Friedlander: 5 ACC players who helped their draft stock at the East-West Shrine Bowl ... and 1 who didn't
Zay Flowers had a successful enough career at Boston College to ensure his selection in the 2023 NFL Draft. But as a small receiver who played for a losing college team, his stock was undervalued.
That is until he arrived at the East-West Shrine Game.
Flowers’ impressive performance at the nation’s oldest college football all-star game opened enough eyes for him to catapult into the 1st round, where he was chosen 22nd overall by the Baltimore Ravens.
It’s a trajectory several players are hoping to follow this year.
No one from the ACC stood out in the actual game, which the West won 26-11 in Frisco, Texas, on Thursday.
But that doesn’t really matter.
The most important work at any postseason all-star event takes place during the week of practice leading up to the game, under the watchful eyes of scouts and general managers from every NFL team.
Here’s a look at the 5 ACC players who, like Flowers a year ago, saw their draft prospects bloom with strong East-West Shrine performances:
5. Xavier Thomas, DE, Clemson
Although Thomas is a former 5-star prospect poised to continue Clemson’s tradition of being Defensive Line U, the former Freshman All-American has spent a majority of his 6 college seasons overshadowed by others. That includes current teammate Tyler Davis, who was invited to the more prestigious Senior Bowl.
Regardless of the stage, Thomas finally had the spotlight all to himself at the East-West game. And he used it to remind the NFL scouts of his immense physical skills by being a disruptive force all week. So much so that he didn’t feel the need to play in the game.
Xavier Thomas is an intriguing option on the edge. Athletically gifted, strong explosive…has had a good first few days at the Shrine Bowl! pic.twitter.com/YP1X6Cnxw6
— Blaine Grisak 💭 (@bgrisakTST) January 29, 2024
According to Tony Catalina of Pro Football Network, Thomas showed “all the physical tools to be a quality pass rusher at the next level. … His speed stands out and impresses for a man as physical as he is.”
4. Myles Murphy, DT, North Carolina
Murphy punctuated a strong week of practice by making several big plays in the game for the winning West team. Even though he showed up on the stat sheet only once, he was a presence all night as a run-stopper and as a pass-rusher.
His highlight came late in the 1st quarter when he sacked Louisville quarterback Jack Plummer for an 11-yard loss on a 3rd down play inside the 20, forcing the East to settle for a field goal. His work occupying blockers on the interior of the line helped open things up for teammates to make plays for a unit that held its opposition to just 206 total yards and a single touchdown.
Myles Murphy has shown a good bull rush all week. Doesn’t get much better than this though. pic.twitter.com/dnpoPa1LIH
— Blaine Grisak 💭 (@bgrisakTST) January 30, 2024
Murphy’s pro prospects weren’t helped by UNC’s high-profile defensive struggles over the past 2 seasons. He needed a strong performance in Frisco to remind the scouts of his individual skill and help put him back onto teams’ draft boards.
And the 6-5, 310-pound Tar Heel delivered, setting himself up for an invitation to the NFL’s scouting combine where he can raise his stock even higher.
3. Dylan McMahon, C, NC State
At “only” 295 pounds, McMahon was one of the smallest offensive linemen on either team. That might work against him on draft day. But in Frisco last week, it helped him stand out because of the way he dominated opposing defenders.
NC State’s Dylan McMahon has really handled power well throughout the East-West Shrine Bowl. Has been among the best IOL. pic.twitter.com/gFhQdovx3d
— Bobby Football (@Rob__Paul) January 29, 2024
The former Wolfpack standout impressed the scouts by using his low center of gravity and quick hands and burst off the snap to win a majority of his 1-on-1 battles. It didn’t matter who he was matched against, as noted by NFL.com draft analyst Chad Reuter.
Reporting from a practice early in the week, Reuter described McMahon “stuffing big tackles like Auburn’s Justin Rogers in 1-on-1s, even though he gave up over 40 pounds.” He added that “McMahon’s powerful base allowed him to sit in his stance against Washington’s Tuli Letuligasenoa in team work, which is no mean feat. The quickness and strength of his hands into the body of his man after the snap were impressive.”
2. Christian Mahogany, OG, Boston College
Mahogany was considered an elite prospect before suffering a season-ending injury in 2022. He bounced back with a solid season in 2023, helping BC make a similar recovery on the way to a 7-win season. But the fact that he was playing in the East-West game rather than the Senior Bowl like most of the other top prospects, suggests that there were still some questions surrounding him.
If there were, Mahogany answered them last week. He was impressive both in individual and team drills, showing off a combination of quickness, footwork and power that according to Anthony Rivardo of Empire Sports Media, was “consistently moving defensive linemen.”
OG Christian Mahogany (@BCFootball) moving Cincinnati's Jowon Briggs (who has been really good this week) in double drills.
Mahogany's power is the real deal. Going to be an NFL starter in short order. pic.twitter.com/QUpWx7WdjY
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) January 30, 2024
The 6-3, 322-pound guard was described by Draft Network as “an athletic, powerful interior lineman whose combination of strength and technique can overwhelm defenders.” He potentially added to his draft value by taking some snaps at center during the week.
1. Malik Washington, WR, Virginia
Washington didn’t play in the game. But that didn’t matter. He’d already done everything he needed to do before during a standout week of practice that set him up to be this year’s version of Zay Flowers.
It shouldn’t have taken this long for the scouts to be wowed by the speedy, sure-handed 5-8, receiver. He led the nation with 110 catches for 1,426 yards and 9 touchdowns, totals that surpassed his production from his 4 seasons at Northwestern combined. And yet, because he played for a UVa team that won only 3 games and barely registered on the national radar, he wasn’t even a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award as college football’s top receiver.
— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) January 27, 2024
Given the opportunity in Frisco, Washington opened the eyes of those who overlooked him during the season with his precise routes, his acceleration and his sure hands. He was named the Outstanding Offensive Player of the Week by Pro Football Network.
“If you went around and asked anyone about who made the most noise this week amongst scouts and on-lookers, the first name out of most people’s mouths would be Malik Washington,” wrote PFN’s Catalina. “Washington was sensational all week long and never really took his foot off the gas.”
And the one who didn’t …
To be fair, none of the 3 quarterbacks for the East exceled in Thursday’s game. But while Louisville’s Plummer showed some confidence and an accurate arm during the week of practices, and earned the start for his team, he didn’t exactly wow the scouts with his performance. Plummer did make a few nice throws, converting both a 3rd and 4th down on an early 17-play drive that resulted in a field goal. But he completed only 4 of his 10 passes for 40 yards and didn’t play in the 2nd half while posting a 52.1 rating.