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Diligent Vikings Scouts Digging Deeper on Prospects at Senior Bowl

MOBILE, Ala. — Severe weather on Wednesday turned the Senior Bowl practices into "scouting room only."

Game officials moved the sessions for the North and South squads from Ladd-Peebles Stadium to South Alabama's practice facility, which is covered but has open walls that allowed high winds to zip across the field.

Because of space limitations, the practices were limited to two attendees per team and closed to the media.

General Manager Rick Spielman and Director of College Scouting Jamaal Stephenson were among the attendees for Wednesday's sessions. caught up with Stephenson before practices to discuss what this week means to the Vikings personnel department.

"Didn't anticipate the weather being what it is, but like the NFL, you make adjustments," Stephenson said. "We'll still have guys at the practice, we'll evaluate the film, which is important. We'll get that, so not every scout will be able to go because of space limitations, but every scout will get the film."

This is the 20th Senior Bowl for Stephenson, who is preparing for his 18th season with the Vikings and sixth in this role with the team.

"It's always awesome to come down here," Stephenson said. "This is my 20th season, and the game has really been the most consistent, the most premier college football all-star game in the country, so as a scout, this is one of the ones you check on the calendar because it's so important to us.

"Throughout the fall, we've been doing our due diligence on campuses and getting our initial evaluations in on these guys," he continued. "This is an opportunity for us to dig a little deeper, as far as the interviews and psychological testing, the ability to watch them practice with NFL coaches, so this is very important to our scouting staff."

How diligent where the Vikings?

It would take a while to count up all the man hours invested each year, but one metric is the fact that the Vikings had previously scouted all 114 players before convening in Mobile.

"We have a veteran staff. Our guys have been together for a long time, and we know what it takes in the fall to get the work done that we need to get done," Stephenson said. "We hear about prospects on the road, and even if we didn't have them flagged initially in August, our guys are talking to other scouts and coaches. We know where we need to get to. There's going to be some small-school guys that you don't know about initially, but then they kind of pop up on the radar and you've got to make a trip through there. We're very happy about being able to see all of those guys."

Even though the Vikings have scouted each player in practice and/or a game and spoken with college coaches for each, the opportunity to connect with prospects outside of their comfort zone provides another evaluation tool.

"We get the guys 1-on-1. That's important to us because in the fall, you go through the school and talk to the coach and he tells you what he knows about the player," Stephenson said. "Sometimes it can be a little different story when you get the player alone in an interview setting. Maybe there's something that the coach left out or something in that interview time that you get to, that you glean from your conversation that you maybe didn't get when you were [on campus] in the fall."

Scouts also like the Senior Bowl for the practice reps led by two NFL teams (the Raiders and 49ers this year) with a consistent level of competition.

Campuses aren't filled with potential NFL players across the board, but the sessions in Mobile are between squads of "NFL-caliber" players.

"All of these guys are pretty much NFL-caliber players, so you're viewing apples to apples," Stephenson said.

In all likelihood, there are one or more future Vikings among the attendees.

Brian O'Neill, Jalyn Holmes and Tyler Conklin were among the participants in last year's game who were drafted by Minnesota in 2018 (Daniel Carlson and Colby Gossett also were drafted but did not finish their rookie campaigns with the Vikings).

Asked about evaluating O'Neill, Holmes and Conklin here a year ago, Stephenson said it is a valuable part of a comprehensive process.

"This is just a part of the process, really, and all of those guys stood out athletically to us, and we thought those were guys that would contribute this year or in the future," Stephenson said. "It's just important to be here and put it as a part of the puzzle. It's not the end-all, be-all, but it's a part that you need to evaluate."