The 2021 East-West Shrine is not happening this year due to COVID-19. However, the game did make selections for players who would have been in attendance during a regular year. I would have been in Tampa, Fla. this week covering the Shrine Bowl, but instead I’m at home watching film on these players.
The Broncos love getting players from the Shrine Bowl. In fact, last year’s game featured five players (McTelvin Agim, LeVante Bellmay, Derek Tuszka, Parnell Motley, Darrin Paulo) that ended up on Denver’s roster in 2020. This team is adept at finding talent from the mid- to late-round group of players. Even though there’s not a game this year, the talent is there for the Broncos to scour over.
I believe the team is going to be in the running back market. Phillip Lindsay, a Shrine Game alum himself, is set to be a restricted free agent and might find a larger payday with a different team and that could mean the Broncos will need another back in the room.
Here are three running backs who were invited to the Shrine Bowl that I think the Broncos should have interest in at some point in the 2021 NFL draft.
Rakeem Boyd | Arkansas
There are some real positives with Arkansas running back Rakeem Boyd. I like his straight-line speed and I feel he could fit nicely in the power-gap system under offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. Boyd has the traits of a reliable backup running back.
I like his footwork when it comes to avoiding trash at the line of scrimmage. He has choppy feet, and his foot-frequency allows him to keep his balance upon contact. He is a linear runner with not much wiggle to his game, and Boyd doesn’t show interest in making defenders miss. I like his forward lean to finish runs in short-yardage situations.
At 213 pounds, Boyd has the size to take on defenders in pass protection. However, his technique as a pass-blocker needs a lot of work. He’s a decent receiver but not a dangerous receiving back out of the backfield.
Spencer Brown | Alabama-Birmingham
I like big backs and I cannot lie. At 235 pounds, Spencer Brown from UAB packs a punch anytime he touches the rock. He finished his career as UAB’s all-time leading rusher and has the skill to at least be a good power back in the NFL.
Brown has an attacking style and will break out a stiff arm on certain carries that will humiliate any smaller defender trying to bring him down. I like his vision when working between the tackles, and Brown does a good job of maintaining his balance when changing direction. He wins collisions with his strength and low center of gravity – traits that should only get stronger in the pros.
He’s not a fast back and he’s not quick enough to make defenders miss in the open field. Brown does have some stop/start to his game, but that might not work as well in the NFL as it did in college with faster and more disciplined defenders chasing after him. Brown also benefitted from smaller defenders not wanting to take him on, something else that will change in the pros going up against grown men who will not back down.
Khalil Herbert | Virginia Tech
Of all the running backs that were invited to the Shrine Bowl, Virginia Tech’s Khalil Herbert might be my favorite. A four-year player at Kansas, Herbert transferred to play for the Hokies and set the conference on fire with over 1,100 yards rushing. Herbert’s game is all about making a big play.
He picks and chooses his hole and has plenty of speed to hit an extra gear when ripping off a long run. Herbert has good open-field vision and understands angles of pursuit – and how to beat them. He uses a shoulder shimmy to freeze defenders and leave them flat-footed. I love his smooth footwork, and he will even throw in a pony kick (like Walter Payton used to) to fool would-be tacklers.
Herbert has plenty of speed and takes no time to get to top gear. This helps him as a runner, but it also makes him a dangerous return man on special teams. He has proper hand placement to catch screen passes and once again can take advantage of defenders in the open field.
The Broncos will want to run the ball more effectively next season. That means getting more from Melvin Gordon as their starter and lead back. It also means having better depth on the team if they need to go to the backups in the event of an injury (or a suspension).
All the backs listed in this article are likely to be late-round picks or undrafted free agents. That doesn’t mean they can’t play. In fact, last year the Jaguars picked up James Robinson from the Shrine Game as a college free agent and he rushed for more than 1,000 yards.
These players may not perform like Robinson, but any of these three would be quality depth players and perhaps even spot starters for the Broncos. Those are important pieces to look out for on the roster.
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