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O'HARA'S MONDAY COUNTDOWN: Abdullah reflects on Senior Bowl experience

Ameer Abdullah could have rested his case for a high draft position on the four-year body of work he compiled at Nebraska and skipped all the all-star games a year ago in his preparation for last year's NFL draft.

Instead, he chose to play in the Senior Bowl, and he has no regrets.

With prospects and NFL talent evaluators in Mobile this week for workouts leading up to Saturday's game, this week's Monday Countdown looks back at Abdullah's experience in the 2015 Senior Bowl, how the Lions have gotten solid (mostly) draft picks from the Senior Bowl in recent years and one man's opinion on Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook's decision to skip the game.

There's also the most intriguing player in the Senior Bowl, and how a good showing by him could affect the Lions' first-round pick.

We start with Abdullah:

1. Senior week: Abdullah had played enough and done enough in his four seasons at Nebraska to skip the Senior Bowl and focus on the Combine and Pro Day workouts to enhance his draft status.

He chose to participate and showed enough at the Senior Bowl for the Lions to draft him in the second round. He was the 54th pick overall and the fourth running back off the board behind Todd Gurley (first round, Rams), Melvin Gordon (first round, Chargers) and T.J. Yeldon (second round, Jaguars).

"It's something I jumped at," Abdullah said when asked near the end of the season about playing in the Senior Bowl.

"The Senior Bowl was a great opportunity for me," Abdullah said. "It's really important. It's one of the few chances the scouts are getting to have an eye-to-eye look at you. Up close, the whole week you get to put on a show for what you can do for these scouts."

Playing for the North, Abdullah had seven carries for 73 yards, with a long run of 25 yards, and four catches for 40 yards.

"It's a highly touted game," Abdullah said. "You can make plays. You're definitely going to be able to help yourself on where you may be on whatever team's draft board."

2. Lions Senior Bowl draft impact: Four of their 2015 draft picks played in the Senior Bowl: guard Laken Tomlinson (first round), Abdullah (second round), defensive tackle Gabe Wright (fourth) and cornerback Quandre Diggs (sixth).

Tomlinson, Abdullah and Diggs improved steadily throughout the season. Tomlinson started 14 games at left guard. Abdullah led the Lions in rushing yards (597), was No. 1 among the tailbacks in yards per attempt (4.2) and limited fumbling issues that plagued him early. Diggs took over as the nickel back and played well in the second half of the season.

Wright showed little early in the season as part of the tackle rotation and nothing after that. He was inactive for nine of the last 10 games.

The Lions have gotten good players in other years. Topping the list is Pro Bowl defensive end Ziggy Ansah, drafted fifth overall in 2013.

3. Senior skip day: It is way too early to call Connor Cook's decision to decline an invitation to the Senior Bowl a "mistake," but it is a missed opportunity to make an early first impression.

There have been questions about Cook's leadership skills and relationship with teammates at Michigan State, especially since he was not voted a team captain in his senior year. Cook could give NFL coaches, scouts and front-office execs a chance to make up their own minds by meeting them in person.

However, the first round of the draft is April 28 – three months from Thursday. That is plenty of time to answer any questions about Cook.

What won't change is Cook's school record 71 career TD passes and 34-5 won-loss record as a starter.

4. Carson Wentz: Wentz has the size (6-6, 235 pounds) and winning record (a starter on two straight national champions) that the pros look for in a quarterback. One big question is the caliber of competition he faced.

Wentz played at North Dakota State, a FCS powerhouse that has won five straight national championships, the last two with Wentz as the starting quarterback.

Wentz threw 42 TD passes the last two seasons, despite missing half of the 2015 season with a broken wrist. He returned in time to lead North Dakota State to a victory over Jacksonville for the championship No. 5.

Wentz would not be the first player who did not come from a Power Five conference who used the Senior Bowl as a springboard to a high draft position.

Offensive tackle Eric Fisher of Central Michigan was highly rated going into the 2012 Senior Bowl practice week. He had an outstanding week and was drafted first overall by the Kansas City Chiefs. Fisher has been a four-year starter for the Chiefs.

5. QB draft impact: For teams drafting in the middle of the first round and not looking to take a quarterback high – as the Lions are at No. 16 – the more quarterbacks drafted early the better. Every quarterback that goes off the board leaves a player available at a position of need.

The 2012 draft was an example of that. Four quarterbacks were taken with the first 12 picks, and three went in the top 10.

Only Cam Newton, drafted first overall, panned out. He deserves to be voted MVP this year.

Jake Locker, taken eighth by Tennessee, and Christian Ponder, taken 12th by the Vikings, were both out of football in 2015. Blaine Gabbert, taken 10th by the Jaguars, has been a backup in San Francisco the last two years.

If it hadn't been for the early run on quarterbacks, J.J. Watt probably would not have been on the board for Houston to take at No. 11 – between Gabbert and Ponder.

Bottom line: look good at the Senior Bowl, Carson Wentz. You can help more than one team.

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