The all-star circuit is quickly approaching and I'm excited to make my first ever trip to St. Petersburg for the Shrine Game in January. While the Senior Bowl has become a regular occurrence in my annual schedule, the Shrine Game will be a new experience this year and the rosters are loaded.
You have a lot to look forward to with the Shrine Game coverage we will deliver here at TDN and I wanted to dip my toes in the water by talking about some of the players I'm most eager to see in St. Pete.
I hope that this column has become a staple for you each week, but just in case you are new, 6-Pack Thursday is my weekly brain dump on six football-related things that involve the NFL, College Football or NFL Draft.
Let's crack this thing open.
Tyree St. Louis, OT, Miami
Entering the season, I was really excited about a potential breakout year for St. Louis. Moving over from right tackle to the left side, 2018 was St. Louis' chance to take a major step forward in his valuation as a prospect. While he hand some standout moments, he didn't progress quite like I hoped. While he has impressive mobility for his size, inconsistencies with his pass sets led to mixed results with him handling speed off the edge.
St. Louis is still the ACC's best offensive tackle prospect, but his best fit likely comes moving back to the right side in the NFL. His length, power and mobility serve as a strong foundation to develop from and he has a chance to turn heads in St. Pete. While his draft stock didn't take the leap I was hoping for, he could generate some positive buzz with a strong performance at the Shrine Game. We've seen the NFL take chances on toolsy yet unrefined offensive tackle prospects and St. Louis could be the next one.
Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State
My Draft Dudes co-host Kyle Crabbs has been talking up Rypien for weeks now and I'm excited to get my eyes on him in St. Pete. I studied Rypien over the summer and have kept up with him over the course of the season and the growth is notable. Enjoying the best season of his career, it was disappointing to not see Rypien as a Senior Bowl target.
In terms of working progressions, mechanics and hitting throws with touch, Rypien truly excels and I expect those traits to shine during Shrine practices. Getting a feel for his arm strength in person will be a critical component to Rypien's evaluation for me. The Shrine Game typically does not have QB prospects of Rypien's quality and it could lead to a massive rise in his draft stock.
KeeSean Johnson, WR, Fresno State
Logging back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons including 95 receptions for 1,340 yards and 8 touchdowns as a senior in 2018, Johnson has been one of the nations most prolific receivers over the past two seasons. List at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Johnson has the frame to match the production.
Why has Johnson been so productive? He just might have the best hands in the class. He is a natural hands catcher with exceptional ball tracking skills. That, combined with outstanding body control, is why he's been so hard for defenses to slow down.
While Johnson doesn't have explosive athletic ability, he is a smooth route runner with good fluidity. I expect him to be a difficult cover for the DBs in St. Pete and for him to be a riser. A favorite of TDN wide receiver expert Brad Kelly, I'm anxious to get eyes on him in person.
DaMarkus Lodge, WR, Ole Miss
The NFL craves wide receivers that can make explosive plays in the passing game and Lodge is a guy who can deliver that ability. Blending explosive burst and the ability to beat man coverage, Lodge has a knack for getting behind the secondary. He's highly competitive creating after the catch, battling in the contact window and as a blocker.
Lodge does have some inconsistencies finishing at the catch but it's a minor trade off for what he can do. Additionally, learning and delivering a more expanded route tree in the NFL will be something he must prove he can handle but his traits indicate that should not a problem.
There appears to be a discrepancy between the way our staff views Lodge and how the NFL values him considering he wasn't invited to the Senior Bowl but there is a lot to like about what he brings to the table. I expect him to dominate in St. Pete.
Ricky Walker, DT, Virginia Tech
I'm not sure how high Walker will ultimately get drafted but I can see why NFL teams would love to have him. Walker plays with an unrelenting motor and he battles his ass off on every snap.
The Hokies defense experienced massive turnover entering 2018 and had a down season by Virginia Tech standards, but Walker was a bright spot notching his second straight double-digit TFL season.
While Walker makes his share of plays shooting gaps and outworking his opponents, he flashes good hand technique, functional strength and the quickness needed to win in the NFL. Walker is primed to feast on an underwhelming offensive line group at the Shrine Game and make some noise.
Qadree Ollison, RB, Pittsburgh
Ollison stared his career with a standout freshman season that included over 1100 yards and 11 TDs but faded in 2016 and 2017. He’s re-stablished himself as a senior and rushed for 1134 yards and 10 TDs, showcasing an exciting blend of size, power, vision and acceleration. Combined with the efforts of fellow senior backfield mate Darrin Hall, Pitt rode the tandem to an ACC Coastal Division Championship.
While it's hard for running backs to impress at all-star events, he will get a chance to showcase his ability as a receiver and pass blocker. If he can standout in those areas it would do wonders for his draft stock.