2018 East-West Shrine Game: Players to watch for the Seahawks

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Draft season is underway, as practices have begun for this year’s East-West Shrine Game. Each season there’s a few college stars who show up (Vernon Adams, J.T. Berrett) and a few more players who perform well enough to play in next week’s Senior Bowl, as well. Although the Senior Bowl is the marquee college all-star game, every year NFL contributors can be found in the second all-star game, the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Florida. This year’s East and West rosters are full of interesting names, both great athletes and underwhelming college stars.

Jake Wieneke (WR, South Dakota State)

Wieneke is a big-bodied receiver (6041, 218 pounds) who won consistently above the rim and at the catch point playing at the FCS-level. In his four seasons with the Jackrabbits, Wieneke totaled 59 career touchdowns, including two seasons of 16 touchdowns. His ability to high-point the football gives his quarterback a chance on any 50/50 ball, from short slants, to deep routes down the sideline, to jump balls in the end zone. Wieneke fits the mold of a possession receiver, the kind the Seattle Seahawks have tried and failed on numerous occasions to acquire through the draft: Kevin Norwood, Chris Harper, Kris Durham, while the jury is out on 2017 draftees Amara Darboh and David Moore.

Wieneke has a great ability to catch contested passes, and proves to be extremely reliable as a result. It’s rare to see him fail to catch a ball he has a chance at, both because of his ability to locate the ball and his strong hands — he plucks the ball out of the air like he could produce proof of ownership upon request. His classification as a possession receiver also extends to how he separates. He’s not a slippery receiver by any means, but seems to know exactly how to position his body, gaining inside position against a defensive back that’s helplessly step-for-step with him.

There are many receivers available in this year’s draft who will test better than Wieneke, and many more who played at a higher level than him. But Wieneke displays the kind of football intelligence and natural pass-catching ability that makes you think he can end up as a solid NFL wide receiver after being drafted on day three.

Steven Dunbar (WR, Houston)

Dunbar, like Wieneke, is a big-bodied possession receiver (6012, 210 pounds) who can high-point or adjust to the football really well. Dunbar’s adjustments scream great control of his body, something Wieneke doesn’t offer as fluidly. But outside of that, their games are quite different. Whereas Wieneke separates before the catch using subtle moves and superior positioning, Dunbar will simply be more physical at the top of his route. As we’ve seen with DeAndre Hopkins, that can be a problem if an official is looking for, and calling, offensive pass interference. If he plays consistently at the next level, Dunbar will toe that line game in and game out. However unlike Wieneke, Dunbar also offers something after the catch. He isn’t necessarily agile in the open field, but he’s slippery and has good vision, even cutting all the way back across the field at times. If he can get himself turned around and squared up to a defensive back after the catch, it’s a problem — he will find contact against a smaller defender.

Just like Wieneke, Dunbar is another possibility for the Seahawks’ latest attempt at finding the big possession receiver who can play above the rim. I prefer Wieneke as an NFL prospect, but I think there’s the potential for Dunbar to really embarrass some of the smaller defensive backs on the East team on Saturday.

Jordan Chunn (RB, Troy)

The only running back at the Shrine Game who fits Seattle’s mold at the position (5113, 234 pounds), Chunn is in line to have a quietly steady week while Fordham’s Chase Edmonds steals the headlines. Chunn was a great player in the Sun Belt conference, finishing his career one touchdown shy of the league all-time record. Listed as 6-1 at Troy, Chunn plays like 5-9. More Frank Gore than DeMarco Murray, Chunn plays with great pad level and is a squatty runner. His official measurement of 5-11 vibes with what you see on tape. His big frame and low center of gravity make him a difficult proposition for any defender. Aim low and he’s absolutely going to stay on his feet, aim high and he will make you miss. Despite being a bigger ‘back at 234, Chunn doesn’t hunt contact in the open field, but finishes physically and will break tackles.

Not only does Chunn have the speed to separate in the open field, I would expect for him to raise eyebrows after he works out at the combine. He has the ability to (and history of) hurdling defenders like he’s Todd Gurley despite, again, being 234 pounds. If the Seahawks are going to continue running a zone blocking scheme, Chunn would be a great fit. He’s a decisive runner, making his cut and getting up field with great efficiency, and is lethal on inside runs when he gets to the second level.

Chunn may end up getting knocked down a round because of his level of play and the depth of this year’s running back class, but he should be the latest in a long line of day three running backs who outperform their draft status immediately.

Brett Toth (T, Army)

Toth is exactly the kind of offensive line prospect Seattle would target as a rookie free agent. He’s athletic (6056, 304 pounds) with long arms (33 5/8″) and a wide base, but raw and not yet in an NFL tackle’s body. Attending both the Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl, Toth will have a chance to show teams first hand that he’s coachable and a worthwhile project beyond his obvious athleticism. He’s raw, but there were instances of him completely locking down his man in pass protection, using his exceptional length to hit his target first and from there he can control a defender with ease. Toth’s run blocking looks to be completely based off of athleticism at the moment and needs a world of refining. Additionally, he has a tendency to set deep in pass protection, opening himself up to inside counter moves.

All-in-all, Toth is a highly athletic prospect of strong character, exactly the kind of player who will earn chances to land on a practice squad in the fall and turn into a proper NFL offensive lineman over the next season or two.

Dejon Allen (T, Hawaii)

The University of Hawaii’s reigning back-to-back offensive MVP is a tough prospect to nail down. Dejon Allen is short for a tackle (6020) and light for a guard (293 pounds) at the next level, after playing as a left tackle for Hawaii. His saving grace is that his arm length (33 ⅞”) is functional for an NFL tackle. Compounding the Allen conundrum is his strengths and weaknesses at this point: He is strong in pass protection, where his athleticism (and lower level of competition) allowed him to win in space in 1-on-1s against edge defenders, but he struggled in the run game. Moving him inside to guard would lessen his impact as a pass protector — he would be able to handle quick-footed interior rushers, but would get completely overmatched by powerful, larger defensive tackles. Like Toth, he’s a great athlete and will find himself in a training camp, but beyond that, it’s tough to picture a long NFL career.

Gregory Senat (T, Wagner)

Gregory Senat is a former basketball player for the Wagner College Seahawks who transitioned to football in 2016, starting all 11 games at right tackle. Senat is a prospect closely similar to George Fant: Athletic, lean, with great length (35 5/8″ arms), but far away from being an NFL tackle at the moment. Playing in the Northeast Conference, Senat actually displayed a solid foundation of pass protecting skills. So while he’s a similar body type (6061, 294 pounds) and prospect to Fant, he’s further along at this stage than Fant was. Like Toth and Allen, if Senat proves to be coachable in front of NFL personnel at the Shrine Game, he’ll absolutely find himself on a roster. His athletic profile and early signs of blocking ability may even land him a day three selection.

Brandon Facyson (CB, Virginia Tech)

Brandon Facyson is a prospect similar to Walter Thurmond III, in that he was a highly touted recruit who suffered a devastating leg injury, and will now likely go in the middle of the draft. As a potential Seattle cornerback, there’s a lot to like about Facyson’s game. He has terrific length (32 7/8″ arms) and utilizes it well, breaking up passes on a weekly basis. Encouragingly, not only does he have exceptional length, but he uses it properly. He has great timing on pass breakups, never putting himself in a position to be flagged for pass interference, instead getting inside of the receiver’s frames and using his arms to get out in front and meet the football first.

Facyson played a lot of off coverage with Virginia Tech, but in the few instances I saw of him playing press, he was patient in waiting for the wide receiver to get outside of the framework of his body before turning his hips and moving downfield. While his length and ability to get back into plays resemble a Pete Carroll-cornerback, his tackling does not. He isn’t over eager to get into the mix, often taking bad angles or over pursuing all while not looking like a particularly willing tackler. He does, however, like to come up and deliver the big hit when he finds himself 1-on-1 in the open field. Whether that speaks to an actual willingness to tackle, or just the desire to land on Sportscenter, is up to scouts to find out.

Jordan Martin (DB, Syracuse)

A cornerback with the University of Toledo, Jordan Martin transferred to Syracuse and ended up playing safety with the Orange. He has great size, listed at 6-3 by his school and measuring in at almost 6-2 (6015) at the Shrine Game, Martin has the type of frame (208 pounds) that could hold up on the edge in the Seahawks’ system. Alternatively, he could fit the mold of a bigger-bodied cornerback that Seattle has liked in the past (DeShawn Shead). Here’s a quick breakdown of my thoughts on Martin as a safety, and as a cornerback:

Martin would make a lot of sense as a potential Kam Chancellor replacement for the Seahawks. He has great size and delivers big hits, driving receivers backwards as he puts his shoulder through their chest. He’s strong enough to survive on the edge and play around the line of scrimmage, but as importantly he’s not only willing, but happy to come up and tackle. Impressively, he’s even been practicing as the high safety in St. Petersburg at Shrine Game practices. Martin could offer something similar to the interchangeability of Chancellor and Earl Thomas if he were to end up in Seattle.

As a cornerback, Martin has tremendous strength and will overpower smaller receivers if he gets his hands on them. Three times he locked a receiver down in press and simply steered them out of bounds. His positioning on pass breakups isn’t as clean as Facyson’s — he still reacts to the ball well — but 33 ¼” arms allows him to cross the receiver’s chest from a disadvantageous position and still make the play. Martin would be a better safety than cornerback, but I could certainly see him ending up as the next Shead or Mike Tyson with the Seahawks.

Tony Adams (G, N.C. State)

Listed at 314 pounds and just about 6-2 (6014), Tony Adams looks exactly the way his listed size would have you think. The right guard has a thick, powerful lower half that will almost certainly lead to Mike Mayock using the term ‘bubble butt’ when Adams is selected on draft weekend. He was part of an offensive line that allowed just 12 sacks all year, a season after Adams didn’t allow a single sack himself in 2016. Furthering his pedigree, Adams was a team captain and named second-team All-ACC this season, the second year in a row.

Adams is an offensive line coach’s dream in the running game: Fantastic strength moving forward, won’t get overpowered at the point of the attack, and quick enough to pull or get to the second level of the defense. His intelligence is impressive, he finds work when the defensive line runs stunts and games and is never left on an island blocking air. Adams will quietly go about his pre-draft process, but whoever selects him will be bringing in a leader and an intelligent offensive lineman.

Folorunso Fatukasi (DT, UConn)

‘Foley’ Fatukasi burst onto the scene in his sophomore season at the University of Connecticut, recording 7.5 sacks, eight tackles for loss and four forced fumbles. His final two years at UConn failed to live up to the hype, as the big defensive tackle (6036, 318 pounds) was played out of position at nosetackle and recorded just 10 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Scouts will hang onto his 2015 season when pounding the table for him, and that will be made easier after Shrine Game week; he’s practicing at his more natural spot along the defensive line and reportedly doing well.

Fatukasi isn’t of the new breed of interior pass rushers with good short-area quickness and burst off the line. He does, however, possess great strength and plays with leverage. He strikes up into linemen’s chests and gets underneath them, before using his strength to drive them backwards. Importantly to Seattle’s system, he’s also a disciplined two-gap defensive lineman who won’t freelance. He’ll play strong, responsible football in the interior of the line, holding up at the point of attack before disengaging (rag-dolling) his blocker and stopping the ball carrier. A good finish to Shrine Game practices and a good display in the game could lead to a call-up to the Senior Bowl, as Fatukasi tries to prove he’s more than a nose tackle before the draft.

The impressions that lesser known prospects can make on scouts at both the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl are invaluable to boosting their draft stock. Just last season, despite not having the athletic profile the Seahawks target at the position, Justin Senior parleyed a strong performance at the Shrine Game into a Senior Bowl invitation. He didn’t fair well in Mobile, but the competitiveness and eagerness he displayed likely aided his draft stock. The Shrine Game is once again stocked with interesting prospects, and maybe another late-round or rookie free agent that takes the field on Saturday could end up in Seattle.

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