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There is no substitute for evaluating players in person. You can see speed, size, power and technique in a way that you can’t when watching a prospect on film. That’s why scouts flock to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, East-West Shrine Game and Reese’s Senior Bowl every January.
The first wave of all-star games are in the books. The Shrine and NFLPA weeks of practice have produced some risers and fallers and put more than a few players on the radar for further study as the NFL draft process kicks off.
Based on my evaluations on the ground in Los Angeles at the NFLPA game and what I’m hearing from scouts in Florida at the Shrine Game, here are the biggest winners from the week.
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The NFL is trending toward faster, more versatile players all across the field, which means linebackers must adapt. Gone are the days of two-down players at the position who can’t track down the outside running game and quick-hitters in the passing game. Teams that are looking to add a three-down linebacker who can do all those things must consider Colorado’s Drew Lewis after a good week at Shrine practices.
At 6’2″ and 225 pounds, Lewis would have been asked to convert to safety a decade ago. In today’s game, he has value as an off-the-ball linebacker. Lewis also has experience as a pass-rusher, where he can set the edge and get into the backfield.
Lewis’ athleticism, bloodlines (his brother, Ryan, plays for the Bills) and football IQ make him an intriguing middle-round pick with a skill set ideal for a base 4-3 team.
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Michael Dogbe had a dominant Shrine Game week and showed off the interior rush moves that have teams excited about the 6’3″, 286-pounder. NFL scouts and coaches are obsessed with finding inside pressure—which is only heightened after Aaron Donald’s success—and Dogbe fits the mold.
He has experience as an inside rusher but also did plenty of work as a 5-technique when Temple went to a three-man defensive line. That experience along with a frame that’s made for playing on the edge of the defensive line will make Dogbe a fit for all 32 NFL teams, since he’s not scheme-limited.
During practices, one area scout praised Dogbe’s motor and ability to beat big blockers with a bull rush. His versatility as a defensive lineman and polished tools as a pass-rusher make him a solid selection—one who’s able to get onto an NFL field early.
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In the week leading up to Shrine Game practices, many in the NFL draft community expressed dismay on Twitter that North Dakota State’s Easton Stick wasn’t invited to the more prestigious Senior Bowl. That talk died down after Stick struggled in practices. But one name that’s risen while Stick’s dropped is Boise State’s Brett Rypien.
Rypien has received praise from scouts and media in attendance at practice. One NFC area scout responded to questions about who helped his stock the most this week by giving Rypien’s name.
His game is built not on a strong arm or great athleticism, but accuracy and touch throws to all levels of the field. He throws a beautiful deep ball and can thread the needle with timing and instincts from the pocket. This isn’t like when Kellen Moore came out of Boise State after 2011; he’s a truly polished quarterback.
Rypien is likely to be selected on the third day of the draft and has the upside of a solid QB2 and potential spot starter.
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Another quarterback who helped himself this week is Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur. After he was a late addition to the NFLPA roster, coaches in Los Angeles were raving about his work ethic and football IQ. He had to come in after everyone else and learn a playbook as well as all his teammates and reportedly did a fantastic job.
The son of New York Giants head coach Pat, Shurmur was a three-year starter in the SEC. That’s something scouts in attendance at the NFLPA practices loved about him: The senior is ready play right away after he received excellent coaching throughout his college career.
At 6’4″ and 225 pounds, Shurmur has the size teams look for. He also has the accuracy and arm talent worthy of a late-round flier and could be a nice developmental piece.
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One of my favorite players in the Shrine Game is Rutgers safety Saquan Hampton. He’s a hitter with a fierce mentality and has the athleticism and size to become an NFL contributor.
Hampton has enjoyed a predictably solid week of practices, showing the range and ability that led him to pick off two passes against Wisconsin in 2018. As a natural strong safety, Hampton is the kind of player you don’t expect to see with over-the-top range and coverage instincts, but he has flashed those all week.
While Hampton has a good frame at 6’1″ and 204 pounds, one scout expressed concern with his hand size—which is important for not only catching the ball but also effectively jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage. Hampton’s 8 ¾” hands are below the nine-inch standard set by most scouts. That sounds like a small gripe, but it’s something teams will note, and it could affect his draft grade.
What helps his grade is a strong week in Tampa after a good career at Rutgers. Hampton might not be a rookie starter, but I like him as an early-Day 3 selection who will be a force on special teams and work his way into a safety rotation.
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Coming off a season in which he racked up nine sacks and 16 tackles for a loss in 2018, Jordan Brailford entered the draft as a graduated junior. Because of his status as a graduate, Brailford can participate in the Shrine Game. He made the most of that opportunity with a strong week.
At 6’3″ and 250 pounds, he flashed above-average agility and flexibility this week throughout drills. He timed his rush moves well, according to an area scout in attendance at practices, and he impressed with his plan when he encountered offensive tackles.
Brailford projects best as a 3-4 outside linebacker because of his size and quickness, but he could play with his hand down as a defensive end in sub-packages. His use of length is a question mark with only 32-inch arms, but he employs his quickness, low center of gravity and power well.
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If you like physical cornerbacks, you’ll fall in love with Troy’s Blace Brown. NFL evaluators got that chance through the week of Shrine practices, and the reports coming in from Tampa say he’s helped his draft stock considerably.
At 6’0″ and 190 pounds, Brown doesn’t have amazing size or length, but he shows great instincts in coverage and has the recovery speed to make up ground if he’s beaten off the ball. He did this routinely at Troy, and one scout texted that Brown was dominating receivers at the Shrine Game. The scout went as far as to say the Senior Bowl would be wise to add him.
Brown only had one interception in 2018 after opposing offenses started avoiding him, but in 2016 and 2017, he combined for 11 picks. The speed, ball skills and coverage instincts to make a long NFL career are all on his tape.
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NFL scouts are attracted to versatility, and one of the better defensive backs through Shrine practices has been one who could line up at safety or cornerback in the NFL.
Miami’s Michael Jackson has the frame for it at 6’1″ and 207 pounds. He can line up on the boundary and get in the face of receivers or play the middle of the field. One big question is whether his speed will play at the next level—something one scout texted this week to note was a concern on the practice fields. If Jackson’s limited speed through transitions prevents him from being a starting-caliber cornerback, teams should look to move him to free safety.
His length and instincts are true selling points. He’s also scheme-versatile in addition to his potential positional flexibility. As a possible nickel—where size near the line of scrimmage and short-area coverage skills are important—Jackson has a future.
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Daylon Mack is this year’s Poona Ford—a talented, impressive prospect who will unfortunately fly under the radar because of his position (nose tackle) and lack of ideal measurements. Please don’t overlook him like the NFL did when it let Poona go undrafted.
Mack, who earned a promotion to the Senior Bowl with a strong week at the Shrine practices, is a bulldozer at 6’1″ and 335 pounds. He has the power to push the pile and move the line of scrimmage but also showed off impressive quickness and hand usage throughout drills and team work.
A former 247Sports 5-star prospect, Mack was a prized recruit at Texas A&M. His career didn’t come with the splashes many expected (just eight sacks in four seasons), but he came on strong as a senior and looked like he was realizing his immense potential.
Mack helped himself more than any other prospect at the NFLPA or Shrine practices this week.