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East-West Shrine Bowl standouts who fit the Ravens

The annual senior all-star game featured some impressive performances from prospects at positions of need.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 01 East-West Shrine Bowl Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens have a rich history of picking from the pool of prospects they saw up close and personal at the annual senior all-star games each year during the pre-draft process. While the Reese’s Senior Bowl is the biggest and draws the most notable names who end up going earlier in the draft, the next most prominent is the East-West Shrine Bowl.

Last year, the Ravens wound up with more players on their final 53-man roster and practice squad from the East-West event than the Senior Bowl, including first-rounder Zay Flowers who broke franchise rookie receiving records and led the team in several receiving categories, and sixth-round offensive lineman Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu who competed for the starting left guard spot in training camp and the preseason.

While he didn’t make the final roster, undrafted tight end Travis Vokolek was a standout for the Ravens during the preseason and spent most of the regular season on their practice squad. He was signed to the Arizona Cardinals active roster in December and appeared in two games down the stretch, recording 40 offensive snaps and four on special teams.

The 2024 East-West Shrine Bowl took place on Thursday night and there were several players at positions that the Ravens could use reinforcement, pending the results of free agency, who stood out and certainly should be on General Manager Eric DeCosta’s radar.

RB Frank Gore Jr., University of Southern Mississippi

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 01 East-West Shrine Bowl Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The son of future Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Frank Gore Sr. was the brightest star of the evening with the way he put on a show in front of his dad, evaluators, and league executives alike. He answered any questions or doubts about his long speed when he ripped off a 49-yard touchdown run for the first points of the game on a play where he found a cutback lane and turned on the afterburners on his way to the end zone.

Gore Jr. wasn’t done there and went on to display impressive vision, footwork, contact balance, and elusiveness in the open field with some nifty juke moves. He finished with a game-high 87 rushing yards from just six carries on his way to receiving Offensive MVP honors. The Ravens already have an explosive undersized running back whom they are expecting significant contributions from in 2024 with Keaton Mitchell, who shined bright as an undrafted rookie. However, he suffered a torn ACL in Week 15 and might need to be brought back along cautiously, so having more than one home-run threat at the position wouldn’t hurt.

EDGE Grayson Murphy, UCLA

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 01 East-West Shrine Bowl Photo by Chris Leduc/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The former Bruin had a very strong game rushing off the right side of the East team’s offensive line, where he recorded a pair of sacks and some other impressive pressure events. His first sack came late in the first quarter where he beat the right tackle with an explosive get-off and speed rush that he used to quickly get around the edge and bring down former Louisville quarterback Jack Plummer on second and goal.

Murphy’s second sack came in the final minutes of the fourth quarter and was the first of a pair of drive-ending pressures. He stood up the right tackle and tossed him to the side before proceeding to wrap up UCF quarterback John Rhys Plumlee on third down to force fourth and long. Using a nice dip and rip move, he was able to beat the same lineman a second straight rep, except this time the quarterback was able to get the ball off but it landed incomplete, resulting in a turnover on downs.

All three of the Ravens’ top sack leaders in 2023 are slated to become unrestricted free agents coming off career years in which they tied or set new single-season highs. The odds of them being able to bring back all three are slim to none and even trying to retain two might be too optimistic of a projection given the premium paid to proven pass rushers. Adding Murphy, who recorded five sacks and nine tackles for loss in each of the past two years for the Bruins, would add to their young core on the edge that includes 2021 first-rounder Odafe Oweh, 2022 second-rounder David Ojabo, and 2023 fourth-rounder Tavius Robinson.

DT Myles Murphy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 01 East-West Shrine Bowl Photo by Chris Leduc/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The former Tar Heel was a dominant presence in practice all week and carried it over into the game on Thursday when he relentlessly bullied the opposing offensive line. He recorded a drive-ending sack of Plummer that forced the East team to settle for a field goal. Murphy was such a handful that over the course of the game, he started getting double-teamed in an effort to stop him from being a mainstay in the backfield with the way he blew up runs, screens, and traditional dropbacks.

While the Ravens will certainly do their best to try to retain 2023 breakout star Justin Madubuike, who emerged as one of the best three-techniques in the league with a career-high 13 sacks, locking him up long-term could prove challenging. At 6-foot-3 and 312 pounds, Murphy is a little heavier and is not anywhere near as physically imposing with his shirt off but looks like he could potentially be just as explosively disruptive at the next level in time if he lands in the right spot such as Baltimore.

RB Blake Watson, Memphis

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 01 East-West Shrine Bowl Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

While he isn’t the son of an NFL legend and didn’t receive Offensive MVP honors despite recording the most yards from scrimmage by any player in the game with 111, the former Tiger had just as impressive of a showing as Gore Jr. One could argue that he was even more impressive given that he showed off his playmaking ability as a runner and pass catcher out of the backfield. Watson finished with 46 rushing yards and 65 receiving yards with an average of 10.8 yards per reception and would’ve scored on his final touch but showed tremendous maturity by taking a knee in the field of play despite having an unobstructed path to the end zone so that the West offense could kneel out the rest of the game.

At 5-foot-8 and 189 pounds, he fits a similar mold to Mitchell but if the Ravens strike out on Gore Jr., landing Watson who offers a more dynamic skill set, especially on check-downs in two-minute drills would be a fine consolation prize. He also plays with surprisingly strong balance through contact for someone his size as he was able to break a few tackles and pick up more yards on a couple of occasions in this game.

EDGE Mo Kamara, Colorado State University

Colorado State v Utah State Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

The lone standout on this list from the East Team was the former Rams edge defender who followed up an impressive week of practice in which he drew rave reviews with a strong showing in the all-star game. Although he didn’t record a sack himself, Kamara was consistently disruptive nonetheless, rushing the quarterback from both sides and even up the middle. He drew an offensive holding penalty going up against the right tackle with a good rush, forced an incompletion by beating a left tackle with an inside move and forcing the quarterback to throw the ball away, and helped collapse the pocket by coming up the middle on a stunt that resulted in a sack for one of his teammates.

Kamara is a good fit for the Ravens based on his measurables at 6-foot-1 and 250 pounds, intangibles as a leader which were praised during the week of practice, and athletic ability that he put on display numerous times. His production in college was also outstanding with 30.5 career sacks including 13 in 2023 which led to him being named the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year.

CB Jarius Monroe, Tulane

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 01 East-West Shrine Bowl Photo by Chris Leduc/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The former standout for the Green Wave made the biggest splash play of the game by either team on defense by coming up with its only turnover when he intercepted a pass from former Western Kentucky University quarterback Austin Reed in the second half. More impressive than the interception itself was the explanation he gave behind it during a postgame interview with NFL Network’s Jane Slater. Monroe went into detail about how he baited the quarterback into the ill-advised throw by picking up on a tendency from the previous play that he was instructed to look for by the professional coaching he received during the week of practice.

“I knew the play before we were in Cover 3 and he was kind of staring down his reads,” Monroe said. “I noticed he was doing that maybe (because) not having chemistry with those guys and that next play, I was like ‘I’m going to fake like I’m playing Cover 3 again and then I’m going to come down and hinge and make a play like coach (Cristian) Garcia (of Washington Commander) been teaching us.”

The big play led to a field goal and earned him Defensive MVP honors for the game but proving that he is not only receptive to but also heeds the advice of his coaches will make him an even more alluring prospect. Depth at cornerback is something the Ravens can never have enough of given how essential it was this past season while three-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey missed chunks of time with injuries.

WRs Jadon & Jaxon Janke, South Dakota State University

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 01 East-West Shrine Bowl Photo by Chris Leduc/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The top two leading receivers for the two-time FCS NCAA national champion Jackrabbits and identical twin brothers made meaningful contributions for the West team on Thursday night. Jadon was on the receiving end of the longest play from scrimmage in the game when he hauled in a 52-yard bomb from former Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa early in the second quarter. He would finish as the team’s leading receiver with two catches for 57 yards, showing off speed and strong hands in the process.

His brother Jaxon didn’t get a chance to take the top off of the East team’s defense but he did show a nice ability to be a reliable possession target with a natural feel for finding the soft spots in zone coverage, as well as settling down beyond of at the line to gain. He recorded two receptions for 22 receiving yards in the third quarter, both of which resulted in 10-plus yard plays and a new set of downs. Janke also drew a defensive pass interference penalty in the back of the end zone on his first target that set the ball up at the one where the West increased their lead on a short touchdown run by Plumlee.

Both brothers aren’t necessarily big-bodied pass catchers but are solidly built at 6-foot-2 and around 210 pounds. The Ravens likely won’t invest another top pick at the position given that they’ve done so in three of the first five years of DeCosta’s tenure at the helm but half of their 2023 receiver depth chart slated to become free agents, including veterans Odell Beckham Jr., Nelson Agholor, and Devin Duvernay. Spending a day three pick on one of the two brothers would provide a different skill set and body type than what they are currently projected to have heading into 2024.

OG Mason McCormick, South Dakota State University

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 01 East-West Shrine Bowl Photo by Chris Leduc/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Their fellow former Jackrabbit followed up what was an impressive week of practice by all accounts with a strong showing in the game itself. He was voted one of the West team captains that took the field for the ceremonial coin toss and once the game got underway, he was tossing defenders to the turf as both a run and pass blocker. McCormick moved well and was nimble in space as the lead blocker on pulls and screens, dominated at the point of attack, opening up nice holes and cutback lanes in the run game, anchored well in pass protection and looked for work elsewhere when he already made his block or if his tackle needed help.

The Ravens could potentially have an open competition at both of their starting offensive guard spots if neither John Simpson nor 2023 Pro Bowler Kevin Zeitler is retained. While they have several young candidates on rookie contracts already on the team that will be in the mix, bringing in quality depth and more competition is something their front office and coaching will never shy away from. McCormick fits the Ravens profile to a tee in terms of skills and intangibles when it comes to leadership, experience, and competitiveness, hails from a winning program, and is athletic enough to thrive in the Monken offense that tries to get playmakers in space with a convoy of blockers. He’d be worth a day-two pick and would be a steal if he somehow made it to day three.