Senior Bowl seen as fertile ground for Lions' talent

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Mobile, Ala. — Laken Tomlinson took advantage of his time at the Senior Bowl last year before the Lions drafted him in the first round.

And, as Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage tells it, Tomlinson did more than prove himself on the field during his time at the annual college all-star game.

In addition to having a week of practices where players can impress NFL scouts and coaches, the Senior Bowl also provides media training, financial advice and other services to help college athletes transition to the next level.

There are about 110 players in Mobile this week, and for some of them, the formal and informal interviews will be as important as what happens on the field. Savage thinks Tomlinson helped sell himself in those interviews, though it helped that he held his own blocking defensive tackle Danny Shelton, who became the 12th overall pick.

“It wasn’t that he was chosen by the Detroit Lions in the first round because of his interviews, but I promise you … that was a plus for him,” Savage said Monday. “It’s really a showcase for these players.

“We try to explain to them and the agents, we want to be here to assist and help.”

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Savage, the former general manager for the Browns, said there will be between 900 and 1,000 NFL employees at the event. In what would otherwise be a quiet week with a break before the Super Bowl, the Senior Bowl is an NFL convention of sorts.

But, as always, the focus is on the players.

North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz hopes to prove he’s the best quarterback in the draft.

Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland wants to show people he can play outside in addition to inside where he thrived with the Crimson Tide. Ragland also said this week will be a good chance to “help my brand a little bit more.”

Reggie Ragland

But, as players try to accomplish their physical goals this week, they’ll also learn critical skills to prepare them for life as a professional.

In addition to the media training, Morgan Stanley has employees here to provide financial education to the players and any relatives that might be joining them, something Penn State defensive tackle Austin Johnson said he’s looking forward to because he wants his NFL earnings to last a lifetime.

Savage said he thinks this year’s rosters are as complete as any in recent years, and he thinks between 90 and 100 of the players will be drafted in April.

The Lions have taken advantage of the Senior Bowl to find draft picks in recent years.

In addition to taking Tomlinson in Round 1 last year, the Lions also drafted running back Ameer Abdullah in the second, defensive tackle Gabe Wright in the fourth and cornerback Quandre Diggs in the sixth after they played in the all-star game.

“Every player here is a legitimate prospect,” Savage said.

The players will also participate in community service events this week.

“We try to give the players a flavor of what it’s going to be like, give them a head start as they begin this new chapter in their lives,” Savage said.