The East-West Shrine Game has a proud history of giving former college players a platform to showcase their wares in front of NFL scouts.
Even though underclassmen have taken over the draft in the past 10 to 15 years and the Senior Bowl often gets the best prospects who have completed their eligibility (or at least earned a degree), pro teams are indeed able to find immediate contributors at the Shrine Game.
The 2018 Shrine Game produced a number of draft picks who made impressions in the NFL this season, including DL P.J. Hall (a Round 2 pick of the Oakland Raiders), S Tracy Walker (Round 3, Detroit Lions), WR DaeSean Hamilton (Round 4, Denver Broncos), LB Kenny Young (Round 4, Baltimore Ravens), CB Avonte Maddox (Round 4, Philadelphia Eagles), RB Chase Edmonds (Round 4, Arizona Cardinals), DL Bilal Nichols (Round 5, Chicago Bears) and RB Justin Jackson (Round 7, Los Angeles Chargers). And even though he wasn't selected in the 2018 NFL Draft, DL Poona Ford contributed in Year 1, earning steady playing time for the Seattle Seahawks.
So, who are the top prospects in this year's Shrine Game? With practices going on all week in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the game set for Saturday at Tropicana Field at 3 p.m. ET (live on NFL Network), here are 10 players to keep an eye on (presented in alphabetical order):
Paul Adams, OT, Missouri: An underrated lineman despite playing in the SEC, Adams projects as a starting right tackle at the next level. He possesses the requisite toughness and size to handle NFL defenders, and he can move well enough to be effective as a zone blocker. Even if Adams does not get selected until Saturday of draft weekend, he'll play early.
Jordan Brailford, DE/LB, Oklahoma State: Though he was a junior in terms of eligibility when he left OSU, Brailford was a fifth-year player due to two redshirt seasons. He played all over the field for the Cowboys in 2018, lining up at both ends and all three linebacker positions. Brailford's best spot is as a pass rusher, which is always in short supply come the second or third round of the draft. A strong week using his length and consistent motor to attack quarterbacks off the edge in St. Pete will cement his stock as a worthy second-tier prospect.
Blace Brown, CB, Troy: Despite suffering a knee injury in the final regular-season contest of the 2017 season, Brown played in every game as a senior. He has a chance to show he's fully back from the injury during Shrine Game practices, and that his ball skills (12 career interceptions, including one that sealed Troy's upset win over LSU two seasons ago) and physicality are worthy of a mid-round selection.
Jordan Ellis, RB, Virginia: Rookie running backs can make an impact in the right situation. Ellis might not be a big name nationally, but he will hit the line in a hurry and power through tacklers to get important yards. He's also a willing blocker who can pick up oncoming blitzers, which means he could see the field on second and third downs more often than a typical rookie.
Justin Hollins, LB, Oregon: Long and lean at 6-foot-5, Hollins looks the part of a Sam linebacker. While not elite in his pass-rush ability, he will get after the quarterback with a secondary rush. He also sets the edge effectively in the run game and is able to shed to wrap up ball carriers coming into his area. Proving to scouts he possesses the agility to handle coverage responsibilities will earn him the respect he deserves.
Michael Jackson Sr., CB, Miami (FL): Entering the 2018 college season, Jackson was expected to be among the top senior corners in the country. It's a bit of a surprise that he's at the Shrine Game, as he has the size and length (6-1, 205 pounds) to be an effective press corner at the next level. If Jackson shows better foot quickness and ball skills than expected this week (and if he excels at the NFL Scouting Combine), he could compete for a top-80 selection.
Donnie Lewis Jr., CB, Tulane: Lewis is a tough-minded corner who, while lacking great size, is not afraid to mix it up with any receiver. Opposing quarterbacks who looked his way at the start of a play often had to go to their second option because Lewis was in his man's pocket.
Delvon Randall, S, Temple: Opposing offenses had to account for Randall on every play over the past three seasons. He was a physical player against the run, pounded ball carriers in coverage, wrapped up guys in space and posted 12 interceptions -- including a spectacular one-handed grab against South Florida in November.
Matt Sokol, TE, Michigan State: Pay no attention to Sokol's receiving statistics in 2018 (eight receptions, 100 yards, one score). While not as dynamic an athlete as former Iowa Hawkeye and current San Francisco 49ers star George Kittle, Sokol is similar in that he has more receiving talent than his college production indicates. Sokol also has experience as a blocker in a pro-style system and can be a reliable move-the-chains pass catcher as a rookie.
Armon Watts, DT, Arkansas: Watts' best football is ahead of him. He did not contribute heavily with the Razorbacks until his senior season, but NFL scouts already see an athletic lineman able to wreak havoc anywhere between the tackles. Teams will be intrigued by the bend and agility he shows during Shrine Game practices, and coaches will find a way to get him on the field in sub packages as a rookie.