The 2014 edition of the Shrine Game begins Monday morning in St Petersburg, Florida as near 100 NFL prospects are measured and weighed.  This year’s version offers one of the most exciting combinations of underrated players and small school prospects who are prepared to display their skills for future employers.  Least we forget, the Shrine Game is where Terron Armstead of Arkansas Pine-Bluff started his climb into the third round of the 2013 draft.  But before the first practice takes place let’s breakdown each position by unit to get an idea of what to look for.

Quarterback

Jimmy Garoppolo Eastern Illinois
Jordan Lynch Northern Illinois
Jeff Mathews Cornell
Keith Price Washington
Tommy Rees Notre Dame
Keith Wenning Ball State

Obviously the two names that jump off the list are the pair of FBS/IAA signal callers, Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois and Jeff Mathews of Cornell.  Garoppolo had a lot of hype surrounding him all season as his passing numbers have been obscene.  Some predicted potential first round for the senior, which I think is ridiculous.  I view Garoppolo as a mid-round choice and presently give him a fourth round grade but a good performance this week could push him into the draft’s second day.  As we told listeners during our podcast last Thursday, Garoppolo could end up at the Senior Bowl and we expect final word by Wednesday.

On the other hand Jeff Mathews comes off a disappointing season, much of the reason due to the departure of his head coach who left for the CFL and went on to win the Grey Cup.  The strong armed passer possesses the physical skills to play in the NFL but must throw with consistent fundamentals this week and make proper decisions to improve his draft stock.

Finally a pair of MAC signal caller are expected to participate at Shrine practices and scouts are very interested in Keith Wenning of Ball Stat.  Wenning possesses the pocket awareness, accuracy and mental intangibles to play in the NFL.  Shrine practices will tell scouts whether or not he possesses the necessary arm strength fir the next level.  Former Heisman Trophy contender Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois comes with next level arm strength yet must show he can play from the pocket and accurately deliver passes.

Running Backs

Zach Bauman Northern Arizona
Brennan Clay Oklahoma
Tim Flanders Sam Houston State
Rajion Neal Tennessee
LaDarius Perkins Mississippi State

The running backs invited to the Shrine Game are under whelming, which is more indicative of the senior class as a whole.  Still, it will be exciting to watch a pair of small school ball carriers this week.

Zach Bauman of Northern Arizona and Tim Flanders of Sam Houston State are both similar in style and substance.  Each has the ability to elude defenders, create yardage and both play big and tough.  The passing game is where the two running backs stand out as both are legitimate receiver threats out of the backfield, both in the short and intermediate field.  Speed is a question on both and something that will be closely monitored.  Can they beat defenders into the open field?  Do they have the ability to turn the corner without being caught from behind?   I’ve written about both players in the past and gushed over Bauman on twitter. There’s no doubt both will be playing on Sunday this fall but Shrine practice will help determine where they fit in the draft.

Wide Outs/Tight End

Alex Bayer Bowling Green TE
Ted Bolser Indiana TE
Kaneakua Friel BYU TE
Cockett Gilmore Colorado State TE
Blake Jackson Oklahoma State TE
Jordan Najvar Baylor TE
John Brown Pittsburg State WR
Quincy Enunwa Nebraska WR
Jeremy Gallon Michigan WR
Matt Hazel Coastal Carolina WR
Allen Hurns Miami-Fl WR
Chandler Jones San Jose State WR
Seantavious Jones Valdosta State WR
TJ Jones Notre Dame WR
Ja-Mes Logan Mississippi WR
Erik Lora Eastern Illinois WR
Bernard Reedy Toledo WR

Like the running back position, the roster talent at wide receiver and tight end is rather uninspired.  And just like running back its more a result of the senior class being void of talent in these areas.

Tight end Cockett Gilmore of Colorado State is one to watch.   He’s one of the better blockers at the position in this year’s draft yet on film displays a lack of speed.  Shrine practices will go a long way in determining if Gilmore is really anything other than a short range target.  Baylor’s Jordan Najvar is an interesting case.  He’s shown flashes in college yet Najvar never got a chance to play fulltime in Baylor’s wide open offense, one which rarely uses a tight end.  During practice he must prove he’s a complete player at the position to improve his draft standing.

Receiver Matt Hazel of Coastal Carolina is one of my favorite small schoolers at the position.  He’s a sure-handed pass catcher that consistently comes away with the difficult grab.  His speed and ability to step up against another level of competition is key this week.

Offensive Line

If there’s one area of prospects that I’m really looking forward to this week its the offensive linemen.  There’s a great combination of underrated and under the radar prospects as well as true sleepers at most  blocking positions.

Chris Elkins Youngstown State
Dillon Farrell New Mexico
Gabe Ikard Oklahoma
Zac Kerin Toledo
James Stone Tennessee
Khalil Wilkes Stanford

To my mind Gabe Ikard of Oklahoma is the most under-appreciated center in the nation.  He lacks great size but has starters potential in the NFL and I’m really surprised he was not given a Senior Bowl invite.  Likewise Toldeo’s Zac Kerin does not get the credit he deserves yet is a tough, intelligent blocker on the pivot who should play for a decade at the next level.  He’s one of those late round/free agent centers that just seems to hang around. Finally Khalil Wilkes has been a favorite of mine for a while, so much so I graded him as a potential fourth round guard after his junior season of 2012.   The fourth round won’t happen for Wilkes who’s size deficient yet a big week of Shrine practice could help the versatile center/guard to finally receive the respect he deserves.

Chris Burnette Georgia
Dakota Dozier Furman
Matt Feiler Bloomsburg
Zach Fulton Tennessee
Ryan Groy Wisconsin
Charles Leno Boise State
Antwan Lowery Rutgers
John Urschel Penn State

In my opinion there’s more talent at the guard spot than any other position on the Shrine roster.  Georgia’s Chris Burnette, Zach Fulton of Tennessee, Ryan Groy of Wisconsin and John Urschel of Penn State are all legitimate middle round choices with varying degrees of starting potential on the NFL level.  Factor in tackle/guard Charles Leno of Boise State and that’s at least a handful of prospects with first team possibility in the NFL.  It doesn’t end their as small school college tackles Dakota Dozier of Furman and Bloomsburg’s Matt Feiler help to make this an incredibly strong group.

Justin Britt Missouri
Kyle Bryant Youngstown State
Kevin Graf USC
Matt Hall Bellhaven
Danny Kistler Jr Montana
Jeremiah Sirles Nebraska
Austin Wentworth Fresno State

If there’ s a weak spot on the offensive line at the Shrine game its the tackle position.  Kevin Graf of USC is an workmanlike right tackle prospect that’s deficient in the athleticism department but makes up for it with smart, tough play.  Matt Hall will be one of the most intriguing and largest, players of the week.   The massive tackle began his career at Arkansas then moved on to Mississippi before finishing up at Bellhaven.  He offers the size and strength that makes scouts drool yet the question is can he handle quick, athletic defensive ends.

Defensive Line

The invitees on the defensive line is representative of this year’s Shrine Game as a whole; its a terrific collection of underrated players with legitimate NFL potential from both small and large schools.

Cassius Marsh UCLA DE
Josh Mauro Stanford DE
Garrison Smith Georgia DE
Chidera Uzo-Diribe Colorado DE
Larry Webster Bloomsburg DE
Ethan Westbrooks West Texas A&M DE
Kerry Wynn Richmond DE
Beau Allen Wisconsin DT
Jay Bromley Syracuse DT
Will Clarke West Virginia DT
Justin Ellis Louisiana Tech DT
Bruce Gaston Purdue DT
Derrick Hopkins Virginia Tech DT
Zachariah Kerr Delaware DT
Demonte McAllister Florida State DT

Start with Beau Allen of Wisconsin and Justin Ellis of Louisiana Tech.  Both are explosive interior linemen who clog the middle of the field or make plays outside the box.  For his part Allen offers terrific size, strength and the ability to line-up at multiple positions on the defensive line.

Versatility will be key for a pair of Division II prospects this week.  Larry Webster of Bloomsburg and Ethan Westbrook of West Texas A&M looked like men amongst boys on the college field and terrorized opponents every Saturday.  They both offer natural pass rushing skill and can play out of a three point stance or stand up over tackle.  Their ability to face-off against better and bigger opponents during Shrine week will go a long way in dictating their final draft grade.

Delaware’s Zach Kerr and Kerry Wynn of Richmond are a talented pair of prospects from the CAA Conference.  Kerr is more the run stuffer yet easily moves his 300+ pound frame around the field to make plays in pursuit.   When healthy and at the top of his game Wynn is a pass rushing menace with a great amount of upside potential.

Linebacker

Preston Brown Louisville ILB
Max Bullough Michigan State ILB
Glenn Carson Penn State ILB
Andrew Jackson Western Kentucky ILB
DeDe Lattimore South Florida ILB
Jordan Zumwalt UCLA ILB
Shaquil Barrett Colorado State OLB
Derrell Johnson East Carolina OLB
Devon Kennard USC OLB
Prince Shembo Notre Dame OLB

If there is a term to describe the Shrine game linebackers its workmanlike; defenders who extract the most from their ability and overachieve to get their results.

Michigan State’s Max Bullough and Jordan Zumwalt of UCLA best characterize this.  Both are average athletes with great football intuition and intensity.  Bullough and Zumwalt masterfully dissect plays and beat ball handlers to the spot.  Some graded Bullough as a top 45 pick prior to the season.  Hogwash.   He’s a tough two down defender and a last day pick.  Regardless, there’s room in the NFL for players like Bullough and Zumwalt and they have the ability to prove as much this week.

Shaquil Barrett of Colorado State will be one to watch.  Slightly undersized, he’s a fast and furious linebacker who makes plays sideline-to-sideline.  More of a scheme specific linebacker, Barrett could appeal to certain one-gap defensive coordinators with a good showing in St Petersburg.

Defensive Backs

Ricardo Allen Purdue CB
Bene Bewikere San Jose State CB
Tre Boston North Carolina CB
Carrington Byndom Texas CB
Travis Carrie Ohio CB
Ross Cockrell Duke CB
Pierre Desir Lindenwood CB
Phillip Gaines Rice CB
E.J. Gaines Missouri CB
Andre Hal Vanderbilt CB
Bennett Jackson Notre Dame CB
Nevin Lawson Utah State CB
Rashaad Reynolds Oregon State CB
Shaquille Richardson Arizona CB
Jemea Thomas Georgia Tech CB
Marcus Williams North Dakota State CB
Alden Darby Arizona State S
Duran Lowe Wake Forest S
A.J. Marshall Wake Forest S
Stephen Obeng-Agyapong Penn State S
Sean Parker Washington S
Hakeem Smith Louisville S
Daniel Sorensen BYU S
Dezmen Southward Wisconsin S
Brock Vereen Minnesota S

From top to bottom the defensive backs on the Shrine roster are the weakest unit of any group.   Many of these prospect entered their senior campaign with high expectations yet most suffered through mediocre seasons.

Lindendwood’s Pierre Desir has the most to gain this week.  The small school corner is a nice sized prospect with terrific athleticism and ball skills.  Desir also brings the ability of return specialist to his resume.  As previously stated, its a ho-hum group of receivers at the Shrine Game and Desir will be expected to dominate.

* Players listed are ased on expected Shrine Game roster as of Friday, January 10th.