A pair of former Boilermakers were in Las Vegas for the 98th playing of the East-West Shrine Bowl this week.
Quarterback Aidan O’Connell and the East squad took on linebacker/safety Jalen Graham and the West. Graham’s West team came out on top of a defensive battle, earning a 12-3 win in Allegiant Stadium. Michigan kicker Jake Moody took home Offensive Player of the Game by sinking four field goals in the win.
Both of the former Purdue standouts had success in the week of practice leading up to the game. The Shrine Bowl and Senior Bowl provide players the opportunity to learn from NFL coaches and perform in front of scouts leading up to the NFL Draft. O’Connell was coached by the Atlanta Falcons staff while Graham was led by New England Patriots coaches and staff.
Aidan O’Connell opened some eyes in Las Vegas this week. Thursday morning, the former Purdue quarterback was named to the 2023 All-East Shrine Bowl Practice Team. The award is given to the player who had the best week of practice at every position for each team. O’Connell beat out Tanner Morgan of Minnesota and Tim DeMorat of Fordham for the recognition.
Per the Shrine Bowl, O’Connell’s All-East Shrine Bowl Practice Team award is “based on NFL feedback about their play on the field, player interviews, and how professional they were across the week of practice.”
Tony Pauline of Pro Football Network is in Las Vegas for the event and had the chance to talk to numerous NFL scouts and personnel. Pauline gets the general sense that O’Connell’s draft stock is rising as the draft process continues to play out.
Pauline said, “Yet, a growing number of people I’ve spoken with from the scouting community believe Shrine Bowl quarterback Aidan O’Connell of Purdue will prevail as the top signal-caller from this year’s class.”
O’Connell was unable to continue his stretch of impressive play tonight in the Shrine Bowl. The former walk-on turned All-Big Ten performer had a pedestrian outing, completing six of his 16 pass attempts for 61 yards.
The biggest passing play of the game for the East did come from O’Connell when he connected with Clemson wide receiver Joseph Ngata for a 27 yard gain on third down. O’Connell floated the ball over the defender and put it in Ngata’s bread basket.
It is important to note, both teams carried three quarterbacks into the game and each signal caller saw a similar amount of action. O’Connell played until the middle of the second quarter, when Tanner Morgan entered the game, but was inserted back into the lineup late in the fourth quarter. The Purdue product threw for the most yards amongst East quarterbacks while Morgan and Tim DeMorat had 33 and 18 yards respectively while each throwing an interception.
While O’Connell did not have the performance he would have liked in the game, he still made an impression on the Falcons coaches with his practice and interviews during the week.
Those variables are highly valued in the draft process and could spell good news for O’Connell this spring. Purdue’s most accurate passer in school history could have two more opportunities to impress scouts, at Purdue’s Pro Day and the NFL Combine.
Former Purdue linebacker/safety hybrid Jalen Graham also made an impression during practice in Las Vegas. Graham got the start at linebacker for the West team and made a solo tackle on the first play of the game. From that point on, Graham was quiet and did not record another tackle.
Much like his teammate O’Connell, Graham had a good week of practice. Pro Football Focus’ Tony Pauline wrote about his performance earlier in the week.
“Jalen Graham didn’t make a ton of plays on the ball today rather displayed tremendous athleticism and movement skills. Graham easily moved with tight ends and running backs during coverage drills, flowing to the action with speed,” Pauline said.
Graham also impressed with his ability to stay with defenders in pass coverage.
Pauline said, “He displayed a smooth change of direction and lateral speed all three days of Shrine Game practice. Graham was ignored by scouts entering the season but now moves toward the draft as one of the hidden gems at linebacker.”
Purdue’s former defensive back and linebacker possesses physical traits that should be amongst the best at the NFL Combine in early March. As the NFL moves towards smaller linebackers, Graham could fit into a role with a team on Sunday’s this fall.