NFL Draft Center

2012 NFL Draft Watch: Bowl Games Part 3 (DEC.28-DEC.29)

Written by: Mark Scott

The Bowls continue to get better and so do the prospects playing in them.  This set of games showcase a couple of guaranteed first round prospects in Heisman Trophy winner and likely Top 5 pick, Baylor’s Robert Griffin III as well as his teammate WR Kendall Wright and Notre Dame’s wide out Michael Floyd. There are also a number of players that are earning first round buzz as well in Florida State’s QB E.J. Manuel and OT Zebrie Sanders, along with Washington’s NT Alameda Ta’amu and RB Chris Polk. These games also include a huge number of mid to late round prospects to watch.


All rankings attained form, ESPN’s Todd McShay and SI’s Tony Pauline.


Military Bowl – Presented by Northrop Grumman, December 28/2011

Toledo Rockets vs. Air Force Falcons

There’s not a whole lot to talk about in this game as there is just one prospect worth mentioning here and he’s good candidate to return to school for his Senior year. Toledo’s Jr WR/KR Eric Page is the star of the Rockets’ team and proved that with another sensational season after catching a school-record 112 receptions for 1123 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns while also adding another 899(703 KR, 196 PR) return yards with 1 punt return touchdown. He is also Toledo’s all-time leading receiver with 293 career receptions and that number will only grow should he decide to stay for another season. He’s not very big (just 5’10, 192lb) and is not overly fast, but he is still one of the nation’s top multi-purpose weapons and should be able to eventually find a home in the NFL, whether it be this year or next. SI’s Tony Pauline has him as a possible third round pick, but that could be a bit high for a guy who may only end up as a returner at the next level, although he does have good receiving skills. Should he enter the draft this year, I expect he will be an early Day 3 selection.


Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, December 28/2011

Texas Longhorns vs. California Golden Bears

The Longhorns and Golden Bears almost always contribute a number of prospects to the draft every season and this year is no different, although this year’s crop consists of a number of mid and late round prospects and is void of any elite first round talent. For Texas, the heart of their defense is featured with four early Day 3 selections starting with rSr OLB Keenan Robinson, who ranks just outside the top 100 draft eligible players. Named to the 2011 All-Big 12 Second-Team, Robinson gives great effort on the field and can play against both the run and the pass, but is an average player at best right now and will need to make a number of improvements to become an NFL starter, mainly with his speed and strength. A versatile defender, Sr DT Kheeston Randle can play in a number of different schemes, which should help his stock come draft time. Another 2011 All-Big 12 Second-Team selection, he’s more of a space-eater that takes up the middle of the field allowing others to make plays on the ball than a playmaker or pass-rusher and could fit in nicely with a 3-4 defense like Houston that requires a smaller NT. He possesses good strength and leverage to overpower blockers and demands more than just one to stop him. A very good pass-rusher, Jr DE Alex Okafor put together a great season that saw him named to the 2011 All-Big 12 First-Team after recording 51 tackles, 14 for loss, 17 QB pressures and 7 sacks. After getting a ton of hype as a top recruit, Okafor finally came into his own this season and displayed the ability to be an elite rush end or 3-4 OLB. While he currently sits as a possible fourth round pick, he could benefit greatly from another year in school under Mack Brown to improve his stock and move into Day 1 or 2 consideration. Like Okafor, Sr ILB Emmanuel Acho was also named to the 2011 All-Big 12 First-Team after racking up 102 tackles and 3 sacks. Acho is a complete linebacker, with great character and work ethic that can defend against the run and the pass. He does lack some size, but his effort and football I.Q. more than make up for it. All four could go higher than currently expected. The Longhorns rSr FB Cody Johnson could give Texas a fifth player selected should he fight his way into the late seventh round.  The Cal Bears come into this game with three notable mid-round prospects and a host of others that could be late picks or sign as undrafted free agents. The Golden Bears’ top prospect is Sr DE Trevor Guyton, a fourth or fifth round choice, the defensive lineman can play multiple positions along the line displaying a good blend of strength and quickness. He’s not an elite pass-rusher, but is still effective at getting pressure on the passer and is also very good at stopping the run. He does need to improve in a number of areas and probably fits best as a 4-3 DT, but should be able to fit into a rotation pretty quickly. Next for California is rSr OT Mitchell Schwartz, who has been a main stay on the Golden Bears’ offensive line since getting on the field as a red-shirt freshman playing both the right (16 games) and left tackle (34 games) positions.  A very intelligent and experienced player, Schwartz was named to the 2011 All-Pac 12 First-Team on and off the field, while being the only Cal Bear to start every game (50) for the team over the past four years.  He will be able to play right away. Sr Mychal Kendricks has also been a main stay for the Cal Bears over the past four years, but on defense, where he played in all 50 of their games, starting in 28 of them. This season he was named the 2011 Pat Tillman Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, along with being recognized as a Second and Third-Team All-American by a couple of different outlets after registering a career high 96 tackles, 13 for loss, 3 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries and a pair of interceptions. An undersized linebacker at just 5’11, Kendricks would probably go much higher in the draft, but makes up for his lack of size with his speed and a great all-out effort on every play. After the Golden Bears’ top three prospects are Sr WR Marvin Jones, Sr SS Sean Cattouse, rSr P Bryan Anger, rSr ILB D.J. Holt, rSr DE Ernest Owusu and Sr TE Anthony Miller. Jones and Cattouse are most likely the only ones to get drafted among this group, while the others will be looking to sign somewhere following the draft.


Champs Sports Bowl, December 29/2011

Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Florida State Seminoles

A classic matchup between Notre Dame and Florida State should only be helped out by a very good group of draft eligible prospects. Topping the list is Notre Dame’s stud Sr WR Michael Floyd, who may be the best wide out in the draft. Floyd is a big target at 6’3, 224lbs. with exceptional hands, down the field speed and incredible leaping ability. He knows how to use his considerable size and strength to his advantage and if the ball is thrown up in his area, he is definitely going to be the one to come down with it. Floyd is a complete player that could be a top ten selection and has star no.1 wide receiver written all over him, but will fall slightly down the draft board because of several off the field issues, mainly dealing with alcohol. Jr ILB Manti Te’o was also projected to be a first round choice, but has made it known that he will return to school for his Senior season, despite his high draft stock. Another Fighting Irish prospect that will likely return to school for another year is rSo TE Tyler Eifert. He is an outstanding talent with great receiving ability, who had scouts buzzing more and more as the season progressed and should move into first round consideration for the 2013 draft as he continues to get better with more experience. If he does enter the 2012 draft, he will come off the board on Day 2. After Floyd and possibly Eifert are a pair of Irish defensive backs in rSr SS Harrison Smith and Sr CB Robert Blanton, who should be selected early on Day 3. Smith possesses great size and speed, along with excellent tackling skills and great ball instincts. He is one of the most successful defenders ever to wear a Notre Dame uniform as he is the only player in program history to record more than 300 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 15 pass break-ups and ranks among the top five strong safeties available. Blanton ranks outside the top 20 Cornerbacks, but is a solid player with decent cover skills and good tackling ability. Fighting Irish Sr OLB Darius Fleming should also find a spot late in the draft. Florida State has their own set of high round draft choices, although their top two could very well be back playing for the Seminoles next year rather than enter the draft. While he is the most likely to return for another year in school, rJr E.J. Manuel has the prototypical NFL QB size at 6’4, 245lbs. with a big arm that scouts love and could find his way late into the first round should a QB-needy team trade up to get him, otherwise he currently sits as a second-rounder. Manuel’s play was hindered this year because of injuries and he was only able to pass for 2417 yards with 16 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Another year of polishing his game at the college level would greatly improve his draft stock and he could be one of the top prospects in the 2013 draft. In a similar situation to his teammate Manuel, Jr DE Brandon Jenkins could return to school or enter the 2012 draft as a likely second round draft pick. Jenkins, like Manuel could definitely use another year in college to improve his game and draft grade. Jenkins is a dangerous pass-rusher with great speed and agility, which should help him to transition from a 4-3 end, where he is a bit undersized for the NFL to a 3-4 OLB. He has long arms and an explosive first step that many teams desire and could be one of the top pass-rushers in the 2013 draft should he return to school for his Senior campaign. The Seminoles also have a pair of impressive Offensive Tackles in Sr Zebrie Sanders and Sr Andrew Datko that could be Day 2 selections. Sanders, in fact has started to generate a lot of buzz over the past month and is starting to hear his name mentioned as a late first round pick namely by ESPN’s Todd McShay, who has him rated among his top 32 prospects, although SI’s Tony Pauline has him as low as a fourth round pick and a developmental Right Tackle. Sanders is not an elite prospect, but is a very good one that has the height and size to play Left Tackle in the NFL and is exceptional in pass protection and solid in the run game. He does however need to improve his hands and footwork if he is going to be able to handle NFL pass-rushers on a regular basis. A big and mobile Tackle, Datko started the season as a first round prospect, but serious injuries to his shoulders that knocked him out for the season have dropped him down a few rounds or perhaps even later. The combine and pre-draft workouts will be crucial to his draft stock. Finally, Sr OLB Nigel Bradham came to Tallahassee as a very highly touted recruit and certainly lived up to the hype his first three seasons on campus, but his play slowed this year and really didn’t have the same impact until late in the season versus Miami (FL) and Virginia. He covers the field well and has very good tackling skills, along with the size and strength to be an NFL linebacker, it is just whether he wants to apply himself or not that is holding him back. An elite talent, but a mid-round draft grade.


Valero Alamo Bowl, December 29/2011

Baylor Bears vs. Washington Huskies

The Bears and Huskies will feature four of the best and most intriguing prospects among these four Bowl games and in the entire draft, including 2011 Heisman trophy winner rJr QB Robert Griffin III of Baylor, who is likely to be drafted in the Top 5. Griffin has always been an incredible athlete with world-class speed, but finally showed that he is a complete Quarterback this year in leading Baylor to one of its best seasons ever. A true dual-threat, Griffin III showed that his arm might be even better than his legs as he threw for 3998 passing yards and 36 touchdowns with just 6 interceptions and at one point well into the season had more touchdown passes than incompletions as he finished with a 72.4% completion rate. He also rushed for 644 yards with 9 rushing touchdowns. He is without a doubt a franchise changer. Along with Griffin III, 2011 All-Big 12 First-Team selection Sr WR Kendall Wright is also flying up draft boards into the first round after a fantastic season. Baylor’s Wright was always a good wide out, but he took his game to another level this year with 101 receptions for 1572 yards and 13 touchdowns, while displaying exceptional hands, speed and receiving ability. He can play in the slot or go deep, it doesn’t matter as Wright will make the play. He could give South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffey a run to be the third wide receiver selected in the 2012 NFL Draft. The Baylor draft picks don’t end there as Sr C Phillip Blake and rSr RB Terrance Ganaway also had great years and should be drafted on Day 3. For Washington, they could have two first round picks in Sr NT Alameda Ta’amu and rJr RB Chris Polk, although both will likely headline the players available on Day 2 and should go early in the second round.  Ta’amu is the top true Nose Tackle in the draft, though he did struggle at times this season and wasn’t quite the dominant force scouts expected him to be, which is the main reason he probably won’t go in the first round. An absolute massive man at 6’3, 337lbs. Ta’amu clogs up the middle of the field unlike any other player in the draft and seems almost impossible to move, while displaying an unreal amount of athleticism for a man his size. He’s not going to get after the opposing Quarterback very much or chase down ball carriers, nor will he be asked too.  Despite his struggles, Ta’amu is NFL ready and should be able to be plugged into a starting line-up immediately. Huskies’ rJr RB Chris Polk is an extremely physical back that loves to pound his opponents with a violent running style and is very difficult to bring down with just one tackler. He also possesses a great burst of speed on the outside that allows him to break off big chunks of yards as well as a decent pair of hands that help him contribute in the receiving game. He has had two shoulder surgeries in the past that forced him to medical redshirt for a year and that could drop his stock a bit, although he has proved that he is completely healthy with three straight seasons of 1000+ rushing yards and back to back years with over 250 carries. After Alabama’s Trent Richardson, Polk is about as complete a back as there is in the 2012 draft. Washington also has a pair of notable mid to late round selections that could be drafted early on Day 3 in Sr OL Senio Kelmate and Sr WR Jermaine Kearse. Kelmate is a versatile Offensive lineman that has shown he can play multiple positions on the line, but is best suited to play Guard in the NFL after starting his college career as a Defensive Tackle. Kearse possesses the size and speed that NFL teams love, but needs to improve his receiving ability as he has way too many drops as well as his route-running. He is a bit of a project at this point and probably gets drafted in the sixth round.

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  1.    idoniawragind 01.22.12 @ 10:59 pm      

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