Saturday, January 13, 2018
Stuck between the CFB Playoff and the Senior Bowl is the less publicized East-West Shrine Game, held on Saturday, January 20 in St. Petersburg, FL. Although the highest profile NFL-bound senior prospects attend the Senior Bowl, the East-West Shrine annually graduates solid mid-round talents that produce early in their rookie seasons.
Recent alumni include: Joe Thuney, Javon Hargrave, Fabian Moreau, Juston Burris, Justin Simmons, Dean Lowry, Graham Glasgow, Robby Anderson, De’Vondre Campbell, Alex Lewis, Anthony Brown, Brian Poole, Brandon Shell, Parker Ehinger, Elijah McGuire, Xavier Woods, Trey Hendrickson, Deatrich Wise, Geronimo Allison, Derek Watt, Jamon Brown, Mark Glowinski, John Miller, Justin Coleman, Jake Ryan, and many more.
This week matters.
Here is a link for this year’s roster. As always, expect injuries and replacements.
Throughout the game’s week of practices, I will be posting articles here, tweeting observations from the field, and giving input on every player on the roster, so follow me @JoshNorris. The goal is to find the handful of players who stand out above the rest. For now, here are some of the top prospects sorted by position. Note that weigh-ins take place on Monday but the media is not allowed to attend.
Top 20, by position
QB Nick Stevens
WR DaeSean Hamilton
WR Jake Wieneke
OL Dejon Allen
OL KC McDermott
EDGE Kentavius Street
EDGE Chad Thomas
DL Poona Ford
DL James Looney
S Tre Flowers
Of this group, JT Barrett clearly offers the most name recognition. After nine years at Ohio State, Barrett will hope to earn a draftable grade and a strong performance this week can help. His game at Ohio State featured plenty of designed runs, zone read action and obviously a huge number of pocket throws. Memphis’ Riley Ferguson is surrounded by a bit of buzz. I understand why, he’s a playmaker who creates highlights due to making something out of nothing, plus he doesn’t mind taking shots downfield. But that is also Ferguson’s biggest issue, he tries to create a big play on practically every snap, especially when things don’t go according to plan. Like Josh Allen, his foot is on the gas. The pedal is on the floor. Sam Houston State’s Jeremiah Briscoe is the small schooler to note, but let’s close with Colorado State’s Nick Stevens. We look for high-end backup quarterbacks at this event, and Stevens has a chance to be that. Yes, he is a bit boring, but there is something to be said for executing the structure of the offense.
It is difficult for ball carriers to stand out at this event. Finding running backs who create yards on their own is the purpose of evaluating. Hopefully all of these future professionals can pick up the yards blocked for them. Recognizing the ones who create, either by balance on contact or making close defenders miss, is the key. And that is Fordham’s Chase Edmonds.
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) January 2, 2018
Now, as much as I like Edmonds, I know I need to check my expectations. He will likely measure in close to 5-foot-9 and 200 pounds. That is just not a common build for a productive running back, especially a lead ball carrier. So we are looking at more of a complementary piece, which is fine, and that’s only if I can keep trends in mind. Edmonds should show receiving skills and pass protection this week.
Wide Receiver/Tight Ends
One pass catcher really stood out… then he was bumped up to the Senior Bowl. His name, Cedrick Wilson from Boise State. That tends to happen. I’m excited to see his Ted Ginn-like game in Mobile, AL.
Pass catchers win in two ways: small or big. Wilson is the former, creating separation and sustaining it. South Dakota State’s Jake Wieneke fulfills the latter. Think of a 6-foot-4, 215-pounds receiver who looks like an 80-percent Mike Evans.
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) January 3, 2018
At tight end, Arkansas State’s Blake Mack is a slot tight end with receiving skills. The rest did not stand out on first pass.
I always try to predict which prospect participating in this event will be the earliest selection this April. Right now, I’d side with it being an offensive lineman… just don’t ask me which one. Let’s’ start with Jamarco Jones from Ohio State. He took a huge step forward this year, playing with balance and more consistent body positioning. From this first look, Jones has tools to play left tackle in the league. That, on its own, is difficult to find. If he sticks, Jones’ floor is as a swing tackle on a team. That is valuable.
Speaking of development, Army’s Brett Toth is absolutely one to monitor. He looks more like a bulked up tight end than NFL offensive tackle, but his movement is really impressive. We’ve seen players like Alejandro Villanueva and Lane Johnson add weight and use their combination of athleticism and strength, perhaps Toth can do the same. He will also be at the Senior Bowl. Obviously, coming from Army, his pass protection will be tested.
Hawaii’s Dejon Allen has impressive moments at both tackle and guard, and that utility skill set can be valuable.
Two stand above the rest. Miami’s Chad Thomas and NC State’s Kentavius Street. Both currently win on athleticism, so if each absorbs NFL coaching this week, they have a real chance of impressing. Thomas, at 6-foot-5 and 275-pounds, has all the traits a team wants on the edge. He frequently uses his shoulders and hips to get in an advantageous position and then drives from there. I can guarantee the coaches will work and his hands and arms, underused tools, during the week of practice. Plus, Thomas is a former team captain.
Street reminds me so much of Daeshon Hall, a third-round pick by the Panthers last season. Funny enough, both played across from the top edge rushers in their respective class. It goes beyond that, though, as Street mainly uses his hips rather than his hands and arms to win as a pass rusher. Street also has a history of playing inside techniques.
Interior Defensive Line
Cal’s James Looney is… different. Maybe I’m wrong around testing time, but he doesn’t appear to be a top end athlete at this position. However, he has one of the better first steps and frequently times the snap in order to make plays. And it’s not just once a series. It is much closer to every snap. Is that a sustainable style?
USF’s Deadrin Senat is a squatty 1-technique with some real strength to his game. The same can be said for Poona Ford. If either shows upfield disruption as a pass rusher they can improve their evaluations and stand out from the group.
Not the best group this season. The only one who really stood out was FSU’s Matthew Thomas. He eats up ground when chasing ball carriers… unless he finds contact. That immediately halts his momentum.
I have not completed the corner group. Keep that in mind. On a positive note, at least I’m not lying to you and saying I did.
A few safeties look really fun. Oklahoma State’s Tre Flowers is 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, disrupts the catch point and attacks forward against the run. Florida State’s Trey Marshall is an absolute demon when closing on ball carriers or wide receivers. He also appears to love special teams. My final prediction: Marshall delivers the hit of the week.