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East-West Shrine Game: who are the prospects to watch?

The first of the big all-star games, the East-West Shrine week feels like it truly marks the start of draft season!  While not quite at the

The first of the big all-star games, the East-West Shrine week feels like it truly marks the start of draft season!  While not quite at the talent level of the Senior Bowl which will be at the end of the month, there is always a large number of draft picks, some taken high, that were participants in this event.  What is great about this game is a lot of the small school invites often end up being the stars of the show.  That could well be the case again this year, and many of those on this watch list are indeed from below the top tier of college football.   This is a look at a few of the players who have really made their mark in the practice sessions over the course of the week, and therefore a few of the names to keep a look out for when watching on Saturday.  For the scouts, the practices are actually more important that the actual game itself for their evaluations, but there’s plenty to be learned from the game too, and putting that good work into action.  Plus a great chance for fans to get more familiar with some of the players who will feature throughout draft weekend in April.  The story of the week has been the outstanding group of pass rushing DEs & OLBs (also known as Edge Defenders), and so we begin with several of those.   The game will be on at 4.00 PM ET (9.00 PM UK Time).   Tyrone Holmes, EDGE, Montana (West Team) – I want to start with Holmes, as he started off as my first draft crush of the entire season.  FCS champs (for the 5th time in a row) North Dakota State got off to a tough start to the season, losing late dramatically to Montana.  Holmes leaped off the screen all game long, causing havoc with his aggressive, non-stop all-action game.  He’s an absolute nightmare to try and handle rushing off the edge, and that has translated fantastically well to a step up in competition during the Shrine practices.  Holmes has stood out in every practice, dominating opposing offensive lineman with his heavy violent hands.  He already came in to the week with a 5th round grade from us, and he’s backing that up and then some so far.  He really stands out in games in pursuit too, so watch out for that in the game to compliment the backfield pressure.   James Cowser, EDGE, Southern Utah (West Team) – The Thunderbirds (awesome team name by the way) are going to have three players drafted from their talented defense in this upcoming draft.  The fact that the dynamic Cowser could be the last one of the group off the board is saying something.  Cowser is coming off a great senior season with 68 tackles, 19 tackles for loss (TFLs), 13 sacks and 4 forced fumbles.  He has been dominant at the FCS level, and it’s no surprise to see his pass rushing traits with excellent technique and nice athleticism proving effective here too.  What really stands out with Coswer is his timing and reactions, he always seems to have the advantage off the snap early.  He’s not the biggest or most explosive, but his motor, polished skill set and quick football brain will make him a nice pick up no later than the middle rounds.   Victor Ochi, EDGE, Stony Brook (East Team) – The last of our trio of pass rushers is yet another from a small school who is proving that the talent on film against lower opposition is standing up to the higher competition level.  Ochi doesn’t quite fit the mould in terms of his frame, measuring in at a rather short 6ft 1 & 244 lbs.  While that height isn’t great, he has good length in his arms that negates that a bit, and importantly is incredibly quick and athletic and packs a lot of punch with strength and pop at the point of attack.  The combination of the two can knock offensive lineman off balance, then he has the pace to take advantage and finish the play.  Ochi will go at some point on the last day of the draft, but he is an over-achiever who you can bet will do so again at the next level too.  He is also coming off a fine senior year that included 16.5 TFLs and 13 sacks.   Nate Sudfeld, QB, Indiana (West Team) – Moving on to the pass game, and Sudfeld has been the pick of the bunch from the group of quarterbacks in practice.  He’s showcased his arm strength in practice and looks the part with his 6ft 6, 240 lb size.  While it’s great that he’s hitting on NFL level throws both down the field and outside the numbers during the week, he’s been so inconsistent on the field for the Hoosiers, with some poor bouts of inaccuracy that are hard to understand the reasons for.  The decision making at times has also been in question.  While the ability to launch the ball down the field is great, he can have a bit too long of a wind up and release that is a concern.  He’s thought of as a bit under-rated in this year’s QB class, but he does come with a bunch of questions and lacking a bit of that creative factor and spark to his game.  Until he can become more consistent, he will struggle to earn a starting role.  He’s checked off for scouts in person a lot of what they expected to see though, and overall has probably helped himself this week.  He’ll be looking to finish off a positive Shrine week with a nice performance in the game itself.   Tajae Sharpe, WR, Massachusetts (East Team) – Sharpe has been fantastically productive over the past couple seasons in the MAC with 196 receptions and exactly 2,600 yards plus 12 touchdowns since 2014.  Sharpe excels as a bigger possession receiver on short to intermediate routes and plays over the middle.  He’s not the quickest, but has the field awareness and savvy play to find space regardless, and also uses his solid height at 6ft 2.  He’s been catching everything thrown his way in the practices, as perhaps the most impressive receiver on either squad; at least the most consistent and reliable.  The simplistic nature of the plays that will be run in the game should be to Sharpe’s advantage to produce well in Saturday’s game, and though his upside is still fairly limited for the NFL, he’s stood up to the challenge and likely pushed himself a little higher on some boards.   Kyle Carter, TE, Penn State (East Team) – If there’s one player for whom the game performance arguably matters as much as the practices, it would be Carter.  The Nittany Lions tight end had an excellent sophomore season a couple years ago and appeared to be a player on the rise with a good NFL future.  He has completely disappeared though in his final two years.  Part of that may be the system change.  Carter looked impressive while playing under Bill O’Brien, a coach known for getting the most out of his TEs.  The incoming coach James Franklin’s offense did not play to his strengths quite so much.  However, Carter still looked poor at times even with the opportunities he did receive, including far too many bad drops, so it’s on him too.  Carter has stood out in practice this week at times, but why does it not translate in games?  A productive performance in a game situation away from Franklin’s scheme could encourage scouts and breathe new life into his stock.   Graham Glasgow, C/OG, Michigan (East Team) – If there’s one player who has arguably boosted his stock the most over the East-West Shrine week, it would be Glasgow.  He already had a mid-round grade with RealSport, but really made a case to be right up with the top center prospects in this year’s class.  Despite his length at 6ft 6, 303 lbs, his best fit is probably still to remain as the anchor on the O-line where he built up a lot of experience with the Wolverines, but he has the skills and size to offer a lot of versatility to play either guard spot as well, and perhaps even as an emergency tackle.  He did indeed see some snaps at guard during practice this week.  Reports from those on hand stated that Glasgow not only won every one on one matchup but over powered his opponent the majority of snaps.  His athleticism was on show pulling from center to get in front and block in the run game as well to really show off his skill set and physical abilities.  It would be great to see Glasgow back up all the great work this week with a performance to match in the game itself, that would be fitting.  His performances have already earned him a call up to the Senior Bowl, another chance to impress!   LeShaun Sims, CB, Southern Utah (West Team) – As mentioned before, the Southern Utah defense is providing multiple NFL players for the 2016 draft.  Our highest rated, and as under-rated a player as there is in this draft perhaps, is Sims.  6ft tall, 200 lbs, and has been timed in the 4.3’s in the 40 yard dash.  He’s more than just about measurables though, backing that up this year with sensational man coverage ability to stick right in the hip pocket of receivers.  His all-round game is completed with his physicality in run support.  There’s nothing lacking in his game, and there’s no reason he shouldn’t be graded as one of the top CB talents in this class.  He’s backing up that faith in him during this step up in quality, keeping tight to his man consistently and breaking up plays as well.  We strongly urge you to remember the name, and keep a watch of him during the game.  At the very least you’ve been forewarned to expect to see Sims ranked above many bigger names when the RealSport position rankings for the cornerback position are revealed shortly.   Ebuka Onyemata, DT, Manitoba (CANADA) (West Team) – The Shrine game always features a few players from north of the border, and Onyemata has made himself noticed.  Having never played football at all prior to his arrival at college, there’s no question that he is very raw, with lots of work to develop.  But the foundations are there in his strong 6ft 3, 304 lb body.  He finished his 2015 season with 50 tackles, 5 sacks and a forced fumble, while earning first team All-Canadian, as well as the award for the best defensive player in the country.  It’ll be interesting to see how he fairs in game situations on Saturday and how he uses that impressive size and strength.   These are just a handful of the players who have made a mark at the East-West Shrine in 2016.  Both rosters are packed full of potential draft picks.  A few others names to keep an eye out for, who have also had a nice week: Alex Lewis/OT/Nebraska (West), Antwione Williams/LB/Georgia Southern (East), Geronimo Allison/WR/Illinois (West), Javon Hargrave/DT/South Carolina State (East).  Enjoy the game!

Rebecca Rennie

RealSport College Football Editor, as well as writer and NFL Draft analyst, while occasionally contributing to the NFL section as well.  A fan of most sports and enjoy discussing with fellow fans, so do please comment on articles and interact.  A big fan of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and of the Central Florida Knights in college.

East-West Shrine Game: who are the prospects to watch?

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