While the Senior Bowl gets the bigger accolades, the East-West Shrine Game is one of the most exciting games to watch during the budding NFL offseason. It’s our first real taste of what some of the NFL prospects can do outside of the bubble of their college schemes, facing other players who are vying for a draft spot and fighting for the right to be selected early by an NFL franchise. Since the game occurs while the NFL playoffs are still occurring, it often falls to the backdrop, but you’re really missing out if you don’t check out the game. To make it a bit easier, here are some of the players that the Lions should be looking into.
Jordan Ta’amu, QB, Mississippi: Bursting onto the scene post Shea Patterson, Ta’amu ran the Ole Miss offense without missing a beat. Ta’amu isn’t an NFL ready starter, but he has plenty of developmental tools with a ready arm, decent athletic profile, and generally sound decision making.
Jordan Ellis, RB, Virginia: A big back with a compact frame, Ellis has been turning heads at practices. The Lions may be in the market for another running back with the heavy focus on the run game and signing of offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. A bigger guy who can move the way Ellis can is someone likely on their radar.
Jamal Custis, WR, Syracuse: Every year there’s some big, tall, lanky receiver that sets these bowl game practices on fire. Custis had a very quiet college career, posting next to nothing for three seasons before breaking out his fourth year for 906 yards and six touchdowns. At just over 6-foot-4, 212 pounds, with 34 1⁄4 inch arms and 10 1⁄2 inch hands, Custis also claims he can run in the 4.4s at the Combine. Guys with those kind of tools generally find a way to get their name called on draft day.
Tyler Jones, OG, North Carolina State: Jones has been a standout at practices, practically stonewalling anyone who enters his vicinity. The Lions will be looking not only for a starter to replace the oft injured T.J. Lang, but someone who can provide depth along the line. If Lang tries to return in 2019, a guy like Jones could be an interesting prospect to replace him eventually.
Derrick Baity Jr., CB, Kentucky: In case you couldn’t tell, we here at Pride of Detroit have spent some time digging into Josh Allen. A happy consequence of that is getting to see plenty of Derrick Baity. In the dozen or so games I watched of Allen, I wrote Baity’s name down in at least four as a player to watch, so it’s exciting to see him out of his element. I’ve heard mixed reports on Baity in practices, but he measured in at over 6-foot-2 and 198 pounds with an impressive 76.5-inch wingspan.
Mathieu Betts, DL, Laval: This is a rare one. Normally, you don’t hear about a player from Canada tearing up the practices at games like these, but here we are. Betts has shown an impressive array of pass rushing moves, plus athleticism, and the coachability that will endear NFL decision makers come draft time. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear his name multiple times during the game.
Malik Carney, DE, North Carolina: If you had to draw up a prototypical edge player for a Matt Patricia defense, he’d look a lot like Carney. Decent size to play that Devon Kennard role, strong run defense traits, and middling at best pass rushing traits. He was one of the first players the Lions were linked to and is a player that is certain to be higher on their board than most teams.
Kendall Blanton, TE, Missouri: A bigger tight end at 6-foot-6 and 265, Blanton fits the mold of what I think we can expect from this coaching staff. His receiving numbers are nothing impressive at Missouri, but he’s one of the only players the Lions have been directly linked to. The team has been meeting with prospects at the hotel after practices for the most part, so meeting with a player on the field is out of the ordinary.
Cody Thompson, WR, Toledo: The Lions are always paying pretty close attention to local teams, and the Rockets are only just a short drive away. He was mentioned repeatedly early in Shrine practices and with the contacts the team has had with that university, I expect them to do a ton of background research (if they haven’t already).
Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State: Rypien is one to watch less for the Lions than the teams drafting before them. I’ve heard his name floated as a possible first rounder, and while I don’t buy that at this time, it’s always hard to gauge a weaker quarterback class. If Rypien blows the game open, teams are going to be digging deeper and that can only be a positive for the Lions.
Drew Lewis, FS, Colorado: Lewis is getting some special attention from various coaches, and he’s listed more due to who has been paying attention than his play in practices. Still, he’s one of those guys expected to measure extremely well, and if those traits pop when he’s playing in game, he’s going to see his name rising up draft boards.
Daniel Wise, DT, Kansas: Wise is a guy whose name I keep hearing privately in the same way I heard Grady Jarrett’s prior to being drafted in the mid rounds (not by the Lions, they took Gabe Wright instead). Unlike Garrett, I haven’t watched Wise so I’m not going to claim to be first on the hype train if one picks up steam after this game. Still, I’m mentioning him now, so maybe I just got an early seat. And now maybe you do as well.
Chris Nelson, DT, Texas: Nelson has had some mixed reviews from folks watching the practices, but he’s still a guy to keep an eye on. A stout run-defending tackle, he’s just the type of guy I expect Matt Patricia to like. The dude has a type. Just saying.
Jordan Wyatt, CB, SMU: Another corner with decent size and projected plus measurables, Wyatt is a guy I expect to get more attention once the game is being played. He’s had up and down practices, but with his size and supposed athletic traits, this is someone to keep an eye on.