Some folks, certainly not yours truly, question the significance of the annual All-Star Games played by the top senior prospects every January. There have been what seems like a hoard of new, wanna-be Star games in recent years. More power to them all, but for the present and immediate future, the Big 3 are still the East/West Shrine Classic, the Reese’s Senior Bowl, and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. I always like to take a peek at how many of each game’s players get drafted, then do another recap in September, to see how many of these game draftees actually made NFL rosters to start the season.
The youngest contest of the Big 3 is the NFLPA game, and as the newest, it relies a lot on “smaller school” players, hoping to find some overlooked, or late blooming, prospects. The game itself is closing in on completing its first full decade of play. The game had been making slow, but steady, progress in recent years in growing the talent base, and as a result, growing the number of draftees. However, the game took a step back in 2019. With the advent of two new pro football leagues coming into existence, (AAF, XFL), the NFLPA game’s scouting director TONY SOFTLI, himself a former NFL exec, resigned his position with the NFLPA game, and moved on. The new scouting and player selection group took a deep step backwards in player procurement this time around. The NFLPA game tallied only 7 players being drafted from their roster of over 100 total players. Their highest player selection was QUINCY WILLIAMS, at Pick 98, in Round 3. LB/SS WILLIAMS, is the brother of QUINNEN WILLIAMS/DT/’BAMA, who was the Draft’s 3rd overall player selected by the JETS. It will be interesting to see if the game picks back up in talent recruitment next season.
The oldest of the games is the Shrine venue, which moved to Florida ten years ago. The new location at The Trop, (after 2 failed years in Orlando), seems like a natural, since the Shrine World Headquarters is in Tampa, along with one of their famed Children’s Hospitals. The Shrine tally of draftees for 2019 was a solid 32 players, out of the 254 total Draft Picks. This game had 3 players taken in the Top 100 player selections overall, with SIONE TAKITAKI/LB/BYU, being the highest at PICK 80. Early Training Camp rosters are showing 100 or more of the Shrine Game participants as being under contract. This game is likely to be undergoing some changes with the exit of Game Director HAROLD RICHARDSON. What those changes might be remains to be seen. But I think it is safe to say that the Game would be wise to continue its relationship with former NFL Scout, and Draft Guru from Ourlads, DAN SHONKA.
However, the reigning champ, Senior Bowl, had one of its best years ever to retain the throne. I have documented 92 participants from this contest as being drafted, including 10 in Round One. Those numbers are reminiscent of the good old days before 100, or so, underclassmen declared for the NFL Draft each year. You see, other than a few graduation exceptions, college underclassmen are not permitted on these game rosters. The highest Pick from the Senior Bowl was DANIEL JONES/QB/DUKE, their game MVP, at PICK 6 overall. There is a subtle irony that the final Pick in the 2019 Draft also came from the Senior Bowl. Caleb Wilson/TE/UCLA now carries the title Mr. Irrelevant because of that distinction. These kind of numbers are indeed of significance for new Game Director JIM NAGY, and his talent scouts. Not coincidentally, NAGY came to the game from a career as an NFL Scout, with some very successful organizations around the League. The count of total players from this game on current NFL rosters, is also well in excess of 100.
I will mention that the Senior Bowl usually ends with the most players on September rosters. With 93 draftees, I don’t see how they don’t win that count again come September, but time will tell. And we will take a look at those rosters and summarize the final Star Game head count for you when September rolls around.
I should also like to point out another “oddity” from this years Star Game players. Each year, a dozen or so players appear in multiple games, primarily due to player injuries. This year we had the oddity of 2 players, whose name appeared on all 3 game’s rosters, with actual playing time in two games. Those players are SIONE TAKITAKI, whom I noted earlier as the top Shrine selection, and OLI UDOH/OL/ELON.
PS Another thank you to GBN teammate LARRY PARKER, for not only proofing this piece for me, but also adding some content info that I overlooked.