The first two days of Shrine Game practices from Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg have come and gone. For the 7th year in a row, I’m attending every practice session. Monday’s focus was the WRs, DBs and TE/LB/RB drills, while Tuesday was primarily spent watching the lines.
Here are the highlights of what I’ve seen and heard so far on the sidelines and the headquarters hotel.
Jimmy Moreland, CB, James Madison--the plucky Moreland picked off two passes early in Monday’s session and has consistently demonstrated an aggressive form of man coverage that makes him appear bigger than his 5-11/175-pound frame. Moreland has looked comfortable in team drills, quick to pick up on the routes and the ball.
Bunchy Stallings, OG, Kentucky--hands down the best East lineman in the 1-on-1 pass rush drills on Tuesday, Stallings is very good at sinking his weight and anchoring against a power rush. He has some jolt in his punch, but what stands out is his balance while engaged. Bunchy earned a lot of coaching praise for his work getting out on screens and edge runs in team drills.
DaMarkus Lodge, WR, Ole Miss--I highlighted Lodge in my preview and he’s done little to dissuade my opinion that he has one of the highest NFL ceilings of any player here. He catches anything he can reach and has a refinement to his routes over the middle that the Rebel offense didn’t use enough. He’s not as physical as hoped, however.
Ulysees Gilbert, LB, Akron--Gilbert is easily the most fluid LB on the East roster. When doing tandem LB drills, his flexibility, burst and twitchy change-of-direction skills shine relative to his peers. He’s also translating that into team drills. On Tuesday he made one of the biggest hits I’ve seen in an all-star game practice in years with a hulking pop/TFL that brought audible oohs and aahs from the scouts on the sidelines. He is a different style of player than ex-Zips teammate Jatavis Brown, but one with a ceiling of a quality NFL starter.
Others who have flashed on the East:
Kyle Phillips, DE, Tennessee
Terry Godwin, WR, Georgia
Ty Johnson, RB, Maryland
Cortez Broughton, DT, Cincinnati--best player on the East field on Tuesday, though he’s an odd size at a short-armed 6-2/290 that makes NFL position fit a challenge
Nick Allegretti, G/C, Illinois
C.J. Conrad, TE, Kentucky
Tyler Jones, OG, North Carolina State
Matthew Gay, PK, Utah--ended Tuesday’s session with a 57-yard FG that had room to grow
Not helping themselves:
Martez Ivey, OT, Florida--really struggling to keep his pads and weight low, and if he doesn’t win right off the snap he doesn’t recover well on the edge
Ryan Davis, WR, Auburn--it’s not all negative for Davis, who runs clean routes and goes hard every rep. Unfortunately I haven’t seen him present a big target and his small catch radius doesn’t help.
Khalil Hodge, LB, Buffalo--this is not an indictment of his play that I’ve seen. Hodge has been just fine. But other LBs on the East are doing more impressively at more things. I did not expect that. Whether that’s a reflection on me expecting too much from Hodge or me lowballing the other guys coming here remains to be seen.
Kevin Wilkins, DT, Rutgers
All of the QBs
Tim Harris, CB, Virginia
KeeSean Johnson, WR, Fresno State--checking the boxes of an all-purpose receiver in the modest man’s Robert Woods mold. He made a catch deep up the right sideline on Tuesday where he was even with the defender when the ball was thrown but used his burst and a neat little hip push to get almost 3 steps by the time the throw arrived. He’s impressed with the ball in his hands too.
Keaton Sutherland, OG, Texas A&M--his technique is consistently great. No lineman here is better at squaring his target, staying low and in a position of positive leverage in both the run and pass game. He doesn’t move anybody with power but Sutherland is smart and savvy.
Daylon Mack, DT, Texas A&M--another Aggie who is blossoming away from College Station, at least for 2 days of practice. Malicious hands and natural burst low to the ground are bad news for those trying to block him.
Montre Hartage, CB Northwestern--the most consistently fluid West CB in both individual and team drills. One NFC South scout who stood next to me for a few reps correctly noted Hartage could stand to be more aggressive.
Others who have flashed on the West:
Daniel Wise, DT, Kansas--great session on Tuesday, good hips for a big man
Kadar Hollman, CB, Toledo
Chris Nelson, DT, Texas--the Pantera “Vulgar Display of Power” award winner
Justin Hollins, LB, Oregon
Lanard Bonner, OG, Arkansas State
Jon Duhart, WR, Old Dominion
Ronquavion Tarver, WR, Utah State--reminds me a great deal of Cleveland’s Rashard Higgins
Andrew Beck, TE, Texas
Jack Fox, P, Rice
Cody Barton, LB, Utah
Those not helping themselves:
Easton Stick, QB, North Dakota State--threw several wobblers when he tried to increase the velocity, and he’s staring down his (admittedly unfamiliar) targets way too much
Derick Roberson, DE, Sam Houston State
Joel Van Pelt, Calgary
Juwann Bushell-Beatty, OL, Michigan
Shawn Poindexter, WR, Arizona
Darrin Hall, RB, Pittsburgh
Brian Wallace, OT, Arkansas
Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray declaring for the draft is a prime topic on the sidelines. There is not a consensus on where the Heisman winner will get drafted. His size, or lack thereof, is a major problem that some just will never get past. I’ve heard everything from 5-10 overall to 3rd round. I can tell you this with confidence--not many NFL teams took his evaluation as seriously as they needed, believing he would choose his future in baseball.
The NFL folks I’ve spoken to and listened to are much lower on this offensive tackle class than the draft media, and most of us in said draft media aren’t real high on it either. Yodny Cajuste and Jonah Williams are the only two I would be comfortable mocking in the first round right now, and I am an oddball in that I don’t believe Williams should be taken that high.
The general take on Antonio Brown and his potential market value: 2nd round picks in 2019 and 2020. I’m averaging here and making some speculation, but that would be the most widely accepted opinion on what it will take to get the disgruntled 30-year-old All-Pro WR out of Pittsburgh.
Cleveland hiring Freddie Kitchens and bringing in Steve Wilks to run the defense is a very popular move. A lot of folks I’ve encountered believe Wilks got a raw deal in Arizona and will be a great fit with Kitchens, who is aggressively creative and incredibly well-liked by both players and execs around the league.