East-West Shrine Game 2020: Highlights, Top Performers Who Boosted Draft Stock

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2020

West running back James Robinson, of Illinois State, (25) during the second half of the East West Shrine football game Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

The East-West Shrine Game provides the opportunity for some under-the-radar NFL draft prospects to show off their skills ahead of the Senior Bowl.

In some cases, the top performers from the showcase event in Florida earn late invitations to the higher-profile competition in Mobile, Alabama.

On Saturday, some Group of Five and FCS prospects stood out in the East team's 31-27 victory at Tropicana Field.

Illinois State running back James Robinson was impressive in both facets of the offense, and his performance garnered praise from a legendary player at his position. Florida International quarterback James Morgan also shone in a starting role, but the key for all players involved in the event is to impress NFL personnel enough to warrant a draft selection.

                      

Top Performers

James Robinson, RB, Illinois State

Robinson was one of the most explosive playmakers on either roster Saturday, as he produced 80 yards and a touchdown on the ground and 56 receiving yards.

The Illinois State running back scored on a 63-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, showing off his ability to wiggle through tight spaces and his breakout speed.

Former NFL running back LaDainian Tomlinson broke down Robinson's potential, including what he saw on the scoring play, on NFL Network:

"He's a two-time Walter Payton Award finalist. That means the best player in FCS. Big guy, strong between the tackles, and as I mentioned, they questioned his long speed, but on this run, he actually showed that he has decent speed. Maybe not burner speed, but this is good enough."

The reality for Robinson is he still has a long way to go to break into a late-round draft conversation. He was not ranked in the top 25 on the latest positional rankings from Bleacher Report's Matt Miller.

The 2020 running back class is headlined by Georgia's D'Andre Swift, Ohio State's J.K. Dobbins and Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor, but a team could find value in Robinson on the third day of the selection process.

The same conundrum faces Charlotte's Benny LeMay, who was named the Shrine Game Offensive MVP.

While the path to the NFL will be tough for both running backs, there is a history of players taken in the fourth round and later finding success.

The Dallas Cowboy's Tony Pollard, Jacksonville Jaguars' Ryquell Armstead, Pittsburgh Steelers' Benny Snell Jr. and Kansas City Chiefs' Darwin Thompson were among the late-round picks at running back in the 2019 NFL draft who contributed in some fashion during their rookie campaigns.

                    

James Morgan, QB, Florida International

Morgan came into the Shrine Game off a 2,560-yard season for FIU, but he only managed 14 scoring throws against an average nonconferfence slate and a Conference USA schedule.

The senior quarterback led off the scoring for the East squad with a short touchdown pass to Ja'Marcus Bradley.

The toss was somewhat impressive, as he made it in tight space off a faked handoff.

NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah pointed out Morgan was the Offensive MVP of the week in Tampa: "When stacked against all the other quarterbacks here this week, the ball just looked so much better coming out of his hand." 

Morgan, who grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, was also one of the players who impressed the most in interviews, per Jeremiah.

The realistic goal for Morgan is to showcase enough talent during the evaluation process to warrant a late second-day or third-day pick.

As of January 1, he was not ranked in the top 14 at his position by Miller, who had 13 Power Five signal-callers on his list.

Some positions in draft rankings can be fluid several months ahead of April's event, and if he does enough in the coming months, he could be intriguing as a fourth- to seventh-round pick who competes for a backup position somewhere.

                  

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90Statistics obtained from ESPN.com.

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