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The 'Triple Crown' season

The much-anticipated succession of events leading up to the NFL Draft each offseason has a special place in the hearts of talent evaluators everywhere.

According to former scout and current NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, the all-star games, NFL Scouting Combine and campus Pro Days are collectively referenced by those in the industry as the Triple Crown of Scouting.

The all-star games the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, the East-West Shrine Game, and the Senior Bowl have been played. And the Pro Days are looming in the not-too-distant future, and will be of particular importance for those who don't work out at the Combine for one reason or another.

For now, the focus for many is on the upcoming Combine, which will be staged from Feb. 26-March 4 in Indianapolis.

But don't discount the all-star games, including but not exclusively the Senior Bowl, in assessing what can make a lasting impression on scouts, coaches and general managers in advance of the NFL Draft, April 25-27 in Nashville.

"What's great about here, we're playing football," 49ers General Manager John Lynch observed during NFL Network coverage of Senior Bowl week, Jan. 22-26, in Mobile, Ala. "That's what these guys do.

"The Combine's great, and we get valuable information. But the ability to go into the meetings, see how these guys take in information, and then how they apply it to the field, there's so much you can gain."

Former NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, now the general manager of the Raiders, also considers the ability to enter and observe the various position meetings at the Senior Bowl as revealing.

"You get to see the kids who are eager and interested and can process information quickly," Mayock noted.

The Senior Bowl has traditionally been viewed as a proving ground for players from smaller schools practicing and playing against a higher caliber of competition than they're used to engaging.

It was that last year for South Carolina State linebacker Darius Leonard, who turned heads in Mobile, wound up getting drafted on the second round by the Colts and became a first-team Associated Press All-Pro.

Steelers nose tackle Javon Hargrave helped parlay a late invitation to the Senior Bowl into a third-round selection by the Steelers out of South Carolina State in 2016.

But it's not just the small-school players who can benefit from Senior Bowl exposure.

"I never made All-American, wasn't up for any Heisman (Trophy) or anything like that," Franco Harris remembered for the NFL Network. "But I think my play in the Senior Bowl made some believers out of people, and I was the No. 1 running back taken that year (1972)."

The Senior Bowl is the highest-profile all-star game but not the only one that matters.

Mayock cited his experience as a defensive back from Boston College in the Blue-Gray Game before becoming a 10th-round pick of the Steelers in 1981.

"I was on the Blue team and we won, and we were supposed to get killed," he recalled. "The only reason we won, we had these two unknown guys by the name of Howie Long (from Villanova) and Dexter Manley (from Oklahoma State). So when I go to the East-West or the NFLPA game where it's not supposed to be a great game, I always look at it through the eyes of, 'Howie Long and Dexter Manley were in that game and it's our job to go find them.'"

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