By Jason Hirschhorn for TonySoftli.com
NFLPA Bowl Generates Largest Draft Class in College All-Star Game’s History
A critical piece to the draft process of every NFL team is scouting of the college all-star games. In the early 2000s, the hierarchy of these games featured Mobile’s Senior Bowl at the top followed by the East-West Shrine Game, and the cavalcade of other games beneath. Many of these games have since disappeared — Texas vs. the Nation, Casino Del Sol, and Raycom just in the last 24 months — leading to a push from the NFLPA to fill the void.
When the simply named NFLPA Bowl launched in 2011, the program found itself buried beneath the higher profile bowls. In the time since, the NFLPA Bowl has clawed its way into direct competition with these other games through rigorous scouting of smaller FBS programs and the FCS.
Each successive year since the NFLPA Bowl’s inception has brought a greater number of draft picks and undrafted free agent signings than the year prior. 2014 was no different, with a bowl record 14 players drafted and an additional 54 signing UDFA contracts. More signings could arise out of tryout opportunities already given to 21 other NFLPA Bowl alums. Regardless, those figures shatter the game’s previous high marks, 11 draft picks and 41 UDFA contracts.
The crowned jewel of this year’s game became Khyri Thornton, a versatile defensive tackle out of Southern Miss. Largely ignored by much of the football community, Thornton overcame being twice turned away from major programs due to academics and became the centerpiece of USM’s defense.
But it was during the NFLPA Bowl practices that Thornton caught the eye of talent evaluators who became enamored with his quick first step and lower body strength. Thornton rode the momentum from the NFLPA Bowl to the NFL Combine, where he posted a sub-5.00 40-time, 28 bench repetitions, and a 4.76 20-yard shuttle. Packers GM Ted Thompson, one of the most respected talent evaluators in the league, made Thornton the 85th overall pick, also a record for an NFLPA Bowl player.
The rest of the draft class consisted of five linebackers, five defensive backs, two defensive tackles, a center, and a fullback. Nearly half of the game’s drafted players went to playoff teams, including three to the defending champion Seahawks.
But like the other all-star games, the NFLPA Bowl’s reputation depends upon its quarterbacks. So far, the game produced four signees — Connor Shaw, Dustin Vaughn, Brendon Kay, and James Franklin — with Kenny Guiton and Kolton Browning receiving tryouts from the Bills and Cowboys respectively.
While the NFLPA Bowl still has room for growth, the stacked successes of the past few years have narrowed the gap considerably between it and the other all-star games. As a result, the figures for next year’s draft class and UDFA signees should surge yet again.