The unofficial kickoff to the NFL offseason is the pre-draft all-star games where all 32 teams have the opportunity to evaluate senior prospects on the same field (underclassmen are not eligible for the games). During the upcoming week, scouts, coaches and other NFL representatives will gather in St. Petersburg, Fla., for the 88th annual East-West Shrine Game.
The game is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 19 at 4 p.m. ET at Tropicana Field. But the real action takes place during the week at the practices, where NFL teams keep a close eye on the players competing on the field. These practices are when prospects have a chance to stand out and improve their draft standing in the minds of scouts.
Entering this year's Shrine Game, here are 10 of the top offensive prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft:
1. TE Nick Kasa, Colorado (6-5, 260, 4.76) – A former defensive end, Kasa didn't make the move to offense until late last season, entering the 2012 campaign with just one career catch on his resume. Despite modest numbers as a senior this past season (25 catches, 391 yards, three touchdowns), he has impressed scouts with his natural athleticism and receiving skills. Kasa surprised even his own coaching staff with the way that he picked up the offense, flashing a physical mean streak as a run blocker and improving with more game action. He has had a tough time staying healthy, but his intriguing NFL upside is the reason that he appears No. 1 on this list.
2. QB Matt Scott, Arizona (6-2, 198, 4.68) – With Nick Foles entrenched as Arizona's starting quarterback for the 2011 season, Scott decided to redshirt that year to have the opportunity to be the starter this past season. But with new coach Rich Rodriguez and his spread-option offensive attack arriving in Tucson, even Scott had some doubts about the fit. That didn't last long; the Wildcats averaged almost 40 points per game as Scott, who is the top quarterback this week in St. Pete, threw for 27 touchdowns and ran for six scores as well. He has a lean, skinny frame with average height, but he showed a lot of toughness and athleticism, flashing the arm talent to get the job done downfield.
3. RB Ray Graham, Pittsburgh (5-9, 192, 4.52) – After his performance in the first half of the 2011 season, Graham appeared destined to bolt early for the NFL and be a future early-round pick. However, a torn ACL midway through his junior year derailed that plan, bringing him back to Pittsburgh for his senior season. Despite a slow start in 2012, Graham started to show his pre-injury form down the stretch and that momentum should carry over to this week. Reminiscent of another former Pitt back, LeSean McCoy, Graham doesn't have great build for the position but is quick-footed with the slippery elusiveness and natural burst to make defenders look silly.
4. WR Rodney Smith, Florida State (6-5, 219, 4.63) – Although he didn't have the senior season that some thought he would, Smith is a prospect that scouts remain high on due to his size and athleticism at a position where both areas are critical. He has good body control and flexibility to make smooth adjustments to off-target throws, using his length well to expand his catching radius. Smith, who leaves Florida State with at least one catch in each of his last 39 games, is a tall target but very thin-framed with little muscle definition and needs to improve his focus and consistency catching the ball. Nonetheless, Smith has the size/speed combo that will intrigue NFL teams.
5. TE Joseph Fauria, UCLA (6-7, 255, 4.82) – The nephew of 13-year NFL veteran tight end Christian Fauria, Joseph finished 2012 second on the team in catches (46) but led the nation in touchdowns by a tight end with 12. Fauria is a good-sized athlete and looks more like a rocked-up wideout than traditional tight end, giving his quarterback a large target. He needs to improve his focus catching the ball and as a blocker to eliminate the mental errors, but he has progressed some in both areas. A transfer from Notre Dame, Fauria isn't as dominant as his measureables would suggest, but he will be able to help an NFL offense, especially in the red zone.
6. WR Marcus Davis, Virginia Tech (6-4, 232, 4.47) – If players were judged strictly on athletic ability, Davis might be No. 1 on this list as he will likely test very well at the NFL Combine in the speed and agility drills. But the game tape paints a different picture as he struggled with consistency as a senior. Davis looks the part with a tall, bulky frame and the explosive athleticism to create with the ball in his hands, flashing a skill set that is very similar to Dez Bryant. However, much like Bryant when he entered the NFL, Davis still has a lot of room, giving inconsistent effort in several areas. But a positive week in St. Pete would go a long way to improving his stock.
7. OT Manase Foketi, West Texas A&M (6-5, 320, 5.30) – While it was an exciting season for Kansas State in 2012, it was even more impressive that they were able to have success on offense without their left tackle Foketi, who left the Wildcats over the summer. And because Kansas State refused to release him from his scholarship in order to transfer to an FBS school, Foketi ended up at West Texas A&M this past season. Starting all 15 games for the Buffaloes, he graded at 95 percent and was a finalist for the Division II Lineman of the Year Award. Foketi is one of the top “small school” prospects participating this week, but he shouldn't have any trouble standing out.
8. OG Jeff Baca, UCLA (6-3, 298, 5.16) -- A versatile lineman, Baca started at left tackle as a true freshman for the Bruins before moving to guard and also serving as the back-up center. He plays with an aggressive demeanor and mean streak to eliminate defenders and finish. However, that attitude will also get him in trouble at times. He also struggled with penalties, particularly false starts. Baca lunges too much but shows the foot quickness and eye discipline to square up rushers and shoot his hands at the point of attack. While rough around the edges, Baca has the skill set to play in the NFL.
9. RB Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt (5-9, 210, 4.49) – Although his career had its ups and downs mostly due to injuries, Stacy leaves Vanderbilt as the school's all-time leading rusher (3,143 yards). He was a vital reason the Commodores have been to bowl games the past two seasons, the first back-to-back appearances in program history. Stacy tends to run a little light with average power, but he plays with a lot of toughness and determination on every run. He is an energetic runner and does a nice job using his vision and patience to allow blocks to develop before weaving through the defense. Stacy isn't often mentioned among this year's top backs, but his intangibles and run instincts will push him up draft boards.
10. FB Zach Line, SMU (6-1, 230, 4.65) -- Not many running backs in this draft class can say they led their conference in rushing the past three seasons, but Line can -- with 1,200+ yards each of the last three years. He finished his SMU career with 4,185 rushing yards, putting him second on the program's career rushing list behind only Eric Dickerson. Line has deceiving speed and acceleration but needs to remember he's not a make-you-miss back and rely more on delivering hits, not absorbing them. He has the size and running mentality of a fullback but was used as the primary running option for the Mustangs and is expected to be used in both roles this week and at the NFL level.
Just missed: RB Theo Riddick (Notre Dame), C James Ferentz (Iowa), TE Zach Sudfeld (Nevada), RB Kerwynn Williams (Utah State), WR Corey Fuller (Virginia Tech), OL Mark Jackson (Glenville State), OL Eric Kush (California, Pa.), QB Nathan Stanley (Southeastern Louisiana), OL Earl Watford (James Madison)
Needs a strong week: RB Christine Michael, Texas A&M
For several reasons, Michael is the forgotten senior prospect in this draft class. He has shown NFL-quality ability over the years in College Station but, due to a couple of serious knee injuries and a forgettable senior season (which he spent mostly on the bench), Michael needs a positive performance this week to help repair his draft status.
Under the radar: TE D.C. Jefferson, Rutgers
A former quarterback, Jefferson made the switch to tight end as a freshman. But his development as a pass-catcher has taken a little longer than originally planned. Despite 40+ starts at tight end, his career production is underwhelming (47 catches, 560 yards and two touchdowns) while the potential is there. In his defense, he wasn't a focal point of the Rutgers offense
Small School Alert: WR Jasper Collins, Mount Union
With the success of Pierre Garcon and Cecil Shorts in the NFL, scouts are taking more notice in the Purple Raiders program. They again have a pro-ready wideout with Collins. Although he isn't quite the same athlete as Garcon or Shorts, he is an excellent route runner with reliable hands. Collins has done all his damage against Division III competition, so this will be a big week for him.