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What Chiefs fans should watch for at the East-West Shrine Bowl

Kansas City’s season goes on, but the team is already preparing for this year’s NFL Draft

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 18 Duke at Virginia Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Note: A special thanks to the staff at the East-West Shrine Bowl for generously hosting me for this year’s practices and event. The 99th edition of the game will kick off at 7:00 p.m. Arrowhead Time on Thursday, February 1. at the Ford Center in Frisco, TX. The game will air live on NFL Network.

The Kansas City Chiefs claim one of two fanbases still engaged in on-field matters after advancing to Super Bowl LVIII. Though offseason moves are a bit further from our minds than some teams’ supporters, Kansas City’s scouts are well at work making preparations.

This year’s East-West Shrine Bowl will mark the first big step of the scouting process for this year’s draft, with the Senior Bowl soon following before the NFL Scouting Combine at the end of February.

While some write off the talent level available at the Shrine Bowl, the Chiefs have traditionally taken it very seriously. The team’s final three selections in last year’s draft — edge-rusher BJ Thompson, defensive tackle Keondre Coburn, and cornerback Nic Jones — were on last season’s roster for the event.

Let’s look at some players from this year’s game who might interest the Chiefs based on this offseason’s likely positional needs. Unfortunately, many of the most recognizable invites — such as Miami defensive tackle Leonard Taylor III, Texas tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders, and Texas A&M linebacker Edgerrin Cooper — will not be participating in the game.

Offensive weapons

Unlike last year’s game — which boasted Baltimore Ravens rookie wideout Zay Flowers — this year’s Shrine Bowl does not feature a wide receiver likely to be chosen in the top 100 selections. While there are talented pass-catchers, a rotational role may be their ceiling in the NFL.

Although only 5-foot-8, Virginia’s Malik Washington will likely be the game’s highest-drafted receiver. Washington led the nation last season with 110 receptions and has had a very strong week of practice — and his nearly-200-pound frame alleviates some concerns about his height. USC’s Tahj Washington faces similar questions about his size but has shown himself to be one of the best route runners present.

For bigger wideouts, Joshua Cephus of Texas-San Antonio and Michigan’s Cornelius Johnson have turned in good weeks.

The past two East-West Shrine Bowls have each produced an eventual Chiefs running back (Isiah Pacheco and Deneric Prince). Frank Gore Jr. of Southern Mississippi shares his legendary father’s name, though fans will see the younger version is a smaller and shiftier runner. If the Chiefs seek a third-down back to pair with Pacheco, Blake Watson of Memphis has had some nice moments in the passing game. Monmouth’s Jaden Shirden has seen significant work and could be a small school sleeper as the draft process goes on.

The tight ends at this year’s Shrine Bowl have had a mostly pedestrian week. Colorado State’s Dallin Holker is the most accomplished college player of the group, though he is an older prospect and has not looked effective as a blocker. Mason Fairchild of Kansas seemed to improve as the week went on.

Offensive line

Left tackle is the only pending question mark, making it doubtful any offensive lineman at the game will make an impact for the 2024 Chiefs. Boston College guard Chistian Mahogany has possibly played himself into the Day Two conversation for the draft, likely earlier than the Chiefs will consider the position.

South Dakota State’s Mason McCormick has also put himself on the radar as a Day Three interior lineman possibility. For a sleeper at tackle, Howard’s Anim Dankwah has shown good movement after measuring in at 6’7 and 362 lbs.

Defensive line and linebackers

With only Neil Farrell under contract for 2024, defensive tackle is arguably the Chiefs’ biggest offseason priority. Several high-floor big men should take the field on Thursday. Kansas City’s deep draft aficionados should watch for Florida State’s Fabien Lovett and Cincinnati’s Jowon Briggs, who have impressed in one-on-ones and team periods. In addition, Northern Iowa’s Khristian Boyd — an alumnus of Blue Springs High School — has been one of the biggest small-school winners of the week.

In a perfect world, the two pass rushers Kansas City selected in the 2023 draft will contribute next season, but there will be options if the Chiefs want to add to the room. Colorado State’s Mo Kamara is the highest-profile edge-rusher at the game. Watch for Grambling State’s Sundiata Anderson, who has been disruptive in every practice and could see his draft stock steadily rise as the scouting process continues.

A deep linebacking corps has played a massive role in Kansas City’s 2023 defensive resurgence. Wyoming’s Easton Gibbs is a player on the second unit to watch. Gibbs has shown great coverage instincts and came out of Sunday’s red zone scrimmage with an interception.

Secondary

In five of his six drafts as Kansas City’s general manager, Brett Veach has selected at least one defensive back on Day Three. With the secondary being one of the deepest position groups in Frisco, a 2024 Chiefs draft pick easily could be covering receivers on Thursday night.

Texas Tech safety Dadrion Taylor-Demerson has been one of the best defenders in practice and will likely be drafted higher than expected. Two other safety prospects — Kenny Logan of Kansas and Jaylon Carlies of Missouri — may be of local interest to some Chiefs fans.

This year’s East-West Shrine Bowl features a historically unique draft story. Toronto Argonauts cornerback Qwan’tez Stiggers — who made the CFL in 2023 via a tryout — is attempting to be the first drafted player not to have played college football. His week in Frisco has been a good start to the unlikely journey.

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