With the college football season now complete, all attention now turns to the draft season. The first part of the four month draft process is the college all-star games. This upcoming Saturday, January 23 is the East West Shrine Game. While this game does not get as much publicity or attention as the upcoming Senior Bowl in a few weeks, every year there are a few diamonds in the rough. Just two years ago, it was John Brown, out of Pittsburgh State, that used the Shrine Game as his coming out party. Last year it was a pair of running backs in John Crockett out of North Dakota State, Zach Zenner from South Dakota State and a tight end, MyCole Pruitt, from Southern Illinois that were some of the stars of the week down there. Many of the players in attendance use this game as a spring board to improve their draft stock prior the NFL Combine and Pro Days. Some players even get the call up the following week, to play in the Senior Bowl. Below is a list of some of the skill players that should be on your radar from this year’s Shrine Game.
Vernon Adams, Oregon-6’0”, 200
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After transferring from Eastern Washington, Adams was asked to try and replace Marcus Mariota at the quarterback position for the Ducks this season. While he started off slowly and missed a few games early on due to injury, Adams finished the season strong, winning six of the last seven games, and the only loss was in the Alamo Bowl to TCU, where they had a 31 point lead and blew the game. Adams finished the year with 2,643 yards passing, for 26 touchdowns and only six interceptions. I wish Adams would have had one more year left of eligibility, because I would have liked to see him play one more year at Oregon. Right now, Adams is looked upon as a late round pick, or more likely, an undrafted free agent. While his size is an issue, his mobility to move around in the pocket is intriguing. He would be an interesting pickup for the Seahawks, where he could be their third stringer or practice squad quarterback, and learn from Russell Wilson, the type of quarterback, he would have to emulate to have any success in the NFL.
Brandon Doughty, Western Kentucky- 6’3”, 220
Doughty in the last two years has put up staggering numbers at Western Kentucky. This past season he threw for 5,055 yards, 48 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. While he has decent size, and has put up those elite numbers, many question, if he can find any success at the next level. Most contribute those stats to inferior competition and the offensive scheme at Western Kentucky. Right now, early projections have Doughty as a 6th or 7th round selection in the draft. I believe he can eventually become a backup quarterback in the NFL. I saw him make enough NFL throws in college, especially to the outside, that I do believe he has the necessary arm strength. The biggest question marks are his decision making, and can he put the ball into a tight window? Most often in college, he had receivers wide open, so it was hard to get a real read on whether or not he can make those types of throws against NFL defenses. It will be interesting to hear the practice reports from the week of practice at the Shrine game, to see how he handles playing against more skilled defenders than he is used to.
Nate Sudfeld, Indiana- 6’6”, 240
Of all the quarterbacks at the Shrine Game, it is Sudfeld that I believe has the most NFL upside. He has the height that all teams look for, has good, not great arm strength, and he can make many of the NFL throws at the next level. This past season, he put up 3,573 yards, 27 touchdowns, and only seven interceptions. Sudfeld is easier to evaluate than most of these quarterbacks because there are plenty of games to watch against some high level teams such as Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa and Michigan. Right now, Sudfeld is projected to be a 5th or 6th round pick, but I could see him emerging in the draft process and a team liking him enough to be a 4th round selection. I think he has some starter traits but most likely will develop into a solid backup at the NFL.
Joshua Ferguson, Illinois- 5’10”, 200
Ferguson is one of my favorite players in this game, and has the second most upside of any of the offensive skill players at the Shrine game. Over the last three years, Ferguson has been very consistent, rushing for over 700 yards each year, with an average over five yards a carry, and was also a focal point of the pass offense. In his sophomore and junior season he caught 50 passes, and this past season he caught 37. He is a complete back that has the size, balance, speed, hands and versatility that NFL teams will like. Right now he is getting projected as a 4th or 5th round pick and I believe he can make a future impact, similar to how Jeremy Langford and Buck Allen did at times in their rookie season, after being mid round selections in the 2015 NFL draft.
Devon Johnson, Marshall- 6’1”, 244
Johnson is an intriguing player that there is some differing of opinions on. While some see him as a true running back, I view him as more of a fullback at the NFL level. Last season, Johnson put up amazing stats at Marshall, rushing for 1,767 yards and 17 touchdowns. This season, he battled injuries but also was less effective, only rushing for 593 yards and five touchdowns. When I scouted some of his film last summer, I compared him to a player like Mike Alstott. I believe he has a chance to get drafted in the last round or so, but do not see him as more than a short yardage, goal line type runner.
Keenan Reynolds, Navy- 5’11”, 205
Some may see this name under the running back section and be confused, but this is the start of Reynolds transforming himself from option quarterback of Navy, to future running back at the NFL level. Reynolds carried the Navy team all year, putting up staggering numbers running the potent triple option offense. Reynolds rushed for 1,373 yards and 24 touchdowns, in addition to throwing for over 1200 yards and eight touchdowns this season. I believe Reynolds should have been in New York City as the fourth finalist for the Heisman Trophy Award. The draft process will be imperative for Reynolds as he tries to show NFL personnel that he can transition to running back, similar to how players like Denard Robinson and Jerick McKinnon have over the last few years. I think Reynolds has a chance to improve his stock, which right now is projected as a late round pick to the 4th or 5th round if he looks good at the Shrine game and shows well with his athletic testing at the combine.
Devon Cajuste, Stanford- 6’4”, 227
Cajuste is one of those players that some believe can have a better pro career than college career. Cajuste did not put up big time stats at Stanford, as he only caught 34 passes for 557 yards and six touchdowns in 2014 and this past season caught 27 passes for 383 yards and three touchdowns. While his stats are lacking, it is his size and movement skills that intrigues some as a late round pick. I do not think he can win on the outside at the NFL level, but I could see him becoming a useful player in the slot. Some teams like to have that big bodied slot receiver, and that is the type of role I see for Cajuste at the NFL level. He could also become a red zone weapon with that size. One intriguing option is to see if any NFL teams think about drafting him and convert him to a move tight end, similar to what Washington did with Niles Paul. If Cajuste is matched up often with linebackers or safeties, he could use that size and movement to create enough separation to become a weapon.
Keyarris Garrett, Tulsa- 6’4”, 221
Garrett is probably my third favorite prospect of any of the skill players at the Shrine Game. Garrett has great size, good speed, and shows the ability to go up and get the ball when it is in the air. He finished this season with 96 receptions, 1588 yards and eight touchdowns. While some may say those numbers are produced against inferior opponents, the two games that stand out most to me are versus two of the top ten teams in the country: Oklahoma and Houston. Against Oklahoma, Garrett caught 14 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown, and versus Houston, he had seven receptions for 85 yards. Right now, early projections have Garrett as a 4th round prospect, but I believe with a strong showing at the Shrine game and the combine, he could possibly move that projection up and be taken by the end of the third round.
Tajae Sharpe, Massachusetts- 6’3”, 188
Sharpe is my favorite player at the Shrine Game and the one with the most NFL upside. Sharpe finished the season with 111 receptions, for 1,319 yards and five touchdowns. Sharpe has great size and length and one of the more refined route runners in the wide receiver class this year. One area of weakness is that he needs to put on some weight, as he is too skinny for his frame. The defensive backs he will be faced up against in the NFL will be way more physical than he is use to, so he needs to improve his strength to fight through contact at the release point. Projections have Sharpe as a 3rd or 4th round pick right now, but I believe there is a good possibility he is taken by the end of day two, making him a third round selection. One thing that will be interesting to monitor is his 40 time at the combine, if he comes in slower than some expect, that could hurt his stock a little and send him into the early part of day three. If there was any player from the Shrine Game that could get the call up to the Senior Bowl in a week, I think it could be Sharpe.