Likely top-10 pick Khalil Mack isn't the only NFL Draft prospect playing in an early bowl game. (Mike Groll/AP)
The college football bowl season is upon us, which means we have one last chance to steal a look at some potential future NFL players. Here are some guys to keep an eye on as the first few bowls kick off.
New Mexico Bowl: Colorado State vs. Washington State (Dec. 21)
Colorado State: Crockett Gilmore, TE.
The name alone is worth a Day 3 draft pick. Gilmore, 6-foot-6, will take part in this year's East-West Shrine Game, so this is far from his last shot to impress NFL scouts. He's had a solid season at Colorado State -- 43 catches for 533 yards -- but that big body should allow him to be even more of a threat in the red zone than he proved to be for the Rams (two touchdowns in 2013).
Washington State: Deone Bucannon, S.
Bucannon received a nod to the Senior Bowl on Monday, one of just four safeties currently on the rosters. Bucannon led the Cougars during the regular season with 109 tackles, and he tied for the team lead with five interceptions. Those numbers were enough to land him on the All-Pac-12 first team.
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Las Vegas Bowl: Fresno State vs. USC (Dec. 21)
Fresno State: Davante Adams, WR.
Derek Carr will be the Las Vegas Bowl headliner (with USC's Marqise Lee drawing plenty of attention, too). But Adams, a redshirt sophomore, could make the leap to the NFL following a 122-catch, 23-touchdown season in the Bulldogs' wide-open offense. Adams recently requested an evaluation from the NFL Draft advisory board, and with his QB headed out of town, he might be more inclined to declare if he hears positive news.
USC: Devon Kennard, OLB.
Kennard's off to the East-West Shrine Game ... and he's an intriguing prospect, to say the least. It took USC awhile to figure out where to play him -- he started at DE, then moved to middle linebacker in 2011, before shifting to a pass-rushing role. This season, he thrived coming off the edge, leading the Trojans with nine sacks. That performance was even more impressive considering Kennard missed all of 2012 with a pectoral injury.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Buffalo vs. San Diego State (Dec. 21)
Buffalo: Branden Oliver, RB.
Most of the folks tuning in for this one will be doing so hoping to see Oliver's teammate, Khalil Mack, a potential top-10 pick. But Oliver could be a draft-worthy player, if only because he's such a productive runner. He's averaged 5.2 yards per carry over the past two seasons, while racking up more than 2,200 yards in all.
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San Diego State: Colin Lockett, WR.
Lockett's versatility will sit well with NFL scouts -- he spent some time on defense in 2010 and has been a dynamic kick returner throughout his career. This season alone, on top of catching 49 passes for 646 yards, Lockett averaged 24.7 yards on returns. He's only 5-11 and 183 pounds, so he'll have to earn a spot through special teams, but there's enough athleticism to warrant attention.
New Orleans Bowl: Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Tulane (Dec. 21)
Louisiana-Lafayette: Justin Anderson, LB.
There's more draft-worthy talent coming up through the ranks at Louisiana-Lafayette than there is ready to enter the 2014 class -- QB Terrance Broadway will be one to watch in his senior season, and freshman RB Elijah McGuire has an 823-yard campaign to build on. Anderson, however, led the Ragin' Cajuns with a whopping 123 tackles, including 10.0 for loss.
Tulane: Ryan Grant, WR.
Grant's off to join Bucannon at the Senior Bowl, a nice reward for what's been a solid couple of seasons. He wrapped up his Tulane career with a 70-catch campaign, on the heels of 1,149 yards in 2012. The 6-1 receiver is far from a finished product, but he's fairly polished as a five-year player, so he could enjoy a nice Senior Bowl showing.
Beef O'Brady's Bowl: East Carolina vs. Ohio (Dec. 23)
East Carolina: Will Simmons, G.
Gotta get an offensive lineman some love here. Simmons was a first-team All-Conference USA honoree for his work this season as a rock along the Pirates' front. He's a big body: 6-5, 342 -- up 62 pounds from his freshman season. The team's website points out that he is among the lineman leaders in combine-friendly events like the broad jump and vertical jump.
Ohio: Travis Carrie, CB
A MAC assistant coach told me in the preseason to keep an eye on Carrie this year. The senior defensive back may not have had the breakthrough showing he was hoping for, but he did enough to stay on the NFL radar. Part of the reason is that he's a dangerous return man -- 267 yards on punt returns in 2013 and experience bringing back kicks. He'll head into the bowl game hot, coming off a pair of INTs in Ohio's last game against UMass.
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