East-West Shrine Players to Watch
With practice wrapped up at the 2024 East-West Shrine Bowl in Frisco, Texas, its time to look forward to the game itself, Thursday, 8 pm ET on NFLNetwork.
The NFL is putting more energy into this old classic, which began began almost a century ago in the San Francisco Bay Area. The traveling All-Star game is making its first appearance in Frisco and will include underclassmen for the first time. The game gained some credibility when Iowa State QB Brock Purdy was the star before becoming the final pick in the 2022 draft, Mr. Irrelevant, by the San Francisco 49ers
He is very relevant now as starting quarterback against the Kansas City Chiefs in the February 11 Super Bowl.
Chad Reuter, former Sr. Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, was at the workouts for NFL.com this week and shared his insight on players who stood out in practice.
1. WR Malik Washington, Virginia
"Washington has been the main attraction during most of this week's practices. His quick moves and acceleration into and out of his breaks were on full display Monday; defenders are forced to attack him at the line (which isn't easy) or simply watch him separate. He won inside position on Pitt cornerback M.J. Devonshire on a goal-line play with a shake off the snap, making an easy touchdown for his quarterback. While measuring just a tad over 5-foot-8, Washington scored after high-pointing a pass with strong hands on Saturday, displaying an all-around game that could induce teams to project him as an immediate starter in the slot."
2. OL Dylan McMahon, North Carolina State
"McMahon has been the best lineman in Frisco this week. He played some guard in earlier practices but starred at center Monday, stuffing big tackles like Auburn's Justin Rogers in one-on-ones, even though he gave up over 40 pounds. McMahon's powerful base allowed him to sit in his stance against Washington's Tuli Letuligasenoa in team work, which is no mean feat. The quickness and strength of his hands into the body of his man after the snap were impressive; once engaged, McMahon sticks on his man throughout plays in team or position drills with balance and footwork. He looked like an eventual NFL starter."
3. LB Darius Muasau, UCLA
"Muasau was all over the field during the West team's practice Monday, just as he was at Hawai'i and UCLA. He's a leader in the middle, calling out plays and moving linemen so he could attack a gap in the run game. His drops into coverage were of good depth, and he quickly smothered running backs over the middle and heading to the flat. Muasau always managed to get a slight bump on his target to show he would take care of business during the game. He drew a flag in a one-on-one rep for being a bit too physical, but NFL teams will live with that aggression."
4. DT Khristian Boyd, Northern Iowa
"Boyd played his college ball at the FCS level but has taken a back seat to no one during this week's practices. On Monday, he consistently out-leveraged former Big Ten offensive linemen in one-on-one and team drills, getting his strong hands into their frame and pushing upwards to get them off their feet. Boyd lacks plus length for the position, but his violent hands and short-area quickness allowed him to win gaps during 11-on-11 drills to blow up run plays. He's worked himself into the late-Day 2 conversation, in a manner reminiscent of former Missouri Valley Football Conference star Khalen Saunders (Western Illinois), who was selected by the Chiefs in the third round in 2019 after a strong pre-draft showing."
5. Edge Trajan Jeffcoat, Arkansas
"Even though Jeffcoat measures 6-4, he plays with a low pad level to control his blocker. On Monday, he beat his man in one-on-one tackles by winning the outside shoulder, and then on the next rep, he bulled the tackle to his backside. During team play, he was tough in the run game but also displayed the change of direction to stop his advancement to the passer and track down a screen play. Whether on the edge or playing five-technique, Jeffcoat showed the strength, length (33 1/2-inch arms) and quickness to excel in multiple defensive schemes."
6. Edge Sundiata Anderson, Grambling State
"The two-time first-team All-SWAC pick has more than stood up to offensive line prospects from FBS schools during Shrine practices. He is fast and smooth off the snap but is strong enough to bull tackles towards the quarterback. If unable to reach the passer, he gets his hands into throwing lanes. Anderson caused an interception Monday morning by beating his man and bumping into Maryland QB Taulia Tagovailoa, causing a fluttering downfield pass that was intercepted. Anderson may be a designated pass rusher to start his career but has an all-around game that could lead to a larger role in time."
7. K Cam Little, Arkansas
"When an elite kicker takes the field in an all-star game, the sound of his strike on a field-goal try is just different. The thud on contact is noticeable, as is the strong plant foot, smooth speed of his hips through the kick, and the trajectory of the attempt. Little's short tries during special teams reps cleared the top of the goalposts. And while he didn't make every kick this week, his 56-yarder (which would have been good from 60-plus yards) to end Monday's session even brought defenders like cornerback Tulane's Jarius Monroe over the line to congratulate him."
8. RB Jabari Small, Tennessee
"Small only received 95 carries in 2023 at Tennessee, which has strong depth at the position, but scouts saw how his compact build and acceleration can be effective during Monday's practice. In red-zone reps, he took an outside toss, cut inside a nice block from his right tackle and found the end zone with ease. After an inside run where he just put his head down to get what he could, Small came off his center's block, cutting outside to open space for a potential score. His efforts backed up the nose for the end zone he showed in 2022, when he scored 13 times on the ground."
Here is more informaton on some of the players to watch
1) Devin Leary, QB, Kentucky (6-foot-1, 215 pounds)
The issues Leary encountered this past season at Kentucky -- getting the ball out late and throwing into coverage -- showed up at times during Shrine practices. But he also impressed with his footwork in drills, the velocity and tight spiral of his ball and his ability to drop throws into the bucket down the sideline or in the corner of the end zone -- like he did Tuesday to Michigan WR Cornelius Johnson. He also perfectly anticipated a throw over one defender and between two others to 5-foot-8 Oregon State WR Anthony Gould for a long gain (the second time this week he made that throw). Leary might not get picked until the middle of Day 3 because of his recent tape, but he offers tools with which an NFL quarterback coach can work.
2) Austin Reed, QB, Western Kentucky (6-0 7/8, 223)
Warming up before Tuesday's practice, the right-handed quarterback was throwing some nice left-handed spirals to Oklahoma receiver Drake Stoops. He won't use that skill often during his NFL career, but it was interesting to observe -- as was his improvement since the weekend. Reed looked comfortable during footwork drills Tuesday, moving between the bags and making throws on the run look much easier than he had in previous sessions. He threw Cover 2 beaters on the sideline, trusted a seam pass into tight quarters to Cornelius Johnson and whipped a sidearm throw to Illinois' Isaiah Williams for a score. It was nice end to a solid series of practices, with Reed showing improvement in all areas to give scouts an idea of what he can become.
3) Jarrian Jones, CB, Florida State (6-0, 192)
Jones was one of the more energetic, communicative players on the field Tuesday, hopping around between reps and talking to teammates and coaches. Throughout Shrine practices over the past four days, he showed his skills in the slot, plastering smaller receivers with physicality and quickness. Jones also displayed that he's an effective zone defender on Tuesday, initially showing man but instead reading the quarterback to deflect a high throw. During drills, he looked natural while high-pointing passes, too. Jones will be a plus for some NFL team, on the field and in the locker room.
4) Casey Washington, WR, Illinois (6-0 3/4, 197)
One of the biggest draft risers in Frisco, Washington proved he belonged among the top prospects during Shrine practices. He has showcased reliable hands, challenged corners with physicality at the top of routes and displayed enough quickness into and out of his breaks that he started working inside. On Tuesday, he looked natural coming back to the ball on stop routes and quickly turning upfield with the ability to work through contact. Washington also did the little things that will help him earn respect from scouts, like supporting teammates on the sideline and working as a gunner on punt-return coverage.
5) Blake Watson, RB, Memphis (5-9 3/8, 189)
Watson stood out with his quickness and hands out of the backfield at Shrine practices. The two-time 1,000-yard college rusher is not afraid of working inside despite his smaller stature, protecting the ball and keeping his feet moving to feel the crease, even during Tuesday's light workout. Watson also displayed the strong hands that caught 90 passes over the past two seasons at Memphis and Old Dominion. He snared throws away from his body on Tuesday, both in the flat and over the middle, smoothly transitioning into YAC mode with a quick turn to pick up first downs. I believe he can have a notable role on an NFL offense as a rookie.
6) Kaitori Leveston, OG, Kansas State (6-3 5/8, 337)
Leveston played minimal snaps at guard for the Wildcats because they needed him at left tackle. His improvement playing left and right guard during this week should catch the eye of offensive line coaches looking for a powerful force inside. By Tuesday, Leveston looked like a natural, moving well for his size and bringing heavy hands to bags and opposing defensive tackles. When fully indoctrinated into the position, he'll be a one-man duo block, moving DTs with his powerful upper body on run plays. And his raw strength will allow him to anchor versus rugged opponents in pass protection.
7) Isaiah Williams, WR, Illinois (5-8 7/8, 184)
Williams, Anthony Gould and USC's Tahj Washington all showed great quickness as inside receivers, running out to play the slot when coaches yelled "11! 11!" -- meaning the formation was one running back, one tight end and three receivers. Williams made some nice plays on Tuesday, including grabbing a nice Cover 2 beater above his head while running down the left sideline. He was effective in the red zone (as referenced in Austin Reed's write-up above) and working the middle of the field, as well, portending an active role on offense early in his career. Williams' experience as a punt returner also showed when he deftly fielded kicks during practice.
8) Dadrion Taylor-Demerson, S, Texas Tech (5-10, 189)
DTD's measurements may not wow scouts, but underestimate him at your peril, just like similarly sized NFL starters Damontae Kazee and Jordan Whitehead. He lined up deep during team play on Tuesday, looking natural while reading and attacking the run and getting to the sideline from the middle of the field without an issue. Earlier in the week, Taylor-Demerson took on Virginia WR Malik Washington and other slot receivers without much of an issue and had a pick-six, plucking the ball from the air and running to the end zone to the delight of his teammates.
9) Mason Fairchild, TE, Kansas (6-3 3/4, 248)
Fairchild was a reliable starting tight end for the Jayhawks for years -- and he looks like a strong H-back prospect for the NFL. He showed himself to be a smooth mover with some notable quickness for a 248-pounder standing up off the line this week, displaying the ability to separate from safeties and linebackers down the seam. Fairchild is a natural hands-catcher, regularly extending away from his frame on Tuesday and tucking the ball away. On Monday, he dove for a pass going out of bounds and also gave his quarterback a big target off a play-action bootleg for an easy score. He's no longer an under-the-radar prospect.
-- Some information gathered from wire sources.