It's not the combine. It's not the Senior Bowl. It's not even akin to pro days.
But while the East-West Shrine Game may not be as important to the NFL draft process or feature as many potential superstars, it's an underrated event where lesser-known players get a stage to prove their value.
Featuring small-school studs and big-school players who have been mostly overlooked when it comes to their post-collegiate ability, the tantalizing showcase from St. Petersburg, Fla., will put on display several intriguing prospects.
Let's take a look at when and where to catch the game, along with some of the most compelling young participants.
Date: Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014
Time: 4 p.m. ET
Where: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.
Watch: NFL Network
Jeremy Gallon, WR, Michigan (East Squad)
Say hello to one of the most enigmatic prospects in the upcoming draft.
On the one hand, you might figure most NFL teams would be unwilling to touch Jeremy Gallon with a Jeremy Gallon-sized pole. According to CBS Sports' Dane Brugler, the Wolverines standout measures at 5'8" and runs a fairly underwhelming 4.50 40-time.
That kind of blend of size and speed doesn't have many success stories in the NFL, but Gallon has been proving doubters wrong his entire career.
And not just in the oh-I-have-a-lot-of-heart or I-can-make-contributions-on-special-teams kind of way, either. The man has unbelievable production.
En route to winning the Bo Schembechler Team MVP, Gallon broke Braylon Edwards' school single-season receiving record, finishing with 1,373 yards and nine touchdowns on 89 receptions. As you might remember, the crowning achievement of the season was a silly 14-catch, 369-yard outing against Indiana:
Gallon may lack size and speed, but he has the quickness to gain separation at any level, has tremendous hands, and as one scout, via Brugler, put it after a practice on Wednesday, "the kid's just a football player.”
A likely late-round pick, Gallon is going to pay dividends for a lucky NFL squad. You'll see why on Saturday.
Jeff Mathews, QB, Cornell (East Squad)
With Jeff Mathews, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jordan Lynch, the East's roster is stacked with appealing prospects. Heck, Keith Price, Tommy Rees and Keith Wenning make up a solid trio for the West as well.
But Mathews, who comes in at the opposite end of the size spectrum as Gallon at 6'3" and 225 pounds, is the one to pay attention to.
Although he's forgetting the second "T" in his last name a la San Diego Chargers running back Ryan, the former Cornell gunslinger has been drawing immense praise during practices throughout the week. Brugler and ESPN's Adam Caplan offered up their compliments:
With his size, Mathews undoubtedly has a strong arm. Eric Galko of Optimum Scouting noted he throws "a pretty ball" and his "passes never seem to die at catch point." But when he's pairing that strength with accuracy and anticipation, interest is going to pique.
Mathews has had a bit of trouble facing pressure, and it's tough to earn recognition coming out of a miserable 3-7 season in the Ivy League, but considering his natural tools, his stock would skyrocket with a solid outing on Saturday.
Cassius Marsh, DL, UCLA (West Squad)
Cassius Marsh entered UCLA as a highly rated 4-star recruit with clear next-level talent. At times he flashed potential of his high ceiling and caused fits for teams like USC, Arizona State and Washington, but consistency was an issue.
Robert Husseman of the Yamhill Valley News-Register summed it up:
Still, the 6'4", 253-pound defensive tackle is a versatile player capable of lining up across the line, and according to NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah, he has looked impressive in Shrine practices:
Marsh may have some question marks, but his upside is undeniable. Make sure to keep an eye on him on Saturday.
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