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2019 East-West Shrine Game: Fantasy Analysis

Jan 21, 2019

Maryland running back Ty Johnson impressed in the East-West Shrine Game.

R.C. Fischer analyzes the 2019 East-West Shrine Game for FantasyPros.

This piece is part of our article program that features quality content from experts exclusively at FantasyPros. For more insight from R.C. head to Fantasy Football Metrics.

The East-West Shrine Game has been a low-scoring affair the past few years, with both sides not totaling more than 24 points combined in three of the prior four games. This year, the West jumped to a quick 14-0 lead, and it looked like we might get more of an offensive showcase. Then things slowed down. The West led 21-0 at one point, and the East raced back to close the gap to 21-17. That score, however, held up as the final tally when nobody produced any points in the final four minutes.

The West’s quick start happened behind some players who improved their NFL Draft stock, and the East’s comeback most likely launched one particular player into this week’s Senior Bowl as a late addition (if a spot opens up). He also made a case for an NFL Combine Invite—all of which is going to start moving him up the mock draft boards and rankings.

We’ll get into that rising star and all the position-by-position details of who made the biggest NFL Draft impact from this game/week.

Running Back

The West sprinted to a 7-0 start behind the strong running of Maryland’s Ty Johnson (seven carries, 44 yards rushing, one reception for 10 yards). The third pick in my top-five fantasy draft of the East-West Game prospects didn’t fail to impress.

Johnson was undeniably the most talented running back in this game. I thought this group displayed an overall weaker class of RB prospects for the NFL Draft, with Johnson the only one with real hope for a pro future. He took over the opening series from the very first snap, displaying next-level speed and underrated power/physicality.

Johnson really impressed scouts with his patience as a runner. He waited for holes to develop and then punched an accelerator that no other running back prospect here had the ability to do. He can also play special teams/return kicks at a higher level, so Johnson should rise from undrafted free-agent projections to top-200 (fifth-seventh round) valuations after his East-Weel week. He is still the one RB prospect from this game to keep an eye on for fantasy football and dynasty rookie draft purposes.

Quarterback

Three quarterbacks stood out to me as storylines from this game/week:

1) David Blough (10-15 for 149 yards, two TDs) led the East’s comeback effort and showed the same moxie he demonstrated at Purdue. He doesn’t possess the size (6’1″) or cannon-arm the NFL drools over, but he showed, once again, that he’s just a good quarterback with good vision who makes smart plays to overcompensate for any lack of physical gifts.

But what Blough impressed with the most this week in St. Petersburg was his character and leadership. He was the behind-the-scenes leader of the QB group. You could tell by the body language and interaction among them, and you could also tell just by talking to him or listening to his press conferences. He might get himself drafted in the seventh round.

2) Brett Rypien (10-14 for 134 yards, one TD) has some of the same issues as Blough in terms of draftability. A little undersized/thin-framed, but a smart QB with just an adequate arm. Because of his name-he’s the nephew of former NFL starting QB Mark Rypien-the Boise State alum has better draft status today. Yet after watching Blough and Rypien all week and in this game, I tend to gravitate towards Blough. He just has a little more of an “it” factor in terms of leadership, swagger, confidence, and improvisational skills.

3) Jordan Ta’Amu (7-10 for 98 yards) was the prospect a lot of scouts liked most among the group here because of his good arm and running ability. At a glance in shorts and T-shirt work, the Mississippi QB stands out physically. When it came to actual play, Blough and Rypien showed they are better craftsmen.

Blough and Rypien may get drafted late, and thus push Ta’Amu to undrafted status. None of these QB prospects, however, have a real fantasy football future.

Tight End

I didn’t see any real NFL Draft prospects at tight end in my scouting preview, and none emerged in the game. Nothing to write about here.

Wide Receiver

This is where the game’s real talent emanated. One player took the ball and leaped ahead of the group in terms of draft status, but there are several legitimate prospects of interest for the NFL and fantasy football.

The big winner was Georgia’s Terry Godwin (four receptions, 80 yards, two TDs, four targets). Sure, it seems simplistic to hold him up as a revelation after winning the Offensive Player of the Game award with two scores. I was a fan from my scouting preview, though. From the moment he started running routes early in this game against top corners, I immediately noted something different about him. You could really see the NFL movement skills. Godwin is so natural and confident on the field, and it stood out on Saturday.

Godwin reminded me of DaeSean Hamilton when scouting him before and during the game. He’s so smooth and gifted at his craft that he flies under the radar working with weaker QB play and a lack of overwhelming size or speed. Hamilton, barely ranked as ‘draftable’ among WRs to begin the 2018 NFL Draft process, gained attention at the East-West week. A strong showing earned him a late addition into the Senior Bowl, where his All-Star display led to a pick 113 selection by Denver, where he emerged as a productive starter late in 2018.

My top WR prospect coming into this game was Syracuse’s Jamal Custis (four receptions for 55 yards on eight targets). Four things to note about Custis from this game:

1) There was a lot of big, athletic WR prospects—the best group of WR talent I’ve ever seen at the East-West Game. With all the talent, Custis still stood out as the one every scout and fan’s eyes gravitated towards. He came in officially at 6’4.2″/212 pounds with 10.5″ hands, 34.25″ arm length, and a freakish 82.1″ wingspan. The biggest hands, longest arms, and the largest wingspan of the WR group by far, and nearly in the top-five among East-West prospects at all positions with his key measurables.

2) He’s raw and still learning the position following 2018’s breakout season. A former high-school basketball star pursued by Syracuse’s basketball team is finding out he has an NFL future. A lot to learn, but the “upside” word is going to race him up draft boards soon.

3) Custis caught a pass on a quick slant and showed scouts everything they’d want to see. He snatched the pass nicely with his hands, beating his coverage by two-plus steps off the snap/route, and then he took a big shot from a DB honing in on him. Custis just bounced off the huge blow and kept running for more yardage.

4) Custis totally burned coverage on one play in the first half. He had the cornerback beat by at least five yards, and the ball was still thrown at least five yards too far. An easy 40-yard TD was there for the taking, and it was Custis’ skills that set the table for it.

Other quick hits on WRs of note:

Shawn Poindexter (four catches for 71 yards and a TD on five targets) continues his march up draft boards. Arizona’s former college volleyball star measured 6’4.4″ officially, and his proficient TD run in 2018 (nine TDs in his last five games, including four-straight games with two TDs) continued with a 22-yard TD grab. Like Custis, Poindexter has size and athleticism, and he is just figuring out the position from a route-running and body positioning standpoint.

My #2 WR prospect coming into this game was Old Dominion’s Jon Duhart (two receptions for 13 yards on six targets). He won’t leave as my #2. Duhart showed the physical size needed for an NFL starter and had a good moment or two, but he looked a little less confident and just not as exciting compared to guys like Custis, Godwin, and Poindexter.

A late addition to the Shrine Game, Colorado Mines’ Brady Oliver (two catches for 12 yards on three targets) looked more confident and showed better hands than Duhart and most WR prospects here. He gives off a poor man’s Adam Thielen vibe, but I don’t think he has Thielen’s speed and agility. We’ll see soon.

IDP

I had McNeese State’s B.J. Blunt (six tackles, one INT) as my top IDP to watch in this game, but seeing him in live action against D1 talent set me back a step on him. Blunt has a high motor and is going to have a place in the NFL, but he does not look physically ready to be an impact NFL inside linebacker yet. He looked more like a strong safety playing linebacker, which is fine, but I thought he might stand out as a middle linebacker here. Now I need to see him add 10 or more pounds of muscle while keeping his speed-agility up to get more excited about his NFL prospects.

Oregon LB Justin Hollins (10 tackles, two sacks, three TFLs) won the Defensive Player of the Game award, which was understandable. Yet Oklahoma State DE Jordan Brailford (3 tackles, 1.0 sacks, 3 QB hits) was clearly the best defensive player on the field. He was a man among boys rushing the passer. It seemed like he was hitting the QB, or about to, on every other play. Brailford, who recorded 17 TFLs and 10 sacks in 13 games last season, might move into the top-10 DE prospects after this performance.

I have to say, the one defensive player that stood out to me above all the talented defenders here (really a great job by the East-West accumulating talent this year) was a guy I don’t think any scout or analyst will walk away with as a “fave.” But I really like North Alabama DB Chris Johnson (one tackle, one PD). He is just captivating to watch.

I really liked Johnson’s preview tape, but it’s hard to get a handle on him with the backdrop of playing against FCS talent. Against D1 action, Johnson’s movement skills and reaction time to the ball were sublime. On my own website, College Football Metrics, I previewed every player in this game and noted about Johnson: I wished he move from safety to corner at 6’2″+/210 because he has such closing speed on plays and could make more money that way.

Johnson is an aggressive hitter with quick-twitch movement and agility to adjust to the ball in the air in coverage. He made a play on a throw in this game where he was playing center-field safety. A throw went to the sideline, and Johnson appeared to be moving like something out of a vampire movie where they travel a short distance at the speed of light. He came from center field like a lightning bolt as the ball was thrown, and he dove to deflect the sideline pass. I still don’t know how he got there so fast, but if there is one play I will remember from this game, it was that one.

Join us later this week with my Senior Bowl prospect preview rankings (from a fantasy/dynasty rookie draft perspective) before the game and a Senior Bowl review the following Monday.

Look for more of my team’s NFL Draft scouting reports, measurables, and weekly updated dynasty rookie rankings before and after the NFL Draft, right up to the beginning of the new NFL season at College Football Metrics. See our NFL/fantasy analysis all year ’round at Fantasy Football Metrics.

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