2011 NFL Draft: Ten Prospects With Most To Prove In East-West Shrine Game
Telecast: Saturday, Jan. 22, 4:00 PM Eastern, NFL Network
Location: Orlando, Fla.
While the annual Senior Bowl invites the premier college football talents to audition for NFL scouts, the East-West Shrine Game is also a great venue to scout possible mid- to late-round picks.
The NFL fans normally drool over the top-tier draft choices, hanging the hopes of their favorite team on their shoulder pads. However, the teams who also draft well in the later rounds are the ones who successfully compete for playoff berths year after year.
The Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens are teams who have sustained consistency primarily by building through the draft.
Much of the general public stops watching the NFL draft after round one because most of the big name stars are already off the board. It's the real draft students, the ones who know you can't build a champion in a day, who endure the draft marathon until the very end.
If you are one of the fans who appreciates the in-depth process of building an NFL team, you will enjoy watching the East-West Shrine game. You will follow some of the mid-level prospects who could possibly elevate their draft status with a great week of practice followed by a solid performance on game day.
The following is a preview of 10 players who could elevate their draft position depending on how they perform during the week.
Some are relatively unknown outside of their own conference. Others were college All-Americans who have flaws which drop them in the eyes of professional evaluators.
Pat Devlin: Quarterback (East Squad)
Pat Devlin transferred to Delaware from Penn State after the 2008 season to avoid losing his junior season being stuck behind Nittany Lion starter Daryll Clark.
Devlin is a better pro prospect than Clark, but how high he is drafted will be partially determined by his Shrine Game performance.
Devlin led the Blue Hens to the FCS championship game, which they lost to Eastern Washington. He is a smart quarterback who generally reads defenses well, but needs to make the transition from a spread offense. He has a fairly quick release and can throw on the run.
Devlin does not have a great arm and sometimes eyes his primary target too long. However, he has good touch and velocity on his throws. He will need to show scouts that he can run a conventional pro-style system and demonstrate arm strength to make the deep ball and out routes.
Devlin is currently rated as a third- to fifth-round selection.
Evan Royster: Halfback (East Squad)
John Capalletti, Franco Harris, Lydell Mitchell, Curt Warner, Blair Thomas, Ki-Jana Carter, Curtis Enis, Tony Hunt...names that are synonymous with Penn State football. Evan Royster has surpassed them all.
In 2010, Royster became the all-time leading rusher in Happy Valley despite a sub-par first half of the season affected by his conditioning and poor quarterback play.
He rebounded later in the year after a quarterback change and looked more like an NFL prospect. He runs with good power, vision and balance and can move the pile when he gets his shoulders square.
The knock on Royster is that he is a straight-line runner who doesn't have many moves to make tacklers miss. He doesn't possess that second gear needed to break the long runs consistently at the NFL level.
While he definitely has the talent to play pro football, he will need to demonstrate the quickness and athleticism to be anything more than a rotation back or reserve at the next level.
Royster is currently rated as a fourth- to sixth-round selection.
Tyrod Taylor: Quarterback (East Squad)
Taylor is viewed by many Hokie fans as the poor man's version of Michael Vick. He is not as explosive as the former Blacksburg icon, but he does have many of the same intangible qualities.
Primarily viewed as a running quarterback early in his career, Taylor has developed his game enough to where he is a typical dual-threat quarterback.
He has the ability to improvise with his legs and get out of trouble. He will escape the rush to keep a play going and find receivers downfield. He has the tendency to hold onto the ball too long on occasion.
Taylor has worked hard to improve his game and shows good leadership in the huddle. While his lack of ideal height will be a drawback, he has good arm strength and improved accuracy.
He needs a good performance in the Shrine game to help solidify himself as a bona fide NFL quarterback prospect.
Taylor is currently rated as a fifth- to seventh-round prospect.
Marvin Austin: Defensive End (East Squad)
Before the 2010 season, Marvin Austin had hoped to be a first-team All-American candidate and a sure-fire first round draft choice.
Those hopes were all dashed when Austin was one of several Tar Heels players found to have had improper dealings with an agent and was eventually kicked off the team.
Austin is an intriguing, but somewhat frustrating prospect who has never quite lived up to his billing. He has shown flashes of brilliance, but needs to be more consistent and disciplined in his play.
He has very good strength at the point of attack and can knock an offensive lineman backward if he gets under the shoulder pads.
Although he doesn't rack up a lot of sacks, Austin has a good bull rush and a nice swim move. His tendency to play too high minimizes his own strength.
He needs a good showing during Shrine Game week to shake off the rust and prove to scouts he is worth the risk of a lofty draft choice. The talent is there, but so are the questions.
Austin is currently considered a second- or third-round prospect.
Bruce Miller: Defensive End (East Squad)
Bruce Miller is not a household name to fans of college football, but he is well known by Conference USA opponents who game-planned against him every Saturday. By the end of the 2010 season, he was the career sack leader among current FBS players.
Miller is a hard-working player who loves the game of football. He plays with a relentless style and doesn't quit on the play.
Athletically, he does not compare to top-flight pass rushers, but makes his way to the quarterback with instinct and hustle. Miller might need to play as a 3-4 OLB in the NFL to offset his lack of bulk on the line of scrimmage.
During Shrine Game week, Miller will need to show scouts he is capable of playing in space if he plans to convert to linebacker at the next level.
Also, he will need to show strength at the point of attack and the ability to shed blocks against bigger offensive linemen.
Miller is currently rated as a fifth- to seventh-round pick.
Jeff Maehl: Wide Receiver (West Squad)
Jeff Maehl proved his mettle this year on the big stage, coming up with a great performance to help keep Oregon close in the BCS title game against Auburn. He has a knack for coming up with the clutch play and was Oregon's go-to receiver the last few years.
Without the gridiron gear on, Maehl looks more like a skateboarder or skier than a football player. But, once he suits up on game day, he is as tough as they come out on the field.
He won't dazzle scouts with his size or 40-yard dash times. But, he has great instincts, hands and route running skills. His cerebral game is reminiscent of great players such as Steve Largent and Art Monk.
Maehl is not mentioned in the same class as receivers like Largent and Monk, but he could surprise in the NFL. Scouts will be watching his release from the line of scrimmage and ability to separate from defensive backs in press coverage.
Maehl is currently rated as a sixth- or seventh-round draft choice.
Vai Taua: Halfback (West Squad)
Nevada has boasted one of the best running games in the nation the last several years. Vai Taua has been a big reason for that success.
Teaming with quarterback Colin Kaepernick and last year's running mate, Luke Lippincott, the Wolfpack's running game could compete with any program in the country.
Taua is a very productive college running back who is also a reliable receiver out of the backfield. He is a one-cut runner who has a strong burst through the line of scrimmage.
He is a patient runner who reads blocks well and then makes a decisive cut upfield. Taua has nice size and runs with good balance and strength.
If there is a question about Taua, it is about his overall athleticism and speed to compete at the pro level as a starter.
Playing in Nevada's spread offense opened running lanes that won't always be there in the NFL. If Taua can show the ability to run in a pro-style attack, his draft ranking could rise.
Taua is currently considered a fifth- to seventh-round prospect.
Ricky Elmore: Defensive End (West Squad)
Ricky Elmore led the Pac-10 in sacks in 2010 and was part of a superlative bookend duo with Brooks Reed in Arizona. While the defense struggled as a whole, Elmore was able to provide consistent pressure from the left side.
Playing at 255 pounds, Elmore may not have the bulk to play on the defensive line against bigger run blockers in the NFL. He gets pressure on the quarterback with excellent technique and effort.
He has good hand technique combined with intelligence and nice footwork. He should work on adding more core strength, but will work at doing what it takes to improve his game.
During Shrine week, Elmore should display the versatility to play stand-up outside linebacker to audition for that role in the NFL. He has all the grit and grinder work mentality to make an NFL roster.
The only question is how well he will separate from offensive tackles at the next level? With a strong showing this week, Elmore could jump as high as the third or fourth round.
Elmore is currently rated as a fifth- to seventh-round prospect.
Andrew Rich: Strong Safety (West Squad)
Brigham Young head coach Bronco Mendenhall recently said that Andrew Rich is one of the top three safeties he has ever coached.
The other two were Aaron Francisco, who attended Brigham Young, and Brian Urlacher from his days at New Mexico. That's quite a complement for Andrew Rich.
The leader of Brigham Young's defense, he will be missed next year after leading the Cougars in most defensive categories in 2010.
Rich lacks ideal speed to start in the NFL, but he is an aggressive safety and big hitter who loves contact. He always seems to be around or near the football.
His toughness and leadership skills could lead to a spot on special teams to begin his professional career.
Rich possesses the innate instincts that any coach or general manager appreciates in a football player. However, he needs to test well in running and speed drills throughout the post-season to ensure a spot in the upcoming draft.
Rich is currently rated as a sixth- or seventh-round prospect.
William Rackley: Center/Guard (West Squad)
One of the most intriguing prospects to watch in the Shrine Game will be Lehigh offensive lineman William Rackley. He has been one of the top FCS linemen during the last three years, but his future in the NFL will likely be in the interior offensive line.
Rackley is listed as a center on the Shrine Game website, but may also be asked to play offensive guard. He has raw power, having a bench press of 440 pounds in college, and is one of the strongest linemen in the draft.
He is a physical player who will stay with his blocks until the whistle blows. His college position was offensive tackle, but he lacks the lateral quickness and athleticism to remain there at the pro level.
If Rackley can impress coaches and scouts with the versatility to adapt inside at center or guard, he will be a valuable asset to an NFL franchise.
He will be tested, against a higher level of competition, on his ability to pull and get to the second level, coming off the initial block. With an impressive post-season showing, his draft stock could rise rapidly.
Rackley is currently rated as a fifth-round pick.