Top prospects to watch at the East-West Shrine Game: East edition
With the East-West Shrine Game scheduled to play on Friday, I’ll be sharing which potential future NFL players I’m keeping an eye on. Today, we’re starting with the East (we’ll get to the West tomorrow, so stay tuned):
Joe Thuney, OT/OG, North Carolina State: +37.6 grade
Thuney appears to have made an impression already, with a number of reports already singling him out for praise. Just two days into a week-long process it’s no surprise Thuney is already standing out considering the senior season he put on tape. Playing at left tackle, he recorded the fourth-highest pass protection grade (+12.9) and the fourth-highest run blocking grade (25.1). Thuney ended the year fourth overall amongst OTs behind only Cody Whitehair, Jack Conklin and Spencer Drango all of whom are in contention to go in the first round. He ended the year with just six combined pressures allowed (two sacks, one hit and three hurries) culminating in a pass blocking efficiency of 98.9 which led the FBS. Thuney will probably be the best OL on show at the Shrine Game so expect his stock to rise by the end of the week.
Tajae Sharpe, WR, Massachusetts Amherst: +22.2
The East is also blessed with the top wideout amongst this year’s Shrine game crop. Sharp’s +24.8 receiving grade is sixth at the position, coming on the back of 111 receptions for 1306 yards and five scores. One of Sharp’s greatest assets are his soft hands, which helped him drop only three passes this year. He finished with a drop rate of just 2.63, good for sixth in the nation. To go with those impressive numbers, Sharp only dropped four passes from 89 catchable targets in 2014 suggesting dependable hands are an established trait he’s developed. He has a combined +40.4 overall grade from those two years, including a perfect season of positively graded games in 2015, indicating Sharp has a chance to go high come May.
Dean Lowry, DE, Northwestern: +35.5
Lowry might be pushed down draft boards a little because of the depth at the defensive end position this year but some team is likely to get a steal in the later rounds. He ended 2015 as our 11th overall defensive end, proving capable of handling an every-down role. Lowry is the kind of player who gets overlooked because he doesn’t make a huge number of splash plays. Although he only generated seven QB knockdowns this season he added a further 37 pressures finishing with a +17.6 pass rush grade. Lowry’s best performance came against fellow Shrine Game participant Tyler Marz (of Wisconsin) who he dominated for five combined pressures. Considering he also holds the fourth-highest run defense grade at the position (+18.7), Lowry capable of making it at the NFL level.
Justin Simmons, FS, Boston College: +17.6
Boston College’s defense had an outstanding year in 2015 and Simmons was a major part of that. He finished as our ninth overall safety with positive grades as a pass rusher, in run defense and in coverage. Simmons’ coverage numbers are simply phenomenal, as he allowed just 19 catches on 36 targets for 245 yards, zero TDs & five INTs. QBs had a rating of just 34.8 when targeting him. Safeties with coverage ability are a premium in today’s NFL, making Simmons all the more appealing as a prospect. He can hold his own against the run too, as a +9.6 grade and 24 stops illustrates. Preventing big gains from turning into touchdowns is obviously an important aspect of a safeties’ role as well. With just five missed tackles from 54 attempts, Simmons is capable in that regard, suggesting he has all the tools to make it at the next level.
Cre’von LeBlanc, CB, Florida Atlantic: +13.7
Although his overall grade isn’t outstanding, LeBlanc has the coverage skills to succeed in the NFL. Depending on stylistic preference, LeBlanc might be anywhere on a team’s draftboard to off it entirely. Certainly not averse to a risk, he finished the year with 22 receptions allowed from 56 targets for 397 yards, four TDs, four INTs and five pass deflections. Allowing a 51.7 QB rating is not bad at all for the small-school product. LeBlanc has also shown improvement from his junior year, where he recorded a +7.0 grade in coverage. However, he’ll need to prove it against top level competition, making this week huge for his draft stock.