My favorite time of year is here! I’m in Tampa, Fla., for the 2020 East-West Shrine Bowl for the 14th year in a row. I call it the “All-Star Road Trip” and it’s where I get an on-field look at some of the best senior prospects coming into the NFL.
I’m always thinking about what’s next for the Broncos. Their scouting staff is here in Tampa as well to find players from this game who could contribute – perhaps even as future starters and stars in the NFL. Things kicked off at Tropicana Field on Monday and I was in attendance with my notebook in hand. I wanted to see which players impressed the most and if those players matched up with needs for the Broncos on both sides of the ball.
Here is my day one practice report at the 2020 East-West Shrine Bowl.
Rock and Rhode (Island)
I love seeing players I’m not expecting much from to stand out in All-Star practices. That’s what Rhode Island wide receiver Aaron Parker did on Monday. I hadn’t yet watched much of Parker, but I did like some of the things he showed on film. On the first day of practice, Parker showed that he belonged against some of the best competition he’s ever faced.
Parker has what scouts call “late hands” and that is quite rare for a young receiver. When looking for the pass on a deep target a wide receiver must not give away that the ball is incoming. A player like Parker with late hands doesn’t tip off the defender that a pass is headed his way. On more than one deep target, Parker showed a natural ability to track the ball and make a big play for his quarterback.
The Broncos could be in the market for a cornerback (or two) in the 2020 NFL Draft. I’ve got my radar on for standout cornerbacks while on the All-Star road trip during the next two weeks. On Monday, Central Florida cornerback Nevelle Clarke showed an impressive skill set and a ball-hawking mentality.
Clarke breaks on the ball quickly and decisively. He understands route concepts and has no problem finding the ball and knocking the pass away. Clarke knocked away some passes on Monday, but he also had an interception off a tipped pass over the middle. He left his man when another defender’s responsibility batted the ball up in the air. Clarke showed great athleticism to adjust and make a play.
We might see the Broncos select a running back in the 2020 NFL draft to create more competition at the position. With new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur running the show, any running back added by the team will need to be a good receiver out of the backfield. On Monday, one of the best running backs I saw in that department was Illinois State’s James Robinson.
He had good burst to and through the hole on many of his carries. Players cannot be tackled in this format but you can see who has the “juice” to follow rush lanes and get to the second level quickly. Robinson caught the ball cleanly and showed good run-after-the-catch ability after he would properly look a pass into his grasp.
Into the Pit
Practices in this format are tricky to watch and understand what is best to take away as positives or negatives. One thing where the answers are obvious is in what scouts call “the pit.” This is the one-on-one blocking drills between offensive linemen and defensive linemen. On Monday, the pit featured some epic matchups that were fun to watch.
The best player in the pit was Michigan defensive end Michael Danna. He is extremely quick off the ball and gets into and out of the block quickly. Danna showed multiple moves to get after the passer, including rip, swim and spin moves. On one play, Danna made his blocker whiff so bad that he propelled in a helicopter motion to the ground as the big defensive end made his way nearly untouched to the quarterback. I’ve never quite seen a play like it.
Central Florida running back Adrian Killins looks like Bears Tarik Cohen due to his small size, compact frame and ability to toy with defenders in the open field. His smaller catch radius means he has to reach for some passes others wouldn’t, but he showed the ability to do that. Killins has such quickness that he can break a defenders ankles in the open field before and after the catch. He’s fun to watch.
Florida State wide receiver Keith Gavin had a bit of an up-and-down day. On one hand, he can track passes over his shoulder and make big catches on the sideline. On the other hand, Gavin lets almost every pass into his chest when the play is in front of him. He caught most passes, but body-catching passes is something that will draw a negative mark from most scouts.
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