The East-West Shrine Game is one of the last chances for college football's top seniors to make a positive and lasting impression on their future would-be NFL employers.
The week of practice leading up to the game, combined with the real thing, serves as a showcase for those seniors hoping to crack NFL teams' draft boards as we move closer and closer to the April 30 2011 NFL Draft.
The game splits college seniors between East and West, and this year the game was dominated by the East to the tune of 25-8, with the East all-stars putting on a defensive show as they harassed any and all West quarterbacks.
But of course the big question coming out of the East-West Shrine Game is, what players improved their NFL Draft stock the most? Yes it's only one game, but it's a high-profile one that pits some of the best talent heading into the draft against each other.
So some players are bound to have excelled given the circumstances, and those are the guys I'll discuss here. Check and see if you agree with the 10 guys I'm pinpointing as having had a successful East-West Shrine Game, or chime in with others whom you think merit discussion.
Less was more for the Virginia Tech quarterback, as Tyrod Taylor managed to lead the victorious East squad in passing despite only having five attempts through the air. Overall, Taylor was 4-for-5 on his throws for a total of 59 yards. Taylor doesn't have the pocket pedigree to warrant early round selection at the upcoming draft, but he's the type of athlete an NFL team will take a chance with, especially if he shows improvement throwing from the pocket.
The Shrine Game was a positive step for Taylor as he looks to continue to impress scouts. He was accurate and didn't crumble despite the fact that the East's game plan was to run the ball first and foremost. It's a good game for Taylor to hang on to.
Adams had to grab some attention for his abilities and work in the productive East running game. He also made a positive impact by hauling in two passes for 13 yards—not big numbers, obviously, but still a sign that he can be involved in a passing game while also holding down his blocking duties.
He was a part of the reason why the East was able to rack up 169 total rushing yards on the day, the only offensive unit that actually had any success in this game. He played a particularly big role in Syracuse's Delone Carter's big rushing touchdown, laying a key block to spring the play. For teams looking for help at tight end, Adams had to help himself in this one.
Winston Venable was one of the more active and involved players for the West's defense in this game. His big highlight would have to be the 18-yard interception he put together, but throughout the entirety of the game he had a hand in a number of plays and was a positive defensive force on the field.
His performance had to help his chances to catch the attention of NFL scouts, as this game combined with his strong career at Boise State makes him likely to catch on somewhere in the NFL in 2011.
Ricky Dobbs was one of Navy's biggest offensive forces during the 2010 season, and he had a nice showing at the Shrine Game that could warrant further consideration for his skills as multi-faceted offensive weapon. He can throw it out of the backfield (he only completed 5-of-10 passes, but he threw a lot for Navy this year), but his biggest asset is his running abilities.
In the right offense, he could be a useful change of pace player, potentially running the wildcat formation for a team that still tries to deploy that every once in a while.
Greg Smith led the East in receiving with 77 yards on four catches, and he enjoyed an all-around good day as he tried to get some attention as a pro tight end option. He caught a 25-yard pass from the previously mentioned Ricky Dobbs in the second quarter, then broke off a 35-yard catch of a Tyrod Taylor pass from deep within the East's own territory.
He showed the ability to make plays in the passing game that NFL scouts now value in tight end prospects, so Smith had to be pleased with his showing in the Shrine Game.
Oklahoma State linebacker Orie Lemon was one of the other few defensive bright spots for the West squad in this one, joining fellow linebacker Winston Venable as the few guys who were able to make positive plays for the West.
Lemon recorded eight tackles, and was frequently involved in shutting down plays in the second level. He was the leader of Wade Phillips' West defense, and a spirited effort like that can't hurt his chances of getting some NFL attention, even if it's only as a special teams or reserve player.
Moch was the defensive leader for the breakthrough Nevada Wolfpack team that enjoyed its best year in school history in 2010, and he's flashed some strong ability throughout his final year in college as well as at the Shrine Game.
He is known for his blazing speed from the outside linebacker position, and he showed flashes of it during yesterday's game. The West could really hang its hat on the play of their linebackers, and Dontay Moch was one of the key reasons for that. It's hard to say how much his NFL stock actually improved, but flashing his strong physical skills on a bigger stage like this game couldn't have hurt it.
Martin Parker was named the Defensive MVP for the Shrine Game, and it was a well-deserved honor after he harassed the West's quarterbacks all day long. Parker had two sacks and also forced a fumble, penetrating the West's offensive line regularly and making his presence undoubtedly felt throughout the game.
He's probably not a high draft pick, but that kind of performance can only help entice teams that need in terms of depth help along their defensive line.
Carter was the game's leading rusher by far, as he earned the Offensive MVP honors for his performance on the Shrine Game stage and no doubt helped himself in the eyes of scouts. He picked up 11 carries and managed to gain 54 yards, while also breaking off a nice 16-yard touchdown run, his big highlight of the game.
His stock isn't particularly high among the running backs available for the draft, but Carter's big game should further wake people up to his abilities carrying the football.
Marvin Austin was forced to sit out the 2010 season, as he was ensnared in the agent controversy that swirled around the North Carolina football program. His character was an issue in that regard, and also among NFL teams who have met with him for interviews and evaluation.
But one undeniable thing regarding Austin is that he has the talent and ability to be a player selected in the NFL Draft's early rounds, and there was a great display of that talent Saturday in the Shrine Game. He was constantly pressuring quarterbacks up the middle, and his big moment came in the fourth quarter.
With 3:41 to play, Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson dropped back to pass from deep in the West's own zone. Austin busted through the middle and sacked Johnson at the 2-yard line, also forcing a fumble. The ball rolled into the end zone, and Austin recovered to complete the ideal four spot: sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery, touchdown.
Austin's make-up may be an issue for NFL teams, but his ability to rush the passer isn't in question. He had a great Shrine Game, and no doubt helped his draft stock the most.