The NFL season has come to a close for all but four teams, and the NFL draft season is about to be well underway. The first of the off-season bowls will commence on Saturday, when the East-West Shrine Game kicks off in St. Petersburg, Florida. The game is a step below the Senior Bowl as far as talent goes, but there still could be a prospect or three selected in rounds two and three at the highest.
In preparation for the Shrine game, the players have been practicing all week, and the practices have been a bit peculiar. The two head coaches are former NFL coaches, Romeo Crennel and Jerry Glanville. Crennel, for the first two days of practices had non-padded practices, which has frustrated NFL personnel and Shrine game players as well. The NFL scouts and general managers want to see all these players have to offer, and more practices with pads will give them a better idea of who these players really are. The players feel the no pad practices are days that became missed opportunities to truly showcase themselves to NFL teams.
This week of practices has shown who some of the standout players could be when they hit the field Saturday:
- LB Max Bullough, Michigan State - Bullough was the leader and anchor of the No. 1 ranked defense in the nation and was a big reason why the Spartans were in the Rose Bowl. After a good season, Bullough was suspended for the Rose Bowl after violating team rules. That certainly will hurt his draft stock, but he hasn't helped himself any this week either. Bullough has refused to talk to the media, and weighs twenty pounds more than his listed weight of 245. He's out of shape and isn't being wise by ignoring reporters, I don't see how he has a good game or helps his stock any on the field or off this week. He still will get drafted, but he went from a possible round three choice to the later rounds in my opinion.
- QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois - Remember this name. Jimmy hails from the same school of Tony Romo and Sean Payton, and broke a lot of their records in the process. While he may not have a rocket arm, it's plenty strong enough, and quite accurate as well. Garoppolo goes through reads quickly and doesn't hold on to the ball too long. He has a lot of attributes teams are going to like, he's a smart football player. Garoppolo could be drafted in round three or higher, and I could see him being a starter in the NFL someday if he lands in the right situation. Garoppolo passed for 5,050 yards this season and 53 touchdowns.
- CB Andre Hal, Vanderbilt - A second team All-SEC selection, Hal has shown he can compete with some of the best receivers in college football. Hal finished the year with 14 passes defended and two interceptions. He gives up the occasional big play and will likely be a late round pick.
- CB E.J. Gaines, Missouri - I like this guy. He may be just 5'10", but he's physical as can be, and has top-tier speed. Gaines does not shy away from press coverage or helping out in run support, leading to 68 tackles and 4 interceptions this season. I wouldn't mind the 49ers giving him a look.
- WR Jeremy Gallon, Michigan - At 5'7", Gallon is the shortest player playing in the Shrine Game. He has been used as a slot receiver this week in practice, and he will have to have a good game to show teams he can contribute from that position at the next level. The thing going against him is he isn't exceptionally fast, he doesn't have the small size and freakish speed such as Tavon Austin. A team will certainly take a flier on him, but he will have to show his toughness, good route running, because he isn't a speed demon.
- S Hakeem Smith, Louisville - Worth keeping an eye on for us Niners fans just in case Donte Whitner isn't back next season. Smith is a smart safety that is well rounded in both run and pass support. Overlooked at times because of his 186 lb frame at 6'0", I wouldn't shy away from him because of that, he can gain some pounds and more muscle. Smith already has shown he can move well, be it running down hill to stop a run, moving sideline to sideline, or back pedaling. Good feet and awareness. I don't think he will be ready to start year one, but with some weight added and a little time in a teams system, you could be hearing his name on Sundays before long.
For more information on prospects in the Shrine Game, check out SB Nation's Dan Kadar and his daily practice reports: