On Saturday at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, some of the nation’s top NFL Draft prospects went head-to-head in the annual East-West Shrine Game. The West team, coached by Leeman Bennett, went on to beat the East team 28-13.
Both teams had three turnovers in what was a pretty sloppy game. The West squad had more success offensively throwing the ball than the East team, which turned about to be the difference in the game. The East team seemed to have the better roster on paper heading into the game, featuring players such as Pittsburgh running back Ray Graham, South Carolina defensive end Devin Taylor, Rutgers tight end D.C. Jefferson, and Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy. But the West team came up with several clutch plays throughout Saturday evening's contest to come away with the win.
Here are some players who impressed in what was likely their last game action before the NFL Draft in April. WEST TEAMIOWA STATE LB A.J. KLEIN
Klein made multiple nice plays against the East running attack. He did a good job of filling his gaps and connecting on a couple of nice hits. On one play, Klein quickly got to his gap and stood up Pittsburgh running back Ray Graham for a tackle for loss. Overall, the Iowa State linebacker had a good outing and likely made a good impression on those watching.
Klein has a good motor and very good instincts. The Iowa State senior has the versatility to play as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 base defense or an outside linebacker in a 4-3 base defense. Klein was impressive all week and undoubtedly turned some NFL scout's heads over the past week. MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE WR ANTHONY AMOS
Amos scored on a sweep running play where he ran across the formation and received the handoff. He flashed his great speed by getting around the edge and putting the ball in the endzone. The speedy playmaker ran a few nice comeback routes that created a good amount of separation between him and the cornerback.
One of the factors limiting Amos’ draft stock is his size, as he is only 5-foot-11, 186 pounds. His body-type somewhat resembles Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dwayne Harris. Amos did nothing but help his draft stock at the Shrine Game with a solid performance on Saturday combined with an excellent week of workouts. KANSAS STATE CB NIGEL MALONE
The Wildcat cornerback intercepted Louisiana Tech quarterback Colby Cameron in the second quarter. It was a terrible throw by Cameron, but it was still a nice play by Malone to pick off the pass. Malone jumped the comeback route and made a nice play on the football to intercept the pass. He then went on to return the interception for a touchdown. That was Malone’s only big play of the day, but it was a game-changer that sparked the rest of the West squad.
Malone picked off seven passes as a junior. The playmaker then went one to intercept five passes as a senior in 2012. His production speaks for itself. Malone is a good cover corner who can change games with his playmaking ability. He stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 186 pounds.
Malone could be an option for the Buccaneers on day three of the upcoming NFL Draft. The Buccaneers will be looking for secondary help, and Malone won’t take a premium draft pick to acquire. He could provide quality depth and competition to a weak Tampa Bay secondary. UTAH STATE RB KERWYNN WILLIAMS
Williams took over at running back in 2012 after the team lost Robert Turbin to the Seattle Seahawks and Michael Smith to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was outstanding, as he totaled 218 carries for 1,512 yards and 15 touchdowns.
The Aggie running back had an impressive outing at Saturday’s Shrine game. The Utah State back had a nice run to the outside where he showcased his speed and quickness. He juked out the cornerback and got up-field for a first down. Williams later returned a kick for a big gain, showcasing his top-end speed once again.
Williams should be able find a home on an NFL roster. He’s a great utility man that could be used in the passing game, screen passing game, running game, and on special teams. Reports coming out from this week’s practices said that Williams also impressed in pass-protection drills despite his diminutive stature (5-8, 189).EAST TEAMSOUTH CAROLINA DE DEVIN TAYLOR
The freak of an athletic specimen (6-foot-8, 267-pounds) impressed all week in practices prior to the game, but scouts and NFL personnel wanted to see if Taylor could transfer his practice domination to the football field in a game situation. Not only was Taylor able to play well, he looked even better in game action than he did during practice.
Taylor made his presence felt early and often, beginning with a quarterback strip in the first quarter. Later Taylor chased down a running back at least 15 yards down the field. Taylor had his second forced fumble in the second quarter and several tackles in between, including, despite being fooled to the inside on a bootleg, chasing down the West QB for little or no gain.
Showing consistent production is what scouts will try and determine if Taylor can do on the next level, but the potential is there for Taylor to become a productive NFL player down the road.NORTH CAROLINA STATE CB EARL WOLFF
Wolff may have been the most steady cornerback from both the East and West squad during workouts this week, and the former N.C. State star may have moved his stock up by at least one round if not two. At 6-foot, 207-pounds Wolff has good size and showed the ability to play solid technique all week, and it showed Saturday night when Wolff nabbed a fourth quarter interception in the end zone, just managing to get both feet in bounds.
Projected as a seventh rounder before this week, Wolff may have played himself into the fifth or sixth rounds.PITTSBURGH RB RAY GRAHAM
Graham was easily the most impressive running back during the East team’s workouts at Shorecrest Prep this week; displaying the versatility the NFL scouts love. Graham has the potential to become a three-down back in the mold of Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin with some improvement in pass protection. In fact Graham would look pretty good in red and pewter next season as a solid back up for Martin.
Graham showed toughness, agility and a high motor all week in practices, and scouts most certainly came away impressed with his ability to run, catch the ball out of the backfield, and as displayed Saturday night – even return kickoffs.
Saturday night Graham was second on the team with 23 yards rushing, one reception and two kickoffs returns for the East squad in a losing effort.SOUTH CAROLINA OL T. J. JOHNSON
Johnson started the first day of practice as the East team’s starting center and never gave any ground on the depth chart. With some limitations size wise (short than desired wingspan) Johnson had to this week – and will in the NFL – rely on his toughness and tenacity. Saturday night Johnson anchored Jerry Glanville’s East team and played will helping his team average 4.2 yards per carry. Little pressure came up the middle and there were good inside running lanes for the most part.
Johnson had a solid week of practices and surely improved his draft stock, especially with the limited amount of talent in at the center position in this April’s NFL Draft. Projected as a 7th rounder, Johnson may see his name called a couple rounds sooner and could, over time, develop into a NFL caliber starting center, and at the very least provide depth to an NFL team at some point.– Eric Dellaratta contributed to this report
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