It’s Christmas in January for Pigskin Paul, with the annual All-Star football Games about to get underway. By this time next Monday, I should be entombed in The Trop in St. Pete, for the first practices of the 2019 Shrine Game. My count says this is the 10th year that this game has been in Florida. The first 2 were in Orlando, and the last 8 have been in St. Pete. The game has an East/West team format, with a few geographical anomalies to balance out roster position groups.
Perhaps, the most challenging position group to put together is the QB group, year in and year out. Now that the Senior Bowl gobbles up 8 top QB’s, and most underclassmen are not eligible for the games, it can be a scramble to gather up 6 legit pro prospects on the same week as the NFLPA Bowl attempts to do the same thing. My guess would be that BRETT RYPIEN/Boise and JORDAN TA’AMU/Ole Miss are the top ranked, of the six, for this year’s game. The “sleeper” in the group just might be TAYLOR CORNELIUS/Oklahoma State, who had to wait until his senior year to get a starting job for Mike Gundy, after sitting behind MASON RUDOLPH for Okie State. He’s a big guy at 6’5/230, who put up some nice numbers in 2018 for the Cowboys.
RB is not a featured position in most of the Star games, because it is hard to coordinate a running game with OL groups in just 3 padded practices, but the West features a couple of “in-your-face” big backs, in NICK BROSSETTE/LSU and DEVINE OZIGBO/Nebraska, who might just power their way to yardage.
If the two aforementioned QB’s can come through for the East, they have some very productive college receivers on their current roster. RYAN DAVIS/Auburn is a slippery little guy, (5’9/185), who can get open and run after the catch. Big JAMAL CUSTIS/Syracuse, (6’5/215), has decent speed, and wins 50/50 throws often. DaMARKUS LODGE/Ole Miss was caught in a logjam of talent at Ole Miss, but might have some chemistry with his QB TA’AMU. The two most likely receiving standouts for the West could be TE/ANDREW BECK/Texas and WR/CODY THOMPSON/Toledo.
Both OL groups are big, and have started a lot of college games in their careers. Quite often, we uncover a couple of small school stars who have pro developmental skills at this venue. This year, I will be watching TREY PIPKINS/OT/Sioux Falls, (6’7/310), of the West, along with ETHAN GREENIDGE/Villanova,(6’4/335), and OLISAEMEKA UDOH/Elon, (6’5/335), of the East.
The WEST squad is particularly strong at OC, with JESSE BURKETT/Stanford, NICK LINDER/Indiana and JOHN KENNOY/W Michigan. The East strength might lie in their OT slots, with MARTEZ IVEY/Florida and TYREE ST. LOUIS/ Miami (F).
On the defensive side of things, the DL group might be a bit below recent years in overall talent, but there are some “late-bloomers” among the DL group that I am anxious to watch. On the West unit, ARMON WATTS/Arkansas emerged in his senior season at 6’5/298. He showed some pass rush ability, up the middle, which usually upsets pocket passers in particular. For the East, DT/RICKY WALKER/DT/Va Tech was a steady vet presence on a very young Hokies team and should make a solid Day 3 Draftee after all the glamorous Underclassmen along the D-Line go in Rounds 1-3. Relative to pass-rush, keep your eyes peeled for JORDAN BRAILFORD/Oklahoma State, who is coming out for the Draft, and is eligible for this game because he has been bumping around the college scene for 5 years already. He was the Cowboys top pass rusher, and will be on the East roster. He shows flashes as an edge rusher and will draw heavy scrutiny from scouts.
LB looks to be a strong group for both squads. The East could be keyed by KHALIL HODGE/Buffalo and ANDREW VAN GINKEL/Wisconsin, who is a good pass rusher, and looks a bit like Clay Matthews, with long locks protruding from his helmet. HODGE has simply been a tackling machine for Buffalo. JUSTIN HOLLINS/Oregon may be one of the most athletic players on the West Defense, and JOE DINEEN actually got some notice for his solid play, as Kansas finally won some games in 2018.
It usually feels like the Shrine gets more than it’s share of quality DB’s, and from what I see on their Friday roster, that pattern should hold true to form. All things being equal, especially from a health standpoint, the starting DB’s might look as follows:
EAST CB/MICHAEL JACKSON/Miami, CB/DERRICK BAITY/Kentucky, S/DELVON RANDALL/Temple, S/LUKAS DENIS/BC.
WEST CB/BLACE BROWN/Troy, CB/DONNIE LEWIS/Tulane, S/ADARIUS PICKETT/UCLA, S/ANDREW WINGARD/Wyoming, and they also have MONTRE HARTAGE/Northwestern on the roster.
I could see all 9 of these listed DB’s being Drafted next April.
I always like to acquaint myself with the Specialists at these games, which are the K, P & LS for Special Teams. The top of that group appears to be MATT GAY/K/Utah, who will likely be drafted. He has exactly what teams are looking for; a strong leg and accuracy.
I would also remind you that the NFL now provides the coaching staffs for the Shrine venue. They are a League wide composite group, commonly made up of younger assistants who teams want to get more practical experience for.
It’s a solid group of players overall, with a few legit standouts, and then a couple dozen guys who might get drafted on Day Three, come April.
Chat at you next Monday night from the Shrine.
Thanks once again to GBN Investigative College Football Analyst Larry Parker for his help with some serious detail clarification, as well as proofing work on this article.