With the 2013 college football season wrapped up, it’s time to look forward to the 2014 NFL Draft. We have a few collegiate All-Star games to prepare for including the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl.
While the Shrine Bowl doesn’t get the talent that you see at the Senior Bowl, there are still notable names worthy of mentioning and looking out for that could be called in May’s draft. It’s important not to discount this game. There have been many players that have came to the NFL to standout, most recently Zac Stacy of the St. Louis Rams who was there just one year ago.
Some of the players that stand out in this game are usually called upon to fill into injured positions for the Senior Bowl, as well. Let’s take a look at a few things to keep an eye on during this game on the offensive side of the ball:
This is actually an interesting quarterback match-up here with Jordan Lynch leading the East team coming out of Northern Illinois. Lynch had an exceptional career, including 47 total touchdowns (24 pass, 23 rush) as a senior. Lynch will be out to prove that he can play quarterback at the next level as there are many doubters questioning many aspects of his passing game. Still, it will be fun to watch him out there.
Jimmy Garoppolo is a name that we’ve started to hear more and more in 2013. The Eastern Illinois product has been passing records of Tony Romo and Sean Payton for the last two seasons and has one of the quickest releases that we’ve seen from any sub-FBS level prospect. Running a shotgun spread similar to Baylor, Garoppolo had two big performances against San Diego State and Northern Illinois, which helped raise his stock. At the moment, Garoppolo looks like a mid-round prospect, but we all know that quarterbacks rise regularly.
Washington’s Keith Price is a guy that I’ve watched for awhile and while he has the talent to succeed, he still needs quite a bit of work. Unlike Garoppolo, Price holds onto the ball longer than he should and tries to do too much himself. Still, Price has a ton of upside and with the right system and coaching, he could sit behind a talented veteran for a few seasons and become a solid investment on day three of the NFL draft.
Notre Dame‘s Tommy Rees has had his share of ups and downs and is getting a shot to prove that he should be drafted, while Keith Wenning from Ball State and Jeff Mathews from Cornell prove to scouts that they deserve a look. Wenning played in a system heavily reliant on the pass and did not disappoint, still needing to show more touch and consistency, however. Mathews is a bigger, less athletic quarterback with a big arm that can make all of the throws.
There’s some talent here at running back in 2014 with names like Ben Malena from Texas A&M, Brennan Clay from Oklahoma and LaDarius Perkins from Mississippi State. What I like about most of the backs in this game is that they are pass friendly, being able to catch the ball out of the back field.
The same goes for Rajion Neal from Tennessee who is a larger back that hurt you up the middle or with screen plays. Malena and Perkins are slightly smaller backs that are a bit more elusive in the open field, while Air Force product Anthony LaCoste is all about pounding the ball down the middle of the defense.
Northern Arizona’s Zach Bauman is an intriguing back with good cutback ability and vision. He wants to show more explosiveness in this game if he wants teams to take a late round flyer on him. Another small school product is Tim Flanders out of Sam Houston State who prides himself on an ability to find a hole and accelerate. He carried the ball 19 times for 170 yards and three total touchdowns against Texas A&M early in the season.
You won’t see any big names here out of the FBS schools in terms of wide receiver, but the talent certainly isn’t lacking. Miami (Fl.) receiver Allen Hurns is one of the most experienced of all the receivers along with Ole Miss’ Ja-Mes Logan and Nebraska’s Quincy Enunwa, at least on the FBS level. Hurns and Logan are taller receiver with weight to add on if they want to be more physical, while Enunwa is a bigger, more compact receiver who has made his presence known in the red zone.
Perhaps one of the more intriguing small school prospects is DII standout John Brown out of Pittsburgh State. At 5’10 175, Brown is blessed with very good speed and showed an ability to successfully return kicks while making plays down field. Unlikely to get a combine invite, Brown would be projected to run a sub 4.40 forty.
Valdosta State’s Seantavious Jones is a good sized receiver with average speed, but good ball skills in the air. His route running leaves something to be desired, but he made some big time plays as a senior including a six touchdown performance in a loss to Delta State.
Jimmy Garoppolo’s favorite target in Erik Lora will be joining, as well, having two monstrous seasons at Eastern Illinois in which he caught 123 and 136 passes respectively, eclipsing 1500 yards in each season and double digit touchdowns. His most impressive performance of the 2013 season was against Northern Illinois after catching 14 passes for 198 yards and three touchdowns.
T.J. Jones of Notre Dame and Chandler Jones of San Jose State will also be playing. Both are receivers that can make plays after the catch with their quickness and ability to accelerate. Like the Jones’, Jeremy Gallon is a big play after the catch guy that has a lot to prove. Being listed at around 5’8 and 187 pounds, Gallon finished the season very well for the Michigan Wolverines and will be an intriguing player to watch.
Patrick Laird of Army saw just three receptions on the season playing on an Army team that rarely passed the ball, and Matt Hazel of Coastal Carolina has big time leaping ability and very good size sitting around 6’3 190 pounds. Coastal Carolina has only put out two other prospects recently, but both of them have had some success in NFL systems with Jerome Simpson and Josh Norman showing ability to play with the big boys.
It’ll be interesting to see how these tight ends are utilized in the Shrine Bowl as there is some upside here particularly with Baylor’s Jordan Najvar and Oklahoma State’s Blake Jackson. Jackson is a smaller tight end that plays just like a bigger receiver. He missed time in 2013 due to injury, but the athleticism is certainly there.
Najvar is a 6’6 260 athlete with very solid hands. He was in a Baylor system that didn’t fully support the use of tight ends as much. Colorado State’s Crockett Gillmore saw a very solid 47 receptions in that Rams’ dual tight end sets and Gillmore could be in line for 5th-7th round grade with a solid game.
Indiana’s Ted Bolder caught 35 passes in 2013, six of them for touchdowns, showing his ability to make plays in the red zone. He’s a solid red zone receiver and even better blocker. BYU’s Kaneakua Friel was used primarily as a blocker and he did it well. In the passes he did catch, he showed solid hands and the ability to look the ball in.
Bowling Green’s Alex Bayer was the second leading receiver on the team, but like Friel, he was a solid in line blocker that assisted in the run game.
Nebraska’s Jeremiah Sirles is the one to watch here. At 6’6 312 pounds, he has displayed versatility as well as an ability to protect his quarterbacks at Nebraska in the last two seasons. Laurent Duvernay-Tardis from McGill College in Canada got himself an invite thanks to his surprising agility as a 6’5 315 pound tackle. While he won’t be a third round selection like DT Akiem Hicks was in 2012 coming from Canada, Duvernay-Tardis could definitely be a third day gem that could work himself into NFL lineups at some point.
Texas offensive tackle Donald Hawkins came out of junior college with high expectations set from his coaching staff. While he never really lived up to those, his raw talent is still there and with the right coaching, the 6’5 312 pound tackle could rise up draft boards if he can face off well in practices and the games against some of the talented defensive lineman he’ll face.
There are several small school lineman looking to make a name for themselves this week such as Matt Feiler from Bloomsburg, center Chris Elkins from Youngstown State, Furman’s Dakota Dozier, and the towering Matt Hall from Bellhaven College in Mississippi. Hall comes in at 6’10 320 and will look to prove that he can be a knee bender and continue to show an impressive kick slide. He’s a better run blocker than he will be in the passing game, and could be a project right tackle at the next level.
Tennesse sends two very talented offensive lineman to the Shrine Game as well this week including guard Zach Fulton and center James Stone. Both players should be locks to be drafted, but Fulton could scoot his way into day two with solid pre-draft workouts. Fulton’s 6’5 323 pound frame is very intriguing and his ability to get to the second level is one big reason why running back Rajion Neal had success in 2013.