Held annually in St. Petersburg, the Shrine Game is a more low-key venue for prospects to show their skills in practices before the NFL scouting community. It’s not as crowded an event and gives prospects an opportunity to flash in daily practices without the distractions that come from hosting in a bigger city.
In the last two years combined, the Saints have picked up more players from the Shrine Game (9) than from the Senior Bowl (5), including:
- C Marcus Henry (Boise State)
- CB Damian Swann (Georgia)
- CB Ken Crawley (Colorado)
- DT David Onyemata (Ontario)
- DT Tyeler Davison (Fresno State)
- LB Davis Tull (Tennessee-Chattanooga)
- LB Travis Feeney (Washington)
- RB Daniel Lasco (California)
- WR Jared Dangerfield (Western Kentucky)
This year, NFL coaches will get firsthand looks at these prospects thanks to a restructuring of the coaching staffs. Traditionally former coaches like Mike Singletary were invited to lead the East or West Teams, but starting in 2017 each NFL franchise will nominate an active coach deserving of the experience. Those nominees are filtered by a panel down into two finalists, who are then free to build their staffs from their fellow coaches.
It’s an innovative change that seems to be drawing interest from around the league. All we know right now is that Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards will take charge of the West Team, while Arizona Cardinals defensive line coach Brentson Buckner has been selected to coach the East Team. It remains to be seen which staff a New Orleans Saints assistant coach will join.
East Team Roster
On offense, the big players for the East Team are right tackles Erik Magnuson (Michigan) and Jonathan McLaughlin (Virginia Tech). Magnuson and McLaughlin are both physical prototypes for the position, each standing 6-foot-5 and tipping the scales at 300-pounds.
Among the receivers, tight ends Scott Orndoff (Pittsburgh), Eric Saubert (Drake-Iowa), and Colin Jeter (Louisiana State) are all intriguing athletes. Wide receivers Quincy Adeboyejo (Mississippi) and Stacy Coley (Miami) are also sure to impress. Tony Stevens (Auburn) is a 6-foot-4, 213-pound receiver who led the Auburn Tigers in receptions, yards, and touchdowns.
At quarterback, the East Team has two interesting small school passers in Nick Mullens (Southern Mississippi) and Cooper Rush (Central Michigan). Mullens is undersized for the NFL at 6-foot-1, 205-pounds, but has thrown for 7,748 yards and 62 touchdowns to just 23 interceptions while completing 64-percent of his passes in his last 25 games. Rush faced questionable quality of opponents in his four years at Central Michigan, but has impressive numbers in his own right: 12,884 career passing yards with 90 touchdowns and 55 interceptions. Neither guy is seen as more than a late round draft pick, but this is a great opportunity for them to draw attention.
On defense, the East Team boasts an impressive collection of defensive linemen. Pass rushers like Ejuan Price (Pittsburgh) and Bryan Cox Jr (Florida), as well as interior linemen like DeAngelo Brown (Louisville), Matthew Godin (Michigan), and Joey Ivie IV (Florida) will make life hard on the offensive line all week. Cox Jr is the son of current Atlanta Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox Sr, and would be talked about as a high draft pick if not for some untimely injuries to his lower leg and thumb.
Defensive backs Tony Bridges (Mississippi), Brad Watson (Wake Forest), and Channing Stribling (Michigan) are all intriguing. Stribling was the “other” cornerback from Ann Arbor lined up across from Jourdan Lewis, and plays with a chippy style reminiscent of New York Giants defender Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Stribling is a little thin at just 182-pounds, but his 6-foot-2 frame makes up for it. I look forward to seeing him compete.
West Team Roster
The West Team has a great collection of running backs between Elijah McGuire (Louisiana-Lafayette), Joseph Williams (Utah), and Justin Davis (Southern California). Each of them are strong runners who have the skills to contribute on third down, and could be targeted by the Saints later in the draft. Keep an eye on how they do during practices.
Along the offensive line, Geoff Gray (Manitoba) is the most interesting name. The 6-foot-6, 315-pound guard could be the next Canadian import to make his mark on the league. The former defensive lineman plays with a gnarly edge, and cited his former teammate and current New Orleans Saints defensive lineman David Onyemata as the toughest opponent he’s ever faced.
The strength of the West Team is in its defense. Its stout defensive line is flush with talent like Stevie Tu’ikolovatu (Southern California), Josh Augusta (Missouri), Deatrich Wise Jr (Arkansas), Avery Moss (Youngstown State), and Darius English (South Carolina). Tu’ikolovatu has recently accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl, but it’s up in the air as to whether he’ll attend both events or choose to wait until the higher-profile game.
The five Colorado defenders will draw plenty of attention after their resurgent year: linebackers Kenneth Olugbode and Jimmie Gilbert, defensive lineman Josh Tupou (a 345-pound monster), safety Tedric Thompson (he of 13 interceptions and 26 pass deflections), and 6-foot-3, 195-pound cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon.
Safety Weston Steelhammer (Air Force) has the best name in the Shrine Game, but is an impressive player in his own right – just look at his 18 interceptions and 21 tackles for loss in three years as a starter.
I look forward to hearing dispatches from the week of Shrine Game practices. This should be a fun, competitive event featuring some talented prospects that we don’t even know about yet. Stay tuned for rumors and hot takes as scouts and coaches get their first hands-on look at the next generation of NFL stars.