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NFL Draft 2014: East-West Shrine Game Has Players To Watch

The first major event of the NFL draft season is coming this weekend. The East-West Shrine Game is made up of players who didn't get invited to the Senior Bowl, but there is a lot of talent with these "second-stringers". Here is a look at some names of interest for Cowboys fans.

Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo
Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo
Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

The 89th East-West Shrine Game will be played at 4 pm Eastern time on Saturday, January 18th. While these are not the top stars available for the NFL draft, there are a lot of players here that will start getting picked as early as the second day of the draft.

Like the more closely watched Senior Bowl, one thing the Shrine Game provides is a chance to see how these players perform against other NFL draft-worth competition, and also like the Senior Bowl, the real action is not during the game itself, but during practice. A different aspect of the Shrine Game is that it has a higher percentage of small school players who get a chance to show whether their college career was successful because of the level of competition they faced, or if they can indeed hold their own against players from the big schools.

For a good, general preview of the game, you can check out SBNation's preview. Of course, we like more than the general stuff around here. We want all Dallas Cowboys, all the time.

It happens that there are already some looks at players that might be of interest to the Cowboys here at BTB. And some names from those posts just happen to be on the Shrine rosters.

First up, Dawn Macelli took a look at some possible quarterback prospects. Dallas is not going to be in the hunt for the "big 4", the names that are showing up in the top 10 of just about every big board and mock out there (Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Derek Carr and Johnny Manziel). Dawn instead looked at some prospects that the Cowboys might be able to pick up after the first round for development. And she started her list with a kid who has already achieved some pet cat status with KD Drummond. (You can rest assured I still am maintaining a rigorous ban on declaring anyone my pet cat.) Jimmy Garappolo is a small school candidate from some place named Eastern Illinois, whose only player to have an NFL career of note is some guy named Tony Romo. Here is a bit of what Dawn had to say about the kid trying to follow Romo's footsteps.

Garoppolo, who won the 2013 Walter Payton Award as the top player at the FCS level, is coming off of a highly productive senior season. For the year, he completed nearly 66% of his passes while leading all NCAA Division I quarterbacks with 5,050 yards through the air while throwing for 53 touchdowns. Among his accomplishments, the Panther quarterback passed for over 300 yards 11 times in 2013, including five 400+ yard efforts. Not all of Garoppolo's efforts came against FCS-level defenses; this season he faced FBS schools Northern Illinois and San Diego State. His combined efforts against the two higher level opponents were 65-95 for 711 yards passing with 9 TDs against only 2 interceptions.

He is also already starting to show he may be a contender for the best of the QB group at this game.

CBS's review of Monday's practices by Dane Brugler has Garoppolo in a sort of tie with Jeff Matthews from Cornell. He feels teams will prefer one or the other depending on the type of offense they run, with Matthews winning the arm-strength comparison, but Garoppolo having quicker read and release ability.

While the QB position is one that Dallas should start thinking about, the defensive line is one they need to be focused on. A lot. One Cool Customer has taken a look at the production ratio stats for both defensive tackles and defensive ends entering the draft, and there are several names at the Shrine Game you can compare to his numbers.

OCC includes three small school prospects that are in attendance, Larry Webster from Bloomsburg (PA), Ethan Westbrooks from West Texas A&M, and Zach Moore from Concordia (MN). (Moore is shown as injured, so he would be limited to interviews.)

DE Webster is a player who stands to gain a lot in the eyes of scouts, and it looks like he has already started impressing people. Brugler's second day report said he is intriguing, but there is some question on his future position.

Webster, who starred for four years on the basketball court in college, needs to get stronger and add meat to his lean, lanky body type, but I expect Webster to essentially take a "redshirt" year as a rookie to take advantage of a NFL weight room and pro coaching. His future in the league is likely at linebacker or maybe even tight end, but regardless, he has exciting potential.

That might take him out of Dallas' sights (except for those out there who are dying for the team to draft another tight end), but it is a good example of how the all-star games can be important for players and scouts alike. Our own favorite NFL insider and scout addressed the possible future for a player like Webster.

Another player that has inspired some discussion on whether he might fit with Dallas is DT Justin Ellis out of Lousiana Tech. Some see the 350+ pound player as not suited for the Cowboys scheme, and he graded very poorly in the production ratio OCC used to try and predict who would likely succeed in the NFL. But he has been impressing some. Brugler had praise for him.

Entering the week, my top defensive tackle prospect participating this week was Louisiana Tech DT Justin Ellis (6-2, 351) and he hasn't disappointed so far. He used his active hands and quick feet to beat blockers during drills, putting spin moves on Oklahoma's Gabe Ikard and also steamrolling him on a few occasions. To no surprise, Ellis weighed in as the heaviest prospect here at 351 pounds and he uses that girth well to bully blockers and surge through the line of scrimmage.

His Tweet on him was even better.

Those are two players who have been written about, but other prospects OCC listed that are at this game include DE Josh Mauro and DTs Zach Kerr, Bruce Gaston, Jay Bromley, DeMonte McAllister and Garrison Smith. These are all names to watch and listen for in the weeks to come, to see who might be showing up on Dallas' draft board. And Dallas has other needs. There will be more coverage coming, and some other positions will get a look as well.

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