The first two practices of an all-star game are always challenging, both for players and scouts. Practice day one (Monday) was of the pad-less variety, preventing players from showing off their physicality. Therefore, I focused more on skill positions (QBs, WRs, TEs, CBs, Safeties). Both squads planned for contact on Tuesday, showcasing one-on-one linemen battles. For a refresher, you can find the full team rosters here and their weigh-in results here. (Thanks to @WesBunting.)
I won't hit on every player in this article, just the ones that have stood out positively and negatively. You may notice quite a few small-school names because many are outplaying their FBS teammates. Although there has been sideline chatter that this East/West Shrine roster is weaker than previous years, this week has historically produced plenty of third- and fourth-round picks. Check out the end of this article for a list of ten players that have the best chance to get drafted. Continue to follow me on twitter @JoshNorris for practice updates and post-practice observations.
UT-Chattanooga’s B.J. Coleman (6-3/234) is the top passer here, and it's not close. The ball comes out of Coleman's hand so much crisper than the other five signal callers. He entered the week with experience from center but has quickly altered his movements based on coaching adjustments. Coleman’s release is compact, and he unquestionably has NFL-level velocity on every throw. He has missed high at times, but the more Coleman gets used to his new receivers here, the more on target he's looked.
“Coleman can clearly sling it out there," one NFC scout told me, "but watch out for Davis too. Always liked what I saw when I put his tape in.” Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis possesses adequate size (6-1.5/218), but his downfield arm strength is questionable. He almost has to load up on his delivery with any pass over fifteen yards, and consistently forces receivers to hesitate on deep sideline routes. Davis quickly picked up fluid footwork and shows smart decision making, but will be very limited as anything more than a game manager.
Chandler Harnish (6-1.5/219) of Northern Illinois is still a better athlete than quarterback. Even against air, at least a third of his passes land on the ground. Harnish is obviously tentative, trying not to make a mistake and instead tucking to run after his second read. Florida's John Brantley (6-2.5/219) is an athlete himself, but his dropping release and underthrown or off-target throws are tough to overlook.
Tennessee’s Tauren Poole (5-10/206) shows natural running ability, finding creases in the hole while leaning forward. He makes quick decisions behind the line and trusts his linemen to open holes where the play is designed to go. Poole can plant in one step and head upfield, which would be helpful in a zone-focused scheme. However, he lacks a second gear and good acceleration to be more than a rotational back.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Michigan State wideout B.J. Cunningham (6-1/209) has subtle downfield speed and is one of this week's most polished route runners. He has yet to show his ability to catch in traffic, but dropped an abnormal amount of short throws on day one. Cunningham's best chance for NFL success will be short to intermediate routes, so his game will have to change after operating as the Spartans' vertical threat. He's off to a slow start. Arkansas' Jarius Wright (5-10/176) is running by plenty of cornerbacks and looks comfortable both inside and outside. His track frame was expected, but still may cause Wright to get bullied by linebackers crossing over the middle.
Fresno State's Devon Wylie (5-9/186), Tennessee Tech’s Tim Benford (5-11/199), and South Dakota State’s Dale Moss (6-3/220) may have been overlooked coming into this week, but they won't leave that way. Wylie is sudden and efficient from the slot, consistently adjusting to poorly thrown balls. Coaches repeatedly told him to sharpen his routes and work back toward the quarterback, but the technical skills will come. Benford looked like the East's best receiver on day one, eating up cushion and looking fluid one on one against cornerbacks. He has strong hands at the catch point, but needs to show some physical play against tough DBs.
Moss is a former basketball player with only one year of football experience. Calling him raw is an understatement, but Moss seems to be taking to coaching and is already showing reliable hands along with plus size. West coach Brad Childress commented on Moss' curl routes, saying he gives away that he’s stopping his route short rather than continuing downfield by too often staring at the ground. “Lie with your eyes," Childress instructed.
Miami of Ohio's Brandon Brooks (6-5/353) has a thick frame but carries it well. Brooks can anchor against powerful defensive tackles as well as stone their slanting penetration. Not only does he have strength in the running game, but Brooks understands leverage and momentum, using USC DT DaJohn Harris’ weight against him in one-on-one drills to pull Harris to the ground. Brooks appears to be one of the few potential early NFL starters here.
Beyond Brooks, many linemen are stuck between positions. Iowa’s Markus Zusevics (6-5/296) and Colorado’s Ryan Miller (6-7/326) have practiced at both guard and tackle. Zusevics lacks foot quickness against outside rushers and girth to be effective inside. Miller’s short arms (31.5") do not fit his long body. Because of this, Miller overextends his reach, causing him to get off balance and limiting his ability to anchor. “When you make a tackle a guard, things move a lot quicker," one scout explained of the tweeners. "Things get muddled, which is sometimes tough to see. Until they land on your roster.”
Northwestern’s Al Netter (6-4/316) is showing much better versatility, neutralizing rushers with sound and active hand placement while showing enough necessary footwork to stay balanced both inside and outside.
The lone defensive end standout has been Rutgers’ Justin Francis (6-2/270). Other than being the West's most vocal defender, Francis slashes in from the edge and has consistently beaten offensive tackles to the spot. Francis finds contact through his hands, but too often guesses on plays, allowing cutback lanes to open after he gets upfield. Francis has a Charles Johnson frame, so leverage is not an issue. He just needs to focus.
Two defensive tackles stick out: Regina’s Akiem Hicks (6-5/324) and USC’s DaJohn Harris (6-3/308). Hicks has a massive wingspan (84") to go with his large frame. However, I would not be surprised if he runs just below a 5.0 forty. Teams could fall in love with Hicks' athleticism and build, but his technique is predictably raw after playing college ball in Canada. Hicks has a natural anchor, holding double teams without using his length, but until he shows strong hands the big man will struggle. Harris has a muscular lower body and flashes veteran technique. However, sometimes Harris presses forward too much, which gets him off balance. Very few West linemen have contained him more than once.
Pittsburgh’s Max Gruder (6-1/235) played all three linebacker positions in his college career but said he feels most comfortable on the weak side, where he is slated this week. Gruder may lack elite physical gifts, but is simply a football player. He finds the ball carrier well in space, flows through traffic, and wraps up at the tackle point. Gruder has the most experience of any linebacker practicing this week. His versatility will likely earn him a later-round grade.
After picking off John Brantley on one of his first throws, Coastal Carolina’s Josh Norman (6-0/203) has continued to make his presence felt. As a cornerback, Norman looks like one of the largest DBs on either roster, which keeps him close to physical receivers at the top of their routes. He is long, closes quickly, and has outstanding ball skills. In fact, Norman has been challenged less and less by the East quarterbacks. Norman could improve his footwork, but he is certainly holding his own against bigger-name receivers.
Hampton’s Micah Pellerin (6-0/195) has also held his own, even getting chippy with his receiver teammates. Pellerin looks very comfortable in coverage, not rushing his movements or drops until he recognizes the route. Finally, Iowa’s Shaun Prater (5-10/185) reads routes well and has a nice initial burst to close, but still sits five to seven yards off the line at the snap. Prater needs to close that gap to prevent easy completions on quick smoke screens.
East-West Shrine prospects with the best chance to be drafted in the third and fourth rounds:
1. Arkansas WR Jarius Wright
2. Michigan State WR B.J. Cunningham
3. Oregon OLB Josh Kaddu
4. Coastal Carolina CB Josh Norman
5. USC DT DaJohn Harris
6. Pittsburgh OLB Brandon Lindsey
7. Wisconsin S Aaron Henry
8. Mississippi State C Quinton Saulsberry
9. UT-Chattanooga QB B.J. Coleman
10. Tennessee Tech WR Tim Benford