Having attended senior all-star games such as the Senior Bowl, East-West Shrine Game and Hula Bowl since 2001, I'm typically very impressed with the scouting departments in charge of locating the talent for these contests. There was a time not too long ago when I'd attend a senior all-star game and see prospects whose production was very obviously a result of their scheme or their invitations just as obviously due to playing on a high profile team.
As technology improves, however, their talent scouts have become even better at recognizing gaudy statistics as an indicator of talent, but not necessarily as the end-all, be-all way to find diamond in the rough prospects.
Take Hawaii wideout Greg Salas as an example. Salas caught 106 passes for 1,590 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior, earning All-WAC recognition and even some Biletnikof Award hype. Like many Warrior receivers before him, his production is enhanced by Hawaii's dynamic offense.
Still, whenever I speak to scouts about underrated prospects, Salas' name comes up. He once again was statistically dominant in 2010. In fact, Salas led the FBS with 1,675 receiving yards this season and has an eye-popping 4,345 yards over his career. More important that stats, however, is Salas' size (6-2, 210) and underrated combination of speed and elusiveness. I've spoken to teams who rate Salas among the top three senior wideouts in the draft -- as I'm sure has the Senior Bowl -- who invited Salas to their game back in October.
Arizona pass rusher Brooks Reed is another example. At 6-3, 262 pounds he doesn't have the bulk to remain at defensive end -- which in the past may have, in itself, been enough to keep him from earning a post-season invite to an all-star game. With half of the NFL playing the 3-4 scheme, there will be no shortage of teams looking at Reed as a rush linebacker. I'm not sure I agree with the comparisons some insiders had made between Reed and Packers' star Clay Matthews, Jr. but I do believe Reed's burst, hands and tenacity are enough to make him effective off the edge in the NFL. The senior all-star game -- in this case the Senior Bowl -- is doing its job of providing prospects an opportunity to demonstrate what they can do.
Each year, however, there are a few prospects who slide under the radar that I believe should get the attention of the all-star game's talent evaluators. It is entirely possible that any and all of these (and other) all-star games are considering these prospects. However, with the bowl games increasingly turning towards technology (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to release their rosters, the invitation process is much more transparent than in the past.
Here are three prospects that I have not yet seen be recognized with an invitation to the primary senior all-star games venues. I believe if they are, they'll impress there.
TCU OT Marcus Cannon : I listed Cannon a few days ago as one of the combatants in the five individual matchups I'm most looking forward to scouting during the bowl games. It remains to be seen how often Wisconsin elects to line up their star defensive lineman JJ Watt against Cannon. If they're wise, they'll pick their spots carefully. At 6-5, 350 pounds Cannon's athleticism is jaw-dropping. Andy Dalton gets most of the attention for TCU, but in terms of pro prospects, Cannon is the Horned Frogs' top talent... and folks, it ain't even close.
California FS Chris Conte : In a weak year for senior safeties, Conte's size (6-3, 212) and athleticism stand out. We all know that NFL teams love to move collegiate offensive tackles inside to guard. I feel that just as natural a transition can be made in moving big collegiate corners (who can tackle in space) to the safety position. Conte has already done it, earning First Team Pac-10 honors in his first full year at free safety this season after backing up at corner throughout his career.
New Mexico OT Byron Bell : NFL and all-star game scouts alike may be a little late in noticing Bell due to the fact that he entered this season characterized by New Mexico as a redshirt junior. The NCAA, however, ruled against his request that his 2007 season be ruled a medical hardship, meaning that Bell's career with the Lobos is over. At 6-5, 325 pounds Bell has surprising lateral agility and flexibility and will soon be flying up boards. Remember how shocked we all were when the Minnesota Vikings took former Lobo Ryan Cook in the second round in 2006? With an invitation to an all-star game, I believe Bell could make a similar leap.
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