The Senior Bowl is not so much a college All-Star Game as it is an NFL projection showcase.
“It’s all about the pros,” Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy said on The 49ers Insider Podcast. “The game is for the NFL. These rosters aren’t for us. This is for the 32 teams.”
The 49ers coaches arrived in Mobile, Alabama, on Sunday evening. Kyle Shanahan and his staff will get to see their collection of players on the South squad on the practice field for the first time Tuesday. The entire week could be a valuable component of the evaluation process for the NFL draft more than three months from now.
The 49ers and Jon Gruden’s staff with the Raiders will have access that no other organizations will be afforded through Saturday’s game.
“We don’t try to babysit these guys this week,” Nagy said. “We want it to be an NFL work week for them. They know which guys are late in the morning for breakfast. They see which guys are attentive in meetings and taking good notes. They see a particular learning style a guy might have or how he bounces back in practice from a bad rep.
"There’s so much behind-the-scenes stuff that the other 30 teams don’t see.”
Nagy is in his first year of piecing together the rosters for the Senior Bowl after spending five years as a Southeast region scout for the Seattle Seahawks. He was also an NFL scout Washington, New England and Kansas City.
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“People have to understand there’s a huge different between being a good college player and being a legitimate pro prospect,” Nagy said.
For instance, he said, there is the recent case of Clemson defensive player Ben Boulware, who won the Lambert Award for the best linebacker in college football in 2017. Boulware was also the defensive MVP of the national championship game.
After a week at the Senior Bowl, most teams concluded Boulware was too short and too slow to play in the NFL. He signed with the Carolina Panthers as an undrafted rookie. When he was cut before the start of the regular season, the 49ers signed him to their practice squad. He lasted seven days with the 49ers before he was cut.
And that brought an end to his NFL career.
“Ben was a great college linebacker,” Nagy said. “But this game is about finding prospects who are going to play a long time at the next level. And we need to find the best players the NFL wants to see.”
Both teams had input into the composition of their rosters, Nagy said.
“The great thing is that they’re both really happy with the rosters,” Nagy said. “There were a couple of exceptions where each team said, ‘We’d really like to have this guy. If we can spend time with this guy, we’d love to have him.’ They haven’t been too demanding with it. There have been a couple of requests, but no pressure. I’ve tried to accommodate those requests.”
Nagy said he leaned on the teams when it came to bringing aboard late additions to the team. He would present a list of four or five players at a particular position and allow the teams to select which players would join their roster.
Among the late additions to the 49ers’ South roster are running back Wes Hills (Slippery Rock), wide receiver Gary Jennings (West Virginia), offensive tackle Oli Udoh (Elon), defensive tackles Demarcus Christmas (Florida State) and Daylon Mack (Texas A&M), linebacker Gerri Green (Mississippi State) and cornerback Mark Fields (Clemson).