Adraft scout’s favorite time of the year is right around the corner. For the next couple of weeks, top college football prospects will come together to play in exhibition all-star games around the country. One of the most notable will take place this weekend at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The East-West Shrine Game has been a staple of the post-bowl season since 1925. This game serves as one last look of in-game action for many college prospects but the first of many chances an athlete will have of improving their draft stock before the NFL Draft in April. The prospects who partake in the game are not the biggest names in this year’s draft. Some see this game as their last chance to get their name out to NFL scouts.
A lot of the focus on the Green Bay Packers draft this year is with their 12th overall selection. However, the East-West Shrine Game will give many fans their first taste of players that will be taken in later rounds of the draft. As we have seen in year’s past, the Packers are excellent in finding players on day two and day three of the draft. Those participating in this game will most likely have their names called on day two and three.
Here are three players to watch for during the East-West Shrine Game.
Khalil Hodge – Linebacker, University of Buffalo
Before the 2018 regular season began, the Packers lost a valuable member of their defense. Inside linebacker, Jake Ryan tore his ACL and was ruled out for the entire season. While devastating news to hear, no one could really determine how much of an impact the loss of Ryan would be at the time.
Ryan is now a free agent. His career in Green Bay is certainly in question. Even if the front office decides to bring Ryan back, adding talent to a currently thin linebacking corps is one of the top priorities this offseason.
Insert Khalil Hodge. He is a name not a lot of people are talking about but every week he is always making plays and has a knack for finding the ball. At Buffalo, Hodge was one of the most underrated linebackers in the country. He was at the top in terms of tackles in the MAC all three years with the Bulls.
Just watching his film, you cannot help but notice the similarities to Blake Martinez. He is always around the ball and covers large amounts of ground on every defensive snap.
He could be a replacement to Jake Ryan if the Packers decide to let him walk, but if Ryan is resigned and the Packers decide to call Hodge’s number, the Inside Linebacking corps will see a significant upgrade as we enter the 2019 season.
D’Cota Dixon – Safety, University of Wisconsin
Dixon might get a little bit of extra attention because he is from Wisconsin, but every time he stepped onto the field for the Badgers, he played as if it was his last game. He always brought the energy whenever he played and was a great leader for many great Badgers defenses. His leadership qualities should not go unnoticed either.
Dixon would be a perfect fit in the Packers defensive schemes. He’s an “in your face” defender who is not afraid to get his nose dirty. Often times, he would line up in the box or near the line of scrimmage. Dixon is great in coverage too. Last year, the Packers got beat over the top on numerous occasions. He obviously will not solve this issue by himself, but safety help will improve with him on the field
The Packers have an immediate need at safety as well. Whether it is a position they upgrade in the draft or in free agency, Dixon could be a valuable asset to a young, promising Green Bay defense.
Easton Stick – Quarterback, North Dakota State
It is highly unlikely that the Packers select a quarterback with one of their early picks. Aaron Rodgers is still one of the best in the game and will be for some time. There is a chance the front office will pull the trigger on one late in the draft. Easton Stick could be that quarterback selected by the Pack late in the draft.
It is never too early to think about the successor to Aaron Rodgers. The sooner you find the next franchise quarterback, the more time you have to prep and polish him into the face of the franchise. Rodgers had three years before he became the starter. He was able to watch behind one of the best quarterbacks of all time. Stick has the potential to be one of the best. Letting him sit behind Rodgers for the next couple of years would be huge to his development.
Watching Stick is similar to watching a young Aaron Rodgers. His mechanics are great. Combine that with excellent arm strength and mobility, and you have a young version of Rodgers.
Will Stick become the successor to Rodgers? There’s definitely a chance. He deserves a chance at developing behind one of the best of all time.