The East-West Shrine Bowl doesn't have the well known names, for the most part, that the Senior Bowl does. But, being a relative unknown or under the radar player isn't going to make it at the next level.
From this game last year, the Texans drafted former Vanderbilt star CB Andre Hal and signed a couple of players as undrafted free agents. Jaguars WR Allen Hurns had a magnificent rookie season and he played in last year's game and we all know what Arizona Cardinals WR John Brown did this year. All that said, there's value in Florida this week and here are some of the next level prospects to watch this week.
WR Tre McBride, William & Mary (6'1", 205 lb.)
McBride is the rock star of the 2015 Shrine Bowl and apparently had a stellar day one in Florida. He does jaw dropping things with the ball in the air as he high points the ball extremely well. He has a massive catching radius for a guy just a shade over 6'1" and wins most 50/50 balls. A smart, crafty route runner, he'll adjust to the ball in the air. Playing at William & Mary in the Colonial Athletic League, he didn't, obviously, face top competition but in 2013 faced West Virginia and went over WVU defenders twice for deep downfield, big-time catches. Like Arizona Cardinals star rookie WR John Brown, McBride will be a name you'll hear a bunch leading up to Draft Day.
WR Devin Gardner, Michigan (6'4", 216 lb.)
After two years at receiver, Michigan moved Gardner back to quarterback with mixed results. So, the powers that be with the Shrine Bowl invited him to Florida as a receiver. It was clear he wasn't a next level quarterback candidate, but he did show that he could be dynamic with the ball in his hands. An NFL team may have to go on spec with Gardner but there's ability there; it's just a matter of whether he can harness it as a pass catcher at the next level.
CB Cam Thomas, Western Kentucky (6'1", 200 lb.)
Prototype corner size in today's NFL, Thomas will draw eyes immediately. Teams seemingly learned not to test him in 2014. He had ten passes defensed and five interceptions in 2013, but only five passes defensed and two interceptions in 2014. With his size and build, a solid week at the Shrine Bowl and a strong 40 time at the Combine, he's going to be a coveted prospect come May 2015.
DE Darry Waud, Western-University Ontario (6'5", 290 lb.)
Yes, that's Ontario as in the Ontario in Canada. Watching his tape is odd, as it is studying all Canadian prospects, as there are players going in motion all over the place and a 55-yard line. But, Waud's not difficult to find. There's a clear distinction between the haves and have nots in Canadian college football and Waud was clearly dominant for Western. The NFL will go anywhere to find players and the Shrine Bowl may have helped that process bringing Waud to Florida for this week.
DE Davis Tull, UT-Chattanooga (6'5", 240 lb.)
I first learned of Tull a year and a half ago, stumbling on him after he had earned All-Southern Conference honors in 2013. I went to see what I could find on Youtube, clicked play and then saw a whirling, relentless dervish was all over the place. He leapt over blockers. He spun around offensive tackles. He ran off the screen and back in chasing the quarterback. The effort and pass rush acumen are there for sure. He'll need to make the transition to OLB but when he rushes the passer, it doesn't matter where he lines up, he'll get there or die trying. A two time FCS 1st team All-American, Tull is a known commodity throughout FCS but it's time for him to take a step this week in Florida at the Shrine Bowl.
The Dakotas' finest RBs - Zach Zenner, South Dakota State (6', 220 lb.) & John Crockett, North Dakota State (6'1", 215 lb.)
Zenner is a three time FCS 1st Team All-American and is without question one of the most intriguing players in this draft class. Don't be fooled by appearances, this guy can fly and he's a big, powerful back. The speed is legitimate and he ran away from defenses, including when he faced Atlanta Falcons CB Robert Alford when the Falcon was at SELA in 2012.
Crockett arrived at the Shrine Bowl with four FCS championship rings on his resume. He became the bona fide, number one starter in 2014 and starred. He ran for 1,994 yards and 21 TD and caught 30 passes in addition in 16 games. Crockett has another gear and when he gets to the second level, he's a true home run hitter.
C Greg Mancz, Toledo (6'5", 297 lb.)
He was the 2014 Most Valuable Player in the MAC. Not Offensive POY. Not Offensive Lineman of the Year. The conference's player of the year. That's an incredible honor and it showed what the coaches in his conference thought about his contributions. This isn't a great class for centers or interior linemen so Mancz is positioned to be one of the first C/G off the board in April. He'll need a strong week at the Shrine Bowl to solidify that ranking.
Y/Joker Blake Bell, Oklahoma (6'6", 260 lb.)
Many remember Bell as the Belldozer, the Sooners' wildcat power running option at quarterback. But, he moved to tight end in 2014 and may have found his calling at the next level. He's a willing blocker and will improve, in large part because he doesn't shy away from the violence at the line of scrimmage. As such, he just needs a ton of technique work. Having played quarterback all his life, he's got good hands and is athletic. With his athleticism, he could be joker/move guy at the next level. I said this early in the 2014 season, he's an intriguing prospect and the move to tight end saved his college football career and perhaps gave him a professional one.
DT Chucky Hunter, TCU (6'1", 307 lb.)
Stout and quick, Hunter reminds me a bit of former Alabama star DE and current Houston Texan Jeoffrey Pagan. The TCU defense had plenty of stars and well-known All-Americans, but Hunter was the engine driving that unit in the middle of the defense. Not sure if he'll get a chance to show whether he can move out to 3-4 DE and play the 4 / 5 technique, but he's got the feet and quickness to do it.
DE Martin Ifedi, Memphis (6'4", 270 lb.)
Not sure what position suits him best to be honest but he can be disruptive in the middle. I don't think he can be a star edge rusher, but he bends the edge adequately well enough to at least get attention from the NFL scouts on hand. Missed three games this season, yet he still registered nearly ten tackles for a loss. Big week for him in front of NFL personnel.