In what will be the 89th annual East-West Shrine Game, some of the top seniors in the 2014 NFL Draft class have been invited to participate in practices during the week and an eventual game on January 18th for both entertainment and, more importantly to them, for NFL teams to further evaluate these prospects.
While over 100 seniors will attend, not all will be drafted. Here are the top fifteen prospects in attendance, and what they need to show to NFL evaluators during the week to improve their NFL Draft value.
1. Gabe Ikard, OC, Oklahoma (West)
One of the best (maybe THE best) centers in the 2014 draft, Ikard plays with remarkably composed feet and quickness laterally on the Oklahoma interior. He’s able to play wide in pass protection and exchanges rushers smoothly, along with extending with strong hands and trap blocking well for running plays. He may lack great power and drive block ability, but Ikard will be the toughest offensive linemen to beat for all of the interior rushers at the Shrine Game.
2. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois (East)
Easily the top quarterback prospect at the Shrine Game, Garoppolo could leave the Shrine week early to attend the Senior Bowl. A highly coveted “mid-round” quarterback at this point, Garoppolo could quickly emerge as a passer almost every team would consider in the Top 100 picks. Possessing a quick release, high IQ across the field, and the touch in the mid-range routes to attack both man and zone coverage, Garoppolo fits offenses that rely on decisive reads and accurate throws in the mid-range. He’s still a work in progress and may need added development, but if he can showcase the accuracy vertically and the footwork on an NFL level, he could quickly rise to a solid 2nd round pick.
3. EJ Gaines, CB, Missouri (West)
A big reason for Missouri’s defensive success this year, Gaines was the feature defensive back for the highly productive Tigers defense. Utilizing his physicality throughout his coverage, Gaines is patient when defending downfield. Able to lean and stay tight in pickup, Gaines has the quick feet initially in his back pedal to work in both zone and man coverages. He could improve his hip timing, transitions, and positioning, however, and he’ll either need to showcase developing fundamentals or get exposed at times during Shrine Game.
4. Andre Hal, CB, Vanderbilt (East)
A physical, active cornerback, Hal was asked to play in a variety of coverages for Vanderbilt, primarily zone based. Having success in fluidity and ball skills in both Cover 2 and Cover 3 looks, Hal consistently shows the ability to finish at the catch-point when in position and transition cleanly to make a play on the ball or finish tackles in space. He is, however, susceptible to deep breaking routes, particularly comeback routes when he’s asked to play Cover 3. Finally, he’s a solid tackler in space, but he’s not active nor physical enough to really make an impact in the run/quick screen game. He’ll get a chance to test his ability against quick receivers, especially getting the chance to maximize his fluidity in his hips.
5. Josh Mauro, DE, Stanford (West)
Playing in the well-respected Stanford defense, Mauro is a 6’6, 281 pound powerful interior presence who got ample work at end, 5-technique, and in multiple spots as a defensive tackle. For his size, he’s very active laterally and with his hand exchange, closing quickly on the ball carrier with plus vision and anticipation. He can, however, get stood up at times as he attacks the backfield, as he seems to rely on shoulder adjustments and quick hands but is susceptible to sturdy lineman. He’ll get the chance to showcase his versatility against multiple offensive lineman types.
6. Max Bullough, ILB, Michigan State (West)
A high IQ linebacker, Bullough has had success in college thanks to anticipation and timing on the interior. He collapses holes very efficiently on the inside, attacking with great pad level and holding his ground very well against fullbacks and interior linemen. He is, however, a bit limited athletic-wise in vertical coverage, and hasn’t displayed much range in man-pickup. He’ll have the ability to showcase both during practices.
7. Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood (East)
Hailing from the small school Lindenwood, Desir is a well-built, highly talented cornerback that will get a chance to show his abilities against the top receivers in the country. At 6’2, 200+, Desir has the size, length, and physicality to fit the new mold of what NFL teams want in their cornerbacks. Fluid downfield and physical across a receiver’s route tree, Desir was rarely targeted his senior season at Lindenwood. Desir could leave the Shrine Game as a Top 100 pick, if not higher.
8. Preston Brown, ILB, Louisville (East)
The safeties Hakeem Smith (below) and junior Calvin Pryor, along with pass rusher Marcus Smith got much of the attention this year for the Louisville defense, but the active Preston Brown shouldn’t be forgotten. He doesn’t have great interior strength to consistently hold up against bigger blockers. Still, his activeness on the interior, explosion upfield when he has an opening, and hand usage could make him stand out in run focused drills.
9. Cassius Marsh, DT, UCLA (West)
Playing a tackle/end role in the UCLA defense, he plays with great length and power away from his frame, setting up rushers to work around him inside and outside. He controls blockers at a high level, using his upper half to keep blockers off balance and allowing himself to adjust laterally. He’ll get the chance to shine on his own this week as opposed to players like Barr and other rushers to take advantage of his set ups.
10. Jason Bromley, DT, Syracuse (East)
Unheralded throughout the season despite his ample production, Bromley was one of the best pure pass rushing interior lineman in the country this year. He explodes off the snap initially, generates a great initial punch/push, and he holds his anchor well as he pivots to further adjust his positioning to attack the quarterback. He struggles, however, against the run, at times mightily. He’ll get the chance to make up for his struggles in-season in team drills this week, showcasing a potentially improve ability vs. the run.
11. Shaquil Barrett, OLB, Colorado State (West)
Barrett enters the 2014 class as an unheralded pass rusher, but he could leave the Shrine Game as a trendy 3-4 outside linebacker “sleeper” picked after the top 100 picks. Barrett has very active, powerful hands and adjusts his upper half as a rusher very well. Working primarily as a power rusher, Barrett sinks and slides laterally while engaged well. He does lack the second burst and pass rush development after he’s engaged, and doesn’t possess great quickness/bend to be an edge speed rusher, something he’ll likely be exposed on against quicker offensive tackles.
12. Carrington Byndom, CB, Texas (West)
Despite being called one of the “best cornerbacks I’ve ever coached” by now former coach Mack Brown, Byndom has had an up and down career at Texas, especially this season. His lack of great size allows for bigger receivers to manhandle him at times, but his hip fluidity, balance, and quickness are consistently prevalent in watching him play vertically. Footwork and willingness to embrace contact is what scouts will be watching closely as he matches up against all types of receivers during practice.
13. Hakeem Smith, SAF, Louisville (East)
The second of two talented Louisville safeties, Smith paired with junior (and recently declared) Calvin Pryor to give the Cardinals a talented secondary. Smith is a versatile strong safety presence, but has the versatility to play as a single high safety if need be. Able to attack off the edge and finish tackles, tackling running backs/receivers shouldn’t be an issue for Smith. But he’ll need to show improved coverage timing and footwork if he hopes to emerge from a crowded yet lackluster safety class.
14. LaDarius Perkins, RB, Mississippi State (East)
A compact, well-built runner, Perkins has battled through injuries this season despite his talent and past success in the SEC. His success as a running back stems from his impressive quickness and initial burst up and through the hole. While he’s not an elite talent and has adequate but not imposing size, Perkins has the one-cut burst to be maximized as a rotational runner with the potential upside to be a starter if he can make the most of his talents with added vision/patience. He’ll get the opportunity to showcase his 3rd down ability as a blocker/pass catcher in St. Petersburg.
15. Jeff Matthews, QB, Cornell (East)
After starting the season as a high ceiling, “sleeper” quarterback, Matthews struggled this year to take the next step as a quarterback. Based on film, he still remains a project quarterback, but has ample arm strength to make all the throws and flashes the football IQ to make NFL level reads/throws, especially in the red zone. He needs ample work on his footwork, mechanics, and timing as a passer. He needs a strong week at the Shrine Game to get back into good graces with evaluators before they’ll consider him with a Top 5 round pick.