MOBILE, Ala. – It's a popular catchphrase around these parts, but it's popular for a reason.
If you've ever made it down to Mobile for the Senior Bowl, or even if you've simply watched the annual college all-star game on TV in recent years, you've definitely seen this phrase:
"The draft starts in Mobile."
Take one stroll around downtown Mobile at this time of year, and you'll see why. Emblazoned on promotional posters, windows and lamp posts are the faces of the NFL's elite, from Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner to Zack Martin and Deebo Samuel. Many of the NFL's best spent this week in Mobile.
This year's featured star is New England quarterback Mac Jones, who participated last year after finishing a championship run at Alabama.
Needless to say, those words ring true – some of the NFL's most exciting newcomers over the next year or two will be on hand at this week's Senior Bowl.
Even with all of that said, scouting this week's talent should take on added significance for those who follow the Cowboys.
Across the last decade, the Cowboys have made no bones about the emphasis they put on the Senior Bowl. The opportunity to watch college prospects go against some of the best players in their draft class – and actually compete in football activities, unlike the NFL Combine – allows a unique opportunity to evaluate prospects.
Just last year, Cowboys vice president of player personnel Will McClay detailed the value provided by being able to attend these practices.
"We get to view the full process from stretch to the end of practice when they call them up. Those are things that we continue to evaluate on the player – his interactions. The way he interacts with his teammates and coaches," McClay said at the time. "Those are the things that I enjoy the most, getting to watch the beginning to the end of practice and then start to formulate an opinion based off what I was told about the player. Then we pick up and have the personal interaction, we can put all that together to really paint a picture on the guy."
The results speak for themselves when you analyze the Cowboys' draft history. In the eight years since McClay began running the draft process, the Cowboys have drafted 18 Senior Bowl players – an average of two per draft class. The only year in that timeframe that didn't see at least one Senior Bowl participant drafted by Dallas was 2015. And even then, one of their biggest undrafted signings in recent memory – La'el Collins – was a 2015 Senior Bowl participant.
At this point, the Cowboys' roster is littered with examples. Martin famously did battle here against Aaron Donald before both 2014 first-round draft picks went on to be perennial All-Pros. Ironically, Dak Prescott was here in 2016, when the Cowboys' coaching staff coached the game – albeit he was named MVP for the other team. Michael Gallup, Cedrick Wilson and Tony Pollard all played in Mobile, as well.
If anything, this trend has seen an uptick in recent years. The Cowboys drafted three Senior Bowl players in 2020, taking Neville Gallimore, Reggie Robinson II and Bradlee Anae. In 2021 they turned around and took three more with Osa Odighizuwa, Chauncey Golston and Jabril Cox.
It's not a scientific formula. Martin is the only first-round pick to come from the Senior Bowl during these last eight years, and the evidence suggests that the sweet spot comes on Day 3. Of those 18 draft picks, 12 of them have come in the fourth round or later. But then again, Odighizuwa and Golston – both third-round picks – were selected only last year.
So as these practices begin, and the game kicks off on Saturday, it's something to keep in mind. The Cowboys do seem to agree that the draft starts in Mobile, and it's a pretty good bet that someone playing here this week will play for them this coming season.