STILLWATER — In last year's Senior Bowl, Brandon Weeden tried to prove he could be an NFL franchise quarterback, while Markelle Martin tried to show he could occupy a spot in an NFL secondary.
This year, punter/kicker Quinn Sharp was the only Oklahoma State representative in the event, nailing a 42-yard field goal and averaging 62.3 yards on three kickoffs in Saturday's game.
That was the first major step of many in Sharp's pre-draft evaluation process. The NFL Scouting Combine is at the end of February. Then comes OSU's Pro Day. Interviews with teams, and perhaps private workouts, will be scattered between now and late April.
Sharp won't be trying to prove where he should be drafted, but that he should be drafted at all.
“Hopefully everything will work out,” Sharp said before the Heart of Dallas Bowl earlier this month, “and whenever all my opportunities come up, I can go out there and take advantage of them.”
He certainly made a strong case during his standout career in Stillwater, where he was arguably the best triple-threat kicker in college football over the past two seasons.
He was the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year twice (he shared the honor with Tavon Austin this past season) and led the nation in touchbacks all four seasons of his career. In 2012, he averaged 46.3 yards per punt and made 28 of his 34 field goal attempts, including two 51-yarders.
But NFL teams can often find the right specialist through free agency.
Former OSU kicker Dan Bailey went undrafted in 2011 but signed with The Dallas Cowboys that summer and snagged the placekicking duties. Justin Tucker, who will kick for the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl this Sunday, was not drafted out of Texas last year.
Tucker was, somehow, not a part of the larger group of specialists drafted in 2012. Four kickers and two punters were taken, including California punter Bryan Anger in the third round by the Jacksonville Jaguars. The previous two years combined, a total of four punters and one kicker were selected.
Sharp said before the Heart of Dallas Bowl that he likely projects more as a kicker and kickoff specialist. But ESPN and CBS both rank him as a punter. Mel Kiper says he's the fourth-best at that position, while CBS pegs him at the No. 2 spot.
That versatility should only help Sharp, as he could fill different roles on different teams. Still, both ESPN and CBS list Sharp as a borderline draft prospect.
Sharp has a future in the NFL. Over the next several weeks, his task is to prove he deserves to have his name called on draft weekend.