Shrine Bowl Takeaways: Ivy League Option Emerges in Questionable QB Class
The glitz and glamor of playing in Las Vegas at Allegiant Stadium significantly increased the profile of the East-West Shrine Bowl.
An opportunity to play at an NFL stadium as part of the draft evaluation process shouldn't be overlooked. The cathedral to football located on The Strip served as the perfect venue to highlight numerous talented prospects capable of contributing at the next level with the West squad emerging as 25-24 victors over the East.
"We looked at a lot of great cities, some incredible options," executive director Eric Galko told The Athletic's Arif Hasan. "I think with a lot of those cities, we could have reached our goal of being a best-in-class event. I had learned of the interest from the NFL and the Pro Bowl of partnering with the Shrine Bowl. The NFL mission and the desire by the NFL and the Pro Bowl (which will also be held in Las Vegas) to help the Shriners Hospital grow their messaging, grow their mission and the chance to work with the Pro Bowl were the real starting point."
The Shrine Bowl has been a staple of the all-star circuit for nearly a century and produced the likes of Jimmy Garoppolo, Za'Darius Smith, Shaquil Barrett, Matthew Judon, Trey Hendrickson and James Robinson in recent years.
Inevitably, a standout will emerge despite not being considered an elite prospect. The majority of Shrine Bowl talent will be found among the draft's second and third days. Yet, those selections become vital to fleshing out an organization's roster, hence why the contest and the week leading up to it are so important.
NFL general managers and scouts flocked to the UNLV's campus to start the week and get an in-person look at those in attendance. The onus fell on the participating individuals to impress. The game proved the last opportunity to do so based upon on-field performance, as the NFL combine looms.
Shrine Bowl week is now in the books with multiple takeaways emerging as a slice of the entire draft evaluation.
EJ Perry's MVP Performance Helps Create Some Depth at QB
The incoming quarterback class is what it is. No one is going to magically become an elite prospect overnight just because multiple NFL franchises are desperate to address the position. At the same time, the 2022 crop does have some intriguing developmental types who will probably hear their names called sooner than expected.
Coming into Shrine Bowl week, none of the quarterbacks in attendance were expected to fall into the aforementioned category. As the practices progressed, Brown's EJ Perry began to separate himself from the rest of the pack.
The 6'2", 210-pound signal-caller showed a good process in playing the position from the ground up and into his decision-making. The Boston College transfer played extremely well during his two seasons on Brown's campus with 5,981 passing yards and 55 touchdowns. Although, he threw 27 interceptions during his time in the Ivy League.
"There were times during our season where I pressed when we were down," Perry said during a post-game interview on NFL Network. "This was another opportunity to show I'm not going to do that anymore. ... I just wanted to come here and get better."
The fact Perry showed good habits throughout the week helps his cause, particularly after his offensive MVP performance during the actual game. Perry completed 13-of-18 passes for 241 yards and three scores while adding a pair of two-point conversions as a runner. He took what was available and executed without mistakes. The West squad still won by a single point, but Perry's effort placed the East in a position to steal the game late if it could recover an onside kick, which it didn't.
This year's Shrine Bowl featured quarterbacks from Notre Dame (Jack Coan), Iowa State (Brock Purdy) and Kansas State (Skyler Thompson). Perry outclassed everyone and emerged as a legitimate draftable option once the top projected quarterbacks are off the board.
Strong Effort from Shrine Bowl's Running Back Stable
All-star games are usually known for big plays and trying to push the ball downfield. After all, quarterbacks and wide receivers want to impress. But running backs can emerge as well by creating chunk plays.
James Robinson may have gone undrafted out of Illinois State, but the powder keg of a running back exploded onto the scene as a rookie for the Jacksonville Jaguars (before inexplicably falling into Urban Meyer's doghouse and not playing much this past season). The traits Robinson showed at the Shrine Bowl signaled a productive back and that's what he became.
Three such ball carriers emerged during this year's event with vastly different skill sets.
North Carolina's Ty Chandler impressed all week as arguably the best overall player on the field. Chandler's ability to work in space makes him special. Despite never eclipsing 19 receptions in a single season, the Tennessee transfer was unguardable in space. Linebackers flailed and safeties suffered while trying to handle him in passing drills. More importantly, Chandler showed how capable he is as a blocker. He already looks like a ready-made third-down back, who happens to be a capable runner with excellent short-area quickness and lateral movement.
During the contest, Chandler led all rushers with 63 yards at 6.3 yards per carry. He benefited from the West's tight-end heavy offense while making tacklers miss on multiple occasions.
Conversely, teammate Jashaun Corbin ran behind his pads with a level of physicality not seen from the other backs at the event. At 221-pounds, the Florida State product was the heaviest back between the two rosters and it showed. He powered his way between the tackles to the tune of eight carries for 50 yards and a red-zone touchdown.
On the other side of the ball, North Dakota State's Pierre Strong Jr. made an impact with the game's longest play—a 65-yard screen the speedy back took to the house. Like Chandler, Strong showed he can be a legitimate threat in the passing game during the week despite limited opportunities during his collegiate career. The FCS product is arguably the fastest back in the entire class.
Tight Ends Dominate Event
As good as the running backs were all good, the tight ends in Las Vegas were even better, starting with Virginia's Jelani Woods.
Woods literally and figuratively stood out among his peers. At 6'7" and 259 pounds, the Oklahoma State transfer was simply too much to handle for any defender. Flags flew all over the practice field as safeties and linebackers tried to body the much larger target.
While size is an important part of Woods' skill set, he showed a level of athleticism not previously seen during the Cavaliers' 2021 campaign because of a lingering injury. Now healthy, Woods operated at full tilt with the capabilities of creating consistent mismatches in the passing game. The West squad knew it, too, and immediately targeted him during the contest.
Ultimately, the first-team All-ACC performer caught three passes for 30 yards and a touchdown. But Woods wasn't the only tight end to score.
Oregon State's Teagan Quitoriano opened the game's scoring with a 1-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Jack Coan.
Throughout the week, Maryland's Chigoziem Okonkwo and Ohio's Armani Rogers, a quarterback convert, displayed excellent athleticism, fluidity and the ability to threat down the seam and create after the catch.
Earlier, San Jose State's Derrick Deese Jr., who dealt with an ankle injury after the first day, and Pittsburgh's Lucas Krull showed they're capable Y-tight ends, who can play at the end of the line of scrimmage while being capable targets in the passing game.
Overall, the incoming tight end class is deep. No real standout the likes of 2021's No. 4 overall pick Kyle Pitts exists, but the quality of tight ends seen at the Shrine Bowl indicates just how good the position group really is.
Add Another Talented WR to an Already Deep Class
Nebraska's Samori Toure didn't draw much attention in the Big Ten or even as a Shrine Bowl invite.
In fact, Toure's 898 receiving yards ranked seventh among Big Ten wide receivers during his lone season with the Cornhuskers. Among those in attendance at the all-star event, Coastal Carolina's Jaivon Heiligh held the highest grade by Bleacher Report's scouting department. Western Kentucky's Jerreth Sterns led the FBS with 1,902 receiving yards. Baylor's Tyquan Thornton was arguably the consistent practice performer all week. Each impressed.
All-star weeks aren't just a showcase; they're also job interviews. It falls upon the individual to put his best foot forward during multiple days of evaluations.
In Toure's case, he once again showed how he became one of the best targets at the FCS level when the former member of the Montana Grizzlies led the Big Sky Conference with a school-record 1,495 receiving yards during the 2010 campaign.
The 6'1", 191-pound target got lost in the shuffle a bit until the actual Shrine Bowl when he scored a pair of touchdowns where he put defensive backs in the blender with a spin move and a wheel route.
Toure may not have been featured quite as much as he would have liked as part of Scott Frost's program, but he certainly exceeded expectations when he got onto the field and played as well as the more highly regarded wide receivers at the Shrine Bowl.
Now, another outstanding position group has one more option to strongly consider among the 30 or more receivers, who are likely to be drafted.
Defensive players don't receive the same level of recognition during all-star weeks because the games are simplified and usually set up favorably for the offense. That's OK. The NFL continues to trend in the same direction.
Even so, defensive prospects always emerge because they show a certain level of athleticism, explosivity and/or physicality.
Up front, Kentucky's Marquan McCall drew plenty of attention for his size and play. The 6'2½", 346-pound nose tackle's build alone would get him drafted. What everyone saw during the week, particularly during the contest, is a defensive tackle capable of doing more than simply serving as a space-eater. McCall wrecked multiple plays during the Shrine Bowl and consistently re-established the line of scrimmage.
Jackson State's James Houston became a call-up after excelling at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. The Florida transfer became a feared edge-rusher with the Tigers. Houston registered 24.5 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks during his final season on campus. Interestingly, the undersized (6'1", 225 pounds) defender spent most of his time at Las Vegas as an off-ball linebacker. At first, Houston looked overwhelmed in space. As the week progressed, the position became more natural to the point where he played both edge and linebacker during the contest and looked great in either setting.
Georgia Tech safety Juanyeh Thomas made two exceptional goal-line defenses during the game's first drive. Thomas, who excelled as a zone defender with the ball in front of him, stymied a third-down swing pass before helping in support on a fourth-down run. His physicality and form tackling weren't replicated by any other defensive back on the field.
Wisconsin linebacker Jack Sanborn deserves recognition as well because he struggled almost all week. Sanborn is never going to shine in settings that ask him to work in space or cover individuals one-on-one. He thrives while patrolling tackle-to-tackle and spot dropping in certain zone schemes. After a disappointing practice week, the game setting let him play to his strengths, as he led all defenders with seven tackles.