The Reese's Senior Bowl plays an important role in each draft because it's the last time NFL scouting departments can evaluate prospects both in pads and in person. This year, however, it could be the first and the only time some scouts will be able to do so because February's NFL Combine will not have any on-field testing or in-person interviews.
"I think [no Combine] did add significance to this event because first of all, there's been very little live scouting all year," said Jets' senior advisor Phil Savage, who was the executive director of the Reese's Senior Bowl from 2012-18. "Living down here in the Mobile area, I was able to go to about 18 different games because schools were playing down here. … It was an advantage for certain scouts in certain parts of the country to get live exposure on these players, but for other scouts, they didn't have that opportunity."
The interviews, both formal and informal, among teams and prospects that are scheduled take place in Mobile, Ala., are as valuable, if not more, as the game that will be played on Saturday. Because of the limited exposure throughout the season, teams can speak with 128 players over the course of four nights. Each interview takes place in a 40-foot area with two 8-foot-long tables and are divided by 3-foot tall plexiglass. The interviews are 15 minutes in groups of two.
"It's unique because you get some guys who speak very loudly and some who are quiet," Jets' assistant GM Rex Hogan said. "I had to stand up and talk over the plexiglass a few times to be able to hear guys. Plus, the challenges of wearing the mask while it's going on can be a little frustrating, too, because you can't hear guys or can't even read lips in responses. We're adjusting with it."
Savage added: "I personally think that we got more done interview-wise this week than has ever been done before. … Having been the director of the Senior Bowl, I know that there were typically teams that there are 10-20 guys we're not even interested in right now, but this year everyone has cast a wide net to make sure they get something on every single player that's down here."
On the field, the Senior Bowl has always provided a platform for small-school prospects to compete with players from Power-5 conferences. Jets DT Nathan Shepherd is a good example and was drafted in the third round in 2018 out of Fort Hays State. This year is no different for such prospects (Wisconsin Whitewater OL Quinn Meinerz has been one of the top performers), but this week has also provided an opportunity for players who didn't play football in 2020 to impress teams.
"We interviewed one young man whose entire season was canceled," Savage said. "He opted out and decided to not go back for 2021, but this event was the first time he had on full pads in 13 months. You've got to temper a little bit what you see here because these guys are working themselves back into football mode and it's been a challenge for some of these players whether they opted out or their school canceled their season."
The Senior Bowl is one of the first tentpole events of the draft process and the Jets scouting department is gearing up for another mostly virtual event leading up to April's draft.
"We'll have about a week of meetings and it usually kind of serves as a ramp up to the Combine, but without the Combine this year, we pushed the meetings back a week to give guys a little more time to review some more fall tape, the all-star games, get some more character information leading up to it," Hogan said. "The next step for us is going to be Pro Days, trying to get that coordinated in terms of logistics and I'm sure there will be some challenges with schools having Pro Days on the same day. We could be pretty spread thin moving throughout the country here throughout March."