Practices for the East-West Shrine Game begin early next week in St. Petersburg, Florida, where mid-tier NFL Draft prospects audition primarily for roles as Day Three picks, or post-draft free agent signees. Over the next several days, I'll preview the event with a four-part series, looking at 10 players from each team's offense, and 10 more from each defense. We'll start things off today with the East team's offense...
QB: Cooper Rush (Central Michigan), Alek Torgersen (Penn)
If you're a regular listener to The Draft Breakdown Podcast, you probably heard Seth and I joke before the season (or early on) about Rush becoming this year's Carson Wentz - the "sleeper" who (at least, to me) inexplicably rose to draft media darling. I knew Rush was never going to get first round love, but his red hair and directional-midwestern college roots made it an easy gag. Then, early in the season, when Rush beat Oklahoma State on a Hail Mary (that never should have happened), I really thought the draftniks would start a hype train. It never happened.
The thing is, Rush's skill set - arm, athleticism - has always skewed toward backup level. His production as a senior also dipped. He threw 16 interceptions - six coming on third downs - and completed fewer than 50% of his passes in the red zone. Rush saw heavy pressure this season, and that undoubtedly contributed to his mistakes, so Shrine Week will be a great opportunity for him to show NFL clubs that he deserves to be drafted.
Torgersen is the only FCS passer at the Shrine Game this year, and he's probably the one QB I'm most interested in seeing. A three-year starter, Torgersen has a solid build and a strong arm, and he threw just four interceptions (against 17 touchdowns) in 296 pass attempts this year. Torgersen is also a strong enough runner to elude the pass rush and scramble for yards as needed. Added bonus: if he makes it to the NFL, broadcasters will constantly remind viewers that Torgersen is a product of the Ivy League. Something to look forward to.
Other East QBs: Nick Mullens Southern Miss
RB: I'Tavius Mathers (Middle Tennessee), Elijah McGuire (Louisiana-Lafayette) (Note: as of this writing, McGuire is currently listed on both the East and West rosters)
When Ole Miss transfer Mathers finally got a chance to carry a full workload this season, he racked up 2194 yards from scrimmage (1561 rushing, 633 receiving), averaged 7.4 yards per touch, and scored 20 total touchdowns. Mathers is on the small side for a running back, listed at 5'11" and just under 200 pounds, but he shows effort and leg drive on inside runs. He just lacks the overall power to be that pile mover NFL teams favor between the tackles. But Mathers' patient running style, reliable hands in the passing game, and open field speed will make him an attractive option to a team looking to add a weapon to its backfield in the 4th-6th round area this spring.
McGuire has been around forever. He was the Sun Belt Freshman of the Year in 2013, and then the conference Player of the Year as a sophomore the following season. But after an electric start to his college career, McGuire saw his numbers drop, as the Ragin' Cajuns struggled to replace quarterback Terrance Broadway and power back Alonzo Harris, and as McGuire tried to tough his way through nagging injuries.
Despite an apparent regression, I'm still a believer in McGuire's NFL prospects. Sagging production be damned, McGuire still shows quick feet, a decisive running style, and a shifty lower body through traffic. He's also a terrific receiver, with soft hands and the ability to adjust to poor throws, and he's also a reliable blocker. McGuire's all-around game merits an early-Day Three selection, but if NFL teams get hung up on stats, he may be found at a discount rate.
Other East RBs: De'Veon Smith (Michigan), Marcus Cox (Appalachian State)
WR: Stacy Coley (Miami), DeAngelo Yancey (Purdue)
I wrote about Coley here before the season, and he quietly went on to post career high numbers in catches (63), yards (754) and touchdowns (9) as a senior. He's an average-sized receiver, at 6'-6'1" and 190-200 pounds, but he has estimated speed in the high 4.3-low 4.4 range, which could make him a better deep threat than his career 13.4 yards per reception (12.0 this past season) suggests. Coley's experience returning punts and kicks adds to his value as a potential Day Three selection.
I remember seeing Yancey make a play late in 2014, and then checking his stats to see that he had only 10 catches all year coming into that game. He finished with 12 that season - from what I can tell, without missing a game - down from the 32 he'd caught as a freshman. But Yancey has rebounded as a junior and senior, posting 97 catches for 1651 yards and 15 TDs in 24 games for some dreadful Purdue teams. And I watched him get loose a couple times against Iowa's Desmond King, the 2015 Thorpe Award winner, earlier this season. Yancey is listed at 6'1" and about 10 pounds heavier than Coley. I don't think he has the same speed. But it'll be interesting to see how these guys do next week. It's a deep receiver class, so there will be some gems to find late.
Other East WRs: Kermit Whitfield Jr. (Florida State), Tony Stevens (Auburn), Quincy Adeboyejo (Ole Miss), Rodney Adams Jr. (South Florida)
TE: Scott Orndoff (Pitt)
Orndoff looks like the guy to watch here. He has prototypical NFL size (6'5" 255-265), and was a top 20 tight end recruit back in 2013, when he chose Pitt over offers from Michigan, Wisconsin and Michigan State. This season, Orndoff finally emerged as a receiving threat. He finished with 35 catches for 579 yards (16.5 yards per reception) and five scores in what proved to be a tough conference.
Other East TEs: Colin Jeter (LSU), Eric Saubert (Drake), Antony Auclair (Laval)
OL: Kyle Kalis (Michigan), Erik Magnuson (Michigan), Dan Skipper (Arkansas)
Kalis, a former five-star recruit, was effectively a four-year starter for the Wolverines, but he didn't really become a draftable prospect until Jim Harbaugh became head coach a couple of years ago. When his playing days are over, Kalis has his eyes set on a career in professional wrestling.
Like Kalis, Magnuson didn't really become a full-time starter until the last two seasons, but now he's emerged as reliable right tackle who could work his way into an NFL lineup sooner than later. Magnuson has also seen time at guard, and should be one of the earlier drafted Shrine Gamers.
As a four-year starter in the SEC, and with experience at both tackle spots and guard, I was surprised Skipper didn't get a Senior Bowl invitation. He's a player who showed notable improvement as a senior, but he's not the most natural lateral mover, and his height (6'9") makes it difficult to project him inside to guard at the NFL level. I'm not big on putting too much stock into these all-star events, but for a guy like Skipper, they can be key in evaluations, as coaches work on footwork and depth.
Bonus Dan Skipper Fun Fact: he blocked seven kicks in four season, including two this past year. Not sure if that ever really translates to the pros, but still very cool.
Other East OL: Cameron Tom (Southern Miss), Joe Scelfo (NC State), Lucas Crowley (North Carolina), Adam Pankey (West Virginia), Kareem Are (Florida State), Justin Senior (Mississippi State), Jonathan McLaughlin (Virginia Tech), Dieugnot Joseph (Florida International)