With the coaching staff now set for the Dallas Cowboys, now the business of free agency and scouting talent for the Draft can begin in earnest. As we saw this season, getting significant contributions from later round draft choices and undrafted free agents is critical to withstand the grind of a championship season. And that starts with the East/West Shrine Game. The East/West Shrine Game is for smaller school guys and players not invited to the more prestigious Senior Bowl to show their stuff and hopefully catch the eye of some NFL scouts. This year’s game was not a compelling watch as the quarterback crop in the game was marginal NFL talent at best, resulting in a low scoring affair dominated by the play of the offensive and defensive lines. Here’s a few of the players who stood out:
John Crocket, RB, North Dakota St
Fresh off a college career of 4,309 yards, 42 TDs and 3 straight FCS Championships, Crockett needed to prove he could compete versus a higher caliber of competition and he held his own. Showing nice burst both in practice and the game and an above average competence for pass blocking, Crockett greatly improved his chances to get drafted in a very deep RB class.
Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee, RB, LSU
Both LSU RBs, Hilliard and Magee, had a nice week and will gain consideration as a rotational back like Alfred Blue for the Texans. Hilliard impressed me more as a great fit for a zone-blocking one-cut offense while Magee displayed some nice hands and tough running.
Tre McBride, WR, William & Mary
McBride was easily the best WR during practices this week. While not overly big (6’0” 205lbs) or fast, his great route-running and consistent hands is likely to get his name called during the draft at some point.
Blake Bell, TE, Oklahoma
Making the switch from QB to TE, Bell showed some surprisingly soft hands and nice route running this week. While his blocking still leaves a lot to be desired, Bell’s willingness to get his nose in there shows enough promise to get him drafted as a project on Day 3.
BJ Finney, C, Kansas State
Perhaps no one helped himself at this year’s Shrine Game more than former walk-on Finney. Whether taking on nose tackles, helping on pass protection or consistently delivering the snap, Finney drew praise from almost every scout or commentator and could rise as high as the 3rd or 4th round.
John Miller, G, Louisville
During the telecast, Mike Mayock singled out Miller several times in both his run and pass blocking. Showing a solid anchor, good strength and quality balance, Miller could also rise into the 3rd/4th round range.
Jamon Brown, OT, Louisville
Lining up right next to his college teammate, Brown’s size was more impressive than his play. At 6’6” 328lbs Brown has all the physical tools but will need some work on technique versus speed rushers to develop into a starter at Right Tackle. That being said, he is a solid value pick on Day 3 of the Draft.
Anthony Chickillo, DE, Miami
After being a highly regarded prep recruit, Chickillo spent his time at Miami playing Defensive End in their 3-4 scheme and was not very productive in it. During Shrine Week, Chickillo played strong side DE in a 4-3 and dominated play during the game, showing nice burst and a strong motor. At 6’3” 271lbs, he could be an ideal fit for what the Cowboys need available in the 4th or 5th round.
Za’Darius Smith, DE, Kentucky
Smith played opposite of 1st round talent Alvin Dupree at Kentucky and was overshadowed. But this week allowed Smith to show his skills and he took advantage. Using his long arms and nice explosion, Smith was the Defensive Player of the Game and terrorized every opposing QB for the West.
David Parry, DT, Stanford
Often overshadowed on that vaunted Stanford D, Parry displayed some solid pass rushing skills with speed and strength in practices this week. With good size (6’2” 300lbs) Parry could bump up into Day 3 of the draft.
Xavier Williams, DT, Northern Iowa
Coming from a smaller school, Williams held his own all week in practices looks to be a solid rotational 1 technique that could be had in round 5 or 6.
Bryce Hager, LB, Baylor
Though a bit undersized (6’1” 235lbs), Hager had a quality week of practice and looks like a three down linebacker, though he might need to slide to the weakside in a 4-3. Hager showed a nice nose for the football and would be a highly sought after free agent if he slipped through the draft.
Josh Shaw, CB/S, USC
After drawing the wrong kind of attention prior to the season, Shaw displayed leadership and coverage skills that will cause many to overlook that incident. Shaw is 6’1” 200lbs and could play both corner and safety. This is the perfect type of player for the Cowboys defensive scheme: a zone coverage CB without blazing speed but displays solid ball skills. Guys like this are not coveted by other teams but can turn into a quality starters here (see Richard Sherman in the Seattle system).
Craig Mager, CB, Texas State
Another smaller school kid who had a great week, Mager should fluid hips and route recognition that could have him as a starting nickel corner in the very near future.
Bobby McCain, CB, Memphis
McCain showed not only good coverage skills for a nickel corner but also had a nice kick return in the game. Extra skills in special teams is always a plus in getting drafted.