Practices from the 2012 East-West Shrine Game have been live all week (unfortunately, they are not televised), and the game will be played on Saturday, Jan. 21, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Next to the Senior Bowl, the East-West Shrine Game is the secondary of the two premier annual showcases of many of the nation’s best prospects for the NFL Draft.
The 2012 game has no shortage of talent. For this slideshow, I have chosen to break down both the East and West rosters by position. Players are ranked at their position, along with round grades for each individual player.
Arkansas WR Jarius Wright
Practices from the 2012 East-West Shrine Game have been live all week (unfortunately, they are not televised), and the game will be played on Saturday, Jan. 21, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Chandler Harnish, Northern Illinois, West, Grade: Round 7
John Brantley, Florida, East, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Austin Davis, Southern Mississippi, East, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
B.J. Coleman, Tennessee-Chattanooga, East, Grade: Undrafted
Dan Persa, Northwestern, West, Grade: Undrafted
Tyler Hansen, Colorado, West, Grade: Undrafted
It is highly unlikely that a starting NFL signal-caller will ever emerge from this group. In fact, there is a very legitimate chance that none of these players will even be drafted.
The best prospect of the group is Chandler Harnish. Harnish had a terrific senior season, leading all quarterbacks in the FBS in rushing yards, as well as being one of the most efficient passers in the nation.
That said, Harnish does not have the big arm to be a playmaking passer at the next level, nor the athleticism to be an effective runner against professional defenses. Based on his impressive career and productivity at Northern Illinois, along with his ability to throw accurate passes and make smart decisions, Harnish is worthy of a late-round selection, but he is only a third-string quarterback in the National Football League.
The other intriguing quarterback in this group is John Brantley. Brantley was once a Gatorade National High School Player of the Year and expected to become a star at Florida as Tim Tebow’s successor, but that did not pan out. Brantley’s two years as a starting signal-caller were very inconsistent.
With a big arm and some upside, Brantley could be worth a flier in the seventh round, but will most likely have to fight to make it as an undrafted free agent.
Austin Davis had a great career at Southern Miss, but he does not have an NFL arm and will be a seventh-round pick at best. B.J. Coleman would need a huge Shrine Game performance to enter the draft conversation, while Persa and Hansen are not strong NFL prospects.
Tennessee RB Tauren Poole
Tauren Poole, Tennessee, East, Grade: Round 6
Marc Tyler, USC, West, Grade: Round 7
Bobby Rainey, Western Kentucky, West, Grade: Round 7
Davin Meggett, Maryland, East, Grade: Round 7
Alfred Morris, Florida Atlantic, East, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Lennon Creer, Louisiana Tech, West, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
While there are no stars among them, the running backs at the Shrine Game are an intriguing group.
Leading the group for the East squad is Tennessee’s Tauren Poole. Poole is a tough, physical and battle-tested back from the SEC, and also possesses some quickness. The Tennessee offense really struggled this season following a season-ending injury to starting quarterback Tyler Bray, and as a result, Poole’s numbers were down significantly from his junior year. That hurts Poole’s stock, but he should solidify himself as a Day Three selection with a solid performance in Tampa.
Western Kentucky’s Bobby Rainey had no shortage of productivity in his collegiate career. Rainey finished both his junior and senior seasons ranked fifth nationally, with seasons of 1,695 and 1,649 rushing yards.
That said, Rainey also led the FBS in rushing attempts in each of those seasons. Rainey is not a big-play running back, but more of a durable grinder. However, at only 5'7" and without great size or speed, he will not be able to take nearly the workload that he did collegiately. As a result, Rainey is only a seventh-round prospect, but he deserves to be drafted for his productivity.
The most talented running back in Tampa this week is USC running back Marc Tyler. Unfortunately, Tyler’s career has been marred by off-field trouble, as he clearly lacks maturity, and his play has suffered as a result.
After one season as a feature back as a junior, Tyler became Curtis McNeal’s backup this season. He had a decent season, but he is one player who can really help himself in the interview room more than anywhere else this week. Tyler has the talent to warrant an early Day Three selection, but poor productivity and character concerns could drop him to the seventh round or out of the draft altogether.
Two running backs who are sons of former NFL running backs will be playing in this game: Tyler, the son of Wendell Tyler, and Maryland’s Davin Meggett, the son of Dave Meggett. The younger Meggett has had a solid career at Maryland, even while dealing with his father being in prison. Meggett has the size and speed to be a decent NFL back, and could help himself with a big week at the Shrine Game.
Illinois WR A.J. Jenkins
Jarius Wright, Arkansas, West, Grade: Round 3-4
A.J. Jenkins, Illinois, East, Grade: Round 4
B.J. Cunningham, Michigan State, East, Grade: Round 5-6
Junior Hemingway, Michigan, West, Grade: Round 6-7
Lance Lewis, East Carolina, East, Grade: Round 7
Greg Childs, Arkansas, West, Grade: Round 7
Tyler Shoemaker, Boise State, West, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Devon Wylie, Fresno State, West, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Thomas Mayo, California (PA), East, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Tim Benford, Tennessee Tech, East, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
LaRon Byrd, Miami, East, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Dale Moss, South Dakota State, West, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Darius Hanks, Alabama, West, Grade: Undrafted
Kevin Hardy, The Citadel, East, Grade: Undrafted
The Shrine Game brought a very intriguing group of wide receivers to Tampa.
There is no shortage of speed among the pass-catchers on the rosters, but leading the way among them is Arkansas’s Jarius Wright. Wright has tremendous speed and is a very polished slot receiver who is Arkansas’s all-time leader in receiving yards. Wright has the speed to burn a defense with his speed, making him a tremendous big-play threat. He should have a very smooth transition to playing slot receiver at the next level and is a potential Day Two selection.
The rosters include many tremendous athletes that are more raw as receiving prospects, including Fresno State’s Devon Wylie, California (PA)’s Thomas Mayo and The Citadel’s Kevin Hardy.
A.J. Jenkins emerged with a breakout senior season, catching 90 passes for 1,276 yards. Jenkins was very productive in one of the nation’s best defensive conferences, the Big Ten. He is a very good pass-catcher and route runner. His skill set should translate well to success at the next level, making him a strong prospect early on Day Three.
Two other Big Ten receivers in this game, Michigan State’s B.J. Cunningham and Michigan’s Junior Hemingway, should also be selected in this year’s draft.
Cunningham may have some red flags around his maturity, but seems to have turned the corner in his senior season. He had a great season, catching 79 passes for 1,306 yards, and is a talented downfield receiver who is worth a Day Three selection.
Hemingway has never had a great statistical season in Michigan’s inconsistent passing offense, but he has great talent. Hemingway has made some very impressive catches over the course of his career and is a good athlete. He is worth a late-round selection as a wide receiver project.
Jarius Wright is not the only Arkansas receiver at the Shrine Game. Greg Childs looked poised to do big things as a sophomore, when he emerged as Arkansas’s top receiver. Childs has great size, is strong and has great hands; unfortunately, he suffered a torn patellar tendon during his junior season and has never fully recovered from that injury.
Childs only caught 21 passes for 240 yards this season. However, taking into consideration the severity of a patellar tendon injury, it is possible that Childs just came back too quickly. If he can show his pre-injury level of play at the Shrine Game, his draft stock will rise significantly. Childs really lost athleticism in the aftermath of his injury, but in hopes that he will get back to form, he is worth taking a chance on in round seven.
Temple TE/H-B Evan Rodriguez
Evan Rodriguez, Temple, East, Grade: Round 5-6
George Bryan, North Carolina State, West, Grade: Round 6-7
David Paulson, Oregon, West, Grade: Round 6-7
Kevin Koger, Michigan, West, Grade: Round 6-7
Bruce Figgins, Georgia, East, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted (FB)
Emil Igwenagu, Massachusetts, East, Grade: Undrafted
Chase Ford, Miami, East, Grade: Undrafted
Cory Harkey, UCLA, West, Grade: Undrafted
The West roster is the home for most of the tight-end talent in the Shrine Game, but the top prospect at the position in the game is on the East squad. Temple’s Evan Rodriguez is an H-back who can play both tight end and fullback. He is a solid blocker both on the line of scrimmage and as a lead-blocking fullback, and is a good receiver.
Although not nearly as athletic, Rodriguez compares to Aaron Hernandez in terms of his versatility, receiving skill and how he can be used on the field in various ways. He will not be the big playmaker that Hernandez is, but can be a solid, productive player for the team that drafts him.
The draft prospects among the West tight ends consist of North Carolina State’s George Bryan, Oregon’s David Paulson and Michigan’s Kevin Koger, all worthy of being selected late in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Bryan is not much of an athlete, but he has great size (6’5’’, 265 pounds) and is a very solid blocker. He has been successful as a pass-catcher at North Carolina State, but his lack of speed will limit his impact as a receiver in the NFL. Bryan projects well as a third tight end for goal-line sets to be used as a blocking specialist and goal-line receiver.
Paulson is a skilled receiving tight end who had success in Oregon’s up-tempo offense. Paulson is undersized for the tight end position, but his receiving ability makes him a solid late-round prospect for a team with a West Coast offense.
Koger did not put up big numbers for the Wolverines, but he is a big tight end with athletic ability and good hands. He projects well to the next level and is worth taking a chance on late in the draft.
Iowa OT Markus Zusevics (center)
Matt Reynolds, Brigham Young, West, Grade: Round 4
Markus Zusevics, Iowa, West, Grade: Round 5-6
Tom Compton, South Dakota, West, Grade: Round 6-7
Marcel Jones, Nebraska, West, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Jeff Adams, Columbia, East, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Bradley Sowell, Mississippi, East, Grade: Undrafted
Joe Long, Wayne State, East, Grade: Undrafted
Al Netter, Northwestern, West, Grade: Undrafted
Lamar Holmes, Southern Miss, East, Grade: Undrafted
Most people will not tune into the Shrine Game to watch offensive linemen, but if there is an offensive lineman worth watching in this game, it is absolutely BYU’s Matt Reynolds.
Reynolds has had a tremendous career as BYU’s left tackle, starting since he was a freshman. Reynolds is a very good run blocker who has great technique both in his upper body and with his footwork.
Reynolds will likely move to right tackle or guard at the next level, but is a versatile offensive lineman who could draw Day Two consideration and is well worth a fourth-round pick.
Lining up on the other side from Riley Reiff, who should be a top-15 selection in April, Iowa’s Markus Zusevics is overlooked, but he is a very solid right tackle. Zusevics is not dominant like Reiff is, but he is a very solid right tackle and has the versatility to kick inside to guard. His ability to be a three-position backup makes him a solid Day Three choice.
Another intriguing offensive tackle, also on the West squad, is South Dakota’s Tom Compton. Compton was an AP FCS First-Team All-American in his senior season and has a very good frame and size. Compton is not a player I have had an opportunity to watch, so I am intrigued to see him perform in the Shrine Game. He should be a late-round selection with a good week in Tampa.
Colorado G Ryan Miller pictured along with another top draft prospect...
Ryan Miller, Colorado, West, Grade: Round 5-6
Brandon Brooks, Miami University, West, Grade: Round 6-7
Rishaw Johnson, California (PA), East, Grade: Round 7
Derek Dennis, Temple, East, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Desmond Wynn, Rutgers, East, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Jeremiah Warren, South Florida, East, Grade: Undrafted
Josh LeRibeus, Southern Methodist, West, Grade: Undrafted
Ben Heenan, Saskatchewan, West, Grade: Undrafted
The most intriguing guard prospect in the Shrine Game is Ryan Miller. Like Miller’s former teammate, 2011 first-round draft pick Nate Solder, Miller has a long 6’8’’ frame, but needs to bulk up. He is nowhere near the caliber of prospect that Solder was, but he is long and explosive.
Miller is a project, but could develop into a starting guard in the NFL or be a three-position backup with the ability to play right tackle as well. He is worth a Day Three selection.
Another solid guard prospect on the West roster is Miami University’s Brandon Brooks, a massive mauler who should be selected in the late rounds of the draft.
On the East roster, California (PA)’s Rishaw Johnson, Temple’s Derek Dennis and Rutgers’s Desmond Wynn are all possible late-round draft selections who need good performances at the Shrine Game to boost their stock.
Texas C David Snow
Moe Petrus, Connecticut, West, Grade: Round 5-6
Quentin Saulsberry, Mississippi State, East, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
David Snow, Texas, West, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Tyler Horn, Miami, East, Grade: Undrafted
The center to pay attention to in this year’s Shrine Game is Connecticut center Moe Petrus. Over the past four years, Petrus has started every game for the Huskies, including every game the last three seasons at center.
Petrus is not as dominant as the top centers in this draft, but his consistency says a great deal about him. By drafting Petrus, an NFL team will get a potential steal in a polished, experienced center who can step in when he is needed.
Virginia DE Matt Conrath (#94)
Matt Conrath, Virginia, East, Grade: Round 5
Julian Miller, West Virginia, East, Grade: Round 6-7
Tyrone Crawford, Boise State, West, Grade: Round 6-7
Kentrell Lockett, Mississippi, West, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Justin Francis, Rutgers, West, Grade: Undrafted
Jabaree Tuani, Navy, East, Grade: Undrafted
Arnaud Nadon, Laval, West, Grade: Undrafted
Of the defensive ends in the Shrine Game, the player to watch is Virginia’s Matt Conrath. Conrath played defensive tackle at Virginia and did a terrific job as a gap penetrator. At 6’7’’ and 280 pounds, Conrath does not have the frame to play inside at the next level. However, he has a tremendous frame and is a very good athlete, which should enable him to make the transition to defensive end.
Conrath is an impact player on the defensive line. He led the Cavaliers with 12 tackles for loss this season and was the team’s best player in their defensive front seven. He should be a solid Day Three selection.
Two other playmaking defensive ends playing in this game who should hear their names called in April are West Virginia’s Julian Miller and Boise State’s Tyrone Crawford. Both players were overshadowed in college by the tremendous pass rushers who lined up across from them: West Virginia’s Bruce Irvin and Boise State’s Shea McClellin should both be selected in Round 3 or 4.
While overshadowed, both were very productive for their teams. Miller is not the spectacular pass rusher that Irvin is, but he is a more complete defensive end, a potential rotational lineman worth a selection in the late rounds.
Crawford actually led Boise State with 13.5 tackles for loss this season and had a great senior season. However, it was his first year as a starter, and part of his success must be attributed to the attention drawn by McClellin and defensive tackles Billy Winn and Chase Baker consistently. That does not take away from Crawford as a player, but he is best suited to be a late-round selection as a rotational player.
USC DT DaJohn Harris
Nicolas Jean-Baptiste, Baylor, East, Grade: Round 4
Dominique Hamilton, Missouri, West, Grade: Round 6
DaJohn Harris, USC, West, Grade: Round 6
Travian Robertson, South Carolina, East, Grade: Round 7
Akiem Hicks, Regina, East, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Micanor Regis, Miami, East, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Vaughn Meatoga, Hawaii, West, Grade: Undrafted
Kaniela Tuilopulotu, Hawaii, West, Grade: Undrafted
While Baylor’s Nicolas Jean-Baptiste is not the caliber of prospect that 2011 first-round pick Phil Taylor was in last year’s draft, he has more similarities to Taylor than just being his former teammate. Like Taylor, Jean-Baptiste has true nose tackle size at 335 pounds and is very strong and explosive.
Jean-Baptiste led the Bears with 8.5 tackles for loss this season, which is actually more than Taylor had last year. That said, the Bears defense was among the worst in the NCAA this year, and Jean-Baptiste is not the dominant force that Taylor was. That said, he should draw interest by Round 4 from teams that run the 3-4 defensive system in need of a nose tackle.
Another defensive tackle on the East roster likely to be drafted is South Carolina’s Travian Robertson, while there are also two Day Three picks playing the position on the West roster, Missouri’s Dominique Hamilton and USC’s DaJohn Harris.
Hamilton has great size at 6’5’’ and 305 pounds, is powerful and has good explosiveness up front. His Twitter name is @Underrated_Dom, a very accurate name he chose to represent him. Hamilton has received little attention for his play at Missouri, but is worth a sixth-round choice.
Similar to his teammate, Marc Tyler, at running back, DaJohn Harris is the most talented defensive tackle in this game, but his motor is very questionable. Harris has displayed flashes of stardom, but does not make a consistent impact, and was a rotational player for the Trojans. Harris is not going to be more than that at the next level, but his upside makes him worth a pick in Round 6.
Pittsburgh OLB Brandon Lindsey
Brandon Lindsey, Pittsburgh, East, Grade: Round 4
Tank Carder, TCU, West, Grade: Round 4-5
Josh Kaddu, Oregon, West, Grade: Round 6-7
Brandon Marshall, Nevada, West, Grade: Round 7
Kyle Wilber, Wake Forest, East, Grade: Round 7
Ronnie Thornton, Southern Miss, West, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Steven Johnson, Kansas, West, Grade: Undrafted
While Pittsburgh’s Brandon Lindsey and TCU’s Tank Carder are ranked together as the top two outside linebackers playing in the East-West Shrine Game, they are two distinctly different prospects.
Lindsey, one of the headliners of the East roster, is a talented pass rusher who had success as a defensive end collegiately, but at only 250 pounds, he has to make the conversion to outside linebacker. Lindsey is a very skilled hybrid pass rusher, but will only be a good fit a an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive system. For a team that runs that system and needs another pass-rushing linebacker, Lindsey would be a good choice in Round 4.
Tank Carder will go down as one of the greatest players in TCU football history. In each of the past two seasons, Carder was named Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year, and his legacy will forever be remembered for the game-sealing pass deflection he made to seal victory for TCU in the 2011 Rose Bowl Game over Wisconsin. Carder was named Defensive MVP of that game.
Carder is not a spectacular athlete, but he has tremendous playmaking instincts, always seeming to come up with big plays at the right time. Carder is not a spectacular prospect, but his instincts and playmaking ability should be enough to make him an early selection on Day Three.
Two other key linebackers on the West squad are Oregon’s Josh Kaddu and Nevada’s Brandon Marshall. Kaddu filled the void left by the graduation of Kenny Rowe from the season before and has a solid senior season as one of the leaders of Oregon’s defense. He is an athletic linebacker with pass-rushing ability, worth a selection in the late rounds.
Marshall was Nevada’s leading tackler this past season. He is a solid, well-rounded outside linebacker who should be able to play well on special teams and is worth a selection in the seventh round.
Arkansas ILB Jerry Franklin
Jerry Franklin, Arkansas, West, Grade: Round 4-5
Najee Goode, West Virginia, East, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Max Gruder, Pittsburgh, East, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Shawn Loiseau, Merrimack, East, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Josh Linam, Central Florida, East, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Steven Erzinger, Army, East, Grade: Undrafted
The aforementioned Tank Carder will be in a battle all week for best linebacker on the West squad, and that is due to the presence of Arkansas middle linebacker Jerry Franklin, who also rates as an early selection on Day Three.
Jerry Franklin has had a tremendous career for the Razorbacks. He has started at middle linebacker since he was a freshman and has led the team in tackles all four seasons. Franklin is a very solid tackler who will be a good run stopper at the next level.
That said, while Franklin was a very productive four-year starter, he never quite emerged as a star on their defense, which is why he should not be selected before Day Three, even with his consistency.
Franklin is the only true middle linebacker of the West squad, but given his ability to be an every-down player at the position, this should suit both parties both fine.
As for the East squad, they have five middle linebackers, but none are major NFL prospects. Two Big East middle linebackers, West Virginia’s Najee Goode and Pittsburgh’s Max Gruder, do not quite fit the billing for NFL middle linebackers, but could work their way into the late rounds with strong weeks in the Shrine Game. Both Goode and Gruder are on the fringe of being drafted after very good senior seasons.
Iowa CB Shaun Prater
Shaun Prater, Iowa, West, Grade: Round 3
Robert Blanton, Notre Dame, East, Grade: Round 4-5
Trevin Wade, Arizona, West, Grade: Round 5
Keith Tandy, West Virginia, West, Grade: Round 5
Brandon Hardin, Oregon State, West, Grade: Round 6-7
Charles Brown, North Carolina, East, Grade: Round 7
Emanuel Davis, East Carolina, East, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Chris Greenwood, Albion, West, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Josh Norman, Coastal Carolina, East, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Micah Pellerin, Hampton, East, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Gary Gray, Notre Dame, East, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Justin Bethel, Presbyterian, East, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Cornerback is one of the strongest positions at this year’s East-West Shrine Game, with at least six players at the position who should be selected in April’s NFL Draft. Leading the group is Iowa’s Shaun Prater, a third-round value who rates as the best prospect in Tampa this week.
Prater’s numbers went down in his season, but that is because he often locks down opposing receivers, causing opponents to throw the ball away from him. Prater is a fluid, physical cornerback who has the caliber to be a starting defensive back in the National Football League. He is worthy of being a third-round selection and could move up with a good week at the Shrine Game.
Notre Dame’s Robert Blanton is also a very solid prospect. Blanton has very good size for the cornerback position and is instinctive and physical. Blanton is not a shutdown cornerback, but there should be a place in the NFL for Blanton as a fourth cornerback and special teams contributor. Blanton should be an early Day Three selection.
Arizona’s Trevin Wade and West Virginia’s Keith Tandy both join Prater on the West roster, and both currently grade as Round 5 picks. Wade is an instinctive cornerback with good ball skills and has been successful as Arizona’s top cornerback over the past few seasons. Tandy is a well-rounded cornerback with good size, plays with physicality and has playmaking ability.
Those are the top four cornerback prospects in this game, but not the only intriguing players to watch at the position.
Oregon State’s Brandon Hardin is a tall, physical cornerback, but after missing the entire season with a shoulder injury, he must have a good Shrine Game performance to salvage his draft stock.
North Carolina’s Charles Brown is the opposite of Hardin, as he came back for his senior season after sitting out an entire year due to suspension. Brown had a decent season, but remains a fringe draft prospect who needs a good Shrine Game showing to be selected in April’s draft.
Wisconsin FS Aaron Henry
Aaron Henry, Wisconsin, West, Grade: Round 3
Tysyn Hartman, Kansas State, East, Grade: Round 6-7
Blake Gideon, Texas, West, Grade: Round 7
Jerrell Young, South Florida, East, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Christian Thompson, South Carolina State, East, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Nick Sukay, Penn State, East, Grade: Undrafted
Along with Prater, the second prospect in this game who grades out as a solid third-round draft choice is Wisconsin free safety Aaron Henry.
Henry was one of the best players this past season on a strong Wisconsin defense. He is a well-rounded safety, effective both in pass coverage and against the run. He is unlikely to be a standout at the next level, but should be a solid starting-caliber free safety. Watch for Henry to be as sound and polished as any player in this game.
Another safety who made a name for himself this season as one of the leaders of a top defense is Kansas State’s Tysyn Hartman. Hartman is a steady safety who tackles well, but a lack of speed hurts his potential to cover receivers at the next level. As a backup safety and special teams player, Hartman carries merit as a prospect, and that should be enough for a selection in the late rounds if he has a good Shrine Game performance.
One more interesting free safety to watch in the Shrine Game is Texas’s Blake Gideon. Although Gideon has shared the Texas secondary over the past four years with many great players, including 2010 first-round pick safety Earl Thomas and 2011 first-round pick cornerback Aaron Williams, Blake has managed to make a name for himself by coming up with big plays.
Gideon has an aggressive, hard-nosed style of play and a motor that is always running. That said, Gideon sometimes gives up plays to opposing receivers, and he does not have NFL-caliber athleticism for a defensive back. However, Gideon’s motor and reckless abandon makes him a very good candidate to excel on special teams.
Duke SS Matt Daniels making a hit
Matt Daniels, Duke, East, Grade: Round 5
Duke Ihenacho, San Jose State, West, Grade: Round 6
Rodney McLeod, Virginia, West, Grade: Round 7
Austin Cassidy, Nebraska, West, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Duke’s Matt Daniels is the top strong safety in attendance at the Shrine Game. Daniels led the Blue Devils with 126 tackles and 16 passes defended, both which ranked among the top 20 in the nation.
Daniels is a sound tackler and a good athlete as well. Daniels’ problems are in his ability to change direction, which could present him trouble at the next level. That said, his productivity, measurables and skill set should make him worthy of a Round 5 selections.
The West team also has a solid group of strong safeties. San Jose State’s Duke Ihenacho is a three-time first-team All-WAC performer, an instinctive safety. Virginia’s Rodney McLeod was overshadowed by teammate Chase Minnifield, one of the nation’s top cornerbacks, although McLeod put up the better numbers. That is not to say McLeod was a better player, but he is a solid safety who tackles well and could be a steal in the late rounds.
The other strong safety is Austin Cassidy, who had a very solid senior season for Nebraska, but will need to make a big impression at the Shrine Game to be drafted.
Florida State P Shawn Powell
Shawn Powell, P, Florida State, East, Grade: Round 7
Bryan Anger, P, California, West, Grade: Round 7 or Undrafted
Blair Walsh, K, Georgia, East, Grade: Undrafted
Matt Prewitt, P, Kentucky Christian, West, Grade: Undrafted
Greg Zuerlein, K, Missouri Western State, West, Grade: Undrafted
Teams in need of a punter should certainly be keeping an eye on Florida State’s Shawn Powell and California’s Bryan Anger in the Shrine Game, two of the best punters in the nation.
Powell is a big, powerful punter who led the nation with a punting average of better than 47 yards per punt this season. Powell is the best punter in this year’s draft class, and he can solidify that status with a strong Shrine Game performance.
Anger is also a good punter with an outside shot of being drafted late. As for the placekickers, Georgia’s Blair Walsh may have a chance to go selected, but he should not be. He was very shaky in his senior season, making only 60 percent of his kicks. He has the leg strength and overall kicking ability to warrant a training camp invite, but a poor senior season should keep him out of the draft.
Thanks for reading!
For more coverage of the 2012 NFL Draft, follow me on Twitter @Dan_Hope.