The 2014 East-West Shrine Game serves as a chance for 114 NFL prospects to show the world what they're made of. From a week's worth of practice to the game itself on Saturday, January 18, the Shrine Game is a great way for football fans to sit back and watch some of the nation's top collegiate prospects in action.
This past week, an abundance of NFL scouts and media personalities made the trip down to St. Petersburg, Fla., to try and evaluate which of these players would excel at the pro level. Bleacher Report's own Michael Schottey was one of those in attendance, and he pieced together some compelling notes about the how the whole process works.
If you're a fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars, you can bet that general manager Dave Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley will be paying attention to all of the young men taking part in this storied tradition—which will be played just about three-and-a-half hours south of Jaguars headquarters.
Using some of the biggest needs on this roster as a benchmark, it's time to turn our attention to a few prospects every Jaguars fan should look out for during Saturday's big game.
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
An exceedingly productive player at the collegiate level, according to EIU's website, Garoppolo racked up an impressive 5,050 yards passing to go along with 53 touchdowns this past season. Numbers aside, what makes Garoppolo such an intriguing NFL prospect is his effortless release and superb accuracy.
Talking about what he saw from the EIU quarterback during practice, Schottey said Garoppolo "displayed more-than-adequate zip on passes to every level of the field and was able to consistently throw tight spirals with little wobble at the top of their arc."
This year's crop of quarterback prospects has generated a bevy of mixed reviews. Scattered feelings about Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles may be the reason the top brass in Jacksonville decide to pursue a QB later on in the draft.
Garoppolo may not be the "sexiest" name on draft boards, but if any of his stellar collegiate play can transfer over to the next level, he will become a solid addition for a franchise that's in desperate need of a competent signal-caller.
Finding a level of consistency will be essential for any small-school quarterback prospect, but with effective coaching and a desire to perfect their craft, these "low-risk" draft picks can turn into very productive players.
Rocking No. 11 for the East team, fans should keep an eye on Garoppolo as he takes to the air this Saturday.
Jeff Mathews, QB, Cornell
Another guy whose name has generated a lot of buzz this week is Cornell quarterback Jeff Mathews. Unlike some of the other QBs taking part in the Shrine Game, Mathews is a player who boasts freakish arm strength and a "prototypical" NFL build.
What worries scouts the most about Mathews’ game is the inconsistency with his mechanics. Poor footwork and a bad habit for throwing too many balls off-balance are areas this young man must work on if he wants to have any future in the NFL.
Despite that, the reason his name has landed on this list is because it's so easy to fall in love with his potential. Potential that radiates when you watch him play on film. Even the issues with his mechanics rarely get in the way of the 6'3" Mathews slinging the pigskin downfield.
A convoluted quarterback class is a good enough reason for Bradley and Caldwell to watch as many of these young prospects as they possibly can. Even if Mathews doesn't turn out to be a long-term franchise quarterback, his natural talent and cannon-like arm make him a promising mid-round project worth getting involved with.
Sporting No. 9 on the East team, it's going to be a lot of fun watching Mathews compete during the 2014 Shrine Game.
Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood
Pierre Desir is your classic small-school cornerback who could slip past teams on draft day and turn out to be a one heck of a football player.
Listed at 6'2", Desir isn't your typical "cover" cornerback. On film, it's easy to recognize how physical he gets with opposing wide receivers. Possessing that raw physicality and having an understanding of where he needs to be on the field, Desir is a prospect who could sky-rocket up draft boards by the time May comes around.
All of that being said, the one thing I really love about this young man's game is that he’s constantly looking to contribute any way he can. Time after time, when teams ran the football, I watched as Desir disengaged from his assignment and attempted to make a play on the ball.
Critics will point to the level of competition Desir faced while playing at Division II Lindenwood University as a negative, but because of his imposing skill set, it's going to be hard to stay away from the kid.
This year's East-West Shrine Game should be Desir’s coming-out party. Already having impressed scouts during practice this past week, Schottey mentioned that Desir has the type of size lots of teams will love when looking for a cornerback in the upcoming draft.
Playing for the East team, Desir will be wearing No. 3.
Cassius Marsh, DE, UCLA
If versatility is something you look for in a player, then UCLA defensive end Cassius Marsh is one name worth shifting your attention toward.
Performing at a high level throughout his senior season, Marsh racked up five sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss and 35 solo tackles. Guided by his 6’4”, 254-pound frame, Marsh’s game revolves around his relentless motor. Talking about that "nonstop" motor, Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com, via CBSSports.com, said Marsh is a “disruptive force” and a handful to deal with.
In a conversation highlighting his versatility with Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said that Marsh possesses "a lot of different talents."
It just seems like Marsh is a perfect fit for the Jaguars and head coach Gus Bradley. Dating back to his days as defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks, Bradley has always been fond of resourceful players who can go out and find ways to contribute on defense.
Wearing No. 93 for the West team, Marsh is going to be one of the more entertaining players you’ll see take the field on Saturday.
Don't forget, the 2014 East-West Shrine Game gets underway Saturday, January 18, at 4 p.m. ET on the NFL Network.
|Other Notable East-West Shrine Game Players to Watch|
|Keith Wenning||QB||Ball State||West||10|
|Zach Bauman||RB||Northern Arizona||East||24|
|Derrell Johnson||OLB||Eastern Carolina||East||46|
|Bene Benwikere||CB||San Jose State||West||22|
*All stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com, unless noted otherwise.
*All 2014 East-West Shrine Game info courtesy of ShrineGame.com.