The Senior Bowl is without a doubt the premier post-season NFL Draft preparation game, but the Shrine Game is a close second. The Shrine Game takes place Saturday, the 19th, at 4 PM, and will happen inside Tropicana Field in St. Pete. This means it’s right in the Buccaneers back yard, so what players should the Bucs brass look for when they cross the Howard Frankland to head to the home of the Rays? Here are some players to watch for:
Christine Michael, RB, Texas A&M
According to Walter Football, the Buccaneers have been keeping an eye on the Aggie running back during Shrine Game practices, so this is certainly a name to keep in mind as we delve deeper into draft season. Michael has not been the most durable of players in his career at college station, but he boasts an impressive frame combined with good skill. He is 5’11 and 215 pounds, and uses his size and strength well. According to his NFL.com Draft profile, he compared well to Rashard Mendenhall, which at the time of the profile was more of a compliment than it is now, but also speaks to his durability concerns. In the 13 games he played in his sophomore and junior seasons, he combined for over 1500 yards and 12 scores, and in 2012 he carried for 417 yards and 12 scores in a much, much different offensive system dominated by Johnny Manziel.
What to watch for: Michael seems to be decent but not great in many areas as a running back. Watch specifically to see if his burst of speed and hard running stands up in the Shrine Game. Also watch his potential involvement in the passing game, as pass blocking for a running back is a make-or-break skill as they make the transition to the NFL.
Jasper Collins, WR, Mount Union
Collins could be the next Mount Union star to move on to the NFL and make an immediate impact, following in the footsteps of Pierre Garcon and Cecil Shorts. Collins is a quick, dynamic playmaker who put up incredible numbers this season, logging almost 1700 yards and 22 scores in 15 games. Collins is not tiny, but lacks the size to dominate any defensive backs. But he is quick, shifty, and knows how to get open and become a big play option. Much like Shorts and Garcon in the years before him, Jasper comes from a very, very high powered offense that allowed Collins to flourish and be the star. The Purple Raiders have proven to be a fertile ground for cultivating NFL wideouts, and Collins is more than likely to be the next in line.
What to watch for: See how he matches up against Division I talent on defense. Remember that the quarterback class is weak, and ignore his likely inability to make big plays as a result of poor quarterback play. Instead, focus on his speed, route running, and ability to gain separation from DB’s.
Brandon Mcgee, CB, University of Miami
McGee was a part of a ‘Canes defense that did not impress in 2012, but McGee is looking to prove that he’s not the one to blame. Brandon is an athlete, playing multiple positions in high school, and finally settling in at corner for The U. He’s not large or imposing, and likely would struggle at first in the role of starting corner for the Buccaneers considering the current system. However, he could certainly find a job as a 3rd corner with the Buccaneers, and possibly develop into the kind of corner Coach Schiano could rely on to start. The biggest problem with McGee is consistency, so if he does wind up as a Buccaneer, you can be sure it’s because he showed Dominik and Schiano that he’s focused on becoming a better player, and they believed him.
What to watch for: See how physical he plays against wide receivers. The Buccaneers current defense calls for a corner who is able to play in the run game and also be left alone on an island from time to time. If McGee can show a willingness to tackle, he will shoot up the Buccaneer draft board.
Brandan Bishop, FS, NC State
Bishop has been extremely productive during his time at NC State, proving to be a solid tackler who plays the run well, and also showing the ability to react well on passing plays. He totaled 103 tackles and 3 interceptions in his senior season, and would be the kind of player who could play either safety position in the NFL until he developed into a starter. His willingness and ability to track down a ball carrier makes him a viable strong safety, but his vision and reaction combined with a solid range make him an option at free safety. He lacks the measurable numbers to stand out as an elite athlete, but he has the leadership and football acumen to be the kind of player Coach Schiano could depend on to “do his job”
What to watch for: See if Bishop is ever caught out by his lack of athleticism. He’s certainly not slow, but he doesn’t have the straight-line speed to make up for mistakes. Jasper Collins will be on the other team, so he will be challenged. Bishop could be the kind of scrappy player to make an NFL roster even if he’s not drafted, but a positive performance this weekend could catapult him into the late rounds of the draft.
R.J. Dill, OT, Rutgers
The obvious connection to Coach Schiano is the first hint that Dill might be a player to watch at the Shrine Game. But Dill has a massive frame at 6’6” and 316 pounds, and has been a mainstay for the Scarlet Knight offensive line, making start after start at tackle. Offensive linemen are the most difficult to get a good read on without breaking down tons of film, but the fact that he was named to All-Conference teams and started every game over a long stretch of time leads me to believe he’s got skill to go along with his size.
What to watch for: Just give Dill the eye test. Does he hold up against pass rushers? He seems to lack in athleticism, so watch and see if he is able to overcome that weakness with positioning and strength. Dill could be a valuable addition to the offensive line rotation, especially if he can use his size to play a guard position as well.
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