Saturday's East-West Shrine Game, held in St. Petersburg and televised by NFL Network, is the first step in the postseason NFL draft process. More than 100 players are selected based on their potential to make an NFL roster with the consensus of all 32 NFL teams taken into consideration. They get their chance to leave an impression with NFL scouts every year, showing off their athleticism against top-level competition while proving to league personnel men that they can take coaching and absorb new information in a short period of time.
Even among the best college football players in the country, league general managers and scouts have special interest in a few prospects with something to prove in an all-star game. It could be someone expecting to make a position change in the NFL, lacking great size or speed but still quite productive, adjusting to a higher level of competition after starring in FBS, Division II or Division III, or showing off their athleticism that wasn't always utilized to its fullest in their offense or defense.
Here are the top 10 players most intriguing to NFL scouts in this year's Shrine Game:
1. Keenan Reynolds, RB, Navy: The FBS all-time career leader in touchdowns, rushing touchdowns, and rushing yards by a quarterback is making the official move to the running back spot for the Shrine Game. Considering he ran twice as often as he threw as the Midshipmen's quarterback (977 rushes versus 462 passes), some could argue this isn't really a position change. He showed toughness and agility as a runner in the triple-option throughout his four years in Annapolis, but the Heisman candidate will have to show scouts he can find holes and take advantage of them in a pro-style offense.
2. Vernon Adams, Jr., QB, Oregon: Anyone who watched the Ducks this year knows that the team was completely different with anyone other than Adams leading the way (see their Alamo Bowl loss to TCU). He learned Oregon's offense quickly after coming over from Eastern Washington for his final collegiate season, gaining the respect of his teammates right off the bat. He kept that respect by trying to play through injuries multiple times. Adams is not a run-first passer by any means, can calmly look for second and third options in the pocket, delivers an accurate and catchable ball, and has a very good arm. If he can become a leader of his teammates in a short practice week and stick in the pocket to make NFL-caliber throws to receivers with whom he's just met, teams will have an even higher regard for his skills.
3. Devon Cajuste, WR/TE, Stanford: This large receiver (6-foot-4, 227 pounds) wasn't utilized as much as he could have been by the Cardinal this year -- partially because they needed to feed Christian McCaffrey as much as possible. But when given the chance to shine, Cajuste did just that; he made five catches for 125 yards and a touchdown against Notre Dame. Much like last year's second-round pick, Devin Funchess, Cajuste is destined for the Y-spot in an NFL offense, utilizing his height and hands over the middle and in the red zone. A strong finish to a good week in St. Pete, along with strong workouts at the NFL Scouting Combine, could cement a top-100 draft grade.
4. Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina State: This two-time Associated Press FBS All-American had 29.5 sacks and 45.5 tackles for loss the past two seasons for the Bulldogs. A strong performance by Hargrave attacking gaps and holding the point when necessary could take Hargrave from intriguing small-school star to valued mid-round interior defender.
5. Paul McRoberts, WR, Southeast Missouri State: Another exceptional talent at the FCS level, McRoberts (6-3, 197) displays quickness off the line and excellent hands and concentration to high point passes. He's scored nine times in each of the last three seasons, catching the attention of NFL scouts. McRoberts and similarly sized UMass receiver Tajae Sharpe had their hands full with talented cornerbacks such as Brian Poole (Florida) and D.J. White (Georgia Tech) during practice, so they're getting a chance to prove their ability to be physical on short routes and gain separation downfield.
6. Nate Sudfeld, QB, Indiana: In some ways, Sudfeld is a known quantity to NFL scouts. He started parts of two seasons and then stayed healthy as a senior, earning consensus third-team All-Big Ten honors (3,573 passing yards, 27 TD, 7 INT). However, passers such as Sudfeld with NFL size (6-6, 240), arm strength, and some mobility will be highly scrutinized at an all-star game. In a quarterback class full of question marks, a good week for Sudfeld could push him up boards for at least a couple of teams looking for a future starter.
7. James Cowser, DE, Southern Utah: The Thunderbirds have relied on Cowser to bring the heat off the edge for four years. He produced 42.5 sacks during his career among his 80 tackles for loss, using strength and hustle to dominate lesser tackles at the FCS level. If he regularly beats East team tackles Brandon Shell (South Carolina), Keith Lumpkin (Rutgers), Taylor Fallin (Memphis) and Fahn Cooper (Ole Miss), scouts will believe he can make a significant contribution on Sundays.
8. Darion Griswold, TE, Arkansas State: The Red Wolves ranked 85th in the FBS with 207 passing yards per game in 2015, so it's not really a surprise that he had just 13 catches and 187 yards and two scores. Given the growing importance of athletic tight ends in the NFL game, however, Griswold has a great opportunity to show off strong hands and agility in drills and scrimmages throughout practice week.
9. Stephane Nembot, OT, Colorado: One of the more interesting personal stories in the draft class, Nembot (name-bot) grew up in Cameroon and came to America to play basketball. But as his frame filled out (6-7, 315), it was clear that the offensive line was where he belonged. He took over at left tackle for the Buffaloes halfway through his senior year after playing on the right side for two-plus seasons. No matter where the Shrine Game coaches line him up, scouts who haven't seen his rangy frame and tenacity as a run blocker should be colored impressed.
10. Aaron Wallace, LB, UCLA: Heading into his senior season, the son of long-time NFL linebacker Aaron Wallace, Sr. had started just two games for the Bruins. But with the Bruins suffering injuries at the position, including the loss of star defender Myles Jack, Wallace found himself on the first team. He stepped up his game with 12.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks, looking the part of a Sam 'backer able to play the edge with strength and track down the ball in the pocket. Wallace's lack of playing time on defense doesn't give scouts much film to review, so they'll take full advantage of a week's worth of access to his talent.