In an unprecedented move, the NFL has officially granted permission to two non-seniors to participate in the 2013 Senior Bowl, according to CBS Sports. The move understandably may open the door for an increased number of early-entry draftees to showcase their skills in the premier exhibition game prior to the NFL Draft.
Second team All-American guard DJ Fluker of Alabama and All-Big East wide receiver Justin Pugh of Syracuse will be the first two players to ever participate in the Senior Bowl with eligibility remaining.
There were a few caveats to their participation. First, both had been on campus for a full four years, and both have graduated already. They could have continued to play for their college teams while pursuing a master’s degree. The league is not interested in showcasing players in the Senior Bowl that have not yet graduated.
Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage, the former Cleveland Browns general manager, was the man who approached the NFL about potentially opening up the doors of the game to an increased pool of talent.
“This is a breakthrough moment for the Senior Bowl game because the league allowed us to bring in these two players who graduated in December and were on campus for four years and their coach supported their candidacy for the Senior Bowl,” said Savage. “The reason we wanted to do this was because in the past there have been a number of fourth-year juniors who had graduated who were not allowed to play in the Senior Bowl.”
A season ago, men such as Robert Griffin III and Alabama All-American linebacker Dont’a Hightower were two young men who could have participated under the new guidelines. Savage touched upon that fact while elaborating on Fluker and Pugh for reporters.
“It would have certainly made the Senior Bowl potentially a better game,” Savage said. “It would have given those players an opportunity to not only be rewarded but have an extra evaluating period for NFL scouts.”
Again, third-year players most likely will never see the field in the Senior Bowl, but redshirt juniors will now have the chance to improve their draft stock with a great showing in the game.
Ironically, after Savage fought to allow for Fluker’s participation, the Bama big man will not participate. He is nursing a calf injury and will rest it until such events as the Tide’s Pro Day and the NFL Combine come up on the schedule.
Pugh, on the other hand, will be paired with longtime teammate in ‘Cuse quarterback Ryan Nassib.
“We felt like that we put a lot of time and energy into getting this done and he was deserving of the recognition of being one of this duo of players that will always be remembers as the first two juniors,” Savage said.