The college all-star season is set to begin on Saturday, as the 90th annual East-West Shrine Game will take place in St. Petersburg, Fla. While the Reese's Senior Bowl (taking place next Saturday) gets all of the hype, the Shrine Game features dozens of NFL prospects as well. While this game features more Day 3 candidates than high profile players, there is a chance that these talents could rise up draft boards with stellar performances.
Last year, Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garopollo, Syracuse defensive tackle Jay Bromley and Rice cornerback Phillip Gaines played their way into Day 2 because of their standout work during the week of practice and in the game. Garopollo was even invited to the Senior Bowl following his impressive outing. This year, players like Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke, William & Mary wide receiver Tre McBride and the rest of the field will try to follow suit.
How to Watch
Date: Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015
Channel: NFL Network
Time: 4 PM ET
Location: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.
Players to Watch
Taylor Heinicke, QB, Old Dominion (East)
In my opinion, the four-year starter from Atlanta, Ga. is one of the main reasons for an Eagles fan to tune into the game. A 6-foot-1, 213-pound passer, Heinicke is coming off of a very impressive career that features a Walter Payton award (won as a sophomore as the best player in FCS). Heinicke finished his college career with a 67.7 completion percentage, 14,959 passing yards, 132 passing touchdowns and just 39 interceptions. A talented passer with great feet and a strong intermediate game, Heinicke would be an ideal developmental quarterback for the Eagles. He has an understated speed and ran for 1,320 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns during his career at Old Dominion.
Cody Fajardo, QB, Nevada (West)
Nevada's replacement for Colin Kaepernick is likely the biggest name of the quarterbacks in Florida this weekend. A four-year starter, Fajardo has participated in three Manning passing academies and gained plenty of experience at the college level. He finished his career with a 65.5 completion percentage, 9,595 passing yards, 57 touchdowns and 29 interceptions. Likely viewed as a late-Day 3 option for teams looking for a mobile backup quarterback, Fajardo could be an option for the Eagles.
Tre McBride, WR, William & Mary (East)
A favorite of my colleague, Dan Klausner, McBride is a small school kid with terrific hands. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound pass catcher has been a major part of the William & Mary offense for the last three seasons. He caught 196 passes for 2,653 receiving yards (13.5 YPC) and 19 touchdowns. For folks looking for a big wide receiver who can use his size and block, McBride could be an appealing Day 3 option.
Kasen Williams, WR, Washington (West)
Once seen as a potential first round pick, a leg injury caused Williams' trajectory to take a major step back. Williams broke his leg and reportedly suffered a Lisfranc injury in 2013, causing him to only play in eight games as a junior. Williams was a stud as a sophomore with 77 catches for 878 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Obviously, the injury limited his follow up season and slowed him down as a senior. He collected just 49 receptions for 610 receiving yards and three touchdowns over the last two seasons (22 games). Still, Williams is a proficient blocker with terrific hands that somewhat reminds you of a pre-draft Arrelious Benn, who was the third wide receiver taken in the 2010 NFL Draft.
Devin Gardner, WR/QB, Michigan (East)
Every draft season, there is always at least one former college quarterback that converts to another position. Luckily for Gardner, he has a bit of experience as a receiver. While he has predominantly been featured as the starting quarterback for the Wolverines over the last two and a half seasons, Gardner spent most of his sophomore year catching passes (16 for 266 yards and four touchdowns). In all, he had 18 receptions for 286 receiving yards and four touchdowns at Michigan. He isn't likely to get looks at quarterback at the next level, but his height 6-foot-4 and speed will likely help him at receiver. He was a scoring machine at Michigan, as he collected 24 touchdowns on the ground.
Sean Hickey, OT, Syracuse (East)
The Eagles are in need of some offensive line depth and Hickey fits the bill as an athletic blocker who can get to the second level. The Orange left tackle is likely to play guard in the NFL and could be a late round option to compete with the likes of Matt Tobin, Andrew Gardner and Todd Herremans for a starting spot. Hickey, 6-foot-5 and 291 pounds, started 38-straight games at Syracuse with 25-straight starts at left tackle. Hickey is a native of Murrysville, PA.
James Vaughters, OLB, Stanford (West)
The Eagles may run the risk of losing Brandon Graham to free agency and Trent Cole as a cap casualty. While Marcus Smith was likely drafted to be the heir to the throne, he barely played as a rookie. The Eagles could use depth regardless, which is where Vaughters (6-2, 254 lbs) would come in. Used in coverage and as a pass rusher at Stanford, Vaughters has the PAC 12 pedigree and the experience that may be appealing to Chip Kelly's staff. Vaughters is coming off a season with 50 tackles, 6.5 sacks and three pass breakups. Vaughters finished his career with 12.5 sacks.
Taiwan Jones, ILB, Michigan State (West)
The Eagles were able to get by with their depth at inside linebacker this past season, but that doesn't mean there won't be upgrades this summer. Jones is a talented and big defender that could be an heir to DeMeco Ryans and a quality special teams presence. At 6-foot-3 and 252 pounds, Jones is a massive dude in the middle, who was a three-year starter with the Spartans. In 54 career games, Jones collected 183 tackles (25.5 for loss), seven pass breakups, 5.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries.