For those who haven’t been paying attention, the 2022 Shrine game will be played on Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET on NFL Network, and it features quite a few players who will be playing on Sundays in the fall.
Here’s a look at the best player at each position in this year’s game.
Quarterback: Brock Purdy, Iowa State
In what is being called one of the weaker quarterback classes in recent history, finding the right one will be challenging for teams. Six of the top eight quarterbacks on my draft board are in Mobile for the Senior Bowl, with another two being underclassmen and not eligible for postseason All-Star games like this. The rest of the quarterback class is scattered with players that are borderline draftable but could contain diamonds in the rough.
More of a West Coast-style of quarterback, Purdy could find himself in the mix for a QB3 job on a team's roster in the fall, and should, at a minimum, find his way into training camp as a QB4. He has limited arm strength and sloppy mechanics at times, but he is comfortable under pressure, can work through his progressions, makes smart decisions with the ball, and is mobile. As we saw with Steven Montez this year, those traits can get you on a practice squad.
Honorable mention: Dustin Crum (Kent State)
Running back: Pierre Strong Jr., South Dakota State
Strong was on the Senior Bowl watchlist but didn’t get the invite to Mobile and opted to be one of the best players at the Shrine game instead. Patient with good vision, he has impressive numbers—4,495 yards rushing (7.13 yards per carry average) and 40 touchdowns—but his third-down capabilities will keep him on an NFL roster. Solid in pass pro and impressive route running, he can be a third-down back early in his career.
Here’s another example of Pierre Strong Jr just killing it with his route-running ability.— John Douglas Vogel (@DraftVogel) February 1, 2022
This time, just crossing over Tre Walker like it’s a piece of cake (which, it is, but let’s just marvel at his footwork and subtle route-running prowess). pic.twitter.com/0k4LM5Cf2o
Honorable mention: Ty Chandler (North Carolina)
Wide receiver: Jaivon Heiligh, Coastal Carolina
A tick over six feet tall and 200 pounds, Heiligh is a vertical threat speedster who is highly efficient in his routes, but like most small schoolers who don't see a lot of press coverage, he needs to work on getting off jams at the line of scrimmage.
Another 100 yard game from @CoastalFootball WR— Eric Galko (@EricGalko) October 27, 2021
Jaivon Heiligh (@JHeiligh) vs. App State last week.
Elite route runner, but the hand timing and finishing on this corner route on 3rd and 10 was his most impressive play of the game. #ShrineBowl pic.twitter.com/oyQK40PPSJ
Honorable mention: Charleston Rambo (Miami), Emeka Emezie (NC State)
Tight end: Jelani Woods, Virginia
At 6-foot-6 3⁄4 inches and 259 pounds, Woods has been a monster to deal with all week. Only moderately productive at Oklahoma State (three seasons) and Virginia (one season), Woods averaged 12.8 yards per reception and 12 touchdowns, eight of them coming this past season. But as we have often seen in the NFL, talent can come from anywhere, as long as the player has the proper skill set.
Jelani Woods is 6'6" (closer to 6'7" actually), 259 pounds.— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) February 2, 2022
With moves like this, he could be uncoverable in the NFL. pic.twitter.com/PbvMMWdLYp
Honorable mention: Derrick Deese Jr. (San Jose State)
Offensive line: Alec Lindstrom, Center, Boston College
The younger brother of Falcons first-round pick Chris (their starting right guard), Alec Lindstrom is capable of playing at all three interior offensive line positions, is highly intelligent, has quick feet, and seems to get pleasure out of bullying defensive linemen. Per PFF, he has only allowed 24 pressures over the past three seasons as a starter.
Honorable mention: Cordell Volson (North Dakota State), Kellen Diesch (Arizona State)
Interior defensive line: Marquand McCall, NT, Kentucky
Another bully at the line of scrimmage, McCall (6-foot-2 1/2, and 346 pounds) plays with strength, tenacity, and aggression. Weight issues limited his playing time for Kentucky—and will be something NFL teams will want to stay on top of—but there is a role for him in the NFL for teams looking for a reserve nose tackle who can rotate with a starter (similar to what John Penisini does for the Lions).
Honorable mention: Noah Ellis (Idaho), Matthew Butler (Tennessee)
EDGE: Jeffrey Gunter, Coastal Carolina
Touted as one of the most talented prospects attending this year’s event, Gunter (6-foot-4, 259) has lived up to that billing this week. He wins with power and can set the edge as well as any player in this class, but he needs to improve his first step. This is why he may be limited to defenses that run a 3-4 scheme, where he can automatically have built-in separation from offensive linemen (Austin Bryant needs this advantage as well). His intelligence and ability to stop the run will probably get him on an NFL roster while he works on the rest of his game.
Jeffrey Gunter (@jgunter94) sells his rush inside, then gets back to the edge with a club/swim. Finishes with a rip to clear the blocker & get to the QB! #passrush #tealnation @underdogdynasty pic.twitter.com/ZknevgKxSD— DLineVids (@dlinevids1) October 8, 2021
Honorable mention: Ali Fayad (Western Michigan)
Off-the-ball linebacker: Jack Sanborn, Wisconsin
Sanborn is a big (6-foot-2, 240 pounds), physical, fill linebacker who understands gaps and aggressively fills them, registering 14.5 tackles for loss this season. He is solid against the run but was limited in coverage responsibilities at Wisconsin. On the surface, he looks better suited for the Lions' previous two-gapping scheme, but he has the offseason to prove there is more to his game.
Honorable mention: Nephi Sewell (Utah), Tre Walker (Idaho)
Corner: Jack Jones, Arizona State
A highly gifted athlete, Jones (5-foot-10 5/8, 174 pounds) began his career at USC before entering the JUCO ranks and eventually landing at ASU. He uses his instincts and above-average agility to mirror wide receivers, often stacking them and running the route for them. He can play in multiple defensive schemes and is capable of playing both on the outside and in the slot. His skill set, experience, and positional flexibility will appeal to teams.
Honorable mention: Jermaine Waller (Virginia Tech)
Safety: Reed Blankenship, Middle Tennessee State
Blankenship’s name has been mentioned among the draft community for several years and now that he is finally headed to the draft, there’s quite a bit of knowledge out there about him. A three (!) time captain, Blankenship is best suited in the NFL as a third safety in a split-zone scheme (essentially the role Dean Marlowe held with the Lions last season). For a defense looking to keep one safety movable throughout the secondary (something I believe they may try with Will Harris in 2022) Blankenship would offer them a potential third safety they can trust. Add in his high character and likelihood of being a core special teams player, Blankenship is a name to keep an eye on during Day 3 of the draft.
Honorable mention: Brad Hawkins (Michigan), Bubba Bolden (Miami)