Baltimore Ravens 2014 Draft: A Scouting Guide for East-West Shrine Game
There are plenty of dates to circle on the calendar as the Baltimore Ravens prepare for the 2014 NFL draft. One of those events is the East-West Shrine Game, which features a talented class of seniors who are trying to realize their NFL dreams. The Shrine Game doesn't grab the same kind of attention as the Senior Bowl, but the Ravens front office takes its scouting very seriously.
The Shrine game is such a gold mine of prospect evaluation that general manager Ozzie Newsome and assistant GM Eric DeCosta were at the practices. All teams send scouts to the event, but very few send such high-profile members of the organization.
So while they were attending practices and watching drills, who were some of the players they should have been watching? That's what we're here to find out.
Here are some of the key prospects from the event who have impressed in practice. Keep an eye on these players during the game—they may end up in Baltimore.
Seantavius Jones, Wide Receiver, Valdosta State
One of Baltimore's biggest needs this offseason is at wide receiver. It is generally assumed that the Ravens will draft a receiver—probably in the early rounds—but it wouldn't be surprising to see them double up on the wideout position later in the draft.
As a result, Seantavius Jones is a player to watch during the game. Luckily for you, he'll be hard to miss.
Jones is 6'3" and 200 pounds, which isn't enormous by college standards, but he is noticeably bigger than the rest of the receivers and defensive backs in practice.
The Valdosta State product impressed on Day 2 of practice, catching the eye of Bleacher Report's Cecil Lammey. He called Jones one of his favorite players in attendance, pointing out some of his excellent traits: He's physical with a large wingspan, squares his shoulders to the line of scrimmage and is a "hands catcher" as opposed to a less-nuanced receiver who lets the ball get into his body.
Jones is a physical specimen, but he hasn't had much experience against elite competition. He's faring well at the Shrine Game, but can he continue to outplay defenders (and fellow receivers) at the next level?
We won't have to wait too long to find out, but Jones could put himself on the map with a nice showing in the game.
In addition, he has the potential to be a nice contributor for the Ravens if he's the real deal.
Cornerbacks: Pierre Desir (Lindenwood) and E.J. Gaines (Missouri)
Pierre Desir, Lindenwood
The Shrine Game is built for players like Pierre Desir, who has capitalized on the exposure to catch the eye of numerous NFL scouts.
In fact, he was so impressive that some view him as the best prospect from the Shrine Game and a Day 2 draft pick despite playing FCS football for his college career.
He is listed at 6'2" and has long arms to go his tall frame. Desir fits the mold of long, athletic corners whom so many teams are looking for these days, and he would be an asset in the defensive backfield.
B/R's Michael Schottey noticed Desir's length and fluidity in coverage—two traits that will serve him well at the next level. His draft stock is gaining momentum, so he might go off the board too soon for Baltimore's liking, but he'd be a very solid pick, especially if Corey Graham doesn't re-sign.
E.J. Gaines, Missouri
E.J. Gaines is widely considered to be the best overall player at this game. The Missouri cornerback has decent size at 5'11" and 195 pounds, but his speed and technique separate him from the pack.
In addition, he has the strength to play excellent press coverage, as he showed when he locked down Mike Evans of Texas A&M. Gaines isn't a "sleeper" prospect at the game; in fact he's just the opposite.
Keep an eye on him because he could be one of the best corners in this draft class.
Tight Ends: Crockett Gillmore (Colorado State) and Jordan Najvar (Baylor)
Baltimore has zero tight ends on the roster, so the front office is sure to evaluate some tight end prospects.
There are some elite options like Eric Ebron and Jace Amaro, but there are also some hidden gems in the class. Some of those underrated tight ends stood out at Shrine practices.
Jordan Najvar and Crockett Gillmore (pictured above) are similar players. Neither is a particularly outstanding blocker, but they are "move" tight ends who line up all over the field to create mismatches.
Neither possesses top-notch speed, which will limit their ability to work the seams in the NFL, but both have great hands and the ability to make tough catches.
Both will likely be effective red-zone weapons at the next level.
Tre Boston, Free Safety, UNC
One of the needs that Ozzie Newsome identified in his end-of-year press conference was a "rangy free safety" who could make plays in coverage as the last line of defense.
Mr. Newsome, meet Tre Boston.
Boston is an intriguing defensive prospect. He's almost a mix of cornerback and safety, but he'll be a free safety at the next level. His tackling is a little inconsistent and needs some technical refinement, but he will be an impact player in coverage right away.
At UNC he showed a tremendous ability to read the quarterback's eyes, and he is athletic enough to cover a lot of ground on the back end.
It may be nerve-wracking for the Ravens to rely on two very young players to man their safety spots, but a duo of Boston and Matt Elam could be devastating down the line.
He has all the skills to excel as a single high safety, but he's versatile enough to line up in man coverage or even come down in the box.
With his combination of athleticism, ball skills and a nose for the football, he is sure to make some plays in the Shrine Game, so keep your eyes peeled for him.
Quarterbacks: Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois) and Jeff Mathews (Cornell)
Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois
No, there is no quarterback controversy in Baltimore. For starters, it's a little hard for there to be one when the QB just signed a $120 million deal, but more than that, there is no reason to jump overboard from the Joe Flacco ship.
It may, however, be time to part ways with Tyrod Taylor as the primary backup. That's where Jimmy Garoppolo comes in.
Or maybe he won't.
He was very impressive at the Shrine and was the best overall quarterback on display. NFL.com's Bucky Brooks broke down the signal-caller's strengths:
He has shown better than anticipated arm strength on intermediate and deep throws, while also exhibiting adequate accuracy and ball placement. In addition, Garoppolo has impressed scouts with his quick delivery and release, and shown sound judgment getting the ball to open receivers on the perimeter after working through his progressions.
It's still unclear when Garoppolo will go off the board, but he'd be a great pickup for the Ravens if he lasts until Day 3.
Jeff Mathews, Cornell
Garoppolo's stock is starting to rise, so he may not be on the board in the later rounds. With so many needs, the Ravens are unlikely to spend a mid-round pick on a backup quarterback, so Jeff Mathews is a more realistic target.
Mathews looks the part of an NFL QB, standing tall at 6'4" and weighing 229 pounds. More importantly, he showed off a big arm at the practices.
He has some bad habits and still hasn't shown the ability to dissect defenses and work through his progressions, but he has the tools to become a serviceable player in the pros.
He needs some seasoning, but he's worth a late-round flier as a backup quarterback with the chance to develop into so much more.
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