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Tide, Tigers' other NFL hopefuls at Senior Bowl

Greg McElroy once again feels like a three-star recruit itching to prove doubters wrong.

The former Alabama quarterback wasn't particularly highly rated by recruiting services out of high school, but wound up helping lead the Crimson Tide to a national title and 24 wins over the last two seasons. Now, he's among the second tier of draft prospects from Auburn and Alabama — who have split the past two national championships — preparing for Saturday's Senior Bowl and trying to boost their stock.

"A lot of people have criticized me for being a product of the system and just being surrounded by great talent," McElroy said. "This is an opportunity for me to go out there on an even playing field and just show people that I can play at this level, I can make all the throws. I have a lot of confidence in my game right now.

"I had a great time at Alabama, but a lot of people question my abilities and I'm going to try to prove people wrong this week and throughout the course of the process."

He's not alone.

Auburn and Alabama will likely have a combined five first-round picks in the April draft but all are juniors who are leaving school early. Those include Heisman Trophy winners Cam Newton of Auburn and Mark Ingram of Alabama, along with coveted defensive linemen Nick Fairley (Auburn) and Marcell Dareus (Alabama) and Tide wide receiver Julio Jones.

Then there's the Senior Bowl group, accomplished college players but not regarded as such seemingly can't-miss prospects.

Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes has heard the talk that he's a good college player, but not necessarily an NFL guy.

"That's what they say," Bynes said. "I'm out here to show NFL coaches that I can play at the next level. I'm not too worried about what people are saying. They could say you're a first-rounder and you end up not being drafted. It doesn't really matter. These coaches out here make the final decision."

And getting a Senior Bowl invite gives each player a shot at improving their stock either on the practice field or during numerous interviews with NFL teams. McElroy had seven meetings scheduled for Monday night alone.

Playing for a national championship team — Auburn last season and Alabama the year before — can't hurt.

The Senior Bowl group includes Auburn left tackle Lee Ziemba, projected as high as the second round, and his Alabama counterpart James Carpenter, along with Tigers safety Zac Etheridge and Tide tight end Preston Dial.

Ziemba and Carpenter have lined up at right and left guard, respectively, at times in practice, though it's not clear what spot they'll play in the NFL.

Ziemba joked that the only other time he had played guard was "in Pop Warner" league.

"I've got to show that I'm versatile and that I can take coaching and that I'm a hard worker," said Ziemba, a four-year starter at left tackle. "That's the things they can't really see at game film.

"In the NFL, you dress seven linemen. You've got to be able to play across the board."

Or on special teams. That's part of what Dial is focusing on, trying to raise his value for prospective NFL employers.

"One of my assets as a tight end is that I'm versatile," Dial said. "To play special teams, you need a lot of versatile guys. For me to think that I'm just going to go play tight end somewhere as a rookie is unrealistic. I've got to prepare myself to play special teams, contribute in two phases of the game."

McElroy said he has heard himself projected "anywhere from third round to undrafted."

He still has to prove he has the physical skills, but he clearly has the brains. McElroy was a finalist for a Rhodes scholarship but entry into the NFL for a quarterback is pretty exclusive, too.

"It's the No. 1 failure position probably in the draft because quarterbacks are just hard to evaluate," Tide coach Nick Saban said. "The reason is you never know if they have the right stuff. It's such a judgment, decision-making position, a leadership position. I know when it comes to intangibles, Greg McElroy's got all the right stuff.

"He did a great job of managing the game for us, did a great job of playing winning football, making great choices and decisions, not turning the ball over very much and is an accurate passer. Some of those things are really critical factors to being successful as a quarterback in the NFL."