NFL Draft 2014 Bowl Preview, Week 3
The college football bowl season is in full swing, which means we have one last chance to steal a look at some potential NFL players. Here are some guys to keep an eye on during the third week of postseason games (Note: The BCS title game will be previewed on its own next week):
Independence Bowl: Arizona vs. Boston College (Dec. 31, 12:30 p.m. ET)
Arizona: Ka'Deem Carey, RB.
Could Carey be the top running back off the board come May? It's certainly possible if he decides to turn pro. Perhaps pushing him toward the NFL: a combined 625 carries the past two seasons in Rich Rodriguez's offense. That's a lot of wear and tear, even if it resulted in more than 3,600 yards rushing.
Boston College: Kevin Pierre-Louis, OLB.
A first-team All-ACC honoree with 104 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss, Pierre-Louis has helped offset the production Boston College lost when current Carolina star Luke Kuechly headed to the pros. Size will be a significant issue here, especially if he stays at OLB -- Pierre-Louis runs just 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds.
Sun Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. UCLA (Dec. 31, 2 p.m. ET)
Virginia Tech: James Gayle, DE.
Some of Gayle's appeal comes from the fact that he might work in a 4-3 or 3-4 defense, with a move to OLB necessary for the latter. His 6-4, 255-pound frame might be more suited for a hybrid role than anything else. Gayle was third-team All-ACC and led the Hokies with 33 QB hurries on the season.
UCLA: Brett Hundley, QB.
Hundley has yet to declare for the draft, and there is ample evidence that he should head back to school for his junior season. On the other hand, if he does forego the rest of his college career, he might make his way into the top 10 -- the dual-threat upside here is tantalizing, even if his early NFL days might be rough.
Liberty Bowl: Rice vs. Mississippi State (Dec. 31 4 p.m. ET)
Rice: Phillip Gaines, CB.
According to Rice's defensive statistics, Gaines allowed just 13 completions on 40 passes thrown his direction this season. He also picked off four passes en route to a second consecutive All-Conference USA spot. Gaines has a Shrine Game invite waiting for him, and he definitely has a shot to hear his name called at the draft.
Mississippi State: Gabe Jackson, G.
Jackson will participate in the Senior Bowl, a nod to the potential in his 6-4, 340-pound frame. He has not always dominated in college like it seems that he should, which is something NFL scouts will dig a little deeper into over the coming months. But he could be this year's Larry Warford -- a Round 2 or 3 guy who plays well as a rookie starter.
Chick-Fil-A Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Duke (Dec. 31, 8 p.m. ET)
Texas A&M: Cedric Ogbuehi, OT.
A probable first-rounder and possibly one of the top two or three offensive tackles off the board should he opt for the NFL, Ogbuehi has lived in the shadows of Luke Joeckel and now Jake Matthews. He's extremely talented in his own right.
Duke: Russ Cockrell, CB.
The 6-0 Cockrell was a 48-game starter for the Blue Devils (49, counting this game). Cockrell picked off three passes and broke up another 12 this season, leading Duke's secondary. He'll play in the upcoming East-West Shrine Game, an opportunity to prove he is worthy of a Day 2 or 3 selection for a team seeking an experienced corner.
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Gator Bowl: Nebraska vs. Georgia (Jan. 1, 12 p.m. ET)
Nebraska: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB.
At 6-3 and 220 pounds, Jean-Baptiste -- a wide receiver when he came to Nebraska in 2010 -- has the size to play in one of the NFL's aggressive man defenses. He doesn't always use that size as well as he should, which might be a knock on him as the draft approaches. But given that background as an offensive player (and later a safety), Jean-Baptiste is a work in progress.
Georgia: Arthur Lynch, TE.
Lynch will head to the Senior Bowl after Georgia's New Year's Day game with Nebraska. Hopefully, he gets more of a chance to display his pass-catching wares there. Lynch did grab 24 passes and score five TDs this season, but Georgia used him more as a blocker. That's a skill, of course, that will be coveted by NFL teams.
Heart of Dallas Bowl: UNLV vs. North Texas (Jan. 1, 12 p.m. ET)
UNLV: Tim Cornett, RB.
An extremely productive runner for UNLV, Cornett's ceiling might be a Day 3 pick or undrafted free agent opportunity. He had nearly 1,400 yards from scrimmage this season and scored 15 touchdowns, after a 1,340-yard effort in 2012.
North Texas: Brelan Chancellor, WR/returner.
Emphasis on "returner." The 5-9 Chancellor will have a tough time sticking anywhere as a receiver, but his special-teams prowess could come in handy. He was named Conference USA's special teams player of the year after finishing in the top 10 nationally for kick returns (28.1 yards per attempt) and punt returns (16.8).
Outback Bowl: Iowa vs. LSU (Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET)
Iowa: James Morris, ILB.
A long-time starter for the Hawkeyes, Morris heads into the Outback Bowl with 382 career tackles. Teams are not going to look at him as a high-upside guy -- he's 6-2, 240 and doesn't flash great speed -- but he has shown a nose for the football. Morris fits the Big Ten inside linebacker mold to a T.
LSU: Odell Beckham, WR.
Beckham, a junior, faces a decision about his future after this game. Should he opt for the NFL, it's hard to imagine him slipping beyond Round 2. He recently won the Paul Hornung Award, handed out to the nation's most versatile player. With 57 catches and nearly 1,000 return yards, his case was an easy one to make.
Capital One Bowl: Wisconsin vs. South Carolina (Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET)
Wisconsin: Jacob Pedersen, TE.
Pedersen, 6-4 and 240 pounds, will travel to the Shrine Bowl, where he should be able to show off his potential as an NFL H-back. Dropping him into the next level as a pure blocker may be a stretch, but he has 101 catches in his career, with a 13.3 yards-per-catch average -- both testaments to his ability to find space.
South Carolina: Kelcy Quarles, DT.
Quarles is another guy who's yet to announce his draft status, but he'll have a shot at Round 1 or 2 should he declare. The 6-4 Quarles was an All-SEC first-teamer on the strength of a team-high 9.5 sacks -- and remember, that's a team with Jadeveon Clowney on it.
Rose Bowl: Stanford vs. Michigan State (Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET)
Stanford: Trent Murphy, DE.
Murphy has 14 sacks this season, good for second in the FBS. There's no doubt he can disrupt things in the backfield. The main question left: What position will he play? NFL teams might want him to add some bulk to his 6-6, 261-pound frame if he's to live on the edge of a 4-3 defense.
Michigan State: Isaiah Lewis, S.
As with Stanford, Michigan State's defense boasts a number of NFL prospects -- and that's even with starting linebacker Max Bullough suspended for this game. He plays a game that's a little reminiscent of an NFL player down the road from Lansing: Detroit's Louis Delmas. Both guys are quick to the deep ball; both can get burned by their aggressiveness closing on the line.
Fiesta Bowl: UCF vs. Baylor (Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET)
UCF: Blake Bortles, QB.
The MMQB's Peter King revealed two weeks ago that at least one team in the market for a QB early this coming draft believes Bortles -- not Teddy Bridgewater -- could be the best player at his position. Bortles has a strong arm and the size (6-4) to stay alive in the pocket. He's a really intriguing prospect.
Baylor: Tevin Reese, WR.
Reese missed the end of the regular season with a dislocated wrist but is expected to play in this one. That's good news for Baylor, because the 5-10 receiver is about as dangerous as they come downfield. He averaged a whopping 25 yards per catch this season (33 catches for 824 yards).
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Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Alabama (Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET)
Oklahoma: Aaron Colvin, CB.
Colvin will play in the Senior Bowl, and that week of practice prior to the All-Star Game might determine once and for all his draft status. He looked like a sure first-rounder at points during his junior season, then slumped a bit in 2013. The talent and versatility is there to justify a high selection.
Alabama: A.J. McCarron, QB.
What more can we learn about McCarron? We've seen him time and again perform on college football's biggest stages, even if people want to chalk his success up to the talent around him. He'll be a very interesting case come the draft, where his "winner" tag might push him higher than expected.
Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Missouri (Jan. 3, 7:30 p.m. ET)
Oklahoma State: Justin Gilbert, CB.
After a rough 2012, Gilbert has starred in 2013, pretty emphatically proving that he's a fit for a team willing to play press coverage. He finished the regular season with six interceptions, topping the five he had in 2011.
Missouri: Michael Sam, DE/OLB.
The Tigers list Sam at 6-2, 255, which might be pushing it on both counts. No matter the size, though, he's been a terror off the edge this season to the tune of 10.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. An OLB spot in a 3-4 defense might be the best fit going forward.
Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Ohio State (Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m. ET)
Clemson: Vic Beasley, DE.
There's a clear top tier of pass-rushers in the 2013 draft: Clowney, Anthony Barr and Khalil Mack. Beasley's one of the players pushing to be included in that grouping. He has yet to declare for the draft (Beasley is a redshirt junior), though he did say last month that he's leaning toward turning pro.
Ohio State: Jack Mewhort, OT.
Mainly choosing Mewhort as the Buckeyes' guy to watch because he should see plenty of head-to-head battles with Beasley. The 6-6 Mewhort is in a similar spot to Beasley: below the projected upper-echelon players at his position in the draft but clearly possessing enough talent to warrant an early choice.
BBVA Compass Bowl: Vanderbilt vs. Houston (Jan. 4, 1 p.m. ET)
Vanderbilt: Jordan Matthews, WR.
In some ways, Matthews reminds me of Keenan Allen last year -- meaning that some scouts will knock his speed and athleticism but will be making an egregious mistake if they ignore his production. Matthews caught 107 passes this season, working all areas of the field, and he is advanced as a route-runner.
Houston: Zachary McMillan, CB.
McMillan may have to deal with Matthews in this one, which will be a tall order. The Cougars have milked a ton out of McMillan, a 5-10 corner with limitations to his coverage game. Has he done enough to justify a draft selection? Playing well here would help.
GoDaddy Bowl: Arkansas State vs. Ball State (Jan. 5, 9 p.m. ET)
Arkansas State: Ryan Carrethers, DT.
An All-Sun Belt first-teamer, Carrethers has stayed mostly below the radar because ... well, he plays in the Sun Belt. But at a massive 330 pounds, he's shown himself more than capable of collapsing opposing lines, as evidenced by his 87 tackles.
Ball State: Keith Wenning, QB. All Wenning did this season was throw for nearly 4,000 yards with 34 touchdowns. He'll be participating in the Shrine Game, giving scouts a chance to take a closer look. And should he impress there, it would not be a surprise at all to see him drafted on Day 3 -- a team with the patience to continue developing him might score huge.