2016 Shrine Game Preview: Top NFL Draft Players to Watch


The 91st annual East-West Shrine Game kicks off at 4pm EST at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL. This year’s crop of players makes the 6th set of Shrine participants that I have personally watched during live practices.

By: Chris Kouffman


I have had the pleasure of witnessing and describing standout practice performances from the likes of tight ends Dennis Pitta, Jordan Cameron and Julius Thomas, defensive ends Greg Hardy and Mike Neal, safety Kam Chancellor, corner Josh Norman, guard Brandon Brooks and tackle Rodger Saffold, among others. Naturally the question arises, which players stand out this year? Who might be the next Josh Normal or Kam Chancellor?

With that in mind, I will give my top ten players heading into the game, in no particular order:

QB Brandon Doughty, Western Kentucky (West, Jersey #12) – Doughty may not have the size or arm strength of Nate Sudfeld, nor the escapability of Vernon Adams, Jr., but he was the most consistently accurate passer of either squad during the week of practices. He did alright for himself at the weigh-in coming in a shade under 6’3″ and 212 pounds, but the most intriguing aspect of his game during the practice week was his consistent ball placement on run-after-catch oriented routes. Questions remain on whether he can handle a chaotic pocket, and we were never going to get those answers in a practice setting.

WR Devon Cajuste, Stanford (West, Jersey #89) – Cajuste won the weigh-in handily by measuring above 6’3″ and 234 pounds, with near 11-inch hands and an 80.5-inch wing span. Yet for all that heft, he moved and ran routes like a savvy wide receiver. There were some other receivers that got a little more action during the week, particularly the smaller and quicker Danny Anthrop of Purdue, who did a lot of damage from the slot. However I thought what Cajuste showed in smart and savvy receiving skills, the ability to run routes and finish catches, combined with his frame, makes for a more intriguing total package.

TE David Morgan, University of Texas-San Antonio (West, Jersey #83) – On the practice field, Morgan looks almost like an offensive lineman. He measured a full 6’4″ and 262 pounds with near 11-inch hands and an 80-inch wing span. His long, flowing hair was initially a mesmerizing joke, but the fluid way that he executed scramble drills and adjusted on the football made him much less of one. He has a lot of strength and blocking ability, and was his team’s leading receiver in 2015.

DT Cory Johnson, Kentucky (West, Jersey #67) – I try and enter the practice week with an open mind and as few preconceived notions as is reasonable so that I can be surprised by players like Cory Johnson, who was consistently disruptive all week. Johnson did not get the kind of snap count at Kentucky as you would like to see, but he made the most of his limited opportunities at Kentucky (leading his team in tackles for loss, snagging an impressive interception and returning a fumble 77 yards for a touchdown). He similarly made the most of his limited opportunities during the Shrine practice week. His Kentucky tape can make him seem undersized relative to his more sizable teammates on the defensive line, but he measured in at 6’2.5″ and 292 pounds with near 11-inch hands and a 79-inch wing span. He has a lot of physical assets and could be one to watch particularly in pass rush, as he showed versatility during the practice week moving between end and tackle.

DT Javon Hargrave, South Carolina State (East, Jersey #97) – This may be the best player on either squad. Javon Hargrave exemplifies the reason scouts attend All Star practices. Sure, on his South Carolina State tape he may look like a player that you could rack up 100 sacks with on season mode in NCAA Football. But you never really know how a player like this will do with the bump up in competition until you see it. Hargrave measured in at 6’1.5″ and 315 pounds (most of it in his lower half), and consistently gave offensive linemen fits all week in practice. He lived in the backfield.

DE Victor Ochi, Stony Brook (East, Jersey #91) – Ochi is another small school kid that got a great opportunity to flash his skills against a higher level of competition. He ran with that opportunity and was consistently able to get the outside shoulder of offensive tackles in pass rush during the practice week. He only measured just above 6’1″ and 244 pounds, but he has a very wide wing span at 82 inches, which calls to mind the memory of Elvis Dumervil as he came out of Louisville. He packs dynamite in his ankles, and once he begins to learn the art of counters and how to properly bend the arc, he could make some noise at the next level.

FS Justin Simmons, Boston College (East, Jersey #8) – Simmons made some noise early in the week with some plays on the football, but won the week overall by showing how fluid and quick twitch a mover he is despite his 6’3″ frame. He has the size, quickness, speed and intelligence to play literally any position in the defensive backfield, which is something he showed at Boston College. He also has a knack for finding the football. University of Miami’s Deon Bush was a more consistent performer during the week of practices, but Simmons has an upside advantage.

RB Joshua Ferguson, Illinois (East, Jersey #6) – There was a strong consensus among most onlookers that Ferguson was a consistent standout performer during the practice week. He drove East linebackers insane with his speed and cutback ability. He managed to beat the East defense to the perimeter time after time, but what was equally impressive to me was the way he could cut back and find extra yardage in the middle of the defense. He did not look like a player that can only win by getting to the outside. His size at 5’10” and 196 pounds is a concern.

RB Devon Johnson, Marshall (East, Jersey #47) – Devon “Rockhead” Johnson measured in at an insane 6’1″ and 253 pounds. He has always drawn comparisons to Mike Alstott, and fittingly he was coached by Alstott during the practice week. The East coaches will use him as a fullback/halfback combo player, but Johnson also has a history at Marshall of playing H-Back. He caught the football all week during practices like an H-Back, and when they gave him dive carries as an up-back, Johnson was able to find creases and burst into the secondary so fast the defense didn’t know what hit them. The no-tackling practice setting did not give Johnson the opportunity to show off his power, but there were occasions where East head coach Charlie Weis was loudly lamenting what Johnson could have done in the open field against a defender had there been hitting allowed.

TE Darion Griswold, Arkansas State (East, Jersey #89) – Griswold measured in at 6’3.5″ and 253 pounds with 34-inch arms. He made the best of his opportunities during the practice week by consistently showing his combination of blocking ability and potential in the passing game. On the first day of practice he high-pointed a ball thrown way too high, landed and kept his stride, then turned the corner before going out of bounds and made a defender miss. In its own way it was as good a play as I saw from any player all week. This is the kind of total package of athletic ability that he shows on tape, in addition to the blocking prowess.


Others (East): Michigan LB Joe Bolden (#34) consistently drew praise during the week for his knack for finding the ball, but I also like Louisville LB James Burgess (#43) and Florida State LB Terrance Smith (#44), particularly in coverage. Smith registered at a disturbing low weight of 219 pounds, though. Massachusetts WR Tajae Sharpe (#1) consistently drew praise during the week even from fellow players, but he does have freakishly small hands (under 8 inches). Michigan center Graham Glasgow (#61) measured in at over 6’6″ and 310 pounds, and that man looked powerful all week long. I also liked Cincinnati OG Parker Ehinger (#78) who had similar dimensions but looks like he could play tackle. Notre Dame DE Romeo Okwara (#45) has incredible physical dimensions at 6045 and 266 pounds with 10-inch hands, 35.5-inch arms and an 84-inch wing span. He also began making some noise in pass rush later in the week so I’d keep an eye out there. Penn State DL Anthony Zettel (#98) started off slow during the practice week but began to consistently make more plays later in the week. I liked Georgia Southern LB Antwione Williams (#37), not just because of his utterly fantastic build. Miami safety Deon Bush (#2) was probably the most consistent safety all week, while Notre Dame safety Elijah Shumate (#22) seemed consistently awful.

Others (West): Illinois OL Ted Karras (#69) drew praise during the week. Opinions were very mixed on how Oregon QB Vernon Adams (#3) did. I was among those not very impressed. Western Kentucky WR Jared Dangerfield (#82) was worthy of note but Purdue WR Danny Anthrop (#22) really dominated in terms of number of catches during the week. The unfortunate thing for Anthrop is his 5’11” and 192 pound measurement with only a 71-inch wing span really reinforces the image he painted all week as a guy that was getting open as a small, quick slot player all week long, taking advantage of simplistic All Star defenses. He has a way of popping out at you on tape, but the pure triangle numbers may go against him. Manitoba DT Davis Onyemata (#97) looked good all week, has me wondering if he’ll make it out of Canada.

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