ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Sure, there are more important things going on in the Eagles' universe at the moment than the 88th annual East-West Shrine Game. But as Chairman/CEO Jeffrey Lurie, general manager Howie Roseman and team president Don Smolenski continue the team's search for its next head coach, there is much work being done to prepare for April's NFL Draft. The Shrine Game typically brings a caliber of prospect just below that of next week's Senior Bowl, but there is still plenty of talent on display.
Consider that last year's rosters included first-round pick wide receiver A.J. Jenkins of the San Francisco 49ers, cornerback Josh Norman of the Carolina Panthers, defensive tackle Akiem Hicks of the New Orleans Saints, special teams standouts Greg Zuerlein, Blair Walsh and Bryan Anger and, the cream of the crop, Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris. There are also three current Eagles who participated in the game last season: fullback/tight end Emil Igwenagu, wide receiver B.J. Cunningham and tackle Matt Reynolds (tight end Chase Ford, who went through Training Camp with the Eagles, was also a participant). It's safe to say, then, that some of the players going through the week-long tryout under the Florida sun will be on your radar a year from now. So why not get started now?
Though the players did not practice in full pads Monday (they will do so Tuesday and Wednesday), the players still tried to take advantage of every opportunity to impress. With more of a nod to who's being talked about on the sidelines rather than to who did what on Monday, here's a look at 10 players whose names you should remember throughout the draft process.
Arkansas Pine-Bluff OT Terron Armstead – At 6-5, 310, Armstead has the size and the requisite athleticism to project as a developmental left tackle. Because of the nature of his competition in college, Armstead's performance this week against a higher class of competition takes on an added importance. Some have said that he could find himself coming off the draft board as high as Day 2. There's also a feel-good Philadelphia story from Armstead's teammate on the East roster, James Madison guard Earl Watford, a North Philadelphia native.
Virginia Tech WR Marcus Davis – There are several intriguing wide receiver prospects in St. Petersburg, but Davis may offer the best physical tools of the bunch. At 6-4, 225, Davis looks the part of an NFL receiver and he caught 51 passes for 953 yards as a senior, earning honorable mention All-ACC honors. His teammate Corey Fuller, 6-3, 195, a former track star at Kansas, also had a productive senior season, hauling in 45 catches for 834 yards in his only season as a serious contributor. The depth at wide receiver also includes Florida State's Rodney Smith, 6-6, 219, who had a standout practice Monday, as well as Mount Union's Jasper Collins and Arizona's Emory Blake, the son of one-time Eagles quarterback Jeff Blake.
UCLA Tight End Joseph Fauria – Tight end may feature one of the best collections of talent of any position on the Shrine Game rosters. Fauria is an intriguing prospect as a potential red-zone target at 6-7, 255. He didn't have much of a palate for blocking in college, but the nephew of former NFL tight end Christian Fauria is naturally athletic for his size. After making an impressive diving catch during Monday's practice, Fauria left with what may have been an injury or simply precaution.
Pittsburgh RB Ray Graham – We do know the Eagles have shown an affinity for Pittsburgh running backs over the past few seasons, with LeSean McCoy and Dion Lewis both on the roster as homegrown draft picks. Graham is a worthy successor in the line of Panthers running backs after earning All-Big East honors in each of his final two seasons. Graham's 3,271 career rushing yards surpassed both McCoy and Lewis to land Graham just behind Tony Dorsett on the school's all-time list. Though small at 5-10, 190, Graham may be the most explosive running back in St. Petersburg as he continues to regain full health following a 2011 torn ACL. Also on the East roster, keep an eye on Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy, 5-9, 214, who was very productive in the talented SEC and offers decisiveness and the ability to make defenders miss.
Penn State LB Gerald Hodges – Just as Pittsburgh's succession line of running backs works in Graham's favor, so too does the longtime "Linebacker U" moniker for Hodges' alma mater help the Paulsboro, NJ, native. Hodges, 6-2, 251, who grew up an Eagles fan, was versatile enough in college that he was even asked to return punts at one point last season. But he'll make his money at the next level with his nose for the ball and athleticism that should provide the ability to play in space at the next level.
Rutgers TE D.C. Jefferson – One of the more intriguing prospects in that Jefferson was underutilized as a receiving option during his time at Rutgers. Originally a quarterback, Jefferson, 6-6, 250, earned a starting role as a freshman. He was often leaned on as a run blocker and is a surprisingly polished pass protector. Despite earning a first-team role early on, Jefferson only caught a combined 27 passes through his first three seasons. A 20-catch senior year showed improvement in that area, but the question is whether the lack of offensive touches was a function of the offense or of Jefferson himself. He could prove to be a big "riser" as the draft season continues.
Texas A&M RB Christine Michael – One of the surest ways to find mid- to late-round value come April is to pluck players who have been hurt by, well, being hurt. Michael was on his way to a 1,000-yard rushing season as a junior before a knee injury ended his season and left him behind the curve in 2012. At 5-11, 220, Michael offers the highest upside of any running back on the West roster and will be watched closely by scouts throughout the week.
Howard LB Keith Pough – As far as intriguing prospects go, Pough may very well be right at the top of the list. The 2012 MEAC Defensive Player of the Year ended up at Howard largely because he was off the Division-I radar until a late growth spurt. Pough, 6-3, 238, was ultra-productive in college, setting the Football Championship Subdivision all-time record with 71.5 career tackles for loss. Pough, the son of a high school football coach, took an early vocal leadership role at practice Monday, encouraging his defensive teammates throughout. But the reason he'll be on the radar of NFL teams in the mid rounds is tremendous closing speed and superior instincts. Still, this week of facing superior competition is likely to mean more to players like Pough than some others.
Arizona QB Matt Scott – Though Kansas State's Collin Klein is the biggest name of the six quarterbacks in St. Petersburg, Scott may have the most to offer NFL teams at the next level. Though he's a touch undersized, listed as 6-3, 208, Scott has the strongest arm at the Shrine Game and offers a lot in the way of mobility as well, rushing for 632 yards in his senior season. Of course, Scott didn't get the chance to prove himself as a starting quarterback until 2012 after a certain Nick Foles had graduated to the NFL. Scott said that he and Foles remain close and that Foles offered the Corona, CA, native some advice on going through the pre-draft process. Soon enough, Foles will be offering Scott tips on how to approach his first NFL offseason.
Nevada TE Zach Sudfeld – The final tight end of note, Sudfeld is listed with the same 6-7, 255, dimensions as Fauria, though the two have significantly different games. Sudfeld was often used as a run blocker in Nevada's pistol offense, a selling point that he mentioned might attract teams looking to implement certain characteristics of that offense in the NFL. But there's much more to Sudfeld, who found the ball more than any other player in Monday's West practice. At one point, Sudfeld made a catch while on the ground, shortly before he impressed with a few impressive receptions up the seam.