NEW YORK, N.Y. (EETV) – On Nov. 8, the NFL and NFLPA announced that the Reese’s Senior Bowl will be expanded, and will now be open to collegiate underclassmen who have declared for the draft.
The Senior Bowl is a critical part of the NFL Draft cycle each offseason, allowing some of college football’s best talent to show what they can do vs other players of their skill level. Last spring, Auburn had three players represented in the game: Derick Hall, Owen Pappoe, and Eku Leota. Corners Nehemiah Pritchett and D.J. James were also invited but chose to return to Auburn for the 2023 season.
Pritchett and James will once again be eligible for an invite to the Senior Bowl in 2024, as well as other impact seniors such as Thorpe Award semifinalist Jaylin Simpson, offensive lineman Gunner Britton, and safety Zion Puckett.
However, thanks to the new rules, those won’t be the only eligible Tigers in the spring. Players such as linebacker Eugene Asante, running back Jarquez Hunter, nickel back Keionte Scott, and tight end Rivaldo Fairweather could all find themselves at the game if they are lucky enough to receive an invite.
The rule change will have major implications on the normal NFL Draft process as well. Normally, the Senior Bowl is an excellent way for NFL scouts to evaluate how current prospects could fare at the NFL since they’re going up against the best college players in the country. Or at least, almost the best.
Normally, underclassmen that declare for the draft are players that have higher ceilings, as well as higher-level intangibles and skills, hence why they’re able to be drafted high despite less experience and sometimes less exposure. These players are oftentimes even better than the seniors that declare for the draft, and, by default, almost the entire senior bowl roster.
Some of the best examples of this are players such as Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders in 1989, Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1998, and, of course, Auburn’s own Cam Newton, who was drafted first overall by the Carolina Panthers in the 2011 draft after just one season as a starting quarterback in college.
This season, with underclassmen being allowed to participate in the senior bowl, elite talents such as Georgia tight end Brock Bowers, Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr, and USC quarterback Caleb Williams can showcase their talent against the best college football has to offer in what should become the closest thing there will ever be to a college football All-Star game.
Though the new rules might slightly detract from the ability of seniors with less college exposure to establish themselves, they also open the door for underclassmen with sky-high ceilings to begin to truly show what they can do against high-level competition. Due to this, the new rules should allow for a more diverse scouting pool and greater accuracy of NFL scouts on younger players who might not have as much available tape to study from their college career.