In terms of NFL teams getting ready for the 2018 NFL draft, two of the college all-star games, the East-West Shrine Game and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, get played this weekend. Both games will primarily feature players who will be drafted in the later rounds of the draft or will just be undrafted rookie free agents.
I focus more on the East-West Shrine Game, as the game is played in the area (St. Petersburg, Florida) in which I live.
The Green Bay Packers have drafted some players recently who have played in this game and one of those players has turned out to be a pretty good performer in the NFL, even though he is no longer a member of the Packers.
I’m talking about defensive back Micah Hyde, now of the Buffalo Bills. Then general manager Ted Thompson met with Hyde (Iowa) during the week of the East-West game in 2013 and ended up drafting him in the fifth round.
In four years in Green Bay, Hyde started 33 games at both cornerback and safety and had 234 total tackles, four sacks, two fumble recoveries, eight interceptions and 25 passes defended.
Hyde was not played at his best position enough, which is safety, and his lack of great speed hurt him at times when he played cornerback. All in all though, Hyde was solid in the secondary in Green Bay more times than not.
Hyde was also exceptional at times with his ability to return punts, as he returned three of them for touchdowns in his fours years as a Packer.
But when Hyde became a unrestricted free agent in 2017, the Packers did not make him a priority and saw him sign a new deal with Buffalo, where he excelled last season. As a Bill, where he played strictly safety, Hyde had five picks and made the Pro Bowl.
Last year, the Packers and Thompson drafted one player (wide receiver DeAngelo Yancey of Purdue) who played in the East-West Shrine Game and signed another (offensive lineman Adam Pankey of West Virginia) as an undrafted free agent. Both Yancey and Pankey are on the current roster of the Packers.
This year things will be a bit different for the Packers, as Brian Gutekunst is now the general manager, although Thompson is still in the front office as a senior advisor in scouting.
In this year’s East-West game, there will be four members of the Wisconsin Badgers on the defense of the West team. They are safety Natrell Jamerson, linebacker Leon Jacobs, defensive lineman Conor Sheehy and defensive lineman Alec James.
NFL scout Chris Landry has said that all four of these players are draft eligible in 2018. So is fullback Austin Ramesh, who is playing NFLPA game this Saturday.
Green Bay should be taking a close look at all of these players, because all of them could help the depth for the Packers at the positions in which they play. Not to mention, the Badgers also play the 3-4 defense, just as the Packers do, although Green Bay will be more flexible in their defensive schemes under new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
The Badgers didn’t just play the 3-4 defense well in 2017, they played it exceptionally well. Wisconsin finished second in the country in total defense, only behind national champion Alabama.
The Badgers were also ranked third in scoring defense, third in rushing defense and fifth in passing defense.
Everyone of the Wisconsin defensive players in the Shrine game played a key role in that success.
Landry has been especially impressed with the way Jamerson has looked so far this week in East-West practices. This is what Landry noted about the former Badger safety earlier this week.
“Wisconsin safety Natrell Jamerson had an impressive opening day. In the team scrimmage, he flew across the field to track down an interception in front of a receiver and cornerback. It was a very nice play as Jamerson showed speed and an ability to track the ball. Jamerson (6-0, 198) is a versatile athlete who could end up really helping himself this week.”
Jamerson really flourished as a senior with the Badgers at safety, as he had 51 total tackles, 3.5 for a loss, 1.5 sacks, had 10 passes defended and had two interception, including one for a touchdown.
Jamerson also returned a kickoff for a touchdown as a sophomore.
Jacobs has also helped himself according to Landry.
“Leon Jacobs of Wisconsin, who primarily played on the line of scrimmage for the Badgers, has been used in a more traditional linebacker role here at Shrine practices and has looked solid. His footwork scraping laterally and dropping into coverage needs work, but Jacobs has held his ground against tight ends and running backs who come across the field.”
Jacobs had a very solid career at Wisconsin. The 6’2″, 245-pound Jacobs had 142 total tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks, three interceptions, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown).
Sheehy and James did excellent work in the trenches for the Badgers in their careers, as evidenced by the way the Wisconsin defense has been able to stop the run over the past four years.
In his career with the Badgers, the 6’3″, 272-pound James had 100 total tackles, 15.5 tackles for a loss, 11 sacks, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble.
Sheehy also had an excellent career while playing at Wisconsin, as he had 94 total tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss, six sacks and one forced fumble.
The four Badgers will be going up against three very dynamic quarterbacks on the East squad, including one that they are very familiar with. That would be J.T. Barrett of Ohio State.
The 6’2″, 220-pound Barrett once again put up great numbers in 2017, as he threw 35 touchdown passes versus just nine picks for 3,042 yards. Barrett also rushed for 809 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Another quarterback on the East squad is one I am very familiar with, as Quinton Flowers played here locally with the USF Bulls. The 6’0″, 210-pound Flowers is similar to Barrett in a number of ways. In 2017, Flowers threw 25 touchdown passes versus six picks for 2,911 yards. Flowers also rushed for 1,078 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The third quarterback for the East squad is Riley Ferguson of Memphis, who has the best chance of the three to advance to the NFL level at quarterback, as both Barrett and Flowers will probably change positions at some point.
The 6’4″, 210-pound Ferguson threw 38 touchdowns versus nine picks for 4,257 yards.
The East squad also has a player who has definitely made a name for himself in front of the scouts this week. I’m talking about wide receiver Daurice Fountain of Northern Iowa. The 6’1″, 210-pound Fountain has impressed scouts like Landry, as he explains.
“Fountain showed flashes of ability during the initial two Shrine practices then really pulled it together on Wednesday morning and was the top receiver on the field. He catches the ball well, showing good hand-eye coordination as well as the ability to win out for contested passes. Fountain was probably the fastest receiver on the field during East practice, showing a terrific burst and the ability to outrun defenders down the sidelines. He looks primed to be a fourth or fifth man on the depth chart at the next level, and displaying return skills during Saturday’s game will only enhance his draft stock.”
The Packers would be wise to keep their eye on Fountain knowing the issues the team now has at the wide receiver position. That’s because both Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb will most likely be looking at getting their contracts renegotiated at a lower price, especially with the re-signing of Davante Adams to a four-year $58 million contract extension.
Nelson is set to make $10.2 million this year, while Cobb will make $9.5 million.
Bottom line, the Packers can help themselves by keeping a close eye on the talent in the East-West Shrine Game, especially the home grown defensive talent who played with the Badgers.