NFL Draft 2017: Takeaways from the East-West Shrine Game

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystJanuary 22, 2017

NFL Draft 2017: Takeaways from the East-West Shrine Game

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    Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images

    The first of two major college all-star games took place Saturday at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. 

    The East-West Shrine Game is college football's oldest all-star event, having been played since 1925. Each year, the contest serves as a major talent showcase for the NFL.

    Last year's game featured 11 participants who developed into NFL starters by the end of the 2016 campaign. 

    The West squad claimed a 10-3 victory, but that's inconsequential. What really matters is how individuals performed for NFL scouts and decision-makers. 

    These all-star contests serve as the first step in a long and thorough job interview to achieve the dream of playing professional football. The game itself is stripped down with limited playbooks, but it still provides the young competitors with their first taste of working with NFL coaches and what will be expected of them at the next level. 

    With the NFL draft only three months away, every step of the process serves as an opportunity to impress. While multiple prospects rose to the occasion and put on a show, there were others who failed to stand out. 

    Bleacher Report identified the best and the worst from the 92nd East-West Shrine Game.

Defensive, Offensive Most Outstanding Players

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    For any NFL draft prospect, it's a feather in his cap if he balls out and earns an honor as the best player among some of the nation's top talent. 

    Florida Atlantic defensive end Trey Hendrickson claimed The E. Jack Spaulding Award for Most Outstanding Defensive Player. Throughout the practice week, the 6'4", 265-pound pass-rusher developed into the best defender on the field. His performance during the game proved to be no different. 

    Hendrickson struggled early against Oklahoma State offensive tackle Victor Salako, but the defensive end's quick first step and consistent motor eventually led to him making multiple plays, including a strip-sack. 

    The former Owl displayed an ability to bend the edge and flatten the quarterback that will prove quite valuable for teams searching for players who can apply pressure. 

    On offense, Louisiana-Lafayette running back Elijah McGuire was the only logical choice for The William H. Coffman Award for Most Outstanding Offensive Player. After all, he scored the game's only touchdown. 

    The 5'9", 205-pound back ran for 4,312 yards and 42 touchdowns during his collegiate career, and his experience showed. He demonstrated patience waiting for holes to open, made decisive cuts and burst through any available crevice. 

    As good as the running back was, teams didn't get to see his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, though he has 129 career receptions. 

    Even so, his burst toward the end zone for an 18-yard score provided an exclamation point to a strong performance throughout his time in St. Petersburg. 

    Last year's award recipients—quarterback Vernon Adams and safety Mike Caputo—have never played in an NFL game. This year's winners are far more likely to do so.

Defensive Linemen Dominate the Line of Scrimmage

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    Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images

    Very little scoring occurred during the 92nd Shrine Game, because both of the teams' defensive lines dominated. 

    Louisville's DeAngelo Brown set the tone early when he stuffed the West squad on fourth down at the goal line. The 6'0", 310-pound defensive tackle broke into the backfield to disrupt multiple plays. At times, he appeared unblockable. 

    Brown isn't an every-down interior defender, but he proved more than a handful for the West's offensive linemen.

    The former Cardinal wasn't the only defensive tackle who proved difficult to uproot. 

    The West featured a pair—Colorado's Josh Tupou and Indiana's Ralph Green—who were impossible to move off the ball. 

    Tupou is a massive nose tackle at 6'3" and 345 pounds. Coaches shouldn't expect Tupou to get into the backfield and register tackles for loss. His value lies in his ability to eat up as many blockers as possible. The East couldn't budge the hefty defender, and the way he stacked offensive linemen and absorbed every double-team contributed to the West's defensive success. 

    When paired with the 306-pound Green, the duo formed a wall along the front line. Green is agile, and he showed more upfield push, but his size and strength at the point of attack were apparent too. 

    While the defensive tackles held their ground, Arkansas' Deatrich Wise Jr. joined Trey Hendrickson by providing consistent pressure off the edge. 

    Wise was all over the field. The 6'6", 270-pound edge defender flashed throughout his collegiate career, but his performances were never consistent. On Saturday, the former Razorback displayed his athleticism and length, as well as the ability to set the edge and rush the quarterback. 

    Because of these performances, opposing offenses never established a rhythm.

Top Tight End Prospects Fall Short of Expectations

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    Andrew Weber/Getty Images

    Throughout the practice week, tight ends were the most popular topic. 

    Drake's Eric Saubert caught everyone's attention due to his fluidity as a pass-catcher at 6'5" and 250 pounds.  

    "He looks solid," an AFC college scouting director told The MMQB's Albert Breer. "I'm not blown away, but he's a good athlete with good hands and he's fast enough, but a little undersized." 

    Saubert led the Bulldogs with 56 receptions for 776 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior. 

    As good as the FCS product was during the practice week, he did very little during the Shrine Game. On fourth down with the game on the line, Saubert became the target. He dropped the ball instead of securing a surefire first down. 

    The catch would have been difficult to make since the tight end had to reach back behind a defender, but the ball landed in his hands before falling to the ground. 

    West tight end Michael Roberts was more effective after catching a couple of passes over the middle. The Toledo product is a big target at 6'4" and 270 pounds. 

    Questions will linger about his straight-line speed, but Roberts uses his body well to shield defenders. As such, he could develop into a valuable red-zone target. The tight end caught 16 touchdowns in 2016. 

    Saubert turned heads during the week; Roberts played better when called upon during the game.

Quarterbacks Provide Very Little Hope

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    Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images

    A lack of quality quarterback prospects has been the overriding theme to the 2017 NFL draft. 

    An elite prospect hasn't emerged, and the signal-callers' Saturday performances only add to the perception of a bad quarterback class. 

    No one who participated in the Shrine Game should have been considered a top prospect, but the depth may be just as poor. 

    Since Louisiana-Lafayette running back Elijah McGuire scored the only touchdown, none of the quarterbacks threw a scoring pass. But their performances were even worse than expected. 

    Illinois' Wes Lunt and Cincinnati's Gunner Kiel missed multiple throws. Two MAC products—Central Michigan's Cooper Rush and Western Michigan's Zach Terrell—seemed incapable of pushing the ball downfield. Southern Miss' Nick Mullens didn't show anything worthy of a draftable prospect. 

    Penn's Alek Torgersen gave the most disappointing performance since he showed legit potential throughout the practice week. His ball placement was poor, and he didn't establish any type of rhythm as the East's "starting" quarterback. 

    There's something to be said about quarterbacks being placed in a poor situation during all-star festivities. They only have a couple of days to learn the scheme, and it's impossible to build a rapport with a brand-new set of receivers through a handful of practices. 

    Still, none of these quarterbacks even flashed during the contest. All of them appeared gun-shy. 

    With a chance to work themselves into middle- or late-round consideration, these quarterback came up short and looked far more like future undrafted free agents.

Handful of Wide Receivers Flash Despite Poor Quarterback Play

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    Michael Chang/Getty Images

    Since the quarterbacks played so poorly during Saturday's Shrine Game, the wide receivers had to make the most of their opportunities, and there were a few who did. 

    Samford's Karel Hamilton is a 6'1", 202-pound target. His ability to adjust to poorly thrown footballs was vital during the contest. In fact, Hamilton made the play of the game on a pass thrown short of its intended target. The FCS product adjusted to the football, worked his way around the cornerback and snagged the pass just inches off the ground. 

    The aforementioned reception coupled with an earlier pass he hauled in by high-pointing the football showed off his catch radius. 

    Florida State's Kermit Whitfield was the fastest player on the field, and the East squad tried to take advantage of his speed by regularly targeting the diminutive receiver. At 5'8" and 178 pounds, Whitfield provides a change of pace for a team's offense. 

    As seen Saturday, the wide receiver can be used out of the backfield, on quick hitters or as a deep threat. Due to Whitfield's speed, defenses must know where he is at all times. 

    On the opposite side of the spectrum, Shepherd's Billy Brown is a massive target at 6'4" and 245 pounds. His size makes a move to tight end appear inevitable, but Brown showed he can still get over the top of cornerbacks during the all-star contest. NFL defensive backs are faster and craftier, though. 

    Finally, Arizona's Trey Griffey never experienced the career many expected when he committed to Rich Rodriguez's squad. His best year came in 2014, when he caught 31 passes for 405 yards.

    However, he took full advantage of the handful of targets thrown his way this week. Griffey displayed a tremendous ability to make difficult catches. Obviously, teams will love his bloodline as Ken Griffey Jr.'s son, but he needed to show more this week and did so. 

    Catching the football is important. Sometimes, it's more important to watch how a receiver is used or how he responds the few times he's featured.

Injuries Rob Shrine Game of Top Talent

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    Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    A pair of high-profile pass-rushers never saw the field Saturday in St. Petersburg. 

    Pitt's Ejuan Price and Utah's Hunter Dimick destroyed opposing offenses this past year. The duo combined for 27.5 sacks and 44 tackles for loss. Instead of showcasing their abilities throughout the week and during the game, scouts only got to see their negatives. 

    Price measured at just under 5'11" and only 245 pounds. Meanwhile, Dimick's 31-inch arms are less than ideal for an edge defender. As productive as both were, neither fits the prototype. Both needed to show they could still perform at a high level against top competition. 

    The edge defenders weren't the only young men unable to play in the contest. Below is a list of the other players who were injured and missed the game, per the Shrine Game's official site

    • Nebraska wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp
    • USC running back Justin Davis
    • Oregon State offensive lineman Sean Harlow
    • Houston linebacker Steven Taylor
    • Toledo defensive tackle Treyvon Hester
    • Colorado cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon
    • Missouri defensive tackle Josh Augusta
    • Navy quarterback Will Worth
    • Northern Illinois wide receiver Kenny Golladay
    • South Florida wide receiver Rodney Adams Jr.
    • Florida State guard Kareem Are
    • Illinois defensive tackle Jarrod Clements Jr. 
    • Middle Tennessee cornerback Jeremy Cutrer
    • Arkansas linebacker Brooks Ellis
    • Wake Forest linebacker Marquel Lee

    These injuries aren't optimal, but this isn't the end for any of these prospects. It's merely the beginning of their trek. They still have plenty of time to impress NFL teams.

Four Shrine Game Participants Will Play in Senior Bowl

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    Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images

    Despite the prestige of the Shrine Game as the granddaddy of collegiate all-star contests, the event plays second fiddle to the Reese's Senior Bowl. 

    Next week's Senior Bowl is the premier showcase of college football talent readying itself for the NFL. The top prospects decide to go to Mobile, Alabama, instead of St. Petersburg, because they understand the Senior Bowl brings together the biggest gathering of NFL personnel at any offseason event. 

    Every year, there are always those who are "called up" from the Shrine Game to participate in the Senior Bowl. According to USA Today's Jeff Risdon, four have already been selected. 

    Michigan running back De'Veon Smith and guard Kyle Kalis, Air Force wide receiver Jalen Robinette and Toledo tight end Michael Roberts will all make the trip to Alabama next week. 

    Others could be added to the Senior Bowl's roster, but those moves will be determined by potential no-shows or injuries throughout the practice week.


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