The Shrine got underway on Monday the 14th, with two afternoon practices. The morning was dedicated to National Scouting’s player weigh-in, which is a deep dark covert operation here in St. Pete, so Monday afternoon was filled with two consecutive practices at The Trop.
By the end of the day, our fears were pretty much confirmed that only a cockeyed optimist would have any expectations that the NFL would be harvesting any serious QB draftees out of this game. IF I were being optimistic, I might project that half of the QB’s here might be worth a spin in the new AAF, or XFL. The most positive news on the day, from the QB group, might have been that after several months of speculation about the size of the latest “small-school WENTZ” projection, EASTON STICK of N. Dakota State, was that it was confirmed to me that he measured in at a bit over 6’1″ tall, and a smidgen under 220 lbs. That info was shared by Dan @ OURLADS, who is the primary scouting advisor for the game. Some had been estimating Stick’s height as low as 5’11”.
While STICK’s name is on the table, let me just say that he looked overwhelmed, in general, competing with the big boys at this venue. His arm strength might be OK for an average NFL back-up QB, but his accuracy was sadly lacking from what I saw. He also seemed to be confused all too often with what was called in the huddle, and what unfolded on the field. That happens in Star Game venues, but not as much as he struggled. He has good wheels, with some speed on his rollouts and improvisation, but that does not a pro QB make.
In general, the QB play was up and down throughout the group of 6. The most productive guy might have been MARCUS McMARYION of Fresno over the 3 day span, but he had the advantage of having his college teammate, Wideout KeeSean JOHNSON, to throw to, and believe me when I say, he wisely worked closely with the guy he knew best. Ranking them as prospects, and without dragging their college careers into play, I would likely rank their pro potential as follows:
1) BRETT RYPIEN/Boise #4
2) JORDAN TA’AMU/Ole Miss #10
3) TAYLOR CORNELIUS/Oklahoma State #14
4) MARCUS McMARYION/Fresno #6
5) EASTON STICK/N D State #12
6) DAVID BLOUGH/Purdue #11
CORNELIUS gets my nod as the most interesting developmental prospect, having started only one season for Okie State, after sitting behind MASON RUDOLPH for 3 years. He has the size, (6’5/230), and arm strength of a pro pocket passer. He throws a pretty accurate ball, when he and his receivers were on the same page. IF I had double-digit Picks in the 2019 draft, and did not have a young developmental QB on my roster, I might use a 7th Round pick on this guy, anticipating the ability to sneak him onto my practice Squad. He helped himself a bit this week.
This may not excite too many of you, but I believe we have a couple of kickers in this game who might get drafted on Day Three, with a chance to win an NFL job in a year or two, if not immediately.
The best of all was #19 MATTHEW GAY, the PK from Utah. His college teammate, P MITCH WISHNOWSKY, will be at the Senior Bowl next week. GAY has a big leg, and a smooth, consistent kicking motion. He was almost perfect in practice up to 50-yards. On Wednesday, his coaches gave him a couple of shots form 63 yards out, ala the TOM DEMPSEY NFL record FG. He had the accuracy on one the last of his 3 tries, but came up a few yards short of the crossbar. He was shaking his head, and visibly upset leaving the field, after missing his closest attempt. He smiled when I asked if he was chasing the Dempsey longest FG mark. He looks draftable to me, just as he did in PAC-12 action that I watched last season.
There was also a dominant Punter on hand, in JACK FOX, #82, of woeful Rice. No BRYAN ANGER is he, but he had distance on a regular basis of 45-yards plus, and he also had hang times starting at 4.60, and up to 5.22. He also connected of quite a few efforts that did not go end over end, but on an angled spiral, making them a bit tougher to catch. If he’s not draftable, then certainly he will be in Training Camp as an URFA.
I felt that the TE group here leaves a lot to be desired. That is not a shock at all. The senior TE class this year was pretty mediocre. In fact on the current GBN Report Big Board, Colin shows only 2 TE”s in out Top 100 prospects, and both of them are declared underclassmen. My top ranked TE at the venue is ANDREW BECK of Texas, and his practice work only went to confirm my opinion. I believe BECK is underrated, in part, because he missed all of the 2017 season with a foot injury, but he looks to have come back strong. He shows good hands and can get down the field and get open against most LB’s, but for teams with red zone running game issues, he is one hellacious blocker and he demonstrated it every day in the Trop. He has good size, at just over 6’3, and a tad above 250 lbs. He hits hard and sustains his blocks.
Rosters for this game are based on East/West geographics, but those lines get blurred within many position groups to come up with adequate numbers at each position for both rosters. One of the strangest outcomes of the mix and match this year, is the definitive size makeup of the two squads. When the East team came out each morning, we saw the work primarily of the fast, quick smarter WR’s. Then in the afternoon, a clearly larger type of WR’s dominated the practices.
The biggest, true WR for the East is JAMAL CUSTIS of Syracuse. This long, tall guy, (6’5), sat on the bench pretty much until 2018, his senior year. Once into the season, he emerged as an above average target, with reliable hands. He has looked very good here, and has not been afraid to push off a bit to create separation. In fact, he will have to refine that skill a bit, or face multiple OPI flags next season as a pro. He’s that long guy who excels at high-pointing a throw. Pretty much, the remainder of the East receiving crew is smaller, quick guys. RYAN DAVIS is short, but a bit more firm, in body type, which surprised me a bit. He looks to have the tools to be an NFL slot guy, but his ball security has been a bit shaky this week. TERRY WRIGHT/Purdue has had his ups and downs. To my eyes, the best all-around receiver on the field this week has been TERRY GODWIN/Georgia. His quickness and change of direction has been dazzling at times. He has also made some excellent, diving catches on low throws. I have to believe that the West secondary members are not looking forward to facing GODWIN on game day.
The outlier of the East WR group is JESPER HORSTED/Princeton. He’s 6’4 and over 220 lbs. As often happens at these venues, he looked seriously overwhelmed on Day one, and has improved each day since. He looks to me like a guy who NFL teams might take a look at as a hybrid- TE/H-B with another 10-15 lbs. on his frame.
When the afternoon session rolls around, we have seen the bigger, possession-type receivers hit the field. None of their wideouts are less than 6’2. CODY THOMPSON/Toledo and KeeSean JOHNSON/Fresno State, have been the most consistent and productive of the group, in general. JOHNSON has shown a bit more speed than I expected, and has enjoyed the chemistry of working with his college QB McMARYION. He made the best catch I have seen from a wideout this week, when he made a stretched out, one handed grab of a slightly high throw pass down the right sideline, kept his balance, and went the distance on Tuesday.
RB is always a tough position to evaluate at Star venues, over a short practice period of basically 3 days. Accordingly, it forces the RB group to make the most of their pass-catching opportunities.
To my eyes, the best overall RB prospect for the East this week has been TY JOHNSON/Maryland, who shows excellent explosion when he sees an opening. This is not a huge surprise, because he used his vision and acceleration in college to achieve success as a Kick Returner. Watch out for him on return work in Saturday’s game.
For me, picking the top RB for the West team was a mindless endeavor. Simply put, NICK BROSSETTE/LSU is going to be a serious No.2 RB in the NFL. Anywhere he might be picked after Round 3 of the Draft, he will be a steal. He runs with burst, decent speed, and power. He blocks the hell out of much bigger defenders, and he is an excellent receiver. On Tuesday, right in front of me around midfield, BROSSETTE went on a fly pattern and made a great hands catch of a throw directly over his head, about 20-yards downfield from the line-of-scrimmage, and took it to the house. Most RB’s cannot make that play. If you think I exaggerate, email JEFF RISDON, who was standing right beside me at the time. I yelled, great catch, as he returned upfield past us, and got a thumbs up in response. That was as good of an individual play as I have seen in my last 10 years going to Shrine action, since they relocated to Florida.
Combining BROSSETTE with teammates DARRIN HALL and DEVINE OZIGBO, on paper, gives the West a decided advantage in the running game, if the OL can handle the East DL, which is questionable. A strong ground attack could help mask deficiencies at the QB position for the West.
The Shrine seems to always have a big contingent of OL prospects, and this year is no exception. The East has 12 OL and the West also lists 12 in their position group. To my eyes, almost half of these guys are pretty much bodies to fill out rosters, but there are some serious pro prospects here as well, and several of them are small school giants, who have made their mark in scouts’ notebooks.
If you do not see your guy’s name mentioned in my wrap up, please assume that they just did not impress me at all. I’d rather tell you positive things about the better guys, than be negative about the others.
The biggest OL prospect, who performed well overall, is OLISAEMEKA UDOH of Elon College. This guy is around 6’5/335, and is just a huge framed guy. I did NOT perceive him in any way to be a big bodied softie. He spent most of his practice time out at OT, but I heard a lot of talk about him being worked inside at OG, which they did do. He’s more than a load, and can move. It may be fascinating to see where/when he goes in April.
The best OC, in a group of 6, was LAMONT GAILLARD/Georgia. He’s OC specific to my eyes, but he can really handle pass-pro. He’s short and powerfully built, and was getting good low based leverage all week. Not many defenders got around him, or through him, in one-on-one drills. I doubt he gets drafted until Day 3, but he has a chance to start in the NFL, IMO.
MARTEZ IVEY/Florida, was the top ranked OT recruit coming out of high school on most lists, but now that he’s done with college, there are some serious questions about his pro potential. Many of the questions are about his knees/joints, after some issues in college, and about his body type. He has never filled out, and despite a soft gut, he looks almost thin framed. I heard multiple scouts discussing his lack of bulk and overall lower body strength, in particular. He did a solid job in practice, but he is not an elite pro prospect by a long shot.
On the West OL, the biggest surprise to me was massive OT BRIAN WALLACE/Arkansas. He looks even bigger than his 6’6/320 program numbers. In pass-pro drills, rushing DE’s just got caught up in his massive body, down after down. Much of the time, they were just swallowed up into his frame. He also played like a road grader on running plays. I saw lots of positives to his game.
If UDOH was the small school stud of the East OL, then TREY PIPKINS/Sioux Falls was his counterpart on the West team, and this big guy also looked very good. I don’t think there is any question that he can handle a job out at OT in the NFL. He practiced at both LT and RT. He’s long and strong, and also shows no sign of excess body fat. He controls defenders with long arms, and shows very good functional strength. He also looked to me like a natural knee bender, who did a solid job not getting too tall in his stance.
KEATON SUTHERLAND/TEXAS A&M either got better each day, or his style just grew on me. He’s a long kid, who can move well in the short area of the interior OL. He’s a better than average athlete, and can hang with the more athletic interior DL guys.
JUWANN BUSHELL-BEATTY/Michigan had mixed results, but I had to remind myself that most of the time, he was playing inside at OG, as opposed to his college slot out at OT. I felt like I saw enough potential to think that he could play OG at the pro level, with patience and teaching from pro coaches.
It seemed to me, that a lot of folks were talking about the solid work from LANARD BONNER/Arkansas State. He’s another tall, full weight prospect who worked out at both inside and outside, to good effect in both slots. I was not looking for him, but I could not ignore his solid work just about every practice. He’s now on the edge of getting drafted, IMO. Moving some defenders around on game day, would be of great benefit to him, as far as his prospect rank is concerned.
That’s it for the offensive side of things from Shrine practices. Come on back Friday, and I’ll go through my defensive notes with you.