NFL scouts, front office executives and coaches are heading to Mobile, Alabama today to scout every one of the prospects in the 2011 Senior Bowl.
Much of their attention, however, will be focused on two positions -- quarterback and offensive tackle.
As two of the premium positions in today's NFL, quarterback and offensive tackle are typically among the areas to focus on. The 2011 class is especially competitive at these positions, however, making the battles between the top-rated passers and blockers all the more intriguing.
Consider that while Washington quarterback Jake Locker remains a likely first round prospect, I've spoken to scouts whose teams currently rank other seniors just as highly. For some teams, a strong week by TCU's Andy Dalton or Iowa's Ricky Stanzi could vault them ahead of Locker.
The "second tier" quarterback talent available in this draft, in fact, is one of the year's hidden strengths. Considering the risk I see in Locker, Auburn's Cam Newton and Arkansas' Ryan Mallett, it might prove wiser for teams with quarterback needs to look elsewhere in the first round and grab a Dalton or Stanzi (or Devlin, Ponder, Enderle) a frame or two later.
The competition is perhaps even more intense at offensive tackle. Having spoken to representatives from four clubs in the past two weeks about the tackle class, I've yet to find any consensus as to the order they will (or should) be drafted.
If there is a "favorite" it is probably Colorado's Nate Solder. I, however, have serious reservations about his technique, especially against speed rushers. He's expected to work out very, very well and therefore build some momentum as the draft approaches, but he certainly has flaws.
Unfortunately, for teams needing tackles, so too do the other top rated tackles. Boston College's Anthony Castonzo lacks the bulk most teams prefer. He may be the best pass blocking left tackle in the draft, but he's struggled to generate movement in the running game. Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi is the opposite. He can dominate as a drive blocker, but gets too high in pass protection and doesn't have the footwork, in my opinion, to remain on the left side in the NFL. I've rated Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod as the top tackle throughout much of the year, but his wide shoulder, narrow hip makes him top-heavy and therefore inherently vulnerable to bull rushes and good double-moves. He, too, might be best served as a right tackle. USC junior Tyron Smith has the feet and wingspan teams want in a left tackle, but he's quite raw and remains a projection, having played right tackle throughout his abbreviated career with the Trojans.
The beauty of any all-star game is that strong performances there can impact player rankings.
For this year's Senior Bowl, the rankings of senior prospects - especially at quarterback and offensive tackle -- could wind up completely re-shuffled.