Before the biggest bowl in any level of football takes center stage on Feb. 2, a few college all-star games will offer football fans a glimpse into the future of the NFL.
The next game on the schedule is the East-West Shrine Game, which will be played Jan. 18 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Members of the New York Giants' scouting department, who have attended the practices this week, have been no doubt fine-tuning the information they have on the prospects in advance of their draft board preparation.
Here is a look at five prospects who have been generating positive reviews from scouts and draft analysts.
It’s no secret that the Giants are going to address the offensive line, creating a lot of competition for some starting jobs as well as backup depth.
One prospect from the Shrine game that might draw more than just a casual look from the Giants is Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (6’5”, 321 lbs, McGill).
A college left tackle, Duvernay-Tardif is the top-ranked offensive lineman for the 2014 CFL Canadian Draft, according to CBC Sports.
Noted college football scouting analyst Russ Lande, who has seen the pre-med student athlete in a live game, opined that Duvernay-Tardif “has the foot quickness, flexibility and natural strength to play in the NFL.”
Duvernay-Tardif's college head coach, Clint Utley, believes that the offensive lineman, who, per Canada Football Chat (CFC) has already drawn interest from five NFL teams, has what it takes to be successful:
Size and strength is a big factor in success on the o-line, but when you find someone that possesses the combination of brains, brawn and nastiness that Laurent has on the field, then you’ve got a real keeper.
Indeed, based on observations to come from the practices, such as this one from Emory Hunt of Football Gameplan, Duvernay-Tardif has drawn some high praise in his ability to hold up against defensive linemen.
T Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (McGill) #CIS is having an outstanding practice today. Doing great in OL/DL— Emory Hunt (@FBallGameplan) January 15, 2014
The Giants almost certainly will be looking for a taller, more physical cornerback to add to their existing group.
An interesting prospect who will suit up for the East team is Lindenwood’s Pierre Desir, who is listed at 6’2” and 206 pounds.
Having come from a small college program, the big question that Desir will need to answer before the draft, according to Russ Lande, is if he has the strength and speed to cover the faster, more physical NFL receivers.
If he can show that he can keep up with the speedsters he’s likely to cover this weekend, Dane Brugler of NFL Draft Scout projects that Desir could be the “highest drafted Shrine Game prospect this year.”
Who will be the highest drafted @Shrine_Game prospect this year? It's between CB Pierre Desir and QB Jimmy Garoppolo IMO. I'm leaning Desir— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) January 16, 2014
While they probably will look toward free agency—Houston’s Ben Tate (unrestricted) and Detroit’s Joique Bell (restricted) are two intriguing options—since a veteran will likely come ready to pass block, they could also look at some young prospects coming out of college.
A potential prospect that might be worth a serious look is Northern Arizona running back Zachary Bauman (5’10”, 200 lbs).
Listed on the East team’s roster, Bauman has been drawing praise from those in attendance at the Shrine game practices this week for showing excellent vision, good speed and exceptional balance.
Bleacher Report’s very own Michael Schottey, who was present for Monday’s practice, had this to say about Bauman:
Time and again, Bauman found creases that were impossible to see and burst through them. Once he got to the open field, he flashed the speed to take it the distance. He didn't just do this once or twice, but almost every time he got the ball.
Josh Liskiewitz, a scout with GM Jr Scouting, also lauded Bauman’s showing this far, noting:
So did Thomas Melton, the Director of Scouting at DraftFalcons.com:
As Schottey pointed out, Bauman’s size might make him an ideal contributor in a rotation.
If the Giants plan to move on from tight ends Brandon Myers and Bear Pascoe, and are not necessarily in the market for a veteran (which, by the way, I think they might be), an intriguing prospect playing for the West is Baylor’s Jordan Najvar (6’6”, 255 lbs).
A three-year starter in college, Najvar, who transferred from Stanford after one season (in which he didn’t play), is one of those “move tight end” candidates that teams seem to be preferring these days, had an impressive practice on Monday per B/R’s Michael Schottey.
Schottey noted that Najvar looked impressive catching the ball, especially on seam routes in which his size often created a mismatch.
Overall, the feedback from the week of practices was positive for Najvar. Thomas Melton, Director of Scouting at DraftFalcons.com, who, while praising Najvar as a receiver, noted in his Day 3 practice notes that he still needs to see more of Najvar’s blocking skills:
Najvar with another great catch on the sideline in the 1 minute drill— Thomas Melton (@TMeltonScouting) January 16, 2014
Dane Brugler of NFL Draft Scout opined that Najvar “needs to show more consistency,” which would suggest that he’s a raw prospect. However, Brugler does believe Najvar has indeed flashed some NFL talent.
Fulton, who played right guard for three seasons, is ranked the 18th best guard prospect by Walter Football, who projects the young man to be drafted somewhere between Round 4 and Round 6.
Per that write-up, Fulton’s strength right now is as a run-blocker, though the scouting report also noted that Fulton had improved as a pass-blocker.
Eric Galko of Optimum Scouting named Fulton as one of the players who stood out to him:
#ShrineGame East Preview nearly done. On the re-watch, came away thoroughly impressed with Tenn. OG Zach Fulton and W.Vir. DE Will Clarke.— Eric Galko (@OptimumScouting) January 12, 2014
Fulton has also earned an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine scheduled for next month in Indianapolis, where he’ll get a chance to further impress NFL scouts.
Ja'Waun James, James Stone, Zach Fulton and Dan McCullers have been invited to the NFL Combine #VFL— Rocky Top News (@rockytop_news) December 28, 2013