The All-Star game season has concluded for another year, and it means that the NFL Draft prep season is truly underway. Although there are multiple prospect venues to attend the Big 3 are the SENIOR BOWL, SHRINE BOWL & HULA BOWL in that order of relative importance to the 2024 Draft.
I must first mention that there are personnel overlaps with players accepting multiple game invites. And of course, there are a serious number of top prospects who do not attend any of these venues. But I can almost guarantee you that over half of the players drafted at the end of April will have been at one or more of these venues.
Pigskin’s All-Star Game Superlatives (Part 1)
The HULA BOWL which originated and has spent most of its existence in Hawaii was moved to Orlando, FL in recent years, due in part to reconstruction of the main football stadium in the Aloha State. But some feel it is not headed back that way any time soon. Let me just say that the bulk of players who stood out here were headed to either Shrine or Senior Bowl venues directly following the Hula Bowl game.
So just for the sake of avoiding a long dissertation in this space, I will list alphabetically the players who stood out in Orlando and the game they moved on to.
EMANI BAILEY RB TCU Senior Bowl
KHRISTIAN BOYD DT N. Iowa Shrine Bowl
CARTER BRADLEY QB South Alabama Senior Bowl
JALEN COKER WR Holy Cross Shrine Bowl
CARLTON JOHNSON CB Fresno State Senior Bowl
DARIUS MUASAU LB UCLA Shrine Bowl
JACKSON MITCHELL LB UConn Shrine Bowl
ISAAC REX TE BYU Shrine Bowl
ERIC WATTS DE/ER UConn Senior Bowl
The final name for this list was the best pro prospect in this game, and I will say more about him in my Shrine Game wrap, where he also stood out…BLAKE WATSON RB Memphis 5’095/187
It should be noted that in part because of the early nature of this game, the Hula Bowl venue was NOT granted permission to recruit the Underclassmen Group that was made available to the Shrine & Senior Bowls. Scouting efforts for this game have improved greatly since the move to mainland U.S. and this year was a testament to that concept.
The SHRINE BOWL moved its game venue again this year heading to The Star in Arlington, Texas home of the Cowboys and part of the Jerry World complex. I would guesstimate that as many as 25 players from this game will be drafted in the 2024 NFL Draft. It might even be more than that depending upon how well some of their invited players perform at the NFL Combine.
Let’s talk just a bit about the top performers with the pro potential of those who saw action in Texas.
To my eyes, two of the top performers in this game were smallish, but explosive RB prospects.
#3 FRANK GORE, Jr Southern Miss 5’071″/199
A top measured speed of 19.79 mph. He is indeed the son of an NFL vet, and potential Hall of Fame, of the same name. Once we get past 20 mph we are usually talking about elite-level speed. GORE just misses that speed limit, but has unquestioned bursts and the quicks that make him hard to knock down and/or catch up to. He burst through a hole in the line on his team’s first possession of the game and sprinted to the end zone. I see him as a solid mid-round Draftee to improve depth in some NFL teams’ RB room.
#22 BLAKE WATSON MEMPHIS 5’093/189
Top speed of 20.58 mph, which was 5th fastest in this game’s 100-plus rostered players. He’s a former WR, bringing receiving skills to the team drafting him.
Let’s take a look at Watson’s production at each game. In the Hula Bowl, he carried the ball 7 times for 71 yards, 10.1 ypc. He caught 0 Balls on 1 target. In the Shrine Bowl, he carried 12 times for 46 yards, @ 3.8 ypc. But he was targeted 6 times on passes and caught all 6 balls for 65 yards @ 10.8 yards/catch. The two-game efforts demonstrate what a dual-threat player WATSON could be as a pro.
#4 MALIK WASHINGTON WR/RS VirginIa 5’084/192
This little receiver is an absolute stick of dynamite once he makes a catch in the open field. He chose NOT to play in the game but was a star in practices leading up to it. Another likely Pick on Day 3.
#73 CHRIS MAHOGANY OG Boston College 6’024/318
This guy is an earth mover in blocking for the run game. He also shows enough mobility and footwork to develop into a pass pro and an NFL starter. He might slip into the late 3rd Round, but as long as his Combine is solid, Round 4/5 range seems to be a sure thing.
#8 MYLES MURPHY DT UNC 6’037/312
This MURPHY is not to be confused with the DE/ER Myles Murphy from Clemson who was drafted early last year by the Bengals. This guy is an inline plugger, but he caught my eye with his lateral movement along the lines of scrimmage and his burst into the pocket with power. He looks like a rotational player on the Interior of the DL.
#37 QWAN’TEZ STIGGERS CB/DB CFL 5’114/203
This is the young man who was the CFL Defensive Rookie of the Year last season in Toronto. His resume’ contains no record of playing college ball. He played CB in this game and looked fast enough and physical enough to play at the NFL Level. He may be best suited for Safety, south of the border in the NFL, but certainly could play multiple roles, in various secondary sub-packages. His clocking of 19.93 mph would mark him as a fast Safety. He looked like an early Day 3 Draftee to me in the Shrine venue.
Some other names to look for at the Combine from this game are
MO KAMARA ER Colorado St
JALEN COKER WR Holy Cross
MASON McCormick OG South Dakota St
GARRET GREENFIELD OT South Dakota St
SUNDIATA ANDERSON ER/DE Grambling St
FABIEN LOVETT DT Florida St
DYLAN McMAHON OC N.C. State
DADRION TAYLOR-DEMERSON S Texas Tech
OTHER SHRINE NOTES
Perhaps the most disappointing scouting outcome from this venue was the lack of any QB rising to the occasion for Draft consideration. At least to my eyes, I am not seeing any of the 6 QB in this game being drafted, though almost all of them could be on Training Camp NFL rosters next Summer. I also hope that at least a couple of them will find their way to the UFL next month to work on their skills at a “Developmental League” level.
The Loser in this game would appear to be the Shriners and their historic game venue, which will hit 100 years old next January… I hope. It sure looks like the whole concept for Football All-Star games is facing a hard transition period if they are to stay alive.
The facilities are top notch at The Star but paid attendance was listed at 8,000. I am not sure exactly what the Shriners are searching for with all their movement of their game’s locations in recent years, but that attendance figure looks close to what they drew in Orlando for games, as opposed to the 20,000+ attendance in St. Pete, Florida at the Trop once they left Orlando.
IMPROVING THE SHRINE
Unless the Texas organizers are paying them an appearance fee for the game I don’t get why they do not move back to the St.Petersburg/Tampa area. Last I knew the Shrine International headquarters were still in Tampa Bay. I have sadly referred to the Shriners and their Bowl Game venue as a Band of Gypsies with their constant movement of the game around the country in this century.
I also think they should move the game back to a Saturday game-day venue, not a Thursday night. The weekend before the Senior Bowl was a good slot for them, and it was on a weekend when the only NFL games were played on Sunday, leaving them with Saturday for their Bowl Game alone, without competing with college Bowl Games or actual NFL games.
Enough with my editorializing. Look for my Senior Bowl wrap in a couple of days..