This Saturday, the East-West Shrine Game will take place at the Trop, the home of the Tampa Bay Rays. Most people think of the Senior Bowl as the one and only postseason all-star game and it's the one most players want an invitation to attend. But, the Shrine Game has been good to the Texans the past few seasons.
Last year's game included future Texans LSU RB Kenny Hilliard, Bowie State TE Khari Lee (subsequently traded to the Bears), Michigan State WR Keith Mumphery and Toledo C Greg Mancz. The previous year's game included current starting safety Andre Hal from Vanderbilt, Michigan State ILB Max Bullough and two players the Texans signed as undrafted college free agents - former Texans Bloomsburg's own Matt Feiler and North Dakota State CB Marcus Williams.
So, as this year's game nears and the week of practices come to a close, there's bound to be a future Texan in this game. Here are a few names to watch a little closer than others this weekend; the game will be on NFL Network at 3 PM CST.
DT Javon Hargrave, South Carolina State (6-2, 295) - this guy is all butt and legs...and he's one explosively quick interior disruptor. He's been near unblockable in practices this week and he caught my eye back in September. I've seen this guy completely wreck shop in the MEAC and that's continued this week in Tampa. He might not fit the Texans defensive scheme, but the Texans scheme is versatile enough to match Hargrave's varied skill set.
WR Tajae Sharpe, U Mass (6-2, 188) - plenty of analysts/scouts are worried about his tiny hands (under eight inches) but when I studied him last summer and early this fall, Sharpe caught everything thrown his way. He's not the biggest guy in the world, but he's a definite deep ball threat, small hands notwithstanding. The hands "thing" will honestly turn some teams off but it's clear when a guy can play. He can.
WR Robby Anderson, Temple (6-3, 180) - similar to Sharpe in a number of different ways, Anderson's a circus catch waiting to happen. For the same reasons as Sharpe, he may not be thought of as a physical marvel, but, like Sharpe, this guy can ball out.
FB Derek Watt, Wisconsin (6-2, 234)** - wait, a second...Watt...from Wisconsin? Yep, J.J's brother. Fullback isn't a position that gets a ton of love, but you know you want to see J.J's brother in the game. He's not a gimmick either and will find a spot on special teams at a minimum in the league.
RB Josh Ferguson, Illinois (5-10, 196) - of all the running backs at the Shrine Game, Ferguson has put together the best work according to most in Tampa. He was injured and missed three games in the 2015 season, but he averaged 5.5 yards per carry, which led the Illini. He can catch the ball out of the backfield (137 receptions his last three seasons), but he's got some juice to and through holes at the line of scrimmage. Whooo, he can scoot.
TE Darion Griswold, Arkansas State (6-3, 253) - quite frankly, this isn't a loaded tight end class and with Evan Engram (Ole Miss) and O.J. Howard (Alabama) returning to school, it's even thinner than expected. That makes Griswold a hotter commodity than in most years, but his skills stand on their own. He doesn't look 253 lb., that's for sure but he'll mix it up in the blocking game. He had only 26 receptions combined the past two years, but he's an athlete who lines up at a number of different spots along the offensive formation.
OLB/DE Victor Ochi, Stony Brook (6-1, 244) - he doesn't seemingly fit the profile for a Texans OLB but I just want you to watch this Tasmanian Devil out on the edge. RE-LENT-LESS. He has 33.5" arms and an 82" wingspan, which means he's LOOONG. He's just learning how to unleash his toolbox too but, man, he's fun to watch.
S Justin Simmons, Boston College (6-3, 198) - I noticed Simmons last spring watching another Boston College defender. He's long and wiry and consistently finds the football. Not to mention, he'll run down on special teams, in addition to finding a role on defense. Love everything about the way he plays safety.
CB/Returner V'Angelo Bentley, Illinois (5-8, 188) - his dimensions work against him as a perimeter cornerback in the future, but in this spot, I'm really only interested in him as a return man on both punts and kickoffs. He averaged well over ten yards per punt return. He had a return for a TD v. Ohio State as a sophomore in 2013. He could be a nickel CB candidate, but he's electric on returns and something the Texans have honestly lacked since the days of Jacoby Jones.
I could talk about the entire roster on either side, but figured it was best to just give you an idea of a few key guys to watch this Saturday.