|Bradley Leeb / USA Today Sports|
|Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo had an FCS-best 5,050 passing yards with 53 TDs and nine interceptions.|
The East-West Shrine Game is one of the marquee events on the calendar of NFL scouts. Evaluators relish the opportunity to see several of college football's top players display their wares under the guidance of current and former NFL coaches. Although evaluators are taught to keep the performances in perspective because of the challenges of adjusting to a new playbook and complex schemes, there is something about watching a player shine in practices against evenly matched peers that resonates in the mind of scouts.
With that in mind, I decided to take a trip to St. Petersburg to see which players stand out in this year's class. Here are some thoughts after watching the first day of workouts:
Scouts closely watching Garoppolo, Matthews
The East squad features an interesting collection of quarterbacks, with Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch, Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo and Cornell's Jeff Matthews.
While Lynch has become a household name following strong senior campaign that culminated in a third-place finish in the Heisman Trophy race, the scouts are paying close attention to the play of Garoppolo and Matthews this week. Each has created a buzz in scouting circles with their domination of small-school competition, but evaluators wonder if their production translates into legitimate pro potential. Talking to a well-respected AFC West personnel director, he told me that he would rank Garoppolo as the leader of the pack based on early returns at practice. He cited the Eastern Illinois star's quick release and athleticism as strong points; he also praised his judgment and diagnosis of coverage.
For Matthews, the long-time executive pointed out his arm strength and size as positive traits. Although Matthews failed to throw consistent spirals during the first workout, the ball certainly traveled with enough pace. He squeezed a few throws into tight windows but also displayed touch and trajectory on intermediate routes outside the numbers. Of course, Matthews' ball placement varied because of his inconsistent footwork and mechanics, but he definitely has the arm talent to play in the NFL.
As far as Lynch, it appears the Huskies' star is destined to make a position change at the next level. He simply lacks the passing skills to excel in a pro-style offense, making him a long shot to earn more than a free agent look as a quarterback. When I asked several scouts about a position change for Lynch, most suggested running back, but I came across a few evaluators who envisioned him as a possible safety. With a full week of work in front of a legion of scouts, Lynch is auditioning to be a versatile offensive playmaker as a pro.
Baylor TE could move up draft boards
Baylor's Jordan Najvar earned late-round consideration from most scouts in the Southwest region, but his strong play in practice this week could cement his status as a Day 3 prospect.
Scouts raved about Najvar's size and athleticism during visits in the fall, but he has been more impressive to watch in person. He flashed strong movement skills, agility and body control running routes inside the numbers. Najvar snagged a pair of difficult grabs on deep crossing patterns that showcased his athleticism and ball skills in traffic.
While a few impressive catches aren't enough to sway the opinion of evaluators, the fact that Najvar easily adjusted to the off-target passes suggested that he could thrive as a big-bodied pass catcher in the middle of the field. With a few more standout performance, Najvar could send evaluators racing to their computers to alter their grades.
Toledo's Reedy stars in drills
It's only one practice, but Toledo's Bernard Reedy is already turning heads as a potential slot receiver. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound standout was the star of individual drills, with his superb balance, body control and burst. He was nearly indefensible in competitive drills, displaying exceptional agility and short area quickness. Additionally, Reedy showed strong hands and ball skills snagging balls on in-breaking routes between the hashes.
Of course, scouts will want to see if Reedy can continue to shine with the pads on -- Monday's practice was conducted in shorts and t-shirts -- but Reedy has certainly created a buzz.
Spartans LB Bullough must explain suspension
Former Michigan State LB Max Bullough will face intense questioning from scouts this week after missing the Rose Bowl because of a team suspension. Scouts will want to know the reason behind his dismissal, given his importance to the Spartans as the unquestioned leader of the defense.
Additionally, evaluators will want to see if Bullough is forthcoming about his role in the dismissal. They will also check to see if his story lines up with the version issued by the coaching staff and administrators when they research the issue further at Michigan State's Pro Day.
With character playing an increased role in the evaluation process due to the NFL's stringent personal conduct policy, Bullough must convince evaluators that his undisclosed transgression isn't part of a negative pattern of behavior that could undermine his position as a potential leader on a team.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.