To have a chance to be the first Quaker drafted to the NFL since 2002, Justin Watson must shine at the Shrine.
Over 100 NFL hopefuls will take the field Saturday in the East-West Shrine Game, the longest-running annual college football all-star game. Watson — who is Penn’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, and all-purpose yards — is one of 13 wide receivers hoping to stand out this weekend in St. Petersburg, Fla. He is one of seven on the roster for the East Team.
"I am thankful for the opportunity to represent Penn one more time at the Shrine Game," Watson said in a press release last month. "My coaches and teammates have all helped me become the player I am and have helped put me in the position to play at the next level. I look forward to this challenge and taking the next step in my football career."
Watson, who is not yet ranked on any major online draft boards, needs to stand out to get a chance to participate in the NFL Combine. The Combine is an important step in any player’s path to the pros, but an invite is near-vital for somebody from an obscure conference like the Ivy League. 2017 graduate Alek Torgersen, the most accurate passer in Penn’s history, was not invited to the Combine even with a strong Shrine Game showing, and he went undrafted in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Watson’s competition for targets on the East team includes a few notable receivers, including Penn State’s DaeSean Hamilton. Hamilton, who is the No. 19 wide receiver prospect according to CBS, is the Nittany Lions’ all-time leader in receptions. Other names to look out for include Pittsburgh’s Jester Weah (No. 21 WR on CBS, No. 32 WR on draft site Walter Football) and Canadian player Regis Cibasu of Universite de Montreal.
The East’s wide receivers will be catching balls from NFL-hopeful quarterbacks including Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, whose successful 2014 campaign was cut short by injury in a year when the Buckeyes still went on to win a National Championship. Barrett is unranked on CBS’s draft prospect list and comes in as the No. 19 QB prospect on Walter Football’s list.
The other two men under center will be Memphis’ Riley Ferguson (No. 9 QB on CBS, No. 8 on Walter Football) and South Florida’s Quinton Flowers (unranked on CBS, No. 18 on Walter Football).