Inside The Senior Bowl: An Ex-NFL Player’s Perspective

Photo: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

With the conclusion of the Senior Bowl practices, all we have to look forward to for the rest of the week is the game on Saturday afternoon. The week long experience is always such a unique one for all parties involved. There is truly nothing quite like it from an evaluation and football standpoint.

To get an idea of what the week is like from the view of a player, I reached out to Will Blackmon and asked about his experiences. Blackmon participated in the 2006 Senior Bowl after a decorated career at Boston College, and would eventually get taken in the fourth round later that year by the Green Bay Packers.

Blackmon was in one of the most unique situations entering the Senior Bowl in recent memory.

After three seasons playing defensive back, Boston College needed help at the wide receiver position for his senior year. He made the switch over to wide receiver, but wanted to compete at defensive back for the Senior Bowl and transition back there for the NFL.

Describing the check-in and weigh-in process as a “blur,” he was placed with two well-known wide receiver prospects for roommates, Jason Avant and Hank Baskett. Interestingly enough, when Blackmon would attend the NFL Scouting Combine, the league placed him to work out as a wide receiver. Then, after the entire process, he had to hold his own private workout for teams as a defensive back.

The entire event started off negatively for Blackmon. He explained that he thought his weigh-in was going to cost him money, “It’s actually funny, I’m 6’1 and was measured as that at the (NFL Scouting) Combine, but at the Senior Bowl they measured me at just 5’11. I was like, ‘that’s like $200,000 out of my pocket.’”

As a defensive back, the evaluation process at the Senior Bowl comes down to the competition drills. Between the 1 on 1’s and 7 on 7’s, how players step up to the challenge can be telling.

Blackmon said during the game he just performed just okay, but that he did better during the 1 on 1’s than any other drill. Overall, he felt that the entire experience improved his stock. “It helped because it showed that I could still play defensive back. If I hadn’t gone, I would’ve been drafted at wide receiver.”

There’s a consistent debate over whether to value the Senior Bowl game over the practices, as NFL personnel generally head out of town before the game.

Blackmon said that he never felt that on gameday. “The competition never ramped down for the game. Everyone was trying to make it happen. We saw it as an audition more so than an all-star game.”

Blackmon was lauded for his ability as a returner in college, and easily transitioned into that role early in his NFL career. The Senior Bowl made sure to showcase this exciting trait, and he ended up having a big return during the game.

It’s well-known that the pre-draft process is a tiring one, especially during the major events. Having to go through days of practices/workouts, interviews, weigh-ins, medical checks, and more multiple times can wear out the prospects.

Blackmon said that the NFL Scouting Combine is the toughest grind, and not even the similar experience at the Senior Bowl could help someone be more comfortable, “They try to make you uncomfortable, it’s exhausting. I had an AC sprain while in college, and I had to be evaluated by all 32 team doctors.”

Looking back, Blackmon is happy that he competed at the event, and has offered some guidance and training to this year’s prospects.

After spending a few days prior to the event with Penn State cornerback and potential top 50 pick Amani Oruwariye, Blackmon offered him some advice, “It’s a privilege to play in this game because it’s an all-star game. But, it’s all business, it’s an audition for the NFL. Everything you do is being evaluated.”