The 2022 East-West Shrine Bowl practices begin today ahead of the all-star game on Thursday, February 3rd at 8 PM on NFL Network. For the week leading up to the game in Las Vegas, some of the top seniors in the country will take the field in order to improve their draft stock in front of all 32 NFL teams and a coaching staff comprised of some of the bright young coaches around the league.
Who are the most intriguing players to watch? For more, be sure you check out the latest Journey to the Draft Podcast where Eric Galko, the Director of Operations and Player Personnel for the Shrine Bowl, joined me to go through the top players at each position leading into the week's action.
S Reed Blankenship, Middle Tennessee State
A five-year starter for MTSU who took advantage of the NCAA's extra year of eligibility, Blankenship has been consistently productive in both the run and pass game. A smart, tough captain with good ball skills, Blankenship profiles as a really strong backup safety with toughness and instincts that will help him stick in the league.
S Bubba Bolden, Miami
Bolden - another USC transfer - made a name for himself on a national stage in 2020 by rocking the "Turnover Chain" for the Hurricanes early and often in his junior season. A tall, rangy athlete with the ability to make impressive plays in coverage and deliver an explosive hit in the flats, Bolden's durability and consistency are the biggest issues for him moving into the NFL. A prototypical free safety who can play from depth and be a ballhawk in the post, Bolden missed the back half of the 2021 season due to injury, but is working hard to get right for the week of practice in Vegas. Regardless, he will have the chance to meet with teams over the course of the week.
EDGE Jeffrey Gunter, Coastal Carolina
Gunter's former teammate, Eagles defensive end Tarron Jackson, stole headlines last year but Gunter has been a productive player for the Chanticleers as well. At 6-foot-4 and over 270 pounds, the senior pass rusher has a thick, stout frame with power to push the pocket, a relentless play style, and the ability to set the edge well in the run game. Gunter is one of the best defensive prospects taking the field in Vegas this week.
WR Jaivon Heiligh, Coastal Carolina
At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Heiligh is a big-bodied speedster who has both vertical speed and a technical refinement that has allowed him to be named first-team All-Sun Belt each of the past two seasons for the upstart Chanticleers, where he was teammates with Eagles defensive end Tarron Jackson. Heiligh has some things to clean up against press coverage in the NFL, but his skill set is one that will be viewed as very intriguing upon entering the NFL. Want another Eagles connection? Heiligh grew up in Venice, Florida, where he starred at Venice High School, the same as former Eagles tight end and Philly Special hero Trey Burton.
CB Jack Jones, Arizona State
One of a handful of Sun Devils going to Vegas, you could argue that Jones is THE most physically gifted prospect at the Shrine Bowl this year. A former big-time recruit who began his career at USC, Jones transferred to ASU to play for former Eagle Herm Edwards and has been a really impressive cover corner. Whether it's from press or off coverage, in man or in zone, the 5-9, 175-pound corner shows the ability to read routes and finish on the ball in coverage. Size could be a concern for some teams, but Jones has the skill set to play in the league.
OL Jaxson Kirkland, Washington
At 6-foot-7, 310 pounds, Kirkland is a four-year starter up front for the Huskies, where he was named the team's offensive lineman of the year as a sophomore in 2019 before going on to being named first-team All-Pac-12 each of the next two seasons. Kirkland, who began his career at right guard, spent the last two seasons anchoring the offensive line at left tackle. Most draft analysts view him as a better fit on the inside, but Kirkland's versatility (to play both tackle and guard on both the left and right sides) will be a valuable attribute in the pre-draft process.
C Alec Lindstrom, Boston College
Lindstrom is a three-year starter at center for BC, a program with a history of putting proficient blockers into the pro ranks. That list of draft choices includes Alec's older brother, Chris, who was a first-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons a couple of springs ago. The younger Lindstrom is not the biggest lineman at his listed weight of 6-foot-3, 298 pounds, but he's quick into contact, has light feet, and is smart and tough. That's a good combination for the center spot.
WR Charleston Rambo, Miami
A three-year college starter who began his career in Oklahoma catching passes from Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, Rambo is an explosive pass catcher with instant speed at the snap. Whether it's in the quick game where he can take a simple slant pass to the house at any point, or in the vertical pass game where he consistently can take the top off the defense, Rambo has game-breaking potential in the NFL. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior spent his final season in Miami, leading the Hurricanes in receiving yards.
OL Cordell Volson, North Dakota State
Another offensive lineman with proven versatility, Volson has played extensive action at four spots up front (all but center) for the Bison over his career. At 6-foot-7, 313 pounds, Volson has solid physical tools across the board and stands out with his effort, toughness, and impressive technique in both the run and pass game. While there may not be any special physical traits with Volson on film, that proven versatility will carry him a long way in the coming months.
LB Tre Walker, Idaho
A two-time All-American at the FCS level, Walker has been a force for the Vandals over the course of his career. A tackle machine who has racked up production whenever he's been on the field, the 6-foot-1, 240-pound linebacker plays best in traffic, downhill in the run game. He's excellent at taking on and defeating blocks at the point of attack, and has a knack for finding small cracks in space to find the football. The pass game will be the question mark with him, and that's something he'll look to prove in Vegas, but Walker has a skill set that NFL teams will find a home to utilize.