Ten intriguing East-West Shrine Game prospects to watch


The East-West Shrine Game doesn't carry the same scouting-circles cachet as the Reese's Senior Bowl, but the game still features some good talent.

Practices began Monday for the event, and the game is Saturday on NFL Network.

Last year's Shrine Game had, among others, Missouri offensive tackle Justin Britt (now with the Seattle Seahawks), Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (New England Patriots), Penn State guard John Urschel (Baltimore Ravens) and Pittsburg (Kan.) State wide receiver John Brown (Arizona Cardinals).

Here is a look at 10 intriguing prospects to watch in this year's Shrine Game:

TE Gerald Christian, Louisville

He began his career at Florida, but transferred after realizing then-Gators coaches didn't do a whole lot with their tight ends. Christian (6-foot-3, 250 pounds) needs work on his blocking, but is a good athlete with OK speed and can get deep on occasion. Christian is one of three former star high school tight ends from Palm Beach County, Fla., in this draft, joining Florida State's Nick O'Leary and Miami's Clive Walford, and his upside might be the best.

QB Devin Gardner, Michigan

He had a checkered career at Michigan and will be a wide receiver at the Shrine Game; he played some receiver for the Wolverines when Denard Robinson was quarterback. (Also at the Shrine Game is Oklahoma TE Blake Bell, who was converted from quarterback before his senior season.)

LB Ben Heeney, Kansas

He was a great college player on a cruddy college team. Still, he can play. His lack of height (he is listed at 6-foot-0) hurts, but he has great instincts and always seems to be around the ball.

OT Sean Hickey, Syracuse

He had an inconsistent final season and likely dropped on draft boards. But his versatility -- he might fit best inside in the NFL -- is appealing, as is that he played well as a junior in 2013.

WR Austin Hill, Arizona

Big (6-3 and 212 pounds) and physical, he missed the 2013 season with torn ACL after having a huge 2012 season. He returned this season but not quite at same level. His dad, David, was an NFL tight end for 12 years. He also had two uncles play in the NFL.

DT Chucky Hunter, TCU

He was a highly productive nose tackle for the Horned Frogs and is a load to handle in the middle. He is strong: 520-pound bench, 460-pound clean and a 750-squat for two reps.

S Tevin McDonald, Eastern Washington

McDonald (5-11, 200) started as a freshman and sophomore at UCLA before he was dismissed from school. His younger brother, T.J., was a rookie safety with the St. Louis Rams this season; he was selected in the third round by the Rams out of USC. Their dad is Tim McDonald, a former longtime NFL safety.

TE Wes Saxton, South Alabama

This is not a great draft class for tight ends, but Saxton (6-4, 235) is a good athlete who was underutilized in the Jaguars' offense. He played high school ball with Jameis Winston and is a cousin of former longtime NFL RB Tony Nathan.

CB Josh Shaw, USC

Shaw went into fall camp considered one of the best defensive players in the Pac-12. He then suffered an ankle injury. Originally, he told USC officials that he was injured jumping off a balcony to save a drowning nephew; USC publicized his heroics on the school's website. Actually, Shaw jumped off the balcony to avoid police after an argument with his girlfriend. He was suspended by the school as the police investigated a possible domestic-violence situation; no charges were filed. Shaw played in the final three games of the season and was defensive MVP of the Holiday Bowl.

DE Za'Darius Smith, Kentucky

Fellow Wildcats DE Bud Dupree got most of the notice, but Smith is a good prospect, too. He played just one season of high school football before moving on to a junior college and then Kentucky. He is 6-6 and 265, and should be able to add weight and bulk easily. Smith had 10.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss and 119 tackles in his two seasons with the Wildcats, and his upside is intriguing because of his lack of experience.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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