The 89th East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 18 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., will once again serve as an all-star game for senior NFL draft prospects. For some, the event is a necessity to improve stock on the way to the draft.
The outcome of the game is an afterthought. Each NFL team, including those still in the hunt for Super Bowl XLVIII, will send scouts to find gems that can be taken in various spots in the draft.
Last year is a good example of players who used the spotlight to improve stock. The Oakland Raiders found a gem in Connecticut linebacker Sio Moore in the third round, as did the New Orleans Saints, who discovered Arkansas Pine Bluff offensive tackle Terron Armstead.
Three names stand out this year when one peruses the official roster as players who need a strong performance to place themselves on the draft radar.
Matt Hazel, WR, Coastal Carolina
Matt Hazel is far from the biggest name at wideout in this year's Shrine Game, but as Rotoworld's Josh Norris points out, he may just be the best:
Gallon, Jones, & Jones will draw a lot of attention, but Coastal Carolina's Matt Hazel might be the best WR: http://t.co/m16ulN3qkj— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) January 12, 2014
Weighing in at 6'3" and 190 pounds, Hazel will remind religious NFL viewers of Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jerome Simpson—also a Coastal Carolina graduate and one of just three players from the school to ever get to play in the Shrine Game.
Hazel caught 70 passes for 990 yards and nine scores as a senior while missing one game. The numbers mean little, especially when one flicks on the tape and sees a fluid route-runner who can snatch the ball at its highest point.
Unfortunately, Hazel currently sits as the No. 41 receiver with a seventh-round grade over at CBS Sports.
Expect those numbers to jump dramatically if Hazel can have a strong outing.
E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri
As one of the top cornerbacks in the SEC last season, E.J. Gaines is arguably the best defender making the trip to the Shrine game.
Gaines ranked third on his team in tackles as a senior with 68 and grabbed four interceptions.
Statistics are nice, but cornerbacks are judged by what a player does not allow, and more often than not, teams would avoid throwing in Gaines' direction. For example, in a 28-21 win over Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies on Nov. 30, Gaines helped to keep star wideout Mike Evans in check as he caught four passes for eight yards.
At 5'11" and 195 pounds, Gaines has everything the NFL wants in a corner and currently sits with a second- to third-round grade at CBS Sports. He could possibly begin to climb higher through a big day at the Shrine game—or lack thereof for his opposition.
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
Eastern Illinois senior quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has quietly helped his draft stock over the past season and has finally broken through to the mainstream. CBS Sports' Dane Brugler helped start the hype train back in October:
6) Most are well aware of him by now, but remember the name Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois QB...He's def creating a buzz in NFL circles— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) October 10, 2013
Brugler and others have Garoppolo ranked as a third-round prospect after a career in which he shattered all of Tony Romo's records and a senior year in which he threw for 5,050 yards, 53 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
In a quarterback class led by the likes of Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and others, the 6'3" and 222-pound Garoppolo may find his collegiate school and the competition it faced a detriment to his stock.
There is no better way to move past this potential negative than through a great showing against high-caliber pro prospects.
Note: Prospect rankings courtesy of CBS Sports.