MOBILE, Ala. -- The Senior Bowl is the crown jewel of the college all-star circuit. The game annually showcases the top talent in a draft class, and the 2012 contest is certainly no different. Several of the top-rated prospects at their respective positions are slated to participate this week.
With so much talent to evaluate through five practices and a game, scouts head to Mobile with a checklist to complete by week's end. Here are five things I'm looking for during my visit at the Senior Bowl:
1. Who is the next best QB behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III?
The competition for the third quarterback position on draft boards is wide open with Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden, Michigan State's Kirk Cousins and Arizona's Nick Foles viewed as viable contenders for the spot.
This week, each will have the opportunity to showcase their potential directing a pro-style offense, which will require them to take snaps from under center and execute three-, five- and seven-step drops in the passing game. For Cousins, the exercise shouldn't require much of an adjustment considering his experience running a pro-style passing game at Michigan State, but Foles and Weeden must quickly acclimate to the system after enjoying tremendous success in spread offenses.
One player to watch is San Diego State's Ryan Lindsey. He spent four years directing a wide-open attack that featured several pro concepts and his intriguing physical tools could shine on the Senior Bowl's big stage.
2. Who is the next Jimmy Graham?
The copycat nature of the NFL will lead scouts and coaches to spend most of the week searching for a big, athletic tight end with the ability to create mismatches in the passing game.
Stanford's Coby Fleener and Missouri's Michael Egnew enter the week with the biggest fanfare after their highly decorated careers, but they also have the games to match the hype. Both are polished pass catchers with sneaky speed and athleticism, and their natural ability should shine as deep middle threats.
Louisiana-Lafayette's Ladarius Green doesn't rank as a household name yet, but his tantalizing combination of size, speed and athleticism could make him a star by the end of the week. At 6-foot-6, 240 pounds with 4.7 speed, he is the Graham clone that scouts could fall in love with after watching him excel against the competition this week. Graham rose from obscurity to mid-round status following a strong week in Mobile in 2010, and Green could be in line to experience a similar rise with a strong performance.
3. Which small-school standout will impress this week?
This game has served as a launching pad for several small-school prospects in the past, and it certainly will provide several guys with an opportunity to make a significant jump up draft boards.
Appalachian State's Brian Quick, Midwestern State's Amini Silatolu and Cal-Poly's Asa "Ace" Jackson are the small-school standouts who could benefit most from working against elite competition this week. They have performed well in limited opportunities against big-school competition, but shining in workouts built around competitive drills like 1-on-1, 9-on-7 and team periods will give evaluators plenty of opportunities to forecast their potential as pros.
4. Which cornerback will cement his status as a first-round pick?
LSU's Morris Claiborne is a lock to be the top corner off the board, but the first round could see two or three cornerbacks hear their names called on draft day. Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard and North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins are rated as borderline first-round prospects on several boards across the league, but their uncertain status could be cemented with a strong week in Mobile.
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Both are considered undersized by pro standards, and concerns about their ability to match up against big, physical receivers prevents some evaluators from getting excited about their pro prospects. However, a strong showing in a game that features several big-time pass catchers with size and speed could alleviate concerns about the ability of Dennard and Jenkins to hold up at the next level.
5. Who will be the most dominant defensive lineman?
The only way to evaluate big guys is to see them work against other big bodies in competitive drills like 9-on-7 and 1-on-1 pass rush. These workouts will pit several of the top defensive line prospects -- North Carolina's Quinton Coples, Penn State's Devon Still, Clemson's Brandon Thompson and South Carolina's Melvin Ingram -- working against highly rated offensive linemen in the trenches. Watching these players hold their ground in tight quarters, while also creating penetration against the run and pass will provide a glimpse of potential and upside.
Given how infrequent it is to find quality matchups between elite blockers and defenders, this week will serve as the ultimate litmus test in the minds of evaluators searching for dominant defenders in the trenches.