Players to Watch at the 2022 East-West Shrine Game
Thursday night is the annual East-West Shrine Game from Las Vegas. It is one of the annual all-star showcases designed for college players to acclimate themselves to the NFL atmosphere and NFL executives. scouts., and coaches to get a better look at some potential draft picks. The players in this game usually get drafted at some point on Day 3 of the draft or become priority undrafted free agents. Here are some players I'm watching Thursday night (Note: The rosters have been changing all week, so there is no guarantee all these players will still be playing at kickoff.)
Kyle Phillips, WR, UCLA
Phillips is an extremely underrated slot receiver, and most reports from this week will tell you he has dominated in practice. In 2021, Phillips led the Bruins in receptions and led the PAC-12 in receiving touchdowns despite only starting nine games. He is also fourth all-time in career receptions at UCLA. He's definitely been a standout this week and brings great day three value.
Charleston Rambo, WR, Miami (FL)
Rambo was a receiver I was excited about going into the season, and he blossomed after transferring from Oklahoma. I honestly think he should be at the Senior Bowl instead of this game, but you go wherever you get the chance to showcase your skills. Rambo was easily WR1 for the Hurricanes this year with career-highs in receptions (79), yards (1,172), and touchdowns (7). He has decent height at 6'1" and will really just need to show that he can add weight and still play the same. Could be a steal as a late-rounder.
Pierre Strong, RB, South Dakota State
Here is one of the more accomplished players you may not have heard of yet. Strong comes from South Dakota State of the FCS and was the Jackrabbits' starting running back for four years. During that time, he ran for over 1,000 yards three times, never averaged less than 5.3 yards per carry, and scored 40 touchdowns. He's earned several All-America honors and has displayed a good receiving ability as well. If there's an FCS guy to keep an eye on in the late rounds, Strong is as good a candidate as any.
Alec Lindstrom , OL, Boston College
Lindstrom is undersized for an interior offensive lineman but has helped anchor an excellent Boston College offensive line that will see at least three players drafted this April. He is an All-ACC performer and has been starting at center for BC since his sophomore year in 2019. Lindstrom will likely need to get bigger to handle the big nose guards of the NFL, but he is one of the nation's top centers with a ton of experience. Developmental offensive line prospect at worse.
Brock Hoffman, OL, Virginia Tech
Hoffman played mostly center at Virginia Tech but is another interior player that could move to guard if needed. He transferred from Coastal Carolina and had to sit out a year and immediately earned the starting role for the Hokies when he became eligible to play. Since the season ended, many have mentioned Hoffman as an under-the-radar offensive line prospect and Thursday night will give him a chance to prove himself. Unlike Lindstrom, Hoffman already has pretty good size for an interior lineman, so the adjustment to the next level should be a little easier.
Samouri Toure, WR, Nebraska
After losing JD Spielman and Wandale Robinson in back-to-back offseasons, Nebraska needed to call on someone to step up and lead the passing game. While the Huskers didn't have a great passing quarterback, TE Austin Allen and WR Samouri Toure answered that call. I'll get to Allen in a minute, but here's what you need to know about Toure. He transferred in from Montana last offseason after a pretty decorated career with the Grizzlies. He made an immediate impact for Nebraska with 898 yards and five touchdowns and a selection to the All-Big Ten third team. Not bad for a guy stepping into a pressure situation against more substantial competition. IN practice this week, Toure has displayed his abilities to run excellent routes and beat defenders one-on-one. Look for him to be a big factor in Thursday's game.
Derrick Deese Jr, TE, San Jose State
Derrick Deese Jr may be the tight end people are most looking forward to seeing in this game. He's slightly skinny for the position at the moment but has a frame that should be able to carry some added muscle down the line. That can take time and patience because he will likely need a training and nutrition plan to help him out, which can take a while to add noticeable progress. As far as his abilities and achievements are concerned, Deese is a sure-handed target in the passing game but needs work everywhere else. Adding weight should help him with his blocking and he'll have to polish his route running. I see him as a TE3 in the league right now with the ability to become a top-tier TE2/low-tier TE1 if he makes all the improvements. Day three prospect teams will likely take a chance on because of his high ceiling.
Big Kat Bryant, EDGE, UCF
Bryant spent four years at Auburn before following Gus Malzahn to UCF. He started for two seasons at Auburn and amassed 49 tackles with 10 sacks as a stand-up edge rusher. He could have declared for the 2021 Draft and been a late-round prospect, but he chose to transfer instead. That ended up being a wise decision. In 2021, Bryant doubled his career tackling numbers, collected six sacks, and finished second in the American Athletic Conference in tackles for loss en route to a first-team All-AAC season. While he is still a late-round prospect, Bryant showed more glimpses of his true potential. He is likely a situational player to begin his career but can develop into something more.
Percy Butler, DB, Louisiana
Butler is a safety prospect who I expect will get more attention as the evaluation process continues. He is a three-year starter and two of those years were on 11-win teams. In 2021, he was the leader of the Ragin Cajuns secondary and possibly the best player on a defense that finished 11th in scoring defense, 14th in passing defense, and 22nd in total defense. While his interception numbers aren't impressive, he's a great tackler and is among the best at defending passes. High upside player.
Reed Blankenship, S, Middle Tennessee
Blankenship was a hot prospect coming into the season, but things seemed to cool down for him despite another impressive year. He has great size for an NFL safety and is possibly one of the best tacklers in the draft. In three years as a starter, he broke MTSU's career tackles record and was a constant Conference USA standout. He'll likely have to start his pro career on special teams, but he's a hard-working player with traits to like.
Dallis Flowers, CB, Pittsburg State
Flowers was a two-time NAIA All-American at Grand View University before transferring to Division II Pittsburg State. At 6'2" 190 lbs, he possesses the desired size of most outside corners in today's NFL. The competition is certainly a step up from what he's used to, but players have done it before and teams will be looking to see what Flowers can do.
Quentin Lake, S, UCLA
Lake is the ball-hawking safety in this game. In his UCLA career, he was consistently among the team leaders in passes defended and lead the Bruins in interceptions in 2021. He has pretty good instincts and size and makes plays on the field. He could become a solid NFL player with some development and he definitely belongs in this game and should be drafted in the later rounds.
Jeffrey Gunter, DL/LB, Coastal Carolina
Gunter is one of the players reporters have been raving about all week. He's a 6'4" 260 lbs edge rusher (de/olb hybrid) who has racked up some serious accolades in his career. He had to sit out the 2019 season after transferring to NC State, but he has been an All-Sun Belt Conference player in each year he has played and is 16th in conference history in sacks. All-star game selection people have been watching him all season, and he ended up at the Shrine Game.
Jerreth Sterns, WR, Western Kentucky
Sterns was the top receiver on the top offense? in the country and a favorite target of record-setting QB Bailey Zappe. He actually started his career with Zappe at Houston Baptist and set several records in his three years with the Huskies. This past season, the WKU star caught a whopping 150 passes for over 1,900 yards and 17 touchdowns, which are video game-like numbers. As for the NFL, he's a smaller framed guy, so he'll likely work in the slot and on special teams. But he's a big-time sleeper.
Dareke Young, WR, Lenoir Rhyne
Do you know the last time a Lenoir-Rhyne player was drafted? It was 2019? when the Patriots selected Kyle Dugger in the second round. Dugger has been a solid player in the New England secondary, and Young looks like the next prime prospect from his Division II alma mater. Young is another big-bodied guy at 6'3" 220lbs, but unlike some of the others you'll read about later in this article, his speed can be a weapon. Not only has he been the team's leading receiver, but they will hand the ball off to him quite a bit as well. That kind of versatility is appealing to NFL coaches and scouts and could help Young get drafted in April.
Ty Chandler, RB, NorthCarolina
Chandler left Tennessee for North Carolina after four solid seasons with the Vols. Tennessee didn't really use him as much as it should have, yet he still departed with the fifth-most rushing and all-purpose yards in program history. At Carolina, Chandler took over for Javonte Williams and Michael Carter (both in the NFL) and had his first 1,000-yard season. The second-team All-ACC back is flying under the radar but could open some eyes Thursday night.
Cordell Volson, OL, North Dakota State
Volson is a massive human being at 6'7" 313 lbs. He spent five years at North Dakota State and is a three-time All-America and All-Conference player. Volson starter for the Bison for three years, during which the team was among the top rushing offenses in the FCS and he only gave up half a sack. He grades out well in all phases of the game and deserves more attention. That should come if he plays well on Thursday.
Tay Martin, WR, Oklahoma State
Martin is another guy who has apparently been tearing up the competition in Vegas. After transferring from Washington State in 2019, he struggled to get on the field with the Cowboys. However, in 2021, he figured it out and proved to be worth the weight. Martin finished his senior year in Stillwater with 80 catches, 1,046 yards, and 10 touchdowns--including three huge touchdowns against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. His 6'3" frame makes him an ideal redzone threat and his speed and ball skills add a little more juice to his game. ANother guy who will be drafted later than he should, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him contribute.
Emeka Emezie, WR, North Carolina State
This is one of the most physical, sure-handed receivers in this year's class. Emezie is one of the best receivers in a Wolfpack history that includes Torry Holt. He finished his NC State career with 169 receptions, over 2000 yards, and 13 touchdowns. Emezie is another big wide receiver that can be used as a redzone threat. He's strong, powerful, and athletic, although speed can be a question at times.
Jelani Woods, TE, Virginia
Woods was pretty solid at Oklahoma State but was underutilized in the Cowboys' offense. He played three years in Stillwater and only had 31 catches for just over 300 yards and four touchdowns. After transferring to Virginia, he showed much more of what he can do for a team. AT 6'7", he is a massive target and has solid hands. He's not the fastest but moves well. In 2021, he was named first-team All-ACC and had the fourth most touchdown catches of any tight end in the country. He had 44 catches and nearly doubled his yardage while showing a good ability to block. He may be a developmental player in the NFL, but he should get the opportunity to compete for a roster spot as a rookie.
Nephi Sewell, LB, Utah
Sewell is actually the OLDER brother of Detroit Lions' offensive tackle Penei Sewell and is yet another great football player from that family. Although he was overshadowed for much of this season by teammate Devin Lloyd, who may be the best linebacker in this draft, people have started to notice what Nephi has done. He was a part of a ruthless Utah defense that shut down the Oregon offense twice. He also started each game, placed second on the team in tackles, and had one of the highest tackling rates in the PAC-12. Sewell was named AP All-Pac 12 in 2021 and is a converted safety, which means many teams could look to him for help in pass coverage.
David Anenih, DL, Houston
Another player who was overshadowed by a teammate. While Logan Hall is the Houston defender most are talking about, don't sleep on Adenih. I believe he could become a solid rotation piece for a team at defensive end. He doesn't make a crazy amount of tackles, but he has solid sack numbers for his career, and pass-rushers are constantly needed in the NFL.