College football's all-star season kicks off Saturday, January 19, with the East-West Shrine game being played at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Scouts from every NFL team will be on hand, including the Minnesota Vikings, who were lucky enough to draft two players they watched in the 2012 game; wide receiver Jarius Wright out of Arkansas and kicker Blair Walsh out of Georgia.
The Vikings made a seven game jump in 2012, going from three to ten wins, and among the top factors in their quick turnaround was the excellent draft they had last April, selecting seven different players who made solid contributions—including Walsh, who was named All-Pro after his rookie season.
The East-West Shrine game doesn't attract the top end collegiate talent, but the longest running college football all-star game will showcase a ton of players who will have their names called in next spring's draft.
Here we take a look at several players the Minnesota Vikings will be scouting intently in Saturday's game, which you can see on the NFL Network starting at 4pm est.
Depending on what the Vikings decide to do with free agents Erin Henderson and Jasper Brinkley, they will almost certainly be looking for linebacker help in the 2013 draft.
Keith Pough is a 6'3", 238 pound dynamo out of Howard University that has been standing out during the practice week leading up to the East-West Shrine game.
Here's what draft analyst Shawn Zobel had to say about Pough after watching him this week:
Howard's Keith Pough stood out as one of the biggest winners from this week. Not only did he show that he belonged here with players from bigger schools, Pough was an active, sideline-to-sideline defender in team action while being nearly unblockable in one-on-one drills. Projecting as a WILL linebacker in the 4-3 defense, Pough possesses the leadership and intangibles in addition to the physical skillset needed to develop into a starting linebacker down the road in the NFL. He's one of the gems of this year's draft.
Pough has the size, speed and physicality to play any of the linebacker positions for Minnesota, and would be a great addition to their defense. The Vikings scouts will be watching him closely on Saturday.
Pough will be wearing No. 13 for the West team.
The Vikings scouts will be keeping a close eye on Pittsburgh running back Ray Graham on Saturday.
At just 5'9", 190 pounds, Graham doesn't have ideal NFL size, but he has incredible quickness and vision and just knows how to make defenders miss.
Graham will be a very similar NFL player to Jacquizz Rodgers of the Atlanta Falcons.
It's almost a certainty that Toby Gerhart won't be with the Vikings beyond the 2013 season and the Vikings are going to need to add depth at running back. Graham is an ideal third down back and can work out of the backfield and from the slot like Percy Harvin currently does.
Graham could also be an explosive addition to the kick-return game and could free up the roster spot currently being taken by Marcus Sherels.
Graham will be wearing No. 12 for the East team.
It's no secret the Minnesota Vikings will be looking for a couple of wide receivers in the 2013 draft. It's also no secret that Division III power Mount Union is turning out some exceptional wide receiver talent, with both Pierre Garcon and Cecil Shorts thriving at the highest level.
Jasper Collins might be the next Mount Union receiver to shine in the NFL.
The Vikings need to add talent at wide receiver, and there's no doubt that the 5'11", 190 pounder has it. He obviously lacks elite size and he isn't a burner, but he proved to be perhaps the most polished receiver during the week of practice at the Shrine game.
The Vikings will more than likely be taking a higher-upside receiver in the early rounds of the draft, but they would do very well to get Collins later on in the draft. The kid will be a productive player.
Collins will be wearing No. 8 for the West squad.
Another wide receiver the Vikings scouts will be watching closely Saturday is Emory Blake out of Auburn.
At 6'2", 195 pounds, Blake is a little bigger than Collins and obviously proved himself against better competition playing in the SEC.
Blake didn't have a fantastic senior season, but NFL scouts are chalking that up to Auburn's awful quarterback play in 2012.
Blake leaves Auburn ranking fifth all time in both receptions and yards and is a very intriguing mid to late round prospect for the Vikings, who are desperate to find receiving gold with one of their late round picks in 2013.
Blake will be wearing No. 80 for the East team.
The Vikings will be looking to add depth to the secondary in the 2013 draft and their are several cornerbacks playing in the East-West Shrine game on Saturday who will be under the watchful eye of the Minnesota scouts.
Brandon McGee out of Miami was impressive all week in practice, showing great closing speed and quickness to the ball. At 6'0", 197 pounds, McGee is a physical player who finished sixth in tackles for the Hurricanes in 2012.
McGee is a great athlete and would add needed depth to the Minnesota cornerback corps.
He'll be wearing No. 21 for the East team.
Micah Hyde—out of Iowa—is another cornerback the Vikings will be watching closely on Saturday.
A three-year starter for the Hawkeyes, Hyde shared the team MVP award for 2012 and started every game over his last three seasons in Iowa City.
At a solid 6'0", 200 pounds, Hyde combines good size and speed with a very high football IQ that will make him a solid second day pick in the draft. Hyde is the type of high character player Vikings GM Rick Spielman has been stocking up on and would be an ideal addition to the Minnesota secondary.
Here is what Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said about Hyde to Iowa Football:
"Not only has Micah been a great starter at cornerback for us the last three years, he has also been a valuable contributor on special teams as a gunner and punt returner. Micah has sparked our team with many big plays, maybe none bigger than his interception and touchdown return versus Missouri in the 2010 Insight Bowl. He has been a strong and positive team leader for some time."
Hyde will be wearing No. 18 for the West squad on Saturday.
Linebacker Gerald Hodges out of Penn State just might be the best football player at the 2013 East-West Shrine game.
The Vikings will be looking for perhaps one or even two new starters for their linebacker group this offseason, and Hodges is a kid who is ready to step in from day one.
At 6'2", 250 pounds, he was a tackling machine for Penn State, finishing fourth in the Big Ten in tackles in 2012. He also had two interceptions and seven pass breakups.
Hodges is another in the long line of Penn State linebackers who might not blow you away at the combine, but once you head out to the football field, he'll stand out.
Hodges will be wearing No. 42 for the East squad.
TCU's massive Blazie Foltz is the type of offensive guard who likes to dominate people.
While Brandon Fusco was getting better game by game for the Vikings and Charlie Johnson was better at guard than he was at tackle the year before, the Vikings are certainly in the need for some depth and quality at the position.
Foltz was a second-team all Big 12 performer for the Horned Frogs after battling foot and ankle issues the first half of the season.
At 6'3", 330 pounds, Foltz has ideal size for the middle of an offensive line and he brings the high character and football IQ that the Vikings are searching for.
Foltz has displayed both strength and quickness at the Shrine game practices and has arguably been the top offensive lineman in St. Petersburg.
Foltz will be wearing No. 66 for the West.
The Minnesota Vikings would love to add both players in this picture to their 2013 roster, the highly acclaimed wide receiver Terrance Williams out of Baylor and the fast-rising cornerback out of Oklahoma, Demontre Hurst.
Hurst is a little short at 5'9", but is a burner at 200 pounds and has great leaping ability and a nose for the football.
Hurst is a very good run defender, finishing fourth in tackles for the Sooners and second in passes defended. He has a similar frame and football mentality as the Vikings Antoine Winfield and could end up being an great NFL player.
Hurst will be wearing No. 9 for the West team on Saturday.
Defensive tackle William Campbell out of Michigan has stood out at the East-West Shrine practices as being head and shoulders above the other defensive line prospects.
Campbell is a massive 6'5", 310 pounds and is extremely strong and can dominate blockers with his bull-rushing. Campbell was considered an underachiever for his first three seasons at Michigan, but blossomed in 2012 and was selected as an honorable mention all Big 10 player.
Campbell's stock seems to be rising with his good week in St. Petersburg and he's becoming an intriguing prospect for teams looking for help in the middle of the defensive line.
Campbell would be a great get for the Vikings in the later rounds if they don't pick up one of the more highly touted DTs in the earlier rounds.
Campbell will be wearing No. 73 for the West.