Top draft picks are reserved for the NFL’s worst teams. As is the opportunity to coach the biggest and brightest college football all-star affair: the Senior Bowl. If you were not aware, this is what the official Senior Bowl site says about the coaching staff:
“The teams with the lowest winning percentage that season usually get the first opportunity to coach in the game, but only if a majority of their staff — and head coach — is intact.”
The Arizona Cardinals (3-13) were out (after firing Steve Wilks) and so were the New York Jets (4-12, canned Todd Bowles) and thus, the nod went to Jon Gruden and his Oakland Raiders (4-12) captain the North team while Kyle Shanahan and his San Francisco 49ers (4-12) lead the South team in Mobile, Alabama later this month.
“The Oakland Raiders are excited to coach in the premier all-star game in the land,” Gruden said. “The opportunity to interact with the Senior Bowl rosters and help these great young men achieve their dreams has the entire Raider staff galvanized. We could not be more pumped to get to Mobile.”
Some may view the Senior Bowl just another mundane to-do during the offseason ride and are looking eagerly towards the start of free agency in March and the draft in April, the importance of the game should not be downplayed. Especially not for a Raiders team whose cupboard is bare when it comes to quality young building-block talent. Landing the game was a fortuitous turn of events for Gruden. He even pointed out the last time his staff had sway over one of the Senior Bowl teams, the Raiders added two solid contributors.
“The last time I coached the Senior Bowl as the head coach of the Raiders, we drafted Eric Barton and Rod Coleman. It was a great tool for us, in Tampa and in Oakland,” Gruden said.
This is the opportune time for draft junkie and newly minted Raiders General Manager Mike Mayock to expertly look at the senior draft hopefuls.
“I think when you get to the Senior Bowl and you get the access to these kids and the opportunity to see both teams practice, how they practice, how they retain information, how they process information, both on an install basis and mechanics on the field,” Mayock said at his introductory press conference. “I think it’s just a huge advantage and we’ve been talking about this for several days now, hoping that this would come together.”
Not only will the contest allow Gruden and Mayock add to their reports on prospects, it gives them an opportunity to weed out players as well.
“If we can eliminate two or three players by coaching the Senior Bowl, sometimes that is just as important as finding two or three guys that you really want,” Gruden noted. “We are really excited. It will be the fourth time that I have done it. We have to do a good job in this draft and the best way to do it is to be as close as possible to the players.”
Gruden’s love for the quarterback position is well-documented, and by getting to directly coach the squad of quarterbacks, he’ll get an up close and personal look at the senior signal callers (Daniel Jones, Duke; Drew Lock, Missouri; Ryan Finley, NC State and Trace McSorley, Penn State) heading into the draft. Shanahan gets his mitts on Will Grier (West Virginia), Gardner Minshew (Washington State), Jarrett Stidham (Auburn), and Clayton Thorson (Northwestern).
This should be an advantage to Gruden as AFC West rival Denver is expected to take a quarterback early in the draft. The rumor mill is churning Lock is the preferred target, but Jones is likely to be in the mix. So, perhaps, Gruden and Mayock can unearth and file some juicy intel on the next Broncos QB?