One of the biggest stories in the NFL this season is the play of San Francisco 49ers QB Brock Purdy, who is a finalist for Offensive Rookie of the Year after participating in the East-West Shrine Bowl last February. As the final player selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, Purdy had the "Mr. Irrelevant" label attached to him, but he proved that nickname certainly didn't fit with his incredible run as the Niners' starter since Week 14.
Purdy and Kansas City Chiefs RB Isiah Pacheco (another seventh-round pick) broke out as rookies after partaking in the Shrine Bowl. Thirteen other 2022 Shrine Bowl players were selected in the draft's top 150 picks last year, including wide receiver Tyquan Thornton (Patriots), offensive linemen Zach Tom (Packers) and Cordell Volson (Bengals) and tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo (Titans).
Below, I highlight some of the top players participating in this year's Shrine Bowl, which will be held at Las Vegas' Allegiant Stadium for the second straight year. I've ranked the prospects below in descending order of how highly I expect them to be selected this April in the 2023 NFL Draft.
The 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl will air exclusively on NFL Network at 8:30 p.m. ET on Thursday, Feb. 2.
13) Brodric Martin, DT, Western Kentucky
Martin began his career at North Alabama before transferring to WKU, where he spent the past two seasons. An active 330-pounder with great length, he moves forward quickly off the snap and is willing to chase plays out of the box. I could see teams valuing his power and athleticism in the first half of the draft's third day.
12) Nehemiah Shelton, CB, San Jose State
Shelton has been making plays for the Spartans since 2019, even though he was listed at just 168 pounds on that season's roster. He's built his frame over the past three years to take advantage of his physicality at the top of the route and through the catch point, finishing his career with eight interceptions and 35 passes defensed. Shelton played well at the Hula Bowl all-star game in Orlando, Florida, earlier this month.
11) Andre Jones, Edge, Louisiana
The Washington Commanders selected Jones' former teammate, safety Percy Butler, early in the fourth round of last year's draft after he impressed at the Shrine Bowl. Jones' length and quickness on the edge will be valued by teams looking for young depth at the position. His frame has room for growth, as well, which could help him become a force in the future.
10) Tyrus Wheat, Edge, Mississippi State
Wheat was a second-team All-SEC pick in 2022, earning that honor not just by racking up 10.5 tackles for loss (including six sacks), but also by playing all over the field for the Bulldogs. He dropped into an inside linebacker spot and handled coverage responsibilities outside in addition to bringing a strong pass rush off the edge. Wheat's scheme versatility should allow him to play as a power base end on a four-man line or a stand-up Sam 'backer.
9) Colby Sorsdal, OL, William & Mary
Sorsdal really reminds me of Bengals rookie Cordell Volson, as a tough-minded college tackle who could shift to guard and contribute quickly because of his size and aggressive play. Sorsdal has started for five years outside, earning all-conference honors the past two seasons because, with a strong base and lateral agility, he's tough for FCS-level edge rushers to beat. He might get a shot outside in the NFL, too, but I could really see a team maximizing his skill set by moving him to the interior.
8) Chandler Zavala, OG, N.C. State
Zavala's story is similar to that of the Chargers' Zion Johnson -- an interior lineman who transferred from a small program to the ACC (from Davidson to Boston College, in Johnson's case). Zavala started at Fairmont State after playing one year of high school football and then moved to Raleigh for the 2021 season. He missed half of that year due to a back injury, but played very well last fall, looking powerful and nimble at left guard. Zavala might not hear his name called as early as Johnson did on draft day, but don't be surprised if he's a starter early in his NFL career.
7) A.T. Perry, WR, Wake Forest
Perry flashes the playmaking ability to stretch NFL defenses using his height and strider's speed, beating smaller corners downfield and tracking the ball over either shoulder. He reminds me of Chiefs wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, a deep threat who might lack consistency but should eventually become a nice complement to a team's smaller, quicker pass-catchers.
6) Luke Schoonmaker, TE, Michigan
In a deep tight end class, Schoonmaker flies a little bit under the radar. At 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds (per school measurements), he has Sunday size, to be sure, and the athleticism to be an effective safety valve as a receiver -- and more. Schoonmaker's size and flexibility allow him to effectively block in-line and on the move, which should make him a nice value in the middle rounds of the draft.
5) Dorian Thompson-Robinson, QB, UCLA
I'm not sure Thompson-Robinson (6-1, 205 pounds, per school measurements) will get an opportunity to lead a contender as a rookie like Purdy has, but he is of similar stature (Purdy measured just under 6-1 at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine). DTR has progressed as a passer and used his elusive running style to rush for a career-best 12 scores in 2022. He has a slight frame, but doesn't go down easily in the pocket and keeps his eyes downfield to use his pro-caliber arm.
4) Xazavian Valladay, RB, Arizona State
Xazavian (pronounced x-ZAVE-ee-un) showed some juice at Wyoming before he moved on to Arizona State in 2022. He eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing in three of his last four seasons, and averaged 100-plus yards per game in the abbreviated 2020 season. In addition to open-field burst, Valladay has displayed good hands out of the backfield (88 career catches). He could remind some scouts of Buccaneers back Rachaad White, a former Sun Devil himself.
3) Tre'Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, DB, TCU
The nephew of Pro Football Hall of Famer and NFL Network analyst LaDainian Tomlinson helped their alma mater, TCU, make it to the College Football Playoff National Championship a couple weeks ago. He plays much bigger than his listed size (5-9, 180). I expect him to man a nickel spot at the next level, where he can make plays in coverage and as a blitzer.
2) Mekhi Garner, CB, LSU
Garner transferred from Louisiana to LSU for his senior year. He used his large frame and athleticism to shadow outside receivers for the Tigers. Garner is a strong tackler, as well, playing an important part on run defense when given the chance. He won't be for every defensive coordinator because he's not as fluid as smaller defenders, but teams looking for a physical press corner or a long, physical player in zone coverage should have great interest.
1) Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
Flowers was a workhorse for the Eagles in 2022, ranking in the top 20 nationally in receptions (78), receiving yards (1,077) and receiving touchdowns (12) -- even though every defense knew he was the team's top target. Despite his smaller build (5-10, 172, per the school), he is a deep threat because of his speed and hands. Also, he's capable of creating big plays from quick throws and jet sweeps using his short-area quickness. When Flowers and his quarterback are on the same page, defenders find him difficult to contain. He's perfectly built for a league now obsessed with open-space playmakers.