East-West Shrine Game 2014: Draft Stock Takeaways and Analysis
There's a saying in the NFL that there is no offseason.
It's easy to see why. The 2013-14 NFL season isn't even over yet, and draft season is already under way in earnest.
The first big signpost on the road to May's NFL draft was Saturday's East-West Shrine Game, which the East won 23-13.
The game is secondary to the week of practice that precedes it, where youngsters from around the nation show off their skills in front of NFL scouts and coaches.
However, that doesn't mean that the game is meaningless. After all, it offers players a chance to make one last good (or bad) impression on scouts before draft season continues on to next week's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
With that in mind, let's see how Saturday's contest impacted the draft stock of some of the players involved.
Stock Up: Ethan Westbrooks, DE, West Texas A&M
The biggest beneficiaries of the East-West Shrine Game might be the small-school stars.
Not only do players from smaller schools get a chance to shine on a much larger stage but a strong showing in practices and games can help alleviate concerns about the level of competition they faced.
That holds true for West Texas A&M defensive end Ethan Westbrooks.
The 6'3", 260-pounder was wildly productive during his time with the Buffaloes, notching 26.5 sacks over the past two seasons, but it's a big leap from Division II to the NFL.
Westbrooks showed that he's ready to give it a go against the big boys.
Scott Bischoff of New Era Scouting tweeted earlier this week that Westbrooks "has a very quick first step and found himself in the opposing backfield regularly" in practices.
He then carried that over to the game, playing well in run support and adding a pair of sacks en route to Defensive Player of the Game honors.
All in all, his performance in St. Petersburg appears to have caught the eye of at least one NFL team:
Atlanta Falcons constantly talking about Ethan Westbrooks/W Tex AM. Seems like a natural fit in mid-to-late rounds.
— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) January 15, 2014
Stock Down: Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois
Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch was ridiculously productive in 2013, riding more than 2,800 passing yards and 1,900 rushing yards to a third-place finish in voting for the Heisman trophy.
However, whether it's his size (6'1"), arm strength or the level of opposition he faced in the Mid-American Conference, there are plenty of questions surrounding his viability as a passer at the next level.
There are so many questions that Lynch told Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times that scouts have approached him about switching positions:
I've met with a few scouts that really love me at quarterback. There are some that like me as a special-teams player, some running back, receiver or safety. I'm a quarterback first, and I'm going to give the teams that want me at quarterback a shot first, but I'm realistic. If it doesn't work, I'd be willing to do anything.
That attitude may serve Lynch well, because his performance in the Shrine Game didn't.
He struggled in a big way at Tropicana Field, completing only two passes in seven attempts.
Well, he completed two more, but those were to the other team.
Bleacher Report NFL national lead writer Michael Schottey didn't mince words, although he did at least try to find a silver lining:
Jordan Lynch has been terrible today, but a lot of time between now and the draft for final pronouncements.
— Michael Schottey (@Schottey) January 18, 2014
Stock Up: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
The Shrine Game wasn't all bad for quarterbacks from the state of Illinois.
While Lynch struggled, Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois thrived. The 6'3", 222-pounder, who has drawn comparisons to former Eastern Illinois star Tony Romo, was the most effective quarterback on either side in Saturday's game.
For the afternoon, he went 9-of-14 for 100 yards and a touchdown, including a great two-minute drill at the end of the first half that resulted in a scoring strike with eight seconds left.
That showing and the Offensive Player of the Game award was the icing on a solid week of cake for Garoppolo.
Bucky Brooks of NFL.com praised his quick release and ability to adapt to a pro-style offense earlier in the week.
He wasn't the only pundit beating Garoppolo's drum:
Jimmy Garoppolo had a great week of practice. He throws a beautiful ball.
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) January 18, 2014
Stock Down: Seantavius Jones, WR, Valdosta State
At first glance, Seantavius Jones of tiny Valdosta State is an interesting prospect.
At 6'3" and 200 pounds, he has a tantalizing blend of size and speed. He took advantage of that size to the tune of 13 touchdown grabs in each of the past two seasons.
He was also a favorite of Bleacher Report NFL national lead writer Michael Schottey in practices early in the week:
Seantavius Jones of Valdosta State stood out, literally, as he's head and shoulders taller than most of the receivers and defensive backs in Tampa, Fla. Jones has great movement for a player his size (listed at 6'3", 200) and catches the ball well away from his frame.
However, he pulled a vanishing act in the game, managing only one catch for minus-1 yards. Combined with drop issues, his game left Dane Brugler of CBS Sports unimpressed:
Seantavius Jones looks the part, but he's completely unreliable catching the ball. Drop after drop after drop, etc.
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) January 18, 2014
Disparities in opinions among draftniks are hardly rare, but Saturday's no-show makes Jones' upcoming workouts all the more important to his draft status.
Stock Up: Alden Darby, S, Arizona State
Arizona State safety Alden Darby racked up more than 70 tackles for a 10-win Sun Devils team in 2013, but at only 195 pounds, he is on the small side for a strong safety.
At the East-West Shrine Game, he played mostly free safety, and if this week was any indication, he should make the transition smoothly.
He was one of the defensive stars of the game, intercepting a pair of passes.
Darby's range in coverage impressed at least one scout:
GREAT range by Alden Darby...route combo recognition. to come over top and pick off Mathews, who never saw him.
— NDT Scouting, KMC (@NFLDraftTracker) January 18, 2014
In fact, Eric Galko of Optimum Scouting echoed many of the same sentiments:
Alden Darby with his 2nd pick of game. Solid week, very good game. Both interceptions purely his vision of the QB, instincts. #ShrineGame
— Eric Galko (@OptimumScouting) January 18, 2014
Stock Down: Keith Wenning, QB, Ball State
The draft stock of Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning has been all over the place this week.
The 6'3", 220-pound senior, who threw for 4,148 yards and 35 touchdowns in 2013, told Bleacher Report NFL national lead writer Michael Schottey earlier in the week he wanted to "open some eyes for those who don't perceive (him) as a top quarterback."
Schottey was impressed by what he saw in practices:
I saw a polished passer who may have been the most pro-ready prospect in a group that included Cornell QB Jeff Mathews and Northern Illinois Heisman finalist Jordan Lynch. Wenning looked decisive, with excellent footwork and overall mechanics. The ball goes where he wants it to go, and it's consistent in terms of placement at all levels of the field.
Things didn't go as well during the game, however.
Wenning threw the ball fairly well, showing good arm strength while completing 12 of 19 passes for 82 yards.
Unfortunately, he was also responsible for three turnovers, including one returned for a score, which knocked much of the luster off Wenning's week in Florida.
Stock Up: Chandler Jones, WR, San Jose State
In today's pass-happy NFL, reliable slot receivers are in high demand.
Chandler Jones of San Jose State did his best at the Shrine Game to show he can be just that.
The 5'11" Jones, who topped 1,300 yards with 15 touchdown grabs in 2013, "showcased good footwork" in wet conditions in practices earlier in the week, according to Bleacher Report NFL national lead writer Michael Schottey.
Jones followed that up with a good showing on Saturday, leading all receivers with seven catches for 73 yards.
In fact, Bleacher Report's Dan Hope believed no pass-catcher had a better performance in the game:
Hard to take much away on anyone from a half of the Shrine Game, but most impressive to me was SJSU WR Chandler Jones. Looking good in slot.
— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) January 18, 2014