Besides pro football scouts and die-hard college football fans, I was one of the few who tuned in to watch Saturday afternoon’s thrilling East-West Shrine Bowl game in San Antonio, Texas. Hey, it’s college football and I just can’t get enough of it. I’m already experiencing withdrawal symptoms. The game displayed some of the nation’s top college football players that will be entering the 2006 NFL Draft and they certainly didn't disappoint. While I don’t believe too much in placing a great amount of stock in one performance, the Shrine Bowl was still a great way for players to draw the ever-important attention of scouts at the next level. The game was dominated by spectacular offensive performances by each squad, with the quarterbacks and receivers playing pitch and catch and controlling the game. Reggie McNeal helped to lift the West to a 35-31 comeback victory with his hair-raising performance.
Here are a few players that had standout performances--
Reggie McNeal-QB-The flashy, but inconsistent Aggie quarterback earned MVP honors in the game, after completing 9 of his 11 passes for 211 yards, two touchdowns and rushing for over 30 yards as well. He had several impressive throws in the game, one of which came when he scrambled away from defenders, threw across his body, and found Oregon State tight end Tim Day in the back of the end zone for a touchdown strike. McNeal has long been one of the most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks in college football, he’s just been plagued by inconsistency. Nobody will ever forget his scintillating performance as a true freshman against the top-ranked Oklahoma Sooners, when he derailed their national title hopes and spoiled their perfect season. After his impressive performance in the Shrine Bowl McNeal said, “I guess it might have been questionable about my throwing, my deep ball. I hit all my deep balls on point today.” The Lufkin, Texas native couldn’t have been more precise with his answer. He completed passes of 66 and 44 yards in the game that were perfectly placed in the receivers’ hands. Not to mention he connected with Biletnikoff Award winner Mike Hass for the game winning touchdown pass for the East. His receivers undoubtedly made some remarkable grabs in this game, but Reggie McNeal dramatically raised his stock in the draft with his performance. He was once again able to remind scouts of his vast potential. He’s got a chance to be a great one on the next level, as long as he’s inserted into the right offense.
Former Texas A and M standout Reggie McNeal was one of the greatest dual-threat quarterbacks in college football history.
Bruce Gradkowski-QB-One of the most accurate quarterback’s in NCAA history was once again firing laser-like throws and had a great performance for the East. Reggie McNeal may have stolen the headlines, but the former Toledo quarterback tossed some beautiful passes and even showed the ability to scramble when necessary and pick up first downs. I truly believe Gradkowski is going to be a good quarterback on the NFL level, simply because of the unparalleled accuracy on his throws. He became the master of the screen pass at Toledo, and in many ways reminds me of the Falcons’ backup QB Matt Schaub. I’m not sure why everybody is projecting Vanderbilt’s Jay Cutler in the top 10 of the draft, because while I’ll admit Cutler was a solid signal-caller at Vandy, Gradkowski impressed me much more over the years. I really see Cutler being a bust on the next level and I think you’ll see Gradkowski be a steal for somebody somewhere around the 3rd or 4th round. Sometimes I believe scouts put way too much stock in numbers and forget that some players can just play the game of football extremely well, regardless of throwing velocity, foot speed, hand size, etc. Gradkowski was the first quarterback in NCAA history to complete over 70% of his passes in back-to-back seasons for a reason folks. Too many people seem to have forgotten about it.
Former Toledo legend Bruce Gradkowski was one of the most accurate quarterbacks in NCAA football history.
Leon Washington-RB-Everybody knew coming into this game that the Florida State tailback was a stud, FSU really just didn’t give him enough touches this season. I’d blame that mostly on a porous offensive line in Tallahassee and poor play-calling by offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden. He was breaking in an inexperienced quarterback in redshirt freshman Drew Weatherford and decided to put the ball in his hands more often than his two talented tailbacks in Washington and Lorenzo Booker. Booker was seriously considering going pro he was so fed up with the lack of touches. So he went to head coach Bobby Bowden and needed to be assured that he was going to get the ball more next season. If Bobby knows what’s best for him, he’ll be giving the pigskin early and often to Booker next season, who has long been one of the most talented tailbacks in the country. Washington showed the explosiveness that made him such a dangerous tailback in this game and I think he’ll be a great tailback on the next level. He may have had a disappointing senior season (only over 400 rushing yards), but don’t let that fool you. His senior year was plagued by injuries, a poor offensive line, and simply not enough touches. Washington is a legitimate talent. He’s certainly not as good as Memphis’s DeAngelo Williams, but he’s definitely in the top 5 tailbacks in the draft.
Former FSU tailback Leon Washington is a solid running back for the New York Jets. It is too bad he wasn't given the ball as much as he deserved in college.
De’Arrius Howard-RB-The Arkansas tailback certainly wasn’t on my radar before this game, but his 61 yard, three touchdown performance certainly raised eyebrows. He showed a good burst in this game and the ability to break tackles as well. He’ll likely be drafted late on the first day and could even project as a fullback because of his size (6’0, 236 lbs.). He reminds me of a Greg Jones-type running back, big and powerful.
Todd Watkins-WR-The BYU standout was extremely impressive with his ability to leap up and get horizontal to snatch the pigskin. His catches were definitely the most acrobatic and he reminded me of Larry Fitzgerald because of his ability to control his body in mid-air. Tough to tell where this guy will be drafted, but he should be one of the top receivers taken in the draft. His leaping ability and body control are unparalleled.
Greg Jennings-WR-The standout receiver from Western Michigan definitely doesn’t get the attention he deserves from pro scouts, probably because he’s undersized at 5’11, 198 pounds and he played on a lousy team in a non-BCS conference. Jennings is the real deal and he has the gaudy numbers to prove it. This year he hauled in 98 passes for over 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns. Those are simply stunning numbers by anyone’s standards. He made a few impressive grabs in this game and if teams continue to doubt this kid, I’ve got a strong feeling he’s going to prove them wrong. There are plenty of receivers in the NFL under six feet tall that have made a living on the next level. Does Santana Moss ring a bell? I think Jennings will again surprise people on the next level, once somebody gives him the chance.
Marques Colston WR-I’m not sure too many people knew about this receiver from the Hofstra Pride, but rest assured after his mesmerizing catches in the Shrine Bowl game, the name isn’t one scouts are likely to forget anytime soon. This type of game was perfect for a player like Colston, who came from such a small school and didn’t get anywhere near the exposure many other players on this list got. He made the most of his opportunity, using his impressive height, 6’5, to make several acrobatic grabs over shorter cornerbacks. His best catch came when Bruce Gradkowski hurled a jump ball in the air around the goal line and Colston just used his size to outmuscle the cornerbacks and snag the ball out of the air. “I’m 6-5 for a reason,” Colston said. “I just went up and got it. I think I came out here and put on a pretty good showing.” The Hofstra standout is a guy whose stock will shoot through the roof because of his size and leaping ability. He better get used to the attention because scouts will be drooling all him.
Mike Haas-WR-The winner of the 2005 Bilitnekoff Award for the nation’s top receiver didn’t have anything to prove in this game, but once again showed why he was one of the most prolific receivers in NCAA history. This season he had over 1,000 receiving yards and became the first receiver in Pac-10 history to accomplish such a feat. Hass reeled in four catches for over 100 yards and a touchdown. His only touchdown catch also happened to be the game-winner for the West. His most acrobatic grab came when he beat cornerback Dion Byrum and caught a pass falling down over his right shoulder. That’s nothing new for Haas, because he’s been one of the top receivers in college football for years now. If he isn’t the first receiver drafted, I would be shocked. He’s the best college football has to offer. Hands down.
Roger McIntosh-LB-The talented linebacker from Miami picked off a pass in the game and displayed his impressive speed, running for a few yards after the catch. One commentator from ESPN called McIntosh the most NFL-ready player on the field and when he’s listed at 6’3, 237 pounds, who can disagree with that statement. He should be a late second round pick.
Frostee Rucker-DE-Rucker not only boasts one of college football’s best names, but he’s also one of the top defensive ends in the 2006 Draft. He was one of the few USC defenders who actually showed up in the Rose Bowl while Vince Young was busy running laps around them. He has an impressive array of swim moves and spin moves to make him a very disruptive force on the next level and was quite disruptive in the Shrine Bowl. Rucker is likely to be drafted in the first round.
James Wyche-DE-Wyche was the most disruptive defender in the game for the East squad, racking up two sacks and three tackles en route to being named the team’s MVP. The Syracuse product has good speed off the edge and should be one of the top defensive ends selected in the draft.
Blooper of the game goes to… Northwestern’s QB Brett Basanez… Basanez entered the huddle, forgot he was miked up by ESPN and after he told his linemen he was going to try and draw the defense offsides, he told them to “hold their f**ing water (rhymes with ducking). Woopsa daisy.
The Hula Bowl was aired immediately after the Shrine Bowl game and it turned out to be an offensive disaster. It was yet another game in which college players got an opportunity to dazzle pro scouts, but many of them did quite the opposite(please see Brad Smith, Josh Betts). Both quarterbacks (Josh Betts and Brad Smith) had forgettable performances and their receivers dropped several balls, but there were still some players who brought their “A” game to Hawaii. The East slogged their way to a 10-7 victory in a snoozer of a game.
Here are a few players that caught my attention--
Brandon Marshall-WR-The Central Florida product had the best performance out of anybody on the field and somehow was not named MVP by the coaches. He hauled in five passes for over 100 yards and a touchdown and was clearly the most dominant player out there in leading the East to a 10-7 victory over the West. Standing at an imposing 6-6, 230 pounds, Marshall has the prototypical size for an NFL receiver and scouts will simply be foaming at the mouth over this kid. He should be one of the first receivers drafted. East Carolina’s Skip Holtz was extremely impressed with Marshall’s performance. “He has a big body and is very physical,” Holtz said. “He’s very hard to press and he’s so tall, he can go up and get a jump ball.” That’s exactly why Marshall will be such a valued commodity on the next level.
P.J. Daniels-RB-The Georgia Tech tailback showed flashes of the speed that made him the ACC’s leading rusher at one point in his career. He was forced to comeback from a torn ACL and it seems like he’s made a full recovery. Daniels had more rushing yards than any other running back in the game, ripping off 54 yards on just 12 carries. Teams will likely be cautious of drafting him because of his injury history, but I’d say it’s a risk worth taking.
Brent Hawkins-DE-Illinois State’s defensive end had the most dominant performance by any defender in the game and was drawing comparison to the Colts’ Dwight Freeney. I wouldn’t go that far just yet, but he does have a non-stop motor and tremendous upside. He forced a fumble and racked up a sack en route to being named the East’s MVP. He’s an impressive athlete and should be selected in the first or second round.
Jeremy Mincey-LB-Florida’s stud defender could project as a linebacker or defensive end on the next level. The East lined him up at linebacker and he had one of the better performances, recording three sacks for the game. I like his speed and power and I think he’ll be one of the surprises of rookie linebackers on the next level.