With the College Football season in the rear view mirror, attention now turns to which stars land in the NFL next year.
For these lucky few, the “Path to the Draft” starts now. It’s a long process which winds its way through the combine, pro days and ultimately the NFL Draft itself.
Although nothing in this sport is for certain, high profile players like Nick Bosa (Ohio State), Quinnen Williams (Alabama) and Clelin Ferrell (Clemson) already have one foot in the NFL Draft first round and are set to star on Sundays for years to come.
For other, less profile players, there is one further opportunity to showcase their talents to the ever present eyes of the NFL scouts, GM’s and coaches. Over the next two weekends we will see the “All Star” College Football games. Invited players get the chance to work with NFL coaches, and put on a show in front of a television audience. They get to meet with representatives of the NFL teams, giving them an opportunity to show not just their football skills but personal skills too. This whole process can make or break how an individual is seen by a team.
Case in point: Baker Mayfield. Going in to last year’s NFL Draft there was no denying the talent that Mayfield possessed. That was all on tape from his work at Oklahoma. However, there were lingering character questions from his time with the Sooners. The way in which he conducted himself at last year’s Senior Bowl won over a lot of people. The Cleveland Browns saw enough to take him number one overall and now we see him shining in the league.
This weekend sees the first of the “All Star” games.
The East-West Shrine Game…
The East-West Shrine Game is the longest running of the college football “All Star” games. First held in 1925, the two teams are formed of players from the Eastern US and the Western US, hence the name. The Shrine Game element comes from the title sponsor, a group called Shriners International. They are most notable for their charitable work and children’s hospital.
Players that are invited to play must be college seniors, unlike the Senior Bowl which allows all draft eligible players. The Shrine Game also hosts seniors from Canadian Universities making it the only game where players from both combine. The Shrine Game also invites players from outside Division 1 colleges and gives them an opportunity to showcase their talents that may go overlooked during the regular season.
This year the teams are coached by Sam Mills III of the Carolina Panthers (East Team) and Adam Zimmer of the Minnesota Vikings (West Team).
Current NFL players that starred in the East-West game include 49ers quarterback Jimmy Gaoppolo, Za’Darius Smith who has had a great season for the Ravens and New York Jets starting running back Elijah McGuire. Ethan Westbrooks plays in the NFC Championship Game five years to the weekend that he was the defensive MVP of the East-West Shrine Game.
So, who will be the next star of the NFL to come out of the game? Here are six players that i’m looking forward to seeing perform in St. Petersburg tonight.
KeeSean Johnson – WR – Fresno State
Johnson leaves Fresno State this year with every record a wide receiver could want. The guy behind him on the Fresno State receptions list? Green Bay Packers star receiver Davante Adams. He was in the top 10 of receiving yards this year in College Football. Johnson plays football with a physical edge which should bode well in the NFL. He can catch any ball and run every route. The big knock on Johnson is his speed, which isn’t dazzling. He currently projects as a fourth round talent.
Easton Stick – QB – North Dakota State
Stick looks to go from being the big fish in the FCS small pond, to the small fish in the big pond. Thankfully for Stick, Carson Wentz has already shown that the small fish can swim just fine in the biggest pond of all. He is a true dual threat quarterback who can makes plays with both his arms and legs. From an NFL perspective he already has experience playing under center with a five step drop. His record speaks for itself as a 49-3 starter with two national championships under his belt. It will be interesting to see how he compares to the other quarterbacks on display including David Blough of Purdue. He currently projects as a third to fourth round pick.
Daylon Mack – DL – Texas A & M
One of the more high profile players on display this week. Mack was a five star recruit coming out of high school. Stayed at A & M for his senior year which may have helped his draft status. It was without doubt his best season of production. Particularly impressive to NFL scouts will be how he performed in big games such as Alabama and LSU. A very explosive player with quick burst for his size. There are some technique issues but nothing that couldn’t be coached out. Currently projected as a mid round talent, potentially a prospect for the Broncos who he has met with this week.
Lamont Gaillard – C – Georgia
Another high profile prospect featuring this week is Georgia’s Lamont Gaillard. Although he has played center this year for the Bulldogs, his previous experience at guard makes him an attractive, versatile player for NFL teams that covert flexibility. Good use of angles and blocking strongly on the move are his key strengths. Like Mack, he has been dominating practice sessions this week. He has reportedly met with five teams so far including Baltimore, Miami and Carolina. Gaillard suffered a knee injury against Kentucky this year but has had 43 straight starts for Georgia, a testament to his durability.
Lukas Denis – S – Boston College
After a Senior year that wasn’t anywhere near as productive as his junior year, Lukas Denis has a lot riding on his performance this week. A high speed player, his positional and movement skills are exactly what NFL teams will look for in a safety. He can also make big plays on the ball, as his 7 interceptions in 2017 testify to. The big knocks on Denis are his physicality, he isn’t the biggest player, and his support in the run game.
Jimmy Moreland – CB – James Madison
Moreland is another player who will look to use this opportunity to overcome the handicap of playing FCS football and not being on the national stage every week. He is currently ranked the 28th best corner available in the draft but is already drawing attention with his performances in practice. At 5’11 he isn’t the ideal size that scouts look for in a corner however he made First Team All American in 2018 and finished his career with 18 interceptions. Of those he took six to the house!
Feature Image Credit: @Shrine_Game (Twitter)