ST. LOUIS -- As college football 'All Star' games go, this week's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., is the most well regarded among NFL teams.
Senior Bowl week began in earnest Monday morning with the weigh-ins for the players and will really get rolling Monday afternoon with the first pair of practices for the two teams. From a St. Louis Rams' perspective, this week represents the culmination of the first phase of the offseason, the aptly named 'All Star' season as general manager Les Snead likes to call it.
With the Medal of Honor game, the East-West Shrine game and the NFLPA bowl all in the books, all that's left is the Senior Bowl. For the Rams, it's a game that's been quite meaningful since Snead began leading the scouting and drafting efforts.
In 2012, the Rams drafted cornerback Janoris Jenkins, receiver Brian Quick and running back Isaiah Pead after they appeared in Mobile. Safety T.J. McDonald became a third-round pick for the Rams last year after playing in the game.
For the better part of the past month, Snead and his staff have been working through this phase by using the college all-star games to confirm or possibly bolster grades for different players who will be available in the coming draft.
"As an example, if we've got a guy that's a college free agent, and all of a sudden he's getting a lot of checks through this offseason process, then we may go take a separate guy and go watch him from his game tape," Snead said. "And go, you know what, we may have missed and let's move him up."
The Senior Bowl is generally populated with players expected to land higher in the pecking order than college free agents or the seventh round, though some of those players do make their way to Mobile. This year's roster took some major hits late with players opting out by choice or by injury. The record-setting proliferation of underclassmen to declare also will likely keep the number of Senior Bowl players to land in the first round lower than usual.
That doesn't mean the game can't be a springboard for some. Last year was a perfect example, especially for players from a smaller school who might not see top competition every week.
"Eric Fisher last year, that Senior Bowl helped him," Snead said. "He goes from Central Michigan, and really, he probably had played Michigan State. Each of those schools play somebody good, and then all of a sudden he goes down there and has a good Senior Bowl against some better comp, and I'm sure that helped him rise. It really didn't say, 'Hey, make him a first-rounder,' but all of sudden he's a top 5-10 pick."
Each team varies in how it chooses to approach the game. The Rams will have their entire scouting staff in attendance and since they already have what they call the "Ram grades" on each player, each scout will be assigned a position to watch. From there, they'll use the opportunity to sort of cross-check what they've already seen. Likewise, they'll also make time to talk to many of the prospects in attendance, even if just for a few moments.
It's unlikely that the week of practices will do enough to cause a major shakeup of the Rams' general idea of players, but there's certainly value to be found in the game.
"We've got a little system, a process that we grade the practices and the game, that are totally separate from their team grade going into this whole process," Snead said. "So what may happen in this whole deal is you may have a guy where it says take him in the sixth round, take him in the seventh round, college free agent, all of a sudden he's got those checks for good all-star game, good practice. And we've got a lot of other different factors that we'll do that with. And all of a sudden you look at this guy and here's this name amongst 20 others but he's got six out of 10 checks. The other guy only has one, well maybe that breaks the tie. So that's a little bit what the all-star game can do."