Glennon and Syracuse's Ryan Nassib. They, too, are of the pocket variety.
"The quarterback position, except for Geno Smith, is up for grabs, and he's not going to be there. That's going to be what most people are going to focus on because everybody needs a quarterback and there aren't many in this draft. I don't think you're going to see anybody make a big rise up the board like (Ryan) Tannehill. There are a lot of question marks," SI.com draft analyst Tony Pauline told packers.com.
One draft service says: "Manuel is a likely candidate to be overdrafted next April because of his intriguing physical tools." With a strong week of practices at the Senior Bowl, Manuel could use the read-option craze to shoot up draft boards.
Senior Bowl practices begin on Monday and will continue through Thursday. Packers.com will cover the practices and provide details of the events.
A draft class that's not considered to be strong at the top – there are no obvious top-pick candidates, as Andrew Luck was last season – is loaded with defensive tackles. That's especially good news for the Packers, whose 3-4 defense turns tackles into ends.
Need a run stuffer? Prospects are plentiful.
Pauline considers Ohio State's Jonathan Hankins and Utah's Star Lotulelei as the top defensive tackles in this draft, and though neither player will perform at the Senior Bowl, this week's practices will showcase several top defensive tackles, including Sylvester Williams of North Carolina, John Jenkins of Georgia, Jordan Hill of Penn State and Everett Dawkins of Florida State.
"Some people are talking about him as a possible top pick of the draft," Pauline said of the fast-rising Lotulelei. "Sheldon Richardson of Missouri is an underrated talent who I think will go much higher than people think; I think he'll be a top 15 pick," Pauline said in assessing the defensive tackle crop. Pauline also mentioned Jesse Williams of Alabama, Bennie Logan of LSU and Sharrif Floyd of Florida as top defensive tackle prospects in this draft. Pauline believes Richardson, Jesse Williams, Floyd and Logan could all effectively transfer their talents to a 3-4.
It's not thought to be a good year to need inside linebackers.
"You got Manti Te'o," Pauline said, pausing for effect. Pauline also mentioned Alec Ogletree of Georgia and Kevin Minter of LSU. Neither Ogletree nor Minter will participate in the Senior Bowl.
The running back class has been rescued by underclassmen Giovani Bernard of North Carolina and Eddie Lacy of Alabama. Wisconsin's Montee Ball is considered to be the top senior of the class. Pauline believes Bernard would be the only running back drafted in the first round.
"He's small, has some injury issues, but he's explosive. Montee Ball, second-round pick; he's a good player when he's on his game. Eddie Lacy is a downhill runner. Bernard will go first round if he clears medically," Pauline said.
Clemson's Andre Ellington is considered to the top-rated running back in this year's Senior Bowl. Ellington is a second- or third-round prospect.