NFL Draft Prospects at East-West Shrine Game the Broncos Should Have Interest In
For 10 years in a row, I have taken what I’ve dubbed the “all-star road trip.” Each year in January, I kick the draft season off by traveling to college all-star games in order to scout the incoming talent to the NFL.
First up on the travel schedule: the 2016 East-West Shrine Game in Tampa, Florida.
Since I’ve been going to this game, I’ve followed it from Houston to Orlando to Tampa for the past five years. I’ve seen some great players come out of this game, while others have made little to no impact at the pro level.
It’s always fun to dig into which prospects could be the best from each roster. It’s also fun to decipher which players would be good addition for the Denver Broncos.
Only a few years ago, a corner from Coastal Carolina named Josh Norman was hopeful the Broncos would draft him because his idol was Champ Bailey. In 2011, a basketball-to-football star was born at the Shrine Game as Portland State’s Julius Thomas put himself on the national radar. Some players, like Miami’s Allen Hurns, went under the radar at this game, only to become household names in the NFL.
Here are some prospects from the 2016 East-West Shrine Game the Broncos should have interest in.
CB Juston Burris, North Carolina State
The Broncos have a fantastic secondary, but they should always be looking for depth and prospects with the upside to one day become starters. They are set with star cornerbacks Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib as their starters on the outside, but there’s no guarantee that Talib will be back next year due to his inflated price. The Broncos also have Bradley Roby ready to take over on the outside if Talib is not with the team in 2016.
Depending on what happens this offseason, cornerback may be a larger priority than some think.
Juston Burris is a player in the 2016 East-West Shrine Game the Broncos should watch closely. He has years of experience starting for the Wolfpack and is known as an enforcer at the cornerback position. Measuring in at 6’0”, 213 pounds, Burris can pack a punch when he flies in to make a tackle.
He has experience playing nickel corner, but his future in the pros might be as a corner/safety ‘tweener.
Burris is not afraid of contact, and he does a better job when the play is in front of him instead of trailing behind receivers downfield. The Broncos have shown a soft spot for larger corners who can also play safety.
His size, strength and versatility make Burris an intriguing late-round option as the Broncos build their board for the 2016 NFL draft.
QB Nate Sudfeld, Indiana
One prospect I was excited to see in Tampa was Nate Sudfeld, the quarterback from Indiana. The quarterbacks at the Shrine Game have been disappointing in recent years; however, the Shrine Game this year was able to snare a few intriguing quarterbacks who I watched closely during the week of practice.
Measuring in at 6’6”, 240 pounds, Sudfeld certainly has a head-turning physical makeup. He’s big, and on film in college he showed that he was tough to bring down. Sudfeld can take a hit as he delivers the ball, and his base is so strong that he can push passes where they belong.
During the week of practice, Sudfeld showed off his various tools. Besides his size, he also has a strong arm that he can use to stretch the field vertically. He is light on his feet, worked out of the pistol formation in certain situations and also did a good job of looking off defenders to get receivers open.
The Broncos selected Trevor Siemian out of Northwestern last year in the seventh round. Siemian never showed much on film, but he certainly looked better in minicamp and training camp than I expected. Good teams are always on the lookout for quarterback talent. With Brock Osweiler’s future with the team up in the air right now, the Broncos shouldn’t hesitate to consider a “toolsy” quarterback like Sudfeld on the last day of the draft.
RB Devon Johnson, Marshall
One thing missing from the Broncos roster this year is a fullback. They tried to get a fullback by adding guys like James Casey and Joe Don Duncan to compete in camp. Duncan didn’t make the final roster, and the team released Casey early in the season.
That’s why the Broncos have to consider running back/fullback Devon Johnson in the 2016 NFL draft.
A former tight end and linebacker, Johnson is built like a brick you-know-what house. He has no problem running people over and seems to thrive on contact. Johnson does a good job of getting low before contact, and he has good leg drive to move through arm tackles.
Johnson showed well as a receiver out of the backfield during practice. He can look the ball into his hands and is tough to bring down once he builds a head of steam in the open field. There’s not a lot of nuance to his game as a runner, but Johnson displayed a bit of slipperiness to his game on film.
With his linebacker mentality, Johnson would have no problem blasting open holes for C.J. Anderson in 2016. If the Broncos can find a fullback, their rushing attack could be more effective—even dangerous—this upcoming season.
WR Geronimo Allison, Illinois
Arguably, the most impressive receiver from either team during the week of practice was Geronimo Allison from Illinois. He came out of the gate impressively and made jaw-dropping plays all week long.
Allison looked like he had magnets for the football on his hands. He ripped the ball out of the air on most every grab and quickly secured the ball after the catch to keep defenders from jarring it away.
Hands and concentration were the hallmarks of his game during practice. He would sometimes beat defenders for wide-open deep passes, but he could also catch passes with defenders draped all over him.
In red-zone drills, Allison did a good job of winning the quarterback’s confidence. He has the vertical ability to reach high to bring in scoring passes. At 6’3” 195 pounds, he also has the size to box out defenders and keep them away from the ball.
The Broncos are set with two star receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Behind them, Cody Latimer will have to prove that he belongs on the roster in 2016. The second-round pick in 2014 has failed to fulfill his potential as a pro. Taking a flier on a late-round or undrafted developmental prospect like Allison is something the Broncos have done before, most recently with Bennie Fowler.
WR Chris Brown, Notre Dame
One of the biggest things I look for during the week of practice is consistency. Over the years, many players look great on Monday but fade as the week goes on.
Wide receiver Chris Brown from Notre Dame started out strong and seemed to get even better as the week unfolded in Tampa.
Brown is 6’2” but seems to play bigger than his size. He can play above the rim and does a good job of naturally catching passes with his arms extended away from his body.
At only 180 pounds, Brown does need to add some weight to his lower body. He’s already quick off the snap, but a few more pounds in the legs would add strength after the catch.
Brown explained to me after practice on Wednesday that he was limited to the short side of the field in college. This limited his route tree and production for the Fighting Irish. Brown seemed to love running a larger route tree and having more space to work with.
He showed the ability to work the sidelines and did a good job of setting up defenders with jab steps and shoulder fakes. At this time, he is considered a late-round prospect. However, his showing in Tampa could elevate his status in the eyes of scouts across the league.
OG Joseph Thuney, North Carolina State
The Broncos have some interesting issues coming up in 2016 when it comes to their offensive line. Do they ask Ryan Clady to take a pay cut so he can stay at left tackle? Will Ty Sambrailo work out as the right tackle? Is Max Garcia the answer inside at left guard? Should they move Michael Schofield inside to be a swing guard?
As you can see, there are many unknowns right now up front.
That makes Joseph Thuney from North Carolina State an interesting option. Measuring in at 6’4”, 295 pounds, Thuney has a good size/strength combination.
He’s athletic enough to be a “sticky blocker” at the second level. Thuney can effectively combo block, and that is a great skill set that comes in handy in a zone-blocking system.
As a late-round prospect, Thuney is not someone who could step in and start right away. However, the Broncos try to find players they can develop for a year or so. It seems to have worked with center Matt Paradis, but the same formula seemingly has failed with Schofield.
Thuney is strong, smart and athletic. He is well worth adding on the final day of the draft and developing.
QB Blake Frohnapfel, UMass
Two quarterbacks stand out this year on the Shrine Game roster. One is Sudfeld, and the other is Blake Frohnapfel.
He’s a big quarterback, measuring in at 6’6”, 230 pounds. He sees the field well, and Frohnapfel is not afraid to take chances with the football.
Frohnapfel can zip passes quickly on out routes, and he shows good timing by releasing the pass before his receiver makes the break. He can also put his passes on the correct shoulder more often than not.
However, his biggest problem during the week of practice was consistency.
While one pass would get to the target quickly and on time, the next throw (on a similar route) would flutter and fail to hit the target in stride. Like Sudfeld, Frohnapfel is a quarterback with intriguing tools, size and enough athleticism to be considered a late-round prospect with upside.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via the Broncos media department unless otherwise noted. Draft grades can be found at NFLDraftScout.com Advanced stats via ESPN's employees-only database.