With the offseason in full swing and much of the attention shifting to the 2023 NFL Draft, we here at Steelers Depot are gearing up for a rather busy few weeks ahead, starting Friday with a host of staff members making the trek to Las Vegas for the 98th edition of the East West Shrine Bowl.
Dr. Melanie Friedlander, Owen Straley, Joe Clark, Joe Cammarota and myself are set to descend on Sin City for another round of prospect evaluations up close and personal at the East-West Shrine Game, which is in its second season in Las Vegas and again will take place at the UNLV Fertitta Center and the Las Vegas Raiders’ practice facility leading up to the Feb. 2 game at Allegiant Stadium on NFL Network.
More than 100 players aiming for a shot at the next level, whether that be the NFL, XFL, USFL or CFL, will descend on Las Vegas for the week-long Shrine Bowl. Some big names will be in attendance this year, thanks to some superb scouting and overall growth of the All-Star setting by Eric Galko, while there will also be some sleeper names to watch out for.
Below are my own personal top 10 players to watch ahead of the start of the Shrine Bowl week on Friday, Jan. 27. Of course, this is just an initial evaluation. Some names could disappoint throughout the week, while others rise and catch our attention. Stay tuned to steelersdepot.com all week for practice reports, player interviews and more.
Top 10 players to watch in the East-West Shrine Bowl
1) Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College (West Roster)
Entering the week in Las Vegas, Zay Flowers is head and shoulders the best player among the group of 100+ players the Shrine Bowl has in attendance. Flowers is likely going to be a first-round pick in April’s 2023 NFL Draft, which is a rarity among players on the Shrine Bowl roster, at least historically.
A dynamic run-after-catch guy, Flowers is the closest thing the NFL has seen coming out of college in the last decade to Tyreek Hill. He’s a freakishly twitched up guy that can make defenders miss in a phone booth and score from anywhere on the field. I’m interested to see his overall route running up close and in person, as well as his ability to adapt to unfamiliar quarterbacks and schemes within a busy week.
He’s going to test extremely well and will likely tear up the competition in Las Vegas throughout the week.
2) Carter Warren, OT, Pittsburgh (East Roster)
A key cog in the Pittsburgh offense the last two seasons before missing much of the 2022 campaign due to injury, Warren enters the week in Las Vegas as arguably the top offensive lineman overall of the group. The former blindside protector for current Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett, it was a surprise to see the 6-foot-5, 320-pound left tackle return to the Panthers for the 2022 season.
Ultimately it didn’t work out for him as he got hurt and missed most of the season, so his participation in the Shrine Bowl will be big from an evaluation standpoint. When healthy, he’s light on his feet with great footwork and balance, able to mirror easily in pass protection, and changes directions and moves in space very well in the run game. Functional strength was a concern entering 2022, so it will be interesting to see how that plays up against the competition in Las Vegas.
3) Kobie Turner, iDL, Wake Forest (East Roster)
A former walk-on at FCS Richmond, Turner transferred to Wake Forest for the 2022 season and dominated the competition in the ACC for the Demon Deacons. At 6-foot-3, 290 pounds, he appears best suited for an even-front scheme at the next level overall.
At Wake Forest in 2022, Turner played in 12 games and saw action on 463 total snaps for the Demon Deacons. Turner recorded 25 tackles in his lone season at the Power 5 level and he tallied 28 total pressures, which included 23 QB hurries, 3 QB hits, and 2 sacks on the season. Turner plays with his hair on fire, chasing the football all over the field, very rarely giving up on a play.
On tape, Turner showed a fast first step on the interior and had some surprising strength. After having as much success as he did in his lone season in the ACC, all eyes will be on Turner on the big stage in the draft process.
4) Ricky Stromberg, iOL, Arkansas (West Roster)
Woo Pig Sooie! Stromberg is a four-year starter at Arkansas in the SEC and has seen it all when it comes to NFL-caliber talent in the trenches, including matchups in the past against guys like Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, Jordan Davis, Devonte Wyatt, and most recently Jalen Carter.
Experienced with a big, powerful frame (6-foot-4, 318 pounds) at center, Stromberg just screams that old-school, mauling presence at center that can also slide out to guard and really carve out a career in the NFL as a key depth piece, much like a Ted Karras type. Curious to see how he’ll handle some of the athletes on the interior at the Shrine Bowl after seeing high-level guys with size, power and athleticism in the SEC the last four years.
5) Colby Sorsdal, OT, William & Mary (West Roster)
Sorsdal may be coming from a smaller school overall, at least when it comes to the NFL Draft and All-Star formats, but he plays at a high level and has garnered a lot of attention in the buildup to the Shrine Bowl.
A five-year starter at William & Mary, Sorsdal has great size (6-6, 305), plays with serious strength and toughness at tackle and has sound awareness overall. Last season, Sorsdal was the second-highest graded FCS offensive tackle in the country, trailing just North Dakota State’s Cody Mauch, who is expected to be a top 50 pick in April.
Sorsdal didn’t allow a single sack in 2022 and certainly looks like he has a bright future ahead. That future starts in Las Vegas.
6) Tyrus Wheat, LB, Mississippi State (West Roster)
A bit of a tweener at 6-foot-2, 265 pounds, Wheat can do it all.
At Mississippi State, Wheat played on the edge, rushing the passer and setting the edge against the run, dropped into coverage as an off-ball linebacker and played the traditional inside linebacker role at times too. He’s a downhill thumper in the run game when playing off ball, but looks like more of a rotational edge defender early in his career with his pass rush abilities and comfort playing in space.
I want to see a bit more from him in space in the week ahead, especially in coverage against running backs and tight ends. He moves rather well on tape for 265 pounds, but being up close and personal will really show his movement skills one way or another.
7) Viliami Fehoko, EDGE, San Jose State (East Roster)
Few in the draft class overall might be as complete of a player against the run and rushing the passer off the edge as Fehoko is. Last season, Fehoko was one of just three players in the country at EDGE to grade 85.0 or higher as a pass rusher and a run defender, according to Pro Football Focus.
The other two? Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. and Bowling Green’s Karl Brooks, both of whom will be off the board within the first 50 picks, with Anderson in play for No. 1 overall. Fehoko is an explosive player on tape, one that has a well-developed pass rush arsenal overall and can really convert speed to power and stun opponents.
Standing 6-foot-4, 263 pounds, Fehoko certainly looks the part on film. Concerns about arm length are present though.. We’ll see how he holds up against fellow draft prospects under the watchful eyes of scouts.
8) A.T. Perry, WR, Wake Forest (East Roster)
Though he played the X in college, Perry profiles as more of a Z receiver at the next level due to his size (6-foot-5, 212 pounds) and limited route tree overall.
A former three-sport athlete in high school, Perry leans into his basketball background quite a bit at the receiver position, jumping out of the gym to make plays on the ball in the air. He’s not a burner overall, but he’s a long strider, one that can create separation downfield but needs to build up speed to do so.
He’s going to be heavily tested by a physical group of receivers in Las Vegas throughout the week. On tape, he struggled in those types of matchups. He has all the tools though to be a downfield threat and a real possession receiver overall. I can’t wait to see how he performs during Shrine Bowl Week.
9) Shaquan Davis, WR, South Carolina State (East Roster)
Much of the attention at the receiver position in the Shrine Bowl is being paid to some huge names on the East and West rosters, specifically Flowers, Perry, and Jake Bobo. One guy completely flying under the radar that has a great chance of exploding onto the scene is South Carolina State’s Davis.
Davis will check in right around 6-foot-5 and 212 pounds and reportedly has nearly 35-inch arms and an 83-inch wingspan. His catch radius is massive, and he’s electrifying in space after the catch with the football. Watching him on tape, he reminds me a lot of Martavis Bryant, just in the way he moves and tracks the football overall. His frame certainly helps that comparison, too.
The South Carolina State product also spent some time on the Bulldogs’ basketball team, too, and knows how to use his body to his advantage on contested catches. He still seems rather raw for the position overall, at least in terms of route running, but he has two things you can’t teach: size and speed.
10) Yasir Abdullah, EDGE, Louisville (East Roster)
Full disclosure: Abdullah was one of the first guys from the Shrine Bowl I popped the tape on of in late December, and boy did he impress.
He’s a bit undersized at 6-foot-1, 242 pounds, but he plays much bigger than his frame and utilizes leverage to his advantage when rushing the passer. At Louisville, Abdullah was top five in the Power 5 in sacks, pressures and pressure rate in 2022, and was sixth in the country in 10 tackles for loss.
Abdullah has a quick first step to let him win around the edge, and pairing that with his ability to stay low and turn the corner makes him rather difficult to block. There were real struggles as a run defender on tape though, so I’m curious to watch him develop in that area in the week ahead.