The 89th East-West Shrine Game week starts today and is the longest running post-season college football all-star game, which produced well over 100 players into 2013 NFL training camps. This year's game will be played Saturday January 18th on ESPN at 4PM and presents some very interesting NFL prospect to watch for the 2014 Draft.
Jordan Lynch, QB Northern Illinois: The Heisman Trophy Finalist is one of the most exciting college football players that I have ever watched in a season. Lynch is a dynamic elusive runner who rushed for 1,920 yards and 23 TD's from the QB position. He makes a lot of plays with his legs but he makes just as much with his arm as he passed for 2,892 yards and 24 TD's versus eight interceptions. Lynch has a unique skill set as he displays a solid arm and impressive mobility but his accuracy and height at 6-feet-0 is a concern for NFL scouts. This has led to scouts suggesting that he consider making the switch to another position in the NFL. He will probably request coaches to have him take some snaps catching the ball during the week.
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB Eastern Illinois: 2013 The Walter Payton Award winner has ideal size at (6-3, 222) and was a fringe NFL prospect coming into the season but quickly soared up draft boards with an outstanding senior season. He led FCS in passing yards with 5,050 passing yards (26 yards away from FCS single season record), 53 TDs and only 9 interceptions. He's impressed NFL scouts with his production, quick release and accuracy. A lot of eyes will be on Garoppolo this week and he needs a very good showing to convince scouts that he can be that same type of quarterback against better competition.
Rajion Neal, RB Tennessee: Neal is a late addition to the Shrine game as he was scheduled to participate in the Inaugural Medal of Honor Bowl last week. He is an underrated RB prospect who should have received a Senior Bowl invite and still could with a good showing this week. The 5-foot-11, 212-pound back finished his senior year with rushing for 1,124 yards, 12 TDs and averaged 5.2 yards per carry in the SEC. He is an explosive player who shows lighting quick speed in the hole and also the acceleration to break off long gains. Neal runs hard downhill between the tackles showing a good combination of vision, power, balance and toughness. He is a viable receiver out of the backfield showing soft hands and also dependable in pass protection. Neal is a thick well-built athlete who looks like he can take the NFL pounding. He is a talented back that possesses the natural skills to eventually become a starter at the next level.
Will Clarke, DE West Virginia: Clarke is a tall, athletically gifted player with long arms, quickness and speed. He is extremely quick off the snap and explosive in his pursuit of the quarterback. His fluidity as an athlete allows him to change direction, knee bend and stay balanced. Clarke uses his length to help keep the hands of offensive linemen off him and is strong at the point of attack. The defensive end led the Mountaineers with six sacks and 17 TFL's. He shows good awareness and strength against the run. His hands are used to fight off blocks while making plays. Clarke has imposing size at 6-foot-7, 273-pounds but still needs to add more weight to his frame and get up to at least the 285-290-pound range. This will help him hold up better in the run game at the next level. He shows flashes as a disruptive pass rusher and is a middle-to-late round prospect that would fit in as a NFL 3-4 defensive end.
Preston Brown, LB Louisville: Brown is a big, strong and physical middle linebacker who is the leader of the Louisville defense. He has led the Cardinals in tackles for three consecutive seasons. Brown is a good-looking athlete at a rock solid 6-foot-2, 260-pounds that really stepped up his play this year. He's been more consistent with his tackling by not over pursuing his gap which in the past led to cutback lanes. Brown is a strong run stuffer who comes downhill and plugs the middle of the defense. He's made more plays in the backfield during his senior season with 12.5 tackles for loss. His lateral movement has also improved his sideline-to-sideline range and ability to track down ball carriers. Brown is an instinctive linebacker who does a good job locating the football and shooting the gap for the defense. He shows some stiffness in the hips and is also a liability in the pass game having difficulty covering shifty receivers over the middle. Brown's stock has steadily increased since the start of the season because of his improved play and potential as a starting inside NFL linebacker.
Pierre Desir, CB Lindenwood: Desir is a talented and athletic cornerback with outstanding size (6-2/205) and good ball skills. He's physical and makes it difficult for receivers to release off the line of scrimmage. Desir has smooth hips but scouts would like to see him improve his backpedal as well as show more speed when covering receivers deep down field. He is currently a middle round prospect who could really help himself move into the second round with a great week.
Allen Hurns, WR Miami: The senior wide-out broke the Miami Hurricanes single season receiving record with 1,162 yards on 62 catches in 2013. He is a quick explosive receiver who can make people miss while being dangerous after the catch. Hurns is a very fluid athlete who knows how to get open and find the soft spots in the defense. He is a sure handed receiver that recognizes zone coverage and knows how to sit down in space. Hurns uses his body well against corners and is physical for a receiver his size (6-3/195). At times he does struggle when facing press coverage on the outside and is more productive when working out of the slot. He shows the speed to stretch defenses as he averaged 18.7 yards per catch. Hurns is a productive player who stepped up his game this year and will be a solid 3rd/4th receiver in the NFL.
Andrew Jackson, ILB Western Kentucky: Andrew Jackson is a thumper linebacker who offers a great combination of size (6-1/257), instincts, and passion. This very physical, intense and tough linebacker can quickly identify plays. He flows well to the action while pursuing the ball and is an effective open field tackler. He's powerful at the point of attack and is a good two-down run stuffing linebacker. Jackson lacks the closing burst and speed while in pursuit on stretched running plays. He also struggles in pass coverage and does not get great depth on pass drops. He shows some stiffness in his hips and struggles running with receivers down field while in coverage. Jackson possesses the thick build, long arms and physical play that NFL scouts are looking for in an inside linebacker. Jackson is a great defensive leader and knows how to get his teammates in the best position before the snap. He's one of the most physical players in college football, as he is known for making big hits on running backs and offensive lineman. He played well in his career when matched up against BCS competition. For a 4-3 defensive scheme Jackson is not a great fit as an ILB. However he is a good prospect that fits best at inside linebacker in the 3-4 alignment.
Tim Flanders, RB Sam Houston State: The Kansas State transfer put up big numbers for the Bearkats during his career and is the schools all-time leading rusher. He rushed for 1,430 yards and 14 TD's in 2013. Flanders is a short back with impressive vision, quickness and cutting ability. He possesses a stocky build (5-10/212) and doesn't go down on initial contact. Flanders only caught six passes as a senior which makes scouts wonder why he wasn't more involved in the passing game. This causes doubt about his hands and receiving skills out of the backfield. Overall, Flanders is a late round prospect that reminds me a lot of Bobby Rainey with the Buccaneers.
E.J. Gaines, CB Missouri: Gaines had a break out senior year and is another player that should be in the Senior Bowl in my opinion. He was an underrated prospect coming into his final season with the Tigers that I noted to watch this fall. This defensive back made a big name for himself in the highly anticipated matchup versus Mike Evans of Texas A&M. He shut down the Aggies big play receiver holding him to four catches for eight yards. Gaines is instinctive while playing with great awareness and quickness. He stays low in his back pedal while showing fluid hips. His ability to turn smoothly while keeping stride with receivers is excellent. Gaines also has a nice burst of speed and uses his technique well to cover receivers in man coverage. He fights through blocks and comes up strong in run support. Gaines is a little undersized at 5-foot-10, 193-pounds, which is a concern for scouts. But he is a talented cornerback that is a top 5 rated cornerback prospect for the 2014 draft.
Cassius Marsh, DE UCLA: Marsh is a defensive end that has caught the eye of scouts because of his athleticism and size (6-foot-4 268-pounds). He stood out in the 2013 USC rivalry matchup registering two sacks in the game. Marsh displays explosive upper body strength and quickness which he has flashed throughout the season, but he needs still needs to become a more consistent football player. He can bring quality value to a NFL defensive front seven because of his versatility. This defender hasn't even come close to reaching his untapped potential. He needs to improve his technique, leverage and consistency. Marsh is a late round prospect that will need to impress scouts this week during workouts to increase his stock.
Larry Webster, DE Bloomsburg: Webster is an undersized college defensive end with an explosive first step. He is a very fluid athlete who shows the ability to change directions effortlessly. Webster displays above average closing speed in pursuit of the ball and in route to the quarterback. Webster has great pedigree, as his father Larry Sr. was a solid defensive lineman in the NFL for eleven years. In two seasons at Bloomsburg he totaled 26 sacks and 29.5 for loss combined. He possesses a thin frame at (6-6/240) and is projected to make the transition to a NFL stand up 3-4 outside LB. Webster will need some time to improve his technique and adjust to the NFL speed. Overall, scouts like his potential as a NFL pass-rushing specialist.
Ben Malena, RB Texas A&M: Malena is a short and stocky built running back listed at 5-foot-9, 195-pounds. He is a decent change of pace back that is also a reliable receiver out of the backfield. Malena runs hard between the tackles and is a back that likes contact. He shows good instincts in his reads and presses the line of scrimmage quickly finding the cutback lanes. Malena is also stout in pass protection but scouts do wonder how he would hold up against bigger and faster linebackers in the NFL. He has been Texas A&M's best all-purpose back the last two seasons and has a shot to become a third down running back at the next level. It would definitely help his chances if he can contribute as a returner.
Derrick Hopkins DT, Virginia Tech: Hopkins gave offensive lineman problems all season. He is undersized at (6-0/311) but carries a wide thick base for to his short frame. Hopkins makes his presence felt as he consistently wins the one-on-one matchup with power, speed and quickness. Hopkins stays low to the ground and rips through his opponent's hands and arms to get to the ball. He is stout and does a great job of filling and controlling his gap. Hopkins is a middle round prospect that is better suited to play in a 4-3 defense.
Max Bullough, ILB Michigan State: Bullough has nice size at (6-3/245) and is a strong, physical linebacker. He is very tough in the tackle box and at the point of attack. This backer shows the ability to get deep in his pass coverage. He has the speed to track down quick backs on the perimeter while providing pass coverage. Toughness plugging up the holes inside is also in his repertoire. Bullough at times gets caught up in the traffic as he can get tied up with blockers as he over pursues. This means using better hand placement to get off blocks. He also becomes overmatched by larger tight ends. Max Bullough is third generation Michigan State linebacker, dating back to his grandfather's days at the position. He is a great leader on defense and plays with a lot of emotion. Bullough is a tough, run-defending linebacker with next-level game speed. He has the ability to line up at inside linebacker in either a 3-4 or 4-3 alignment.