As NFL prospects prepare for the 2011 NFL Draft, top prospects gear up for the Senior Bowl and just about everyone trains for the NFL Combine, a second tier of players heads to Orlando, FL for the East-West Shrine Game.
While these players are not considered at the same level of those that will travel to Mobile, AL next week, the talent at the Shrine Bowl has been steadily improving in recent years.
Rodger Saffold made himself a boatload of money in 2010, where the game also featured Emmanuel Sanders, O'Brien Schofield, Mike Kafka and Alterraun Verner.
In 2011? Scouts and media struggled to find a real standout player.
Marvin Austin (DT North Carolina) is the biggest name and showed up (surprisingly) fit after sitting out the 2010 college season. Austin wowed scouts at the weigh-in and held his own at practice against some inferior competition. Throughout the week, Austin will need to be dominant against this caliber of lineman to convince teams he's worth a high draft pick. The most encouraging thing said about Austin is "he wants to be here."
One mid-round prospect who didn't make the trek to Orlando is Cliff Matthews (LB South Carolina). He never replied to the Shrine Game invitation, claiming he did not receive it.
Pat Devlin (QB Delaware) has followed the Joe Flacco path to the NFL, and some confuse the two as prospects. Devlin does not have the arm Flacco possesses, but he is considered more of a vocal leader and a film room rat. He's a decent quarterback but has a lot of work to do before he contributes to an NFL team. Although they wore the same Blue Hens uniform, the comparisons stop there.
Devlin should go in the mid rounds of this April's draft, but he needs to step up his play in Orlando, which has been poor.
Ricky Dobbs (QB Navy), Nathan Enderle (QB Idaho) and Jerrod Johnson (QB Texas A&M) all have an outside shot at the NFL but have not been helping their chances this week. Reports from a rained-out ballroom walkthrough had Dobbs fluttering passes and unable to lead his team through the banquet hall. He has the athleticism to be a pro, but teams will view him as an athlete, not a QB.
Enderle makes occasional plays but doesn't have consistent velocity on his throws. NFL Draft Scout's Chad Reuter and I both had one word written about Enderle: "Wobbly."
Johnson looked horrendous much of the day, earning the nickname "Double Clutch" from The Denver Post's Cecil Lammey and drawing audible displeasure from pro scouts on the sidelines.
The one QB that did impress (relatively speaking) in Orlando was Scott Tolzien (QB Wisconsin), although even he was sporadic. Tolzien moves around well in the pocket and moved the defense around with his eyes and numerous pump fakes. Most of all, Tolzien was the only quarterback who looked comfortable dropping back from under center.
However, he struggles on deep passes and doesn't seem to have the ability to make every NFL throw consistently.
At the running back position, Delone Carter (RB Syracuse) is the top dog in Orlando, but at a position where practices show so little. Vai Taua (RB Nevada) has impressed with his effort and his speed and looks like the most natural runner in the West team.
The best run in 11-on-11 was by Alex Green (RB Hawaii), who ran off tackle to the left side, squeezing between a couple of poor blocks, attacking the hole and planting out of it to evade the defender. If he can continue to be that decisive, he can contribute for an NFL team.
The receivers aren't exactly impressive at the Shrine Game either. Terrance Toliver (WR LSU) and Armon Binns (WR Cincinnati) have a cult following among some scouts and could end up drafted in the mid rounds. Jeff Maehl (WR Oregon) has a lot of promise but looks too slight to hold up in the NFL and dropped some passes while repeatedly slipping out of his cuts.
The most impressive prospect was Ryan Whalen (WR Stanford), who repeatedly showcased amazing body control and high-pointed the ball, plucking it out of the air.
The talent in the trenches is lackluster at best. Between Cecil Lammey, Chad Reuter, Wes Bunting and I, we could not come up with a single defensive line prospect to showcase. Brandon Bair (DT Oregon) has a nice motor and repeatedly got into the backfield but didn't flash any moves or real athleticism to do so. David Carter (DT UCLA) is a late-round prospect that could grow into a rotational player in the NFL.
On the offensive line, Joseph Barksdale (OT LSU) is a right tackle-only prospect who is absolutely great from stance to contact. However, he doesn't drive off the line, nor does he move well in space. Laupepa Letuli (OG/OT Hawaii) played four positions during practice and gave great effort, although he was embarrassed by the much smaller Dontay Moch (OLB Nevada), who bull-rushed him five yards into the backfield.
Moch is an interesting prospect—weighing in at 229 this week after being listed at an absurd 248 by his school. He is far too small to play on the line in the NFL but is a pure pass rusher. He will find a home and could be the first Shrine Game participant drafted. Another linebacker to watch is Chris Carter (OLB Fresno State), who is a tweener and has the athleticism, if not the polish, right now.
The defensive secondary was tough to watch in practice. Justin Rogers (CB Richmond) and Cortez Allen (CB Citadel) seem to have a future in the NFL and could be "that small school guy" we've seen in years past flourish during the draft season. However, many of the defensive backs in this game should be making other career plans.
Michael Schottey is an On-Call Editor for Bleacher Report's College Writing Internship and also an NFL Featured Columnist. He has covered the NFL professionally for both print and radio media and is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He also contributes as an analyst for DraftTek.com. Follow him on Twitter.