ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Although the 88th annual East-West Shrine Game won’t be played until Saturday, most of the NFL scouts and coaches have already left St. Petersburg, having watched and scouted a full week of practice.
While it’s important for the players to finish strong in the game, the daily practices this week were when prospects had the chance to make their money and stand out to the hundreds of scouts, coaches and NFL representatives on the sidelines and in the bleachers.
With small school NFL Draft prospects, the “lack of competition” mantra can be tough to dispel for some, but a productive week during pre-draft all-star games goes a long way in the minds of pro scouts. Playing alongside former 5-star recruits and prospects from powerhouse programs allows players from non-FBS teams to prove they belong on the same field as the best-of-the-best. And during practice this past week, several underrated small school prospects did just that.
Below are 10 prospects who helped themselves during the week of Shrine Game practices, five of which are from non-FBS programs:
10. TE D.C. Jefferson, Rutgers (6056, 255 — East Team)
A former quarterback, Jefferson didn’t show the expected progression at tight end throughout his Rutgers career (only 47 catches in 50 career collegiate games), but the raw skills are intriguing. And he flashed his talented skill-set during practices, showing off his large, athletic frame and proving to be an imposing target downfield and a physical blocker. Jefferson is still unpolished in several areas, but he showed this week why he’s an interesting developmental player and worth a draft pick on the draft’s third day.
9. OLB Sio Moore, Connecticut (6006, 240 — East Team)
Moore entered the week as an underrated prospect, but he showed during practice sessions what most already knew: He’s a pretty good football player. He was a versatile performer in college with good production as a hybrid linebacker for the Huskies, not looking out of place when asked to play in space against either the run or pass. Even in non-contact drills, Moore’s competitive drive and explosive hitting ability were evident, and he will likely earn a top-100 grade from more than a few NFL teams.
8. RB Christine Michael, Texas A&M (5096, 221 — West Team)
Thought to be the top running back prospect by some entering the 2012 season, Michael was nothing more than a reserve during his senior year after finding himself in Kevin Sumlin’s doghouse. But during West practices, he reminded scouts why he was so highly regarded with his combination of quickness, burst and power. Although he didn’t help his case by posing after a few productive runs in practice, Michael proved that he has the talent to warrant a second day selection.
7. DE David Bass, Missouri Western State (6036, 263 — East Team)
Bass dominated the Division-II ranks, bringing a productive resume to the NFL with 56 tackles for loss and 39.5 sacks over his career. And playing next to FBS-prospects in St. Pete’s, he didn’t look out of place with the quickness and hand strength to defeat blocks and find his way to the ballcarrier. Bass has room to refine his pass rush moves to be more effective, but he flashed in practice why he was able to be so productive in college.
6. S Earl Wolff, NC State (5111, 206 — East Team)
Playing in a secondary with David Amerson and Brandon Bishop at NC State, Wolff seemed to be overlooked by many, but for those who watched the East practice, it was tough to ignore the impact he made on the field. He showed good plant-and-drive quickness to diagnose the play and attack ballcarriers in front of him. Wolff also displayed the athleticism and footwork to hold up in man coverage, lining up in the slot and gaining proper body position to knock down passes.
5. CB Brandon McGee, Miami (Fla.) (5016, 195 — East Team)
After a very up-and-down senior season for the Hurricanes, McGee is going to force many talent evaluators who saw him this week to go back and watch more tape of the Miami cornerback. In individual match-ups, he stayed patient and disciplined in his stance with the confidence and footwork to stick with the receiver all over the field. Previously thought to be a late-round prospect, McGee was definitely one of the bright spots of the week and has gained some momentum heading into the NFL Combine.
4. S Cooper Taylor, Richmond (6042, 229 — East Team)
A Georgia Tech transfer, Taylor stood out as the most impressive defender on the East squad during practice. With his size and strength, he is an enforcer against the run but he also showed the range and athleticism to be effective in coverage as well as the football intelligence to digest a lot of coaching all at once. Taylor routinely drew praise from the coaching staff during drills and often made the calls to get his teammates in proper position. His NFL draft arrow is pointing up after this week, creating some buzz among scouts.
3. WR Jasper Collins, Mount Union (5101, 183 — West Team)
Considering he is the only Division-III prospect participating this week, it was even more impressive that Collins was the most polished route runner and consistent receiver on the roster. He isn’t the biggest or the fastest, but he displayed excellent footwork and short-area quickness to set up his routes, keep defenders off balance and create separation to give the quarterback an open target. Coming from the same program that produced NFL starting receivers Pierre Garcon and Cecil Shorts, Collins is used to expectations, and he passed this week with flying colors.
2. OT Terron Armstead, Arkansas-Pine Bluff (6050, 304 — East Team)
While the quarterbacks haven’t been impressive, either, the offensive line group might be the weakest unit at this year’s Shrine Game. But Armstead played better than expected at left tackle with the feet and athleticism to hold up against edge rushers, using his wingspan (81 1/2″) to corral defenders. He doesn’t have elite upper or lower body strength for the position, but he didn’t make many mistakes in practice and looked comfortable with whatever was thrown at him. Believed to be a solid third-day selection entering the week, Armstead’s draft stock is on the rise.
1. OLB Keith Pough, Howard (6016, 241 — West Team)
With his performance on the practice field this week and through talking to NFL scouts, putting Pough at No. 1 was the easiest decision on this list. He showed off his natural athleticism and coordination during drills, and while he has room to get stronger, his aggressive and violent playing style was impressive. Pough’s physical attributes stand out, but so does his approach to the game. He brings a non-stop motor and competitive attitude to the defense, regardless if it’s practice or a game. Although he’s still a tad rough around the edges, Pough is a player on the rise and it wouldn’t be a shock if he ends up as one of the first players drafted from this year’s Shrine Game.
Dane Brugler is a Draft Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.