Last year’s East-West Shrine Game yielded two contributing linebackers to NFL squads: Jacksonville’s Leon Jacobs and Baltimore’s Kenny Young. Young would play all sixteen games for the Ravens, logging three starts and over 50 tackles in his rookie campaign. Jacobs, meanwhile, logged three starts of his own and logged notable playing time down the stretch with the Jags.
The moral of the story? There are NFL players *everywhere*. Even in the far reaches of the football world, prying eyes hope to find the next hidden gem.
This year’s Shrine Game offers a few more linebackers who could step onto NFL rosters and make an impact. Practices begin on January 14th and the game itself is on January 19th. To get ready for the event, we’re going to spend the next two weeks previewing the rosters on a position-by-position basis. Today we are tackling the linebackers.
The East team hosts three prospects at linebacker who have caught my eye throughout the course of the season. Buffalo’s Khalil Hodge has enjoyed a productive college career and his range will certainly flash to those coaches and personnel in attendance. How well does Hodge stack up against contact? That’s the million dollar question. It’s also one that he’s not going to have a whole lot of opportunity to showcase. Hodge’s athleticism will be his money-maker for the Shrine event.
Also on the East squad? Illinois transfer Tre Watson, who played his final year of eligibility at Maryland. Watson caught my eye when I visited College Park in early November for a Big Ten clash with Michigan State.
Maryland LB Tre Watson can play, too. He's filled hard into the LOS all day.
— Kyle Crabbs (@GrindingTheTape) November 3, 2018
With 114 tackles to his name this season, Watson went from Illini afterthought to a possible late-round addition through the 2019 NFL Draft.
Finally, Wisconsin’s Andrew Van Ginkel is, if nothing else, intriguing. You may remember Van Ginkel from the 2017 Big Ten Championship Game, where he intercepted J.T. Barrett and returned the ball for a touchdown. A few weeks later in the Orange Bowl, Van Ginkel logged another leaping interception.
That’s been the peak of his career, to this point. Used often on the edge as a rush LB, Van Ginkel doesn’t show a lot of upside in that role going forward. Can he perform at a high level in space? The Shrine week will be an essential showcase for him to make his case.
Also on the East roster: Jordan Jones (Kentucky), Ulysees Gilbert III (Akron)
The best linebacker of the event calls the West roster home. I’m talking of course about Washington LB Ben Burr-Kirven. Burr-Kirven is undersized, but it is apparent as soon as you turn on the film that he’s got a great head on his shoulders and understands the finer points of playing the game.
Seeing Burr-Kirven tested by a West roster that hosts QBs Easton Stick and Brett Rypien is one of the match-ups I’m most looking forward to seeing throughout the course of the week of practices. With several high impact performances this season, this may be a Senior Bowl call-up waiting to happen.
Ben Burr-Kirven led @UW_Football defense with 11 tackles while holding Utah to just 7 points.
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) September 17, 2018
A sleeper on the West squad? Utah’s Cody Barton. Our very on Benjamin Solak has already put Barton’s game under the microscope and feels that Barton’s worthy of a middle-round pick. I haven’t had the opportunity yet to scout Barton for myself, but any time Ben comes up with confident tape I make a note of it.
Also on the East roster: B.J. Blunt (McNeese State), Drew Lewis (Colorado), Joe Dineen (Kansas), Justin Hollins (Oregon)