2023 East-West Shrine Bowl: Dynasty Rookies to Watch (Fantasy Football)
Las Vegas is an insomniac’s dream. Most of my best work in dynasty fantasy football comes in the wee morning hours when others are getting restful REM sleep. Film study helps me identify characteristics that might translate from college to the NFL. The measurements can help slot players into potential roles they may be asked to fill at the next level, assuming they land somewhere where their strengths are appropriately highlighted. All of the puzzle pieces are scrambled leading into their first offseason audition in the pre-draft process.
Seventh-round picks Brock Purdy and Isiah Pacheco were here at the Shrine Bowl last year and parlayed that rehearsal game into meaningful and impressive work as NFL rookies. This isn’t just an all-star game. The Shrine Bowl, like the Senior Bowl, is where we can put a bunch of future pros on the field and watch them play real football.
Dynasty managers are already on the hunt for the next breakout star that can be had in the deeper portions of their rookie draft. I implore you to tune into the Shrine Bowl on Feb. 2 and keep an eye on the following players. Fantasy superstars can come from anywhere. Sometimes they are selected on day two or three in the NFL Draft or aren’t even selected at all. I even struck up a conversation with a couple of these players, and they are excited that school is out and they can score touchdowns for a living.
2023 East-West Shrine Bowl: Dynasty Fantasy Football Rookies to Watch
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Dorian Thompson-Robinson (QB – UCLA)
Some of the QBs from day three of the draft have really panned out in the NFL. I have a fifth-round grade on Dorian Thompson-Robinson (DTR), who lit the Pac-12 ablaze with 39 touchdowns in 2022. Granted, Chip Kelly’s system is extremely QB-friendly. DTR still spread the ball around to his weapons just as well as he donned the cape and made big plays himself. I expect the five-year starter to latch on as a backup with real mobility traits, similar to Tyler Huntley in Baltimore or Colt McCoy in Arizona.
Tavion Thomas (RB – Utah)
There is something about a bruising menace at RB that gets everyone excited to watch football. Tavion Thomas is much more than a goal-line sledgehammer at 6-foot-1 and 247 pounds. He is nimble and patient at the line of scrimmage and shows good burst for his size when presented with an open lane to run through. As you can imagine, he is an absolute load to bring down when he gets rumbling to the second level of the defense. Thomas also was asked to do some receiving at Utah under Kyle Whittingham and displayed good hands and footwork when running routes. I can picture him as a steal on day three of the draft and shape-up to be a wonderful pro in the right system.
Mohamed Ibrahim (RB – Minnesota)
The surprise of the week might be the height and weight measurements of certain RBs, namely gutsy Golden Gopher Mohamed Ibrahim. He weighed in at a moderate 203 pounds but was shockingly stocky at only 5-foot-7 1/2. Nobody can question Ibrahim’s grit and determination. He shouldered a massive workload this season after tearing his Achilles in 2021. Where some see a lack of burst and explosiveness, I see instincts and contact balance that are very difficult to teach. Even though he will be 25 years old in 2023, I still like Ibrahim’s prospects as an RB who can stick on the field and produce fantasy numbers that far outweigh his acquisition cost.
Xazavian Valladay (RB – Arizona State)
I had the privilege of speaking with Xazavian Valladay on Tuesday. He is much taller and built more sturdy than he measured this week (5-foot-11, 199 pounds). Valladay was a shining beacon of production for the lowly Sun Devils with 1,200 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. He spoke fondly of Herm Edwards, who was relieved of his duties during the season. The main point with Valladay is his burst and long speed. He also flashed some good receiving chops in practice this week, despite not having much passing work on his plate at Wyoming or in Tempe. I suspect that Valladay is the type of player who can break out in the Shrine Bowl with some big plays and earn a roster spot at a volatile position during the preseason.
Travis Dye (RB – USC)
He might not wear any sleeves or gloves, but Travis Dye is a gamer. Dye measured at just under 5-foot-10 and 204 pounds. He was an excellent receiver out of the backfield at Oregon and carried it right into his work this season at USC under Lincoln Riley. Dye has seemingly been in college longer than Van Wilder but is simply good at football and should come off the board on day three. Everyone is looking for the next Austin Ekeler, and it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine Dye working his way to the top in a similar fashion.
Zay Flowers (WR – Boston College)
There aren’t enough superlatives to accurately describe Zay Flowers’ game. He is like 10 pounds of dynamite in a five-pound bag. At only 5-foot-9 and 182 pounds, Flowers put enough fireworks on tape to completely disregard his slight stature. He wins on the outside at X. He eviscerates zone defenses from the slot. Zay Flowers comps to DJ Moore for me, mainly because he moves effortlessly about his business, and defenders are just slower by comparison. I love shifty and versatile WRs who play bigger than their measurements. The depth of the 2023 class means you can get a special player like Flowers much later than what his production will provide.
A.T. Perry (WR – Wake Forest)
Some WRs are jackrabbits, but A.T. Perry is an antelope. At 6-foot-3 1/2 and 185 pounds, Perry has been stacking corners vertically all week here in Vegas and makes it look easy, like he is gliding. The Demon Deacon also plays long and with a huge catch radius. He was a standout basketball and track athlete, and it shows in his tape. He needs to be coached up to better win against physical press coverage, but I love the physical traits he possesses. Perry can be the player who turns into a touchdown machine at the next level if he lands somewhere that can nurture his strengths and polish his growth areas.
Jake Bobo (WR – UCLA)
Former Duke WR Jake Bobo made his senior season at UCLA count. Chip Kelly deployed him all over the formation as a chain-moving and red zone weapon. Admittedly, Bobo pictures himself as a big slot who is counted on to make high-leverage catches and must be accounted for in red zone packages. Think Adam Thielen with the versatility and football IQ of Keenan Allen. There are a few prototype big slot WRs in the NFL right now that Bobo can emulate as a professional and carve out a lengthy career. His ceiling in a high-volume spread offense is hard to quantify since he’s a matchup nightmare in traffic.
Justin Shorter (WR – Florida)
Many of the invitees to the Shrine Bowl are not yet on the dynasty radar but will be very soon. I have a sneaking suspicion that some Justin Shorter truthers will gather in greater numbers by the time his name is called in the spring. Shorter is a huge dude. At 6-foot-4 and 224 pounds, he is a load to bring down after the catch. His physicality can also be coached into a better release into intermediate routes. Although he figures to begin his career in a big slot role, he has shown a penchant for big plays at X and Z, especially on vertical routes.
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