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.
On Wednesday, things are essentially wrapping up for the scouts, general managers and coaches in attendance. Even though the game is on Saturday, most scouts will leave after Wednesday. The next two days of practice are more or less walk-throughs that little can be drawn from. Wednesday is really the last chance for players to prove themselves to the scouting community in the last time they’ll actually perform real football drills until rookie minicamp later this year.
Here is my day three practice report at the 2020 East-West Shrine Bowl.
Best in Tampa
I get asked all the time who was the best player at the Shrine Bowl in 2020. Practice has wrapped up, and after three days, I have to say that Oklahoma cornerback Parnell Motley was the best player here in Tampa. Motley plays with a ton of swagger, athleticism and confidence on the football field. Even when he had bad plays (and they were few and far between), Motley kept his head up – kept talking smack – and would bounce back to make big plays.
He knows how to watch the eyes of the quarterback and he will quickly make a move on the ball when the pass is incoming. Motley likes to mix it up as a run-defender in addition to what he can do in coverage. He plays with a chip on his shoulder and there are only a few players at this game that are of his caliber and projection to the NFL.
The Name Game
Another player who has made plays on all three days of practice was West Georgia defensive tackle Auzoyah Alufohai. He looked very stout at 6-foot-5, 328 pounds and has been making play after play as an interior defensive lineman. Alufohai has just a dash of Aaron Donald to his game. Now, to be clear, he is not Donald and will not be Donald in the NFL. But I did want to bring up how he plays like a Tasmanian Devil on the football field.
Alufohai plays with a high motor, but with such intensity, I wonder if he would be able to hold up for an entire game. He’s most likely a part-time player at the NFL and one who will have to have his snaps monitored so he doesn’t wear down.
Beck ! Odelay
There is a player here in Tampa that reminds me of Broncos tight end/H-back Andrew Beck – a player I saw last year here at the Shrine Bowl. Georgia tight end Eli Wolf looks a lot like Beck did last year.
Wolf is showing well as a receiver and catches almost every pass thrown his way. He can go up high to get passes or scoop them up low off the top of the blades of turf. Wolf has also shown an ability to catch passes that are placed a bit too far behind him. As you can tell, the quarterback play here in Tampa isn’t the best.
In addition to what he can do as a receiver, Wolf is showing toughness as a blocker. He’s not the biggest guy at 240 pounds, but he does hold up well against larger defenders. Wolf should gain more weight at the pro level and he’ll learn better technique as a blocker. We may not hear Wolf get his name called at the 2020 NFL Draft, but some team should get a quality depth player as a priority free agent at least.
Might as Well Jump
I saw something in Tampa this year that I’ve never seen before. Charlotte defensive end Alex Highsmith performed this jump/chop move as a pass-rusher that I thought was incredibly unusual.
— The Draft Network (@DraftNetworkLLC) January 14, 2020
He not only does this in practice against a bag, but Highsmith has been doing this in team drills and in the 1-on-1 drills in the pit. Highsmith pulled off this move in college and was in fact coached to do this move during his time in Charlotte. It’s fun to watch – and I don’t know if this will work at all in the NFL – but Highsmith has perfected the move.
Johnathan Johnson, a slot receiver from Missouri, has been tough to stop in West practice. He only had 29 receptions for the Tigers in 2019, but in 2018 with Drew Lock throwing him passes, Johnson caught 59 passes for 737 yards and five touchdowns. His quickness and route-running ability allow him to get open with ease in these practices. Perhaps the Broncos should be taking a look at Lock’s former playmaking slot receiver to help in 2020.
Speaking of Lock, I’ve talked to several scouts and NFL executives about the Broncos rookie signal-caller. People around the league are excited about Lock’s future in the NFL. Some scouts I talked to just a year ago were making fun of Broncos general manager John Elway because they felt he couldn’t find a quarterback or evaluate quarterback talent. Those same scouts this year are shaking their heads in disbelief, but also praising Elway for perhaps finding a real franchise quarterback in Lock. We’ll see if Lock can continue making Elway look good in 2020.
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