NFL Draft: Here's who shined at East-West Shrine Game, NFLPA Collegiate Bowl
FCS stars Lorenzo Jerome and Javancy Jones impress, as well as Louisville TE Keith Towbridge
When it comes to the postseason all-star games, next week's Senior Bowl generates most of the attention from media and fans but there was plenty of talent on display Saturday in the East-West Shrine Game and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, as well.
Lorenzo Jerome of FCS Saint Francis (Pa.) was arguably the day's biggest winner from either game, taking MVP honors in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl with two interceptions for the National team in a 27-7 loss to the Americans.
The 5-foot-10, 205-pound Jerome currently checks in seventh among free safeties on NFLDraftScout.com's board. Safety, as a whole, is one of the strongest positions in this year's draft class -- led by potential top-10 picks Jamal Adams (LSU), Malik Hooker ( Ohio State Buckeyes ) and Jabrill Peppers ( Michigan Wolverines ). Those three safeties are as gifted as any we've seen since at least 2010, when future AFC All-Pros Eric Berry and Earl Thomas earned early first-round selections by the Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks .
Given his sterling career at Saint Francis, it surprised no one that Jerome earned MVP honors. It is difficult to describe Jerome's impact at Saint Francis and not reach into hyperbole. From the beginning, the Florida native wowed with his athleticism and instincts, intercepting six passes as a true freshman to earn the first of four consecutive years in which he earned all-conference honors.
His 18 career interceptions (including another six in 2016) led all FCS players and he was just as dynamic as a returner, finishing second in the country with a 28.9 yards-per-return average in 2016 after finishing first (31.2) as a junior. In his Saint Francis career, Jerome found the end zone eight times, in five different ways, with three kick return touchdowns, two interception returns, a punt return, a fumble return and a receiving touchdown.
Also turning heads at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl was Virginia Cavaliers running back Taquan "Smoke" Mizzell, who rushed for a game-high 96 yards on just nine carries and scored a touchdown, showing the vision, sharp lateral cutting ability and burst to create yards on his own. Though he lacks ideal bulk at just 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, Mizzell possesses the soft hands out of the backfield to project as a complementary threat at the next level. Mizzell is currently ranked 21st among this year's stacked running back class. He rushed for 940 yards (5.0 YPC) and five touchdowns while catching 52 passes for 404 yards and two additional scores last season.
Though the splashy finales will certainly help the stock of Jerome and Mizzell, the player who might see the biggest boost from his efforts in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl could wind up being Louisville Cardinals tight end Keith Towbridge , who showed soft, reliable hands in this contest after serving essentially as a third tackle for the Cardinals last season. Towbridge, in fact, caught just two passes last season while Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson favored Cole Hikutinias as the Cardinals' go-to threat down the seam.
While perhaps lacking Hikutini's quickness and natural receiving skills, the 6-foot-4, 262-pound Towbridge possesses a powerful frame and long arms (33 5/8"), as well as a combination of grit and physicality as a blocker that will appeal to NFL teams looking for an "old school" tight end. The exceptional depth of this year's tight end class may keep Towbridge on the board in the late rounds or perhaps even push him out of the draft entirely, but don't be surprised if he makes an NFL roster.
Meanwhile, at the Shrine Game, Louisiana Lafayette running back Elijah McGuire provided some of the only offensive fireworks of the 10-3 game, rushing for 42 yards, 18 of them coming on a fourth-quarter touchdown jaunt.
The 5-foot-9, 212 pound McGuire entered the week already well known among scouts, given that he ran for 4,312 yards and 42 touchdowns over his career and considered leaving for the NFL after his junior season.
McGuire's square frame and powerful, downhill running style make him a favorite for many among this year's very talented and deep running back class. While his frame suggests power, McGuire also possesses vision, quickness and burst, as he demonstrated on what turned out to the game-winner.
Like Towbridge at the NFLPA game, the player who may have helped his cause the most at the Shrine Game was one who showed a different skill-set than scouts had seen on tape.
Javancy Jones earned acclaim at Jacksonville State for his ability to wreak havoc off the edge, earning Second Team FCS All-American honors with 82 tackles, including 19.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in 2016, alone. Realizing that his best chance at the NFL was off the line of scrimmage given his 6-foot-1, 245 pound frame, Jones switched to this role during practice this week and stood out in the game, itself, recording four tackles, including a tackle for loss in limited duty.
Jones set the tone on the game's first drive, showing impressive awareness, body control and closing speed to make a one-on-one tackle of speedy Utah Utes running back Joe Williams to eliminate a potential scoring opportunity. Williams, fresh off of a big run, caught a pass in the right flat and appeared to be in good position to waltz into the end zone. Jones closed in a flash, however, cutting down the Utes' running back with an impressive solo tackle.
Perhaps best of all for Jones, whereas safety, running back and tight end are relative strengths of the 2017 draft class, the depth at linebacker -- especially inside linebacker -- is not as good. If he can maintain this week's momentum through the workout stage leading up to the draft, Jones could hear his name called on Day 3.
A year ago, the Shrine Game -- the longest running all-star game in college football -- produced four players selected among the top 100 picks of the draft, including New England Patriots ' starting left guard Joe Thuney and Pittsburgh Steelers ' nose guard Javon Hargrave , who will face off Sunday in the AFC Championship Game.
The NFLPA Collegiate Bowl is relatively new -- founded only in 2012 -- but it is considered by scouts to be the fastest growing of the all-star games. Among its notable alumni include 2015 Combine sensation Chris Conley (now a wide receiver with the Kansas City Chiefs) and Seattle Seahawks backup quarterback Trevone Boykin .
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