With thousands and thousands of dollars potentially on the road, I don’t fault NFL prospects for opting out of bowl games to start their draft prep. Especially for projected top-100 picks, I can understand the need to guard their investment. Nonetheless, the chance swings each ways for players who’ve unstable draft grades. While they avoid a possible injury by sitting out a bowl, in addition they lose a possibility to make an enduring final impression.
Not including the 2 College Football Playoff games (I’ll write about those later), there are 39 bowl games on the calendar over the following few weeks. Here is one pro prospect price watching from an NFL Draft perspective for every of the 78 teams participating in bowl season:
(Notes: This guide will likely be updated to account for any late opt-outs. All times listed are Eastern.)
Friday, December 16
UAB third-year RB DeWayne McBride, the nation’s leading rusher with 1,713 yards (and 19 touchdowns) in 11 games, must be in your radar. He made my running back rankings over the summer, so he didn’t come out of nowhere, nevertheless it still looks like he’s vastly underrated on a national level. While he has only average speed, McBride has uncanny contact balance to soak up hits, stay on his feet and keep his forward momentum.
Miami (Ohio) has had a player drafted each of the past three years. The college’s best likelihood to make it 4 straight might be fifth-year WR Mac Hippenhammer (5-foot-11, 183 kilos). The Penn State transfer is undersized, especially for an out of doors receiver, but he’s a seasoned route runner with outstanding tracking and ending skills through contact.
Mandel: To those that say there are too many bowls: Why do you hate fun?
After lining up primarily at guard as an underclassman, Troy fifth-year interior offensive lineman Jake Andrews (6-3, 330) moved to center and played well this season. He’s an alert, technically sound blocker, and he didn’t back down vs. Ole Miss within the 2022 opener. Andrews is a projected priority free agent and might hold his own once he’s in an NFL camp. Also, keep watch over undersized LB Carlton Martial (5-7, 206), who doesn’t really have an NFL position but is fun to look at and might need a likelihood as a special teamer.
UTSA has an explosive passing offense. Although its top NFL prospect, WR De’Corian Clark, has been sidelined with an injury, fourth-year WR Zakhari Franklin (6-1, 189) also has NFL aspirations. One in every of only three FBS pass catchers with 14-plus touchdown grabs this season, Franklin is quick to enter his route and all the time makes himself available, especially as a catch-and-go weapon on quick slants.
Saturday, December 17
Louisville has multiple potential draft picks on its defense, including fifth-year LB Yasir Abdullah (6-1, 235), considered one of the more underrated prospects in the category. As a pass rusher, he explodes out of his stance to win the corner, but he may play off-ball linebacker. He shows the open-field tackling and athleticism to show and canopy downfield. Abdullah leads the team with 13.0 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks and 4 forced fumbles.
Cincinnati had six players drafted off its defense last season, including a top-five pick in Sauce Gardner. Understandably, the Bearcats won’t have nearly that many draft picks this yr, but there are several interesting prospects to look at. Near the highest of the list is LB Ivan Pace Jr., who collected 125 tackles for Miami (Ohio) in 2021, then transferred to Cincinnati and won AAC Defensive Player of the Yr honors in ’22. He leads the team in tackles (120), tackles for loss (19.5), sacks (9.0) and compelled fumbles (2). Along with his lack of ideal size and speed, Pace doesn’t have ideal physical traits for the NFL, but his instincts and toughness will give him a likelihood once in camp.
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Each of Florida’s potential first-rounders (QB Anthony Richardson, OG O’Cyrus Torrence) have opted out of this game, but third-year DT Gervon Dexter Sr. (6-6, 315) is predicted to play. Dexter, who already has declared for the draft, underwhelmed this season as a pass rusher, but he showed noticeable improvements within the run game. When he properly utilizes his long levers, he can control the purpose of attack, peek within the backfield and find the ball carrier. Dexter is a projected Day 2 prospect.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 11, 2022
Oregon State has a legit draft prospect on offense (TE Luke Musgrave) and defense (CB Rejzohn Wright), but each will remain out for this game because of injuries. So, keep watch over sixth-year Brandon Kipper (6-6, 333), who moved inside this season from right tackle. The Idaho native must be more efficient along with his punch timing, but he blocks with balance and coordination within the run game and as a pass blocker.
Washington State sixth-year LB Daiyan Henley (6-1, 230) has had an interesting journey. A former highschool quarterback, the son of a famous music producer (Eugene Henley) and a large receiver when he was at Nevada, Henley likely will proceed on to the NFL next season after a robust 2022. Along with his strong hands and open-field ending ability, Henley is considered one of the more reliable tacklers on this yr’s draft class.
Yes, Fresno State sixth-year QB Jake Haener (6-0, 209) is undersized. No, he doesn’t have an enormous arm. But I don’t understand how anyone could study him and never come away impressed along with his field reading, accuracy and competitive toughness. Similar in ways to Taylor Heinicke, Haener is an instinctive player with the “make-it” talent to be drafted and stick within the NFL as a backup and spot starter.
— Mountain West (@MountainWest) November 20, 2022
While not on the identical level as former Southern Miss WR Quez Watkins (pick No. 200 within the 2020 draft), fifth-year WR Jason Brownlee (6-2, 200) has made 20 touchdown catches in his three-year profession with the Golden Eagles. He has been a consistent chain-mover — 71.2 percent of his catches have resulted in a primary down — and uses his 81-inch wingspan to expand his catch radius.
Rice fifth-year DE Ikenna Enechukwu (6-4, 267) looked disruptive against USC in September, whether he was attacking from the sting or inside as a three-technique. He’s a tad stiff and his overall impact was too up and down throughout the season, but he has length, play strength and energy that can get him on several draft boards.
Despite being limited by a number of nagging injuries this season and lacking eye-popping production, BYU fourth-year WR Puka Nacua (6-2, 204) has draftable talent (watch his play vs. Boise State or Arkansas for evidence). He’s more smooth than sudden as an athlete, which helps him gain separation in his routes. Nacua is dangerous within the underneath game, too, due to his vision and toughness to create after the catch.
SMU fourth-year WR Rashee Rice (6-1, 203), meanwhile, has each the production (96 catches, 1,355 yards, 10 touchdowns) and clear NFL talent to listen to his name called in April. Unfortunately, he won’t play on this game as he continues to heal from a toe injury, however the receiving cupboard isn’t bare for the Mustangs. Fifth-year QB Tanner Mordecai (6-2, 216), an Oklahoma transfer, has passed for 70 touchdowns over the past two seasons.
— SMU FootbaIl (@SMUFB) November 26, 2022
North Texas has produced only one draft pick since 2004, and I don’t expect that to vary in April. But fourth-year CB DeShawn Gaddie (6-2, 190) put together a robust season (11 passes defended) that hasn’t gone unnoticed by NFL scouts. The Indianapolis native moves well and challenges passes down the sector.
Boise State’s JL Skinner (6-4, 210) is my top-ranked senior safety on this class. He has a singular package of size, length and speed for the position. After collecting three total interceptions over his first three seasons, he leads the Broncos with 4 interceptions and ranks second in tackles this season. Skinner will likely be trying to cement his status as a Day 2 prospect.
The Athletic’s 2022 All-America teams: Honoring 50 of the very best in college football
Monday, December 19
Myrtle Beach Bowl (2:30 p.m., ESPN)
Marshall vs. UConn
In 12 starts this season, Marshall sixth-year RB Khalan Laborn (5-11, 212) has rushed for 100-plus yards nine times. He enters bowl season as considered one of only 4 FBS running backs with a minimum of 1,470 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns on the season. A former five-star recruit, the Florida State transfer has reinvented himself with the Herd, running low to the bottom with balance and determination.
— Marshall Football (@HerdFB) October 24, 2022
It can be strength vs. strength as Laborn faces off against UConn’s top defender, fourth-year LB Jackson Mitchell. A tackling machine, Mitchell ranks No. 4 within the FBS in total tackles (133) and barely comes off the sector. He’s a short-armed player, which hurts his ability to stack and shed, but he scrapes well laterally to patrol multiple gaps, find the ball carrier and finish along with his strong hands. UConn head coach Jim Mora Jr. also raves to NFL scouts about Mitchell’s leadership and character.
Tuesday, December 20
San Jose State fifth-year DE Viliami “Junior” Fehoko (6-4, 274), the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Yr, ranks in the highest 10 nationally in tackles for loss (18.5) and leads the Spartans in sacks (9.0). He’s a power-packed prospect with the attention and technique to deconstruct blocks from different alignments on the defensive position. Although limited in areas, Fehoko has the skill set to be a key rotational lineman within the NFL.
This game also features the MAC Defensive Player of the Yr, Eastern Michigan sixth-year DE Jose Ramirez (6-2, 254). He has had even higher backfield production than Fehoko: No. 2 within the nation in sacks (12.0) and No. 3 in tackles for loss (19.5). Although a tad undersized, Ramirez is explosive off the snap and rushes along with his hair on fire to wear down blockers. His rush skills can earn him a sub-package role at the following level.
To not be confused with former Toledo (and current Steelers) receiver Diontae Johnson, fifth-year Toledo LB Dyontae Johnson has accounted for 103 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks and one forced fumble this season. He was named the defensive MVP of the MAC championship game. While not exceptional in anyone area, Johnson has enough size, speed and strength to get a protracted look by NFL teams.
What percentage of faculty football fans could name the FBS leader in tackles for loss this season? The reply is Liberty sixth-year DE Durrell Johnson (6-3, 230), who has 22.5 backfield tackles in just 12 games. While undersized by NFL standards, he can win on the snap because of his get-off quickness and long arms (34 inches), plus he shows the range to drop in space. As he was over the summer, Johnson stays Liberty’s top senior NFL prospect.
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Wednesday, December 21
A former three-star wide receiver prospect, Western Kentucky sixth-year LB Derrick Smith began his college profession at Miami (Fla.) before transferring to Illinois for 3 seasons. He arrived at Western Kentucky without much of a resume, but moved from safety to linebacker and posted 90 tackles in 2022. Smith still isn’t expected to be drafted, but he a minimum of put his name on the radar.
While Western Kentucky likely won’t produce a draft pick this yr, South Alabama could have a number of, led by fifth-year CB Darrell Luter Jr. (6-0, 186). The JUCO transfer, who’s already holding a Senior Bowl invite, has long arms (33⅝ inches) and does an important job disrupting the rhythm of routes near the road of scrimmage. His ball production is down this yr in comparison with 2021, but his talent will earn him Day 3 draft grades. Also, keep watch over sixth-year WR Jalen Wayne (6-2, 205), the nephew of NFL great Reggie Wayne.
.@SouthAlabamaFB CB Darrell Luter has almost ideal body type in sense that he’s slightly below 6-feet, which supplies him higher COD skills than 6-1 or 6-2 corners, yet has almost 33-inch arms so he has same type of length. Most teams we’ve spoken with have early Day 3 grades on Luter. pic.twitter.com/JTPCWg5iiP
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) October 16, 2022
Thursday, December 22
It was last yr’s bowl game against Ole Miss that made me a believer in Baylor fourth-year DT Siaki Ika (6-4, 354) as a future NFL starter. With this expected to be his final college game, he will likely be trying to exit with a robust performance. Ika has rare initial quickness and fluidity for a 350-plus pounder, and although he’s still learning how you can be disciplined along with his pad level and technique, his nimble feet and natural power are an intriguing foundation.
Air Force fourth-year TE Kyle Patterson (6-5, 253) missed the second half of the regular season because of injury, so it’s unknown if he’ll have the opportunity to play within the bowl game. If he does, he’d be the clear top prospect for the Falcons. Patterson, who was a highschool teammate of 49ers QB Brock Purdy, hasn’t been a high-volume pass-catcher in college but has draftable grades (if the medicals take a look at) due to his inline blocking ability.
Friday, December 23
Houston has considered one of college football’s most explosive passing connections in fifth-year QB Clayton Tune (6-2, 213) and junior WR Nathaniel “Tank” Dell (5-10, 159), who already has declared for the draft. Tune has a gentle heartbeat and consistently executes when it matters essentially the most. He’ll make some low-percentage decisions at times, showing an excessive amount of trust in Dell and his receivers, but Tune brings pocket presence, field vision and competitive toughness that ought to translate well to the professional game.
— Houston Football (@UHCougarFB) November 27, 2022
Louisiana has produced six NFL Draft picks over the past three years, essentially the most of any three-year span at school history. This yr, fifth-year WR Michael Jefferson (6-4, 196) has a shot to listen to his name called. An Alabama State transfer with 29 profession receiving touchdowns, Jefferson has only average speed but can win down the sector because of his size.
While there are several NFL hopefuls on the Missouri defensive position, fourth-year DE Isaiah McGuire (6-4, 271) has stood out essentially the most during my tape study. As a pass rusher, he isn’t sudden but does rush with decent body flexibility and physical hands to force his way through bodies. Activate his matchup against Georgia LT Broderick Jones, a possible first-rounder, for a greater idea of the damage he may cause.
One in every of the highest senior pass-catchers on this draft class, Wake Forest fifth-year WR A.T. Perry (6-4, 203) needs just 20 receiving yards to achieve 1,000 for the second straight season. His speed is nice, not great, but he’s agile-footed as a route runner and does a masterful job using head/body fakes to leverage spacing in coverage. Along with his long arms (34⅝ inches), Perry has the catch radius and hand-eye coordination to tug in erratic throws. That is an NFL starter-caliber wide receiver.
Profession ATD No. 2⃣8⃣ pic.twitter.com/K6MaMfVjld
— Wake Forest Football (@WakeFB) November 26, 2022
Saturday, December 24
San Diego State has had run of manufacturing NFL-quality defensive backs. The Aztecs have one other one this yr in fourth-year safety Patrick McMorris (6-0, 207), who currently is second on the team with 59 tackles. He must do a greater job coming to balance on the move to be a more consistent tackler, but his real value comes from defending the pass — McMorris is considered one of the higher coverage safeties on this yr’s senior class.
A 3-year captain at Middle Tennessee, sixth-year DE Jordan Ferguson (6-1, 261) isn’t the sort of player who will stand out along with his 40-yard time or size measurables, but his impact has been clear on tape and within the box rating: He has amassed 33.5 tackles for loss and 18.0 sacks over the past two seasons. Although I don’t think he will likely be drafted, Ferguson is an enjoyable player to look at due to his motor and all of the ways he impacts the sport. Try his 49-yard scamper on a fake punt against FAU …
— Middle Tennessee FB (@MT_FB) November 19, 2022
Monday, December 26
It has been a decade since Bowling Green produced a draft pick on defense, but fifth-year DL Karl Brooks (6-3, 305) has a likelihood to vary that. Tied with Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. with 10.0 sacks, Brooks put together an incredible 2022 season, including 18.0 tackles for loss and countless splash plays. Although he lines up totally on the sting, Brooks has the initial quickness and powerful hands to be a legitimate three-technique prospect.
After 4 years at Eastern Washington, sixth-year LB Chris Ojoh (6-0, 222) transferred to Latest Mexico State prior to the 2021 season and brought grit and speed to the Aggies defense. The team leader in tackles (101) and tackles for loss (10.5), Ojoh is undersized, but he trusts his diagnose skills and range enough to make plays all around the field. Special teams will likely be his ticket to getting a likelihood within the NFL.
Tuesday, December 27
Although I don’t expect him to declare early, Buffalo third-year LB Shaun Dolac (6-0, 223) put himself on the NFL map this season. He leads the FBS with 90 solo tackles (North Carolina’s Cedric Gray, in second place, is 14 tackles back). Dolac also leads the Bulls in tackles for loss (12.5) and sacks (4.5). He has only average size, but along with his key-and-diagnose skills, he does an excellent job on his run matches.
Fifth-year WR Amare Jones (5-10, 193) was a singular and versatile player to look at for Georgia Southern, but he suffered a season-ending injury in October and can remain sidelined for this game. Nonetheless, sixth-year QB Kyle Vantrease (6-2, 229) makes for an interesting storyline here, as he’s facing his former team. Vantrease was a three-year starter at Buffalo before transferring to Georgia Southern for the 2022 season. He has thrown a minimum of one touchdown pass in all 12 games, and his performance on the Nebraska tape turned the heads of scouts.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 11, 2022
Memphis is on a nine-year streak of manufacturing a minimum of one NFL draft pick, although that could possibly be in jeopardy in April. Fifth-year safety Quindell Johnson (6-0, 198), with a career-high 4 interceptions in 2022, has a likelihood to be chosen on Day 3. He hasn’t been essentially the most consistent tackler within the open field, but his aggressive nature and burst to shut within the alley are appealing.
Although undersized, Utah State sixth-year RB Calvin Tyler Jr. (5-8, 208) has the initial burst and elusive run traits that make him a pesky player to tackle. The Oregon State transfer has the potential to be greater than a screen goal, but he doesn’t have a big catch radius or sample size as a receiver. Tyler has greater than 1,000 rushing yards on the season, with another likelihood to showcase his talent for scouts.
The Athletic’s 2022 freshman All-America team
Fourth-year QB Grayson McCall (6-2, 207) will likely be the primary attraction for Coastal Carolina, with the added twist that he already has announced his plans to enter the transfer portal after this game (which might push him into the 2024 draft class). The primary three-time Offensive Player of the Yr in Sun Belt history, McCall may not have elite physical traits, but his instincts on the position are impressive. He does an important job on option-based plays, making quick throws and decisions or extending along with his legs to make off-platform throws. There’s some Jalen Hurts to his game.
GRAYSON MCCALL TD PASS ON THE FIRST PLAY OF THE GAME‼️ pic.twitter.com/0MexsTkwPk
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) September 22, 2022
Trivia query for the true college football fanatics: Which running back leads the FBS in carries of 10-plus yards? The reply is East Carolina third-year RB Keaton Mitchell (5-9, 184), who’s as much as 1,325 rushing yards in 11 games this season. Along with his burst through the opening and speed across the edge, he brings back memories of Chris Johnson in a Pirates uniform. Mitchell has an NFL future, too, despite his smaller size.
Wisconsin will likely be missing its top prospects (Keeanu Benton, Nick Herbig, Joe Tippmann), but third-year LT Jack Nelson (6-7, 310) is predicted to play. A former five-star recruit, he was a little bit shaky last season in his first yr as a starter but took an expected jump in performance this season, especially in pass protection. Nelson has an NFL future, at any time when he decides to show pro.
Oklahoma State fifth-year safety Jason Taylor II (6-0, 205) has six interceptions this season, which leads the Big 12 and is tied for second within the FBS. Playing primarily in a free safety role, Taylor has feel for spacing and when to take possibilities. He’s also second within the Big 12 with 13 passes defended.
Could Phil Longo’s dynamic offensive approach be just what the Badgers need?
Wednesday, December 28
Duke fourth-year DE R.J. Oben (6-4, 255) stood out as a pass rusher who gave Northwestern stud left tackle Peter Skoronski, a future first-round pick, consistent trouble. The son of longtime NFL offensive lineman Roman Oben, the Blue Devils’ defender rushes with the initial quickness and heavy hands to attack either shoulder of the blocker. His statline isn’t impressive (3 1/2 sacks in 2022), however the flashes have NFL teams interested.
Fifth-year LT Tylan Grable (6-7, 290), a transfer from Jacksonville State, was a pleasant addition this season for UCF and has graded well in pass protection. A highschool quarterback-turned-tight end before moving to the offensive line, Grable’s technique and eye discipline are inconsistent and also you’d prefer to see more power behind his punch. But he’s a powerful athlete for 290 kilos, with the feet and hips offensive line coaches will need to develop.
Arkansas will likely be without several of its best players (LB Drew Sanders, LB Bumper Pool, OC Ricky Stromberg). Sixth-year RT Dalton Wagner (6-9, 331), though, is ending up his fourth season as a starter and has shown regular improvements every year. Along with his long arms (35 1/8 inches), he can keep rushers from his frame, although he struggles to anchor down or stay balanced once rushers do reach his body. There aren’t many 6-foot-9 tackles at the following level, but Dan Skipper — one other Arkansas product who’s currently with the Lions — laid out the trail.
Kansas’ team leader with 96 tackles, fourth-year safety Kenny Logan Jr. (5-11, 208) has the rangy athletic profile that NFL teams covet on the position. His lack of ideal length is a noticeable issue, but he’s an aggressive downhill run defender, which also will profit him on special-teams coverages. Logan is a senior but can return to Lawrence for his “super senior” yr if he chooses.
Will this be the ultimate college game for Oregon fourth-year QB Bo Nix (6-2, 217) or will he return to Eugene? Time will tell, however the Auburn transfer turned himself right into a draftable prospect along with his play in 2022. Although he’s still vulnerable to the occasional head-scratching decision, Nix has the athleticism to create along with his legs and the accuracy to attack defenses downfield. Between Nix’s toughness and talent, NFL teams are very interested.
— Oregon Football (@oregonfootball) November 13, 2022
All eyes will likely be on North Carolina QB Drake Maye, who’s on a superstar trajectory but in addition won’t be eligible until the 2024 NFL Draft. Within the ’23 class, the Tar Heels can offer third-year LB Cedric Gray (6-2, 230), who emerged as probably the greatest linebackers within the ACC this season and leads the conference with 137 total tackles. The Charlotte native also tops the Tar Heels in tackles for loss (10) and compelled fumbles (3) and has a pair of interceptions. A 3-star recruit as an “athlete,” Gray has the pursuit speed and twitchy redirection skills that allow him to make plays all around the field.
The production may not jump off the page, but Ole Miss fourth-year WR Jonathan Mingo (6-2, 220) has NFL traits and was considered one of five receivers voted to the All-SEC team by league coaches. Along with his large mitts, he tracks the ball well and doesn’t go down easily after the catch. Perhaps it’s the Ole Miss jersey playing tricks on me, but Mingo jogs my memory of a poor man’s A.J. Brown.
— Ole Miss Football (@OleMissFB) October 30, 2022
Texas Tech will likely be without its best player after projected first-rounder Tyree Wilson injured his foot in November. Nonetheless, I’m also intrigued by fifth-year CB Malik Dunlap (6-2, 215), because of his size and ball skills — he leads Texas Tech with 11 passes defended. The N.C. State transfer will struggle once he surrenders a step, but he’s a reputation price keeping on the radar.
Thursday, December 29
This bowl will likely be an important showcase for a pair of senior blockers with NFL starting potential. For Minnesota, sixth-year center John Michael Schmitz (6-4, 315) is a brawler with excellent play strength and ending skills. He tends to lose his balance, which is my biggest concern for his NFL transition, but does an important job sustaining through engagement when his eyes, hands and feet stay on the identical page.
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For Syracuse, fourth-year LT Matthew Bergeron (6-5, 324) has had an up-and-down season and scouts will likely be in search of him to complete strong. He’s efficient in his setup with the run-blocking skills to clear lanes. Nonetheless, Bergeron struggles vs. length and power and wishes to be more precise along with his hand placement to match up with NFL-level defenders. While Bergeron is taken into account a top-125 prospect, a move inside to protect is perhaps in his best long-term interests.
Most of Oklahoma’s draftable prospects (LT Anton Harrison, RT Wanya Morris, RB Eric Gray, DT Jalen Redmond) have opted out of this game. But don’t ignore FB/TE Brayden Willis (6-3, 244), who may have a likelihood to be drafted within the later rounds. Although he will likely be considered a tweener for many teams, he has natural pass-catching skills and has been a weapon for the Sooners (seven touchdown catches in 2022, five within the red zone).
One in every of the Florida State defenders who may have to cover Willis is fourth-year safety Jammie Robinson (5-11, 197). He also will likely be dinged throughout the method because of his lack of size, but his NFL talent is evident. Robinson does an important job along with his run leverage and has a surprisingly high batting average as an open-field tackler because he finds his balance before ending. He also shows anticipation and drive quickness in coverage.
😤 @JayRob_7 😤
— ACC Network (@accnetwork) November 9, 2022
No Bijan Robinson, Roschon Johnson or DeMarvion Overshown for the Longhorns on this game. There are a number of intriguing prospects on the Texas defensive position, though, led by fifth-year DT Keondre Coburn (6-2, 339). He has impressive athleticism for a person his size, and it won’t be a surprise if he runs a sub-5.00-second 40-yard dash. While he isn’t a high-level pass rusher, Coburn’s knock-back strength implies that he generally is a productive early-down nose within the NFL.
Washington sixth-year OG Jaxson Kirkland (6-7, 330) was extremely overrated when he popped up in first-round mock drafts last yr. Nonetheless, as a mid-round prospect, he’s an interesting player due to his light feet, wide base and robust punch into the chest of defenders. The matchup between the Huskies’ offensive line and Longhorns’ defensive position will likely be put under the microscope by NFL scouts.
How did Texas schools fare based on preseason expectations? Ask the Texpert
Friday, December 30
Duke’s Mayo Bowl (Noon, ESPN)
Maryland vs. N.C. State
The hype surrounding Maryland LT Jaelyn Duncan (6-6, 315) has gotten a little bit uncontrolled. He’s being talked about as a top-50 pick, however the tape doesn’t share that sort of optimism. He does have outstanding athletic tools, that are the foundation of the positive feedback, but his balance breaks down too quickly at contact and his lack of length is an actual issue. It also doesn’t help that his three worst games got here against the three hardest opponents on Maryland’s schedule (Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State) this season. Any likelihood Duncan has to place positive play on tape, he must benefit from it.
When watching the N.C. State defense, you may’t help but notice No. 32 flying across the front-seven making plays. That’s fourth-year LB Drake Thomas (6-0, 221), who enters the bowl game leading the Wolfpack in tackles (90), tackles for loss (15) and sacks (6 1/2). While his lack of size and length (30-inch arms) could possibly be a considerable detriment to his pro transition, Thomas diagnoses extremely well and his play speed and tackling skills are NFL-quality. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him stick on a roster.
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Nobody would have blamed UCLA fourth-year RB Zach Charbonnet (6-1, 224) if he decided to opt out of this game — he has put enough on tape for NFL scouts. But he wanted to complete the season along with his teammates. Charbonnet, who currently leads the FBS in all-purpose yards per game (168.0), is an average-burst runner and isn’t much of a home-run hitter, but he reads the sector and his blockers exceptionally well to consistently pick up chunks of yards. He’s the favourite to be the primary senior back drafted.
As of the very best run-defending teams within the country, Pittsburgh allows only 95.5 rushing yards per game (No. 7 within the FBS). The Panthers will likely be without considered one of their studs, DL Calijah Kancey, but I’m interested to see fifth-year LB Sirvocea Dennis (6-0, 223). He’s undersized and could be eaten up by blockers, but he does an important job reading his keys and exploding downhill as a finisher.
𝐙𝐀𝐂𝐇 𝐂𝐇𝐀𝐑𝐁𝐎𝐍𝐍𝐄𝐓 … 𝐓𝐇𝐈𝐑𝐃 𝐓𝐎𝐔𝐂𝐇𝐃𝐎𝐖𝐍.
UCLA 31, Stanford 6
0:03 – third quarter
— UCLA Football (@UCLAFootball) October 30, 2022
No Isaiah Foskey on this matchup for the Irish, but fifth-year DL Jayson Ademilola (6-3, 276) will give scouts a reason to look at the defensive position. He has a tweener body type (especially for interior work) and doesn’t run with much of a plan, but his initial quickness and natural body twitch help him disrupt backfield motion. Ademilola does an important job utilizing leverage and his motor is all the time revving, something that actually popped on the BYU tape earlier this season.
Although he hasn’t revealed his plans for next season, South Carolina fourth-year QB Spencer Rattler (6-1, 210) has one other likelihood to sway scouts. He’s been on fire over his last two games (wins over Tennessee and Clemson), averaging 399 passing yards and scoring nine total touchdowns. While Rattler all the time had the arm talent, reckless decisions have often been his downfall. One other productive performance on this game will keep Rattler trending in the best direction, though.
Take a look at him go 🏃♂️💨
— Gamecock Football (@GamecockFB) November 26, 2022
A player with almost 3,000 profession snaps, Ohio sixth-year RG Hagen Meservy (6-4, 300) has gotten consistently higher each season. The Tulsa native doesn’t overwhelm with power, but his improved mechanics and angles help him stay between defenders and the football. Earlier this season, Meservy greater than held his own at Penn State and Iowa State, against the highest two opponents on Ohio’s schedule.
Wyoming isn’t stocked with a ton of NFL talent, but there are a number of prospects price keeping on the radar. Following within the footsteps of Logan Wilson and Chad Muma, fourth-year Easton Gibbs (6-2, 230) is the following Cowboys’ linebacker with a professional future. Scouts need to see him turn into more of a playmaker in coverage, but he’s considered one of the higher run-defending linebackers in college football and leads the team with 111 tackles.
Several Volunteers have seen their NFL draft stock rise together with the team’s resurgence this season. Everyone knows about Hendon Hooker and Jalin Hyatt, but fourth-year RT Darnell Wright (6-5, 347) also has taken a considerable jump from where scouts had him over the summer. The previous five-star recruit has been starting since his freshman yr but looks like a latest player on the 2022 tape. He’s showing a greater understanding of his stout frame, hand strength and talent to reposition his feet to reply rushers. A borderline draft pick based on his junior-year film, Wright has now put himself within the top-60 conversation for several teams.
Officially Accepted! Darnell Wright @darnell_5232 from @Vol_Football is headed to the 2023 Senior Bowl #GBO #VFL #TheDraftStartsInMOBILE™️@JimNagy_SB @PaniniAmerica #RatedRookie pic.twitter.com/CPEk9ixuXq
— Reese’s Senior Bowl (@seniorbowl) December 12, 2022
One other former five-star recruit finally living as much as the hype is Clemson fifth-year DE K.J. Henry (6-5, 250), who will face off against Wright. The Clemson defensive position is loaded with NFL talent, including several projected first-rounders, yet it’s Henry who leads the team with 50 quarterback pressures (16 greater than the second-highest producer on the team). He must be a greater finisher within the backfield, but he consistently wins one-on-one because of his physical hands and agile footwork to squeeze gaps. Wright ought to be the very best opponent Henry has faced this season, making that showdown must-see for NFL scouts.
Saturday, December 31
This will likely be the ultimate time to look at Iowa fourth-year LB Jack Campbell (6-4, 248), some of the decorated Hawkeyes of all time, before he heads to the NFL. This system has produced quite a few productive linebackers (Chad Greenway, Josey Jewell, etc.), but Campbell is the primary to win the Butkus Award because the nation’s top linebacker and the primary to take home the William V. Campbell trophy (the “Academic Heisman”). Although he’s not considered a top-50 prospect because of his average athleticism, the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Yr has the instincts that can keep him within the NFL for a very long time.
Iowa LB Jack Campbell has been named the 2022 William V. Campbell Trophy. Great honor. The Butkus Award finalist is a three-time Dean’s List honoree and on pace to graduate this month with a 3.49 GPA in enterprise leadership.
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) December 7, 2022
Kentucky will likely be without its top two offensive players (QB Will Levis, RB Chris Rodriguez Jr.). On the defensive side, fifth-year CB Keidron Smith (6-2, 198), who transferred from Ole Miss, has played rather well in his one season with the Wildcats. He’s tied for the team lead in interceptions (2) and has done an important job minimizing big plays (no receptions allowed of 25-plus yards). Smith has the scale, speed and technical approach that ought to translate well to the NFL game.
Facing the unenviable task of replacing Evan Neal, Alabama fourth-year LT Tyler Steen (6-5, 319) has been a little bit up-and-down this season, but there have been more positives than negatives. The Vanderbilt grad transfer wasn’t considered a draftable player over the summer, but his consistency this season has improved from previous years (he had several strong reps vs. LSU draft prospect BJ Ojulari). Although he tends to ignore his feet mid-engagement at times, Steen does an important job along with his depth in pass protection to shut space for rushers.
Steen may have his hands full going up against Kansas State third-year DE Felix Anudike-Uzomah (6-4, 255), who leads the Wildcats in tackles for loss (11.0), sacks (8.5) and compelled fumbles (2). A face-up rusher, Anudike-Uzomah has adequate get-off and arc speed, and he mixes in various stab and ghost moves to pry open pass-rush lanes. While he tends to be an inconsistent edge setter, Anudike-Uzomah could be very alert to scrambling quarterbacks and does an important job keeping his pursuit alive, which was the No. 1 takeaway from his tape.
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Monday, January 2
After the unexpected passing of Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach, this game obviously may have more of a somber tone.
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The Bulldogs’ third-year QB, Will Rogers (6-2, 210), leads the SEC in nearly every passing category, including yards (3,713) and touchdowns (34). While he may not have the elite physical tools that the NFL covets, he throws with anticipation and has a natural feel for putting the ball where his receivers are going to be, not where they’re. I don’t understand how seriously Rogers is considering jumping to the NFL. Whether it happens now or a yr from now, he will likely be a draft pick.
Illinois is ranked No. 1 within the FBS in scoring defense, allowing only 12.2 points per game. The defense may have a unique look on this game without coordinator Ryan Walters (newly-hired as Purdue’s head coach), but a lot of the players will likely be on the market. That list is predicted to incorporate fourth-year CB Devon Witherspoon (6-0, 183). He could be very controlled in his movements and, although his aggressive nature will get him in trouble at times, his physicality on the catch point is completely a positive. Witherspoon has a likelihood to crack the primary round in April.
— Illinois on BTN (@IllinoisOnBTN) November 26, 2022
Despite having a disastrous team defense, USC third-year DE Tuli Tuipulotu (6-4, 290) was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Yr. He’s the one FBS player with a minimum of 20.0 tackles for loss and 12.0 sacks this season. Using his downhill momentum, he rushes with heavy hands to place blockers on skates and disrupt the rhythm of the quarterback. At times, he finds himself too far upfield as he tries to show the corner, but his relentless pursuit wears down blockers and results in backfield production. Tuipulotu has put himself within the top-100 conversation.
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A dynamic playmaker, Tulane fourth-year RB Tyjae Spears (5-11, 195) had a promising 2021 season before really blowing up this yr with 1,376 rushing yards (6.5 yards per carry) and 15 touchdowns in 2022. A player who jogs my memory numerous James Cook last season at Georgia, Spears has a slender frame for the position but outstanding read, plant and burst motion as a runner. He has the cutting skills and vision to abruptly change his rush path and discover a latest lane. Against a USC team that ranks 102nd within the FBS in total defense, Spears ought to be a more well-known prospect after this matchup.
LSU fourth-year safety Jay Ward (6-1, 184) is a divisive prospect amongst scouts. Some league feedback has him with a fourth-round grade, while other reports say late rounds at best. What I liked essentially the most about his film is his range vs. the run. Ward charges downhill and attacks blocks, targeting the hip and belt buckle on tackle attempts. Nonetheless, in pass coverage, he tends to concede an excessive amount of space and have to be more situationally aware. Ward takes too many possibilities with not enough payoff. He had multiple penalties on three of the tapes studied this season.
Purdue sixth-year WR Charlie Jones (6-0, 186) has been a tricky cover for defenders this season. Although he will likely be pigeonholed as an undersized slot prospect, that isn’t his game. Jones can stretch the sector vertically along with his speed but in addition shows the zone awareness to seek out voids within the defense and sit down. For a player along with his speed, I expected him to force more missed tackles, but his drops were very rare (only three on 154 targets).
A latest 𝐏𝐔𝐑𝐃𝐔𝐄 record for Charlie Jones: 1,309 yards and counting… pic.twitter.com/69T8JQ5KtZ
— Purdue Football (@BoilerFootball) December 4, 2022
Several of Utah’s top prospects, like TE Dalton Kincaid and CB Clark Phillips III, aren’t expected to play on this game. Fifth-year LT Braeden Daniels (6-4, 291) should, though, and he’s a legitimate prospect himself. After starting at left guard earlier in his profession, he moved to right tackle in 2021 and to left tackle this season, so he can offer experience across multiple positions. A vocal leader of the offensive line room, Daniels has only average anchor strength but brings good flexibility and knee bend in his lateral shuffle, shifting his weight well to mirror edge speed.
While not the caliber of Jaquon Brisker a yr ago, fifth-year safety Ji’Ayir Brown (5-11, 210) has been a rock-solid defender for Penn State. He has a combined nine interceptions the last two seasons and showed higher consistency on his 2022 tape — he didn’t allow any touchdowns in coverage. I don’t expect Brown to run a blazing 40-yard dash, but he has experience on special teams and can also be a frontrunner on defense. He has a likelihood to be drafted within the mid-to-late rounds.
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(Illustration: John Bradford Sullivan / The Athletic;
Photos: Wesley Hitt, John E. Moore III and Tom Hauck / Getty Images)