2014 East-West Shrine Game: Most Intriguing Prospects at Each Position

Tennessee running back Rajion Neal is one of the potential draft steals playing in Saturday’s Shrine Game. (Photo: Randy Sartin — USA Today Sports)

BBD Assistant Editor: Joe Marino

College football all-star game season is here, a time for the nation’s top senior prospects to catch the eyes of NFL scouts in a variety of showcase games, including Saturday’s Shrine Game (4 p.m. ET, NFL Network).

There are a plethora of intriguing prospects participating in the game.

As the players have also been participating in front of scouts, coaches, media and fans all week in St. Petersburg, Fla., practice observations have also been included here from Jeff Risdon, who is covering the Shrine Game this week for Detroit Lions Draft.

All included heights/weights are from this week’s Shrine Game weigh-ins, as obtained by Eric Galko of Optimum Scouting.

QB: Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois

Garoppolo is a small-school prospect with legitimate NFL tools to work with. Garoppolo has an extremely quick release and a smooth delivery. He goes through his progressions well and has decent arm strength.

In Saturday’s game, Garoppolo still needs to show scouts he has the accuracy and decision-making ability to succeed in the NFL.

Risdon on his performance in Monday’s practice: “I was not at all impressed with Garoppolo. He throws off of one foot naturally and when he focuses on not doing it everything slows down. Underthrew several deeper throws as his balls have a tendency to sink.”

Risdon saw improvements on Wednesday, noting: “He delivered a strike to a crossing Jeremy Gallon (uncoverable from the slot) on the dead run, picture perfect delivery and accuracy. He was patient and moved nicely in the pocket on a couple other reps.”

RB: Rajion Neal, Tennessee

Neal could be a late-round steal, much like what the Rams got from rookie running back Zac Stacy this year after he was a fifth-round pick in last year’s draft.

Neal is a physical, between-the-tackles runner who looks to maximize every carry. He runs with great forward lean and pad level. He is a solid receiver but needs work as a pass protector.

For a team looking to add depth and a potential starter at running back, Neal would be an excellent choice.

WR: Allen Hurns, Miami

Hurns is a big-bodied receiver who plays great attention to detail. He separates well down the field and made long, explosive plays for the Miami offense.

Hurns makes tough, contested catches and works the sidelines well. He has flashed the ability to create yards after the catch and is physical with the ball in his hands as a runner. He has reliable hands and competes well for the football.

Hurns did not have much production in his first three years at Miami, but really blossomed in his senior season. He can continue to improve his draft stock if he carries the momentum of his senior season into Saturday’s game.

Crockett Gillmore is a big target in a loaded crop of tight ends in the 2014 NFL draft. (Photo: Ron Chenoy — USA Today Sports)

TE: Crockett Gillmore, Colorado State

Gillmore is a solid all-around tight end who has the frame (6’5″, 253 lbs) that scouts look for. A good athlete and reliable pass-catcher, Gillmore could be a mid-round steal, pushed down by the excellent group of underclassmen that have declared at the position.

Gillmore can also excel as a blocker in-line and in space.

Risdon on Gilmore from Monday: “Crockett Gillmore–he’s a legit 6’6” and his height really shows (…) Big target with soft hands. He was praised by the coaches who “love your steps” when engaged as a blocker. He has a giant first step that worked well when flexed out but caused him trouble in traffic.”

OL: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma

A four-year starter and three time All Big-12 player during his Sooner career, Ikard is bringing an impressive résumé to the NFL.

One of the most athletic centers in the draft class, Ikard is also a sound technician as a run blocker. His athleticism allows him to pull and get to the second level to seal off linebackers and create running lanes. He brings his feet with him while run blocking, which allows him to sustain blocks and create movement in the run game.

Ikard is also a good pass blocker, though he gives up too much penetration at times. He has starter potential and is a likely mid-round pick.

Will Clarke’s combination of size and athleticism makes him an intriguing defensive end project. (Photo: Peter Casey — USA Today Sports)

DL: Will Clarke, West Viriginia

With 17 tackles for loss to go along with six sacks, Clarke had a terrific senior season for the Mountaineers. Though he is raw in terms of technique, his activity and movement off the ball is intriguing.

Clarke is a physical and aggressive player with a chiseled 6’6″, 277-pound frame. A developing pass-rusher, Clarke has a good rip move, good bend and burst to the quarterback. With his terrific size and flashy skills, he is a promising project player with high upside.

LB: Shaquil Barrett, Colorado State

With a terrific senior season that included 80 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, an interception and four forced fumbles, Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Shaquil Barrett has played his way onto NFL radars.

Although he has garnered attention for his sacks, Barrett is best at defending the run. He is physical at the point of attack and can set the edge. He has excellent awareness and instincts when defending the run and effectively finds his way to the football. He is an excellent tackler and finisher.

When pass-rushing, Barrett is a good blitzer who pursues the quarterback relentlessly. Many of his sacks have come when he has lined up as a defensive tackle, shot the gap and won with quickness.

Barrett is a versatile defender with the potential to rise up draft boards.

LB: Derrell Johnson, East Carolina

Johnson’s on-field play leaves a very positive impression. He is extremely physical as an edge-setting run defender and is terrific in pursuit of the ball while sifting through traffic. He displays excellent upfield burst and bend off the edge while rushing the passer, and is not a liability in coverage.

Risdon on Johnson from Wednesday: “Johnson got a chance to play some rush end, and that’s clearly his best role going forward. He’s thickly built and has good power in both upper and lower body. He was a real handful for tight ends, and both Crockett Gilmore [sic] and Blake Jackson are pretty good blocking TEs. When he was playing SAM, he quickly sniffed out a play but ran right past it, unable to stop his momentum. He was a hot commodity after practice, meeting with the Jets, Chargers, and Cardinals–all 3-4 front teams.”

DB: Tre Boston, North Carolina

Boston has been a playmaking safety and cornerback for the Tar Heels throughout his career with 13 interceptions. He competes well in coverage and is a solid athlete.

Boston does a solid job coming up from the safety position and defending the run. He reacts well to what he sees and is a good tackler. He is aggressive and physical in pursuit of the ball and should be able to excel in punt and kickoff coverage if used there.

Risdon said he was “very impressed” with Boston on Monday“He was quick to read the play and understood how to read the receivers to pick up on things. He provided excellent over the top help and carried the route all the way down the field in step. Made a big hit on a run fill too. Nice first day.”

Head over to DetroitLionsDraft.com for a full look at Risdon’s Shrine Game practice observations.

Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, All-Star Games, Allen Hurns, Colorado State, Crockett Gillmore, Derrell Johnson, Draft Season, East Carolina, East West Shrine Game, Eastern Illinois, Gabe Ikard, Jimmy Garoppolo, Miami, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rajion Neal, Shaquil Barrett, Shrine Game, Tennessee, Tre Boston, West Virginia, Will Clarke

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