Falcons Eye Draft Prospects at Shrine Game

Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsSouth Carolina offensive tackle Brandon Shell

The Atlanta Falcons have been busy talking to several prospects over the past few days at the practices for the annual East-West Shrine Game, an all-star contest featuring many of the top college players and draft prospects for the 2016 NFL Draft.

This year’s game marks the 91st annual contest that will be played on Saturday, January 23 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida and broadcast live on NFL Network at 4 p.m. Eastern. Practices will conclude on Thursday.

NFL.com reports that the Falcons representatives at the practices were seen talking to UCLA center Jake Brendel and South Carolina State defensive tackle Javon Hargrave on Monday. On Tuesday the Falcons were spotted talking with Oregon defensive tackle Alex Balducci among others.

Jeff Risdon of RealGM.com reports that the Falcons were seen talking to a pair of offensive linemen in N.C. State tackle Joe Thuney and South Carolina tackle Brandon Shell.

Walter Football reports that the Falcons looked at Mississippi offensive tackle Fahn Cooper and Vanderbilt tight end Steven Scheu on Monday and Arkansas State tight end Darion Griswold and Stony Brook defensive end Victor Ochi on Tuesday.

Brendel started a school record 50 games over the course of his UCLA career, earning Pac-12 All-Academic team honors all four years and being named team captain three times. His ample experience playing in a zone-blocking scheme at UCLA is likely prompting the Falcons to take interest in him.

Hargrave was highly productive at South Carolina State, dominating the past two years with a combined 114 tackles, 55.5 tackles for loss and 29.5 sacks as he earned MEAC Defensive Player of the Year and first team FCS All-American honors in both seasons. During his junior season, he set an FCS record with six sacks in a single game. Hargrave has been noted already for his explosiveness in practices, a trait that served him well in college.

Balducci was a two-year starter at Oregon, compiling 40 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks during his career-best senior season, when he also was named All-Pac-12 team honorable mention.

Thuney played all five positions during his collegiate career with the Wolfpack, beginning his career at center before moving to left tackle as a sophomore, while also logging starts at right tackle and right guard that year. He moved inside to left guard as a junior before returning to left tackle as a senior, finishing his career with 34 starts. He earned All-ACC honors as a senior.

Shell started 48 career games, spending most of his first three years at right tackle before transitioning to the left side as a senior. His great uncle is former Falcons assistant coach and Hall-of-Fame offensive lineman Art Shell. The two-time All-SEC Academic Honor Roll earner reportedly has slimmed down from his listed weight of 328 pounds.

Cooper was a two-year starter at Ole Miss, starting at both tackle spots. He started mostly at right tackle as a junior before moving to the left side for the first six games of 2015 in place of suspended starter Laremy Tunsil. Upon Tunsil’s return, Cooper started the last six games at right tackle. He began his career at Bowling Green, starting as a redshirt freshman at left tackle before transferring to the College of DuPage for a junior college year. He played left tackle there as well before winding up at Ole Miss. Reports indicate that Cooper was impressive during Tuesday’s practice.

Scheu started 36 games over his career at Vanderbilt, shining as a junior with a career-high 39 catches for 525 yards and four touchdowns. His production dipped as a senior, but he still finished second on the team with 26 catches for 231 yards and a single touchdown. He was a four-time honoree on the SEC Academic Honor Roll during his career.

Griswold was a dual-threat quarterback and basketball star in high school before making the transition to tight end at Arkansas State. As a three-year starter, he finished his career with 65 receptions for 892 yards and seven touchdowns, earning second team All-Sun Belt honors during his sophomore year when he had career-highs of 24 catches and 312 yards.

Ochi was a highly productive edge-rusher that earned second All-American and Colonial Athletic Association Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors as a senior with 47 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks in just 10 games. That followed up a junior campaign where he tallied 57 tackles, 16.5 for loss and 11 sacks in 11 games. For his career, Ochi tallied 50.5 tackles for loss and 32.5 sacks while starting 35 games at Stony Brook, earning first team All-CAA honors twice. He’s impressed enough during the first two days of practice to suggest that he might be the first player among the Shrine Game prospects drafted.

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Aaron Freeman
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