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2012 Senior Bowl Showcased Impact Rookies


Focus across the league this week has transferred to the tropical islands of Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. Eyes are also glued to New Orleans for next weekend's highly anticipated Super Bowl.

For fans of the NFL Draft, however, the attention is fixated on Mobile, Ala., where the Redskins are scouting the 2013 Senior Bowl. If last year's impressive rookie class is any indication, this could be another pivotal draft in the history of the Washington Redskins.

The Senior Bowl is comprised of two teams, North and South, of college seniors who are looking to showcase their talents for the opportunity to land a spot on an NFL roster.

If you recall, the 2012 South team was led by Coach Mike Shanahan and the Washington Redskins coaching staff. While the North would ultimately claim a 23-13 victory in the annual affair, the score meant little as scouts were focused on talent evaluation.

The Redskins maximized their time in Mobile last year, finding four players worth adding to the roster, and countless others that didn't make the cut.

Going into the off season last year, the Redskins were looking to fill several areas of need. One of the areas of need was the quarterback position after the offense finished the 2011 season 26th overall in points per game.

Quarterback was a long-standing position of need, and gained fervor from the fanbase after the rookie success of Carolina's Cam Newton and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton.

Tying that together with what was considered one of the deepest quarterback talent pools in draft history, teams flocked to the Senior Bowl in hopes of finding a player that could be a quick fix to offensive woes. Remember that Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck both left school as redshirt juniors.

On last year's South squad, Mike Shanahan and Co. coached Nick Foles, Brandon Weeden, and Ryan Lindley. Foles took the majority of snaps during the contest as he went 11-15 for 136 yards and a touchdown.

All three, however, would go on to start in their rookie season with Weeden seeing the field the most.  He posted over 3,000 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Cleveland Browns.

Last year's North squad was led by two Big Ten quarterbacks: Russell Wilson from Wisconsin and Kirk Cousins from Michigan State, who showcased their talents to suitors. Wilson finished the game 4-7 for 45 yards, one touchdown, and one interception while Cousins was 5-11 for 115 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.

Both quarterbacks were projected to be middle-to-late round picks. While the belief was that they had the talent to start, they were best suited as backups, honing their skills. However, both quarterbacks showed poise that scouts usually label for first round quarterbacks.

Shanahan said before the Redskins' Wild Card playoff game vs. the Seahawks that he considered drafting Wilson, had he still been available in the fourth round.

"I really liked Russell. He has a lot of the intangibles you look for in a quarterback. He's really a class act," Shanahan said. "He's a natural leader as well. He's playing some good football.

"We were together at the Senior Bowl which was a good experience to be around him. I had a chance to be around him at dinner for about an hour one evening.  He's got the intangibles you look for. He's handled himself extremely well and a fun guy to talk to."

Wilson was drafted by Seattle in the third round of the draft and wasn't expected to make much of an impact. In preseason, he unexpectedly won the Seattle starting quarterback role and lead the Seahawks to the divisional round of the playoffs. He finished the season with 3,118 yards and 30 total touchdowns.

Cousins was unexpectedly drafted by the Redskins in the fourth round (102nd overall). While he spent the majority of the season behind fellow rookie Robert Griffin III, he made the most of his four opportunities to play.

In a week 14 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, he lead a thrilling game-tying drive that sent the game to overtime. In his lone start of the season, a week 15 38-21 victory over the Browns, he flashed his poise as he tossed a pair of touchdowns in a must win game.

The running back position was littered with talent across the board during the 2012 Senior Bowl, but three players stand out due to the success on the ground in their first season.

Vick Ballard led the South in rushing as he finished the game with 29 yards. He was drafted in the 5th round (170th overall) by the Colts where he led the team's rushing attack with 814 yards.

Doug Martin, a record-setting back out of Boise State, was a player that scouts were intrigued about. His draft stock was quickly rising as the Senior Bowl began and while he only carried the rock for 19 yards, the Buccaneers liked what they saw and selected him in the first round (31st overall).  Martin would go on to led the Bucs with 1,454 yards and 12 total touchdowns.

The other Senior Bowl back to make a large impact on the field needs little introduction to Redskins fans: Alfred Morris. While Morris did not have a carry in the game and was actually asked to play as a fullback by Redskins Running Backs Coach Bobby Turner, Shanahan liked what he saw out of Morris during the Senior Bowl and drafted him in the sixth round (173 overall). He would go on to smash several Redskins records and was the key to the top-rated rushing attack in the league.

Some of the best offensive lineman in the college ranks were on displays as seven different lineman saw action in at least 10 games in their first season. Kelechi Osemele (Ravens), Kevin Zeitler (Bengals), and Mitchell Schwartz (Browns) dominated for the North during the Senior Bowl and were all drafted in the first two rounds.

Their dominating performance didn't stop at the Senior Bowl, as they each found themselves in the starting lineup in all 16 games.

The North's defense was able to corral the South's offense giving up only one touchdown in the game. The defense was led by Utah State middle linebacker Bobby Wagner as he finished tied with a game-high seven tackles.

He went on to be drafted by the Seahawks and continued to show his knack for finding himself near the ball as he became the anchor a top five defense and finished the season with a team-high 140 tackles.

Defensive backs from both teams showed why their talents were deemed worthy of an invitation to the game. Janoris Jenkins was a player that caught the attention of the Redskins coaching staff as he showed a knack for getting turnovers.

While the Redskins did not draft Jenkins, he was selected with the Redskins' original No. 6 overall pick by the St. Louis Rams. He factored into the team's Week 2 victory over the Redskins and finished his rookie season with four interceptions for the Rams.

While the Redskins will enter the draft without a first round pick, that doesn't mean that its as important is less. As seen by this year's rookie class, players drafted in the later rounds can have just as big of an impact as those who go off the board early.

Tune into the Senior Bowl at 4 p.m. on Saturday, broadcast live on the NFL Network.




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