Shrine Bowl announces some exciting early commitments

The East-West Shrine Bowl has announced some intriguing 2024 NFL draft prospect commitments for the classic all-star game

The first few commitments for the 2024 East-West Shrine Bowl are starting to get out. The postseason all-star game is attracting some exciting prospects to the week of practices and the Shrine Bowl game, which has moved to the Dallas Cowboys training complex in Frisco, Texas for the first time.

One of my personal favorites is Boston College IOL Christian Mahogany. The intense competitor is one of the best on-the-move blockers in the draft class. Mahogany is in the Wyatt Teller mold of physical guard and could be a late Day 2 pick. He’s currently my No. 63 overall player.

One of the top candidates for the fastest player in the draft has also committed. TCU safety Mark Perry, a former Pac-12 100m sprint champion at Colorado while also playing football, can absolutely fly to the point of attack. Perry is a productive tackler who aggressively attacks the run and short passes, and is generally regarded as a late-round prospect at this point.

Looking for a Day 3 sleeper at center? Kingsley Eguakun from Florida is a good one. Eguakun has NFL-ready skills in the pivot, but he’s been out of the scouting spotlight because he missed most of 2023 with an injury. He’s ready to roll in the Shrine Bowl and could be one of the biggest risers of the practice week.

Finally, South Dakota State RB Isaiah Davis figures to be one of the top FCS-level prospects in the draft. I haven’t seen Davis yet in 2023, but he made quite an impression in the 2022 FCS playoffs with his ability to run through tackles and balance after contact. At 220 pounds, Davis is a load to try and tackle in space and he’s shown he can catch the ball out of the backfield, too.

LSU WR Brian Thomas is one of the college season’s biggest draft risers

LSU WR Brian Thomas is one of the college season’s biggest draft risers and a potential first-rounder

LSU’s passing offense has been an impressive watch in 2023 as a collection. Quarterback Jayden Daniels and wideout Malik Nabors tend to get most of the publicity — and they’re both deserving of prominent draft consideration in April.

Yet it’s the “other” Tigers wide receiver who might have the most NFL impact. Brian Thomas continues to show he’s a major weapon and playmaker, not to mention one of the biggest early-season risers in the draft evaluation process.

Thomas, a 6-foot-4 junior, caught 31 passes for 365 yards and five touchdowns in 2022 in a supporting role. Not a bad year, but not exactly attention-grabbing for anyone outside of the SEC West. Thomas has everyone’s attention now after topping all those numbers in the first six games of 2023.

Thomas has always had good size and speed, but he appears to have added more lean muscle to his 205-pound frame. It’s helped him through contact and given him better balance. He’s always had the ball tracking and strong hands, but Thomas has added more polish and attention to detail to his game.

Getting botth feet down on catches like this is exactly what the NFL wants to see from a big target in the red zone.

That’s one of his nine touchdowns through the first six games, and it highlights his ability to make the difficult catch.

Thomas has been more consistent in working in-breaking routes from his typical outside alignment. He’s quick to recognize the coverage and find soft spots between zones and inside cover brackets.

If he keeps up the impressive play and chooses to declare, Thomas could find himself being a first-round pick with instant impact potential. Not bad for a guy who entered the year as a lower-regarded player to watch.

Draft film breakdown: Washington State QB Cameron Ward vs. Oregon State

Ward had a great game and did a lot of things NFL scouts will like to see in Wazzou’s win

Cameron Ward has flown somewhat under the national radar thus far in 2023. It’s getting harder to ignore what the Washington State quarterback is doing in Pullman, both from a college football perspective and in regard to the 2024 NFL draft.

Ward, a 6-foot-2 junior, is in his second season as the Cougars starter after transferring from FCS-level Incarnate Word. In Saturday’s win over Oregon State in a matchup of two top-20 teams. Ward flashed a lot of the skills that have kept him on the periphery of the top QBs in the class.

In the 38-35 home win, Ward completed 28 of his 34 pass attempts, netting 404 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for another.

This is the second offensive play of the game. Talk about coming out hot…

That’s a 55-yard air throw that’s perfectly on the money. Ward’s throwing platform looks optimal here, and he had the patience to wait on the route to develop and the coverage to commit. Many quarterbacks will rush this throw and lead the coverage to the receiver, but Ward deftly avoids that mistake.

He did make some mistakes, alas. One of them is especially problematic: a fumble created because of the insecure way Ward carries the ball. He got stripped by a Beavers defender who had no business making any play here:

Good quarterbacks can quickly put mistakes behind them, and Ward showed that skill. Just before halftime, his growth as a passer and decision-maker shone. On this play, Ward buys some time with his agility but keeps the eyes up. He’s rewarded with an easy TD strike.

In 2022, Ward likely would have tried to run that in himself, or force the throw earlier. His maturation to stay patient in situations like this is very impressive. This is only his third year of starting at QB in an offense that throws, and he’s clearly grown in his processing and ability to read the defense.

Ward primarily uses a delivery that’s three-quarters; it’s not sidearm, nor is it over the top. It can look awkward on shorter throws, almost like he’s pushing a dart instead of throwing a football. However, he’s accurate and the ball comes out very quickly. Ward can also alter his platform and mechanics. He resets quickly on the move, as well.

Overall, this was a nice NFL audition tape for Ward if he chooses to declare for the 2024 draft. While Wazzou runs a QB-friendly system, Ward appears to have the physical and mental traits to transcend just being a “system” quarterback.



2024 NFL draft scouting 1st impression: Coastal Carolina QB Grayson McCall

Breaking down Coastal Carolina QB Grayson McCall v. Georgia State from a 2024 NFL draft perspective

It’s already the fourth weekend of college football, but it took until now before I got a chance to watch Coastal Carolina and quarterback Grayson McCall. The Chanticleers hosted Sun Belt rival Georgia State on Thursday night, a good challenge for the fifth-year quarterback.

McCall entered the season generally projected to be a Day 3 or priority free agent level of prospect and featured on the Senior Bowl and Shrine Bowl watch lists. The 6-foot-3 gunslinger had two impressive seasons of aggressively throwing down the field, leading the nation in yards per attempt in 2021 and in the top 10 in 2022.

He’s working with a new head coach in Tim Beck and offensive philosophy, one that has more sight reads and shorter, quicker routes built into the scheme, with less designed runs and RPOs, though those do still happen. Based on his performance in the loss to the Panthers, it’s a work in progress for McCall to adjust.

It could also be that the lack of a solid offensive line against a pretty strong Georgia State front had something to do with that. McCall was under heavy pressure most of the night, especially in the first half. He didn’t have a lot of time to survey the field.

McCall did some things that really detract as a prospect. He frequently stared down his primary target and didn’t deviate from the pre-snap read. It led McCall to miss seeing better options elsewhere on the field.

He also took too many avoidable hits, both as a passer and a runner. McCall has gained some bulk for his final season, and he’s going to need it if he doesn’t protect himself better. Georgia State got several big, clean, legal hits on McCall that he didn’t need to take.

There were some definite positives. McCall came out in the second half and settled into a nice groove, aided by a more concerted effort to run the ball and prevent the defense from teeing off on him. The ball placement and catchable touch on McCall’s throws stood out. The touchdown strike that capped the first Chanticleer drive of the second half showed McCall at his best.

He is tough, no doubt about it. McCall can still throw strikes on the move, just not many down the field. Not rushing the play despite being under pressure, that’s a great NFL quality and McCall showed some of that vs. Georgia State.

That McCall has an NFL future. It was a reminder of the faded middle-round draft hype McCall carried around this time a year ago, surrounded by a better overall roster. Coastal Carolina’s new offense is more NFL-friendly, but that hasn’t necessarily been friendly to McCall’s NFL prospects.

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2024 NFL draft scouting first impression: Duke QB Riley Leonard

Breaking down Clemson QB Riley Leonard from an NFL draft perspective in the Blue Devils’ win over Clemson

It was a Monday night to remember for the Duke football program. The Blue Devils waxed conference rival and college superpower Clemson, 28-7. Quarterback Riley Leonard, No. 8 in the preseason QB draft rankings, led the way with an effective, poised performance that will only help his draft stock.

Duke runs a shotgun spread style of offense with a lot of bunched receiver concepts, layering multiple route options that are designed to create quick, obvious throwing lanes. It demands Leonard to quickly progress through his options, both pre-snap and post-snap.

Leonard did that very well against Clemson. One thing that stood out: the ball comes out fast. No double-clutching, no hesitation; see the throw, make the throw. It’s akin to watching Joe Burrow at LSU or Kenny Pickett at Pittsburgh with the trust in the system and the receivers.

Ball placement was good-not-great from Leonard. A couple of shorter throws wound up being a little behind optimal placement. By my count, he missed two completions due to inaccuracy. Not all incompletions are the same, with some being passes that are leveraging against coverage, or the play just isn’t there. Pinpoint ball placement and timing with open receivers is where I’m looking here. Leonard isn’t missing, but rather making his receivers work a little more than they have to at times. Clemson’s defensive speed might’ve had something to do with that, too.

Leonard showed his athleticism and escapability a few times, too. He’s 6-foot-4 and has a long stride when he runs. Leonard doesn’t accelerate quickly, but he did show balance and strength through contact, most notably on a long scamper up the right sideline that he created by running through an arm tackle. It’s reminiscent of early Ben Roethlisberger, though Leonard isn’t that thickly built.

Overall, it was an impressive display. Leonard’s poise and steadiness will definitely appeal, as will his ability to quickly process the field and deliver.

2024 draft scouting first impression: North Carolina QB Drake Maye

Breaking down UNC QB Drake Maye from an NFL draft perspective in the Tar Heels win over South Carolina

North Carolina QB Drake Maye entered the 2023 college football season as a potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NFL draft. His first game of the season for the Tar Heels should only add a few more sparks to fire up Maye’s case.

Maye led UNC to a 31-17 win over rival South Carolina on Saturday night. It was a professional effort and outing from the highly-touted Maye, who began atop my own preseason QB rankings. The first half validated every positive attributed to Maye: accurate, athletic, savvy, creative and tough. He looked straight out of central casting for an Andy Reid or Gary Kubiak/Mike Shanahan offensive system. He was almost boring in his methodical slicing and dicing of the Gamecocks defense.

The second half got more interesting, but not necessarily in a good way for Maye in scouting eyes. He got a little flippant with the ball and his confidence in his arm.

Ironically enough, the Maye play that is being celebrated the most is one that will get spotlighted by some as a terrible decision. Maye avoided a sack by throwing off his back foot to loft a ball into the middle of the field for a contested catch opportunity.

It worked here. Betting on that to work consistently, if even once again, is probably not something most NFL coordinators want to see from Maye. Two interceptions came in the second half, where he got a little too cavalier in attacking under pressure. One of the INTs wasn’t his fault, with wideout Kobe Paysour not helping Maye.

It was an impressive night despite the mistakes. Playing without expected top receiver Tez Walker, Maye played no favorites with his targets and consistently hit receivers exactly where the ball needed to be. The shifting arm angles, the athletic escapability, the ability to quickly move past an error all stood out for Maye.

2024 draft scouting first impression: Tennessee QB Joe Milton

Breaking down Tennessee QB Joe Milton from an NFL draft perspective in the Volunteers’ win over Virginia

College football is back with a vengeance over Labor Day weekend. It’s scouting season for the 2024 NFL draft, too.

One of the prospects I focused on in CFB Week 1 was Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton. The man with perhaps the biggest arm in college football and some serious athletic bona fides was in action in the Volunteers’ opener against Virginia.

Milton started out as the No. 10 QB prospect in my initial rankings for the 2024 NFL draft. He’s only played reserve duty in his two years at Tennessee behind 2023 third-rounder Hendon Hooker. Prior to that, Milton spent three seasons at Michigan.

His athletic ability shone through with Milton right away. He’s got almost effortless arm strength. Milton did show good footwork mechanics and a quick enough release. Man is that arm impressive!

Milton’s best throw of the day, a first-quarter laser-guided bomb launched some 65 yards in the air, was dropped by wideout Dont’e Thornton Jr. The line between “drop” and “too hot to handle” was clearly “drop” on that rocket, but there were at least four others from Milton that straddled the line to the other side.

Touch, or lack thereof, remains an issue for Milton. He also overshot open targets twice, both of which would have been easy strikes with better anticipatory touch. Virginia’s coverage was solid in undercutting routes over the middle, but Milton had the opportunity to drop in attempts with better touch and arc. He just couldn’t do it. Staring down his primary target was also an issue.

Milton finished 21-for-30, passing for 201 yards and two TDs. The Michigan transfer did flash well on the ground, rushing for two more touchdowns and showing both strength through contact and above-average acceleration for a QB.

UConn G Christian Haynes impresses vs. NC State

UConn RG Christian Haynes had a strong 2023 debut that cements him as one of the top IOL prospects for 2024

The University of Connecticut doesn’t typically produce a lot of NFL draft interest. The Huskies have had just six players drafted since 2015, none in 2023.

That drought will end in 2024. UConn has three players on the preseason Senior Bowl watchlist, with the most prominent being offensive guard Christian Haynes. Based on his performance in the Huskies’ matchup against visiting North Carolina State, Haynes could hear his name called early in the draft.

Haynes, playing right guard, had an outstanding debut. Normally it’s not easy to notice interior linemen unless they mess up, but that’s not the case for Haynes. He leapt off the game film.

With impressive agility and a seek-and-destroy style of play, Haynes was a snowplow in the run game.

Pass protection wasn’t as glorious, but Haynes fared well against the Wolfpack. In a quick once-over of the game, I had him getting beat twice in pass protection, one of which resulted in a sack. His game reminds me some of Larry Warford back at Kentucky. Warford was the No. 65 overall pick in 2013 and had several successful NFL seasons before injuries ended his career.

Expect to see Haynes in upcoming mock drafts as a Day 2 prospect. He could very well surpass Will Beatty as the highest-drafted UConn offensive lineman in program history. Beatty was the No. 60 overall pick back in 2009.


2024 NFL draft: Preseason RB watch list and early rankings

The initial 2024 NFL draft running back rankings and preseason watch list from Draft Wire’s Jeff Risdon

Running backs have taken a hit in value in recent NFL drafts, but with two (Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs) being selected in the top 12 in 2023, perhaps a resurgence is coming. The early returns on the potential draft class of 2024 aren’t so strong, but there are some impressive talents to watch in the upcoming college season.

These are very fluid rankings. In general, these are early impressions about the NFL potential of players who still have a considerable amount of football to play before they’re drafted. The RB position in particular lends itself to players rising or falling rapidly on one season, so don’t expect the final rankings in April to look anything like this.

After watching enough to get a baseline feel for the players, and in talking with some NFL-employed scouts, here is an early listing and my preliminary ranking for the running backs in the NFL draft class of 2024.

2024 NFL draft prospect room to improve: Notre Dame OT Joe Alt

Breaking down where Notre Dame OT Joe Alt can improve his game in the 2023 college season as a 2024 NFL draft prospect

Joe Alt enters the 2023 college season as one of the favorites to be the first offensive lineman selected in the 2024 NFL draft. The Notre Dame left tackle has shown impressive quickness, great length, solid technical mastery and upside to grow even more.

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Alt still has a couple of areas where he can improve upon his game to make himself an even more appealing prospect in the upcoming season. After watching five Notre Dame games from 2022 (Ohio State, North Carolina, USC, Stanford, Clemson), here are two facets where Alt can improve.

Driving power

Alt is a very impressive athlete for being 6-foot-8, and he moves quite well for a taller OT. He does have some struggles in creating movement in the run game when tasked with heads-up blocking or working solo on a stouter defender.

Part of the issue is out of his control; he’s too long to generate a lot of force against defenders who have a natural leverage advantage against him and understand how to use it. Taller NFL vets like Taylor Decker and Mike McGlinchey have had to overcome similar issues coming out of college as top-20 overall picks. Alt generally bends well but doesn’t always do so when having to reach at extension for the initial block.

Some of Alt’s struggles in this area are a propensity to stop driving his feet while engaged. He often tries to create movement with more shoulder torque and initial pop from his long (and impressive) punch. But after that initial horn-locking, Alt doesn’t always churn the feet or engage his lower body to drive and attack. It’s reminiscent of another first-round OT from the past, Jack Conklin. When Conklin remembered to keep the feet active, he was very good for both the Titans and Browns. When he didn’t, he had some real struggles against the superior power of the EDGE defenders in the NFL.

Inside shoulder in pass protection

Alt did not allow a single sack in the games I watched. In fact, Notre Dame had him credited with a clean sack slate all season. But he does show some vulnerability with his inside (right) shoulder when facing stand-up rushers who can avoid the initial punch.

This is related to the aforementioned length. There is a point of diminishing returns for length at tackle, and Alt approaches it. When he fires out those long arms, it naturally takes him a tick longer to reset and readjust to the defender than it does for a guy who is “just” 6-foot-6. Alt showed a tendency to exacerbate this by leaning out over his toes instead of sliding his inside foot forward when outside rushers tried to cross his face or spin inside.