NFL Draft Center


2012 NFL Draft Watch: Bowl Games Part 5 (DEC.31)

Written by: Mark Scott

It’s New Year’s Eve Day and it is jam packed with Bowl games, except it’s not overly packed with top prospects or even that many mid to late round players. Regardless there are still a handful of notable Day 1 and 2 prospects to watch like QB Ryan Tannehill and Jeff Fuller of Texas A&M, Virginia’s CB Chase Minnifield and DE Cam Johnson as well as Illinois’s DE/OLB Whitney Mercilus.

All rankings attained from CBSSports.com/NFLDraftScout.com, SI’s Tony Pauline and ESPN’s Todd McShay.

 

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, December 31/2011

Texas A&M Aggies vs. Northwestern Wildcats

The early game between the Aggies and Wildcats features the most prospects of any game on New Year’s Eve, although all of the notable players will be playing for Texas A&M as Northwestern has just a trio of prospects fighting to earn a spot very late in the draft and trying to avoid going undrafted. Those three players for Northwestern are rSr FB Drake Dunsmore, rSr CB Jordan Mabin and rSr Brian Peters. Now on to the real reasons to watch this game and that is the Aggies’ top four prospects starting with rSr QB Ryan Tannehill, who is earning late first, early second round buzz. The former Freshman All-American wide receiver burst on to the scene as a Quarterback midway through 2010 after taking over for starter Jerrod Johnson and leading the Aggies on a six-game winning streak and a bowl berth to end the season, while putting up impressive numbers during that time. Tannehill is a great athlete with excellent mobility and good arm strength while possessing the NFL prototype size for a QB at 6’4, 222lbs. He’s made incredible progress in his development as a QB in just a short time, which bodes well for his future development as an NFL starting signal-caller. He still has improvements to make, namely in his accuracy and decision-making, but that will come with more experience and coaching. Sr WR Jeff Fuller is a big, very strong wide out with great hands and has the ability to make plays over the middle and go deep while also being a very good blocker, although he battled injuries and inconsistent play this season and his stock has taken a big hit from being considered a late first-rounder to start the year. He’s now being talked about as a third or fourth round choice, but could move back up draft boards with an excellent combine which is expected for this physical specimen. Next for the Aggies is rSr CB Coryell Judie, a former track star, who is a tough, hard-nosed corner that rarely gets beat due to his exceptional speed. He didn’t start playing football until his senior year in high school and still has some development left to make in his game, but he does have good ball skills and can make tackles by himself in open field. He is also dangerous as a returner and grades out as a late Day 2 selection. Sr RB Cyrus Gray is a productive multi-purpose back, but is still a bit of a tweener as he has yet to figure what type of rusher he exactly is. He has good strength and is a solid blocker, but is not overly big to be an inside the tackles pounding back or exceptionally fast to be a speed-demon on the outside. He still needs to develop the type of running back he is going to be and rates out to be a fourth or fifth round pick.

 

Hyundai Sun Bowl, December 31/2011

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets vs. Utah Utes

The battle between Georgia Tech and Utah will feature a couple of prospects for both teams, although three of the five could return to school for another year. Jr NT Star Lotulelei is the player to really watch in this game as he has top-end first round potential. The huge Nose Tackle is extremely strong and has the ability to take on numerous blockers and control the line of scrimmage, while still being able to make plays in the backfield from time to time as shown by his 6 tackles for loss this season. While he is receiving very high draft grades, the rumors are that he is surprisingly leaning towards returning for his senior year. Utah also has a pair of possible Day 3 Offensive Tackle prospects in SR RT Tony Bergstrom and SR LT John Cullen. Bergstrom is a very intelligent and reliable pass-protector and run blocker, while Cullen is also good in pass protection, but will probably have to move inside to Guard in the pros. Georgia Tech also has a pair of Day 3 prospects in rJr OG Omoregie Uzzi and Jr CB Rod Sweeting.  Uzzi is a great athlete with good footwork that is an excellent blocker and shows improvement every game out. He is developing into a top interior lineman and another year of college football should shoot him up draft boards for the 2013 draft. Sweeting is a good corner and Georgia Tech’s top defender. He has fantastic ball skills as evidenced by his 3 interceptions and 12 pass defenses this season and is a solid tackler. He has NFL size and continues to get better. Like Uzzi, another year of development in the college ranks should do wonders for his draft stock.

 

AutoZone Liberty Bowl, December 31/2011

Cincinnati Bearcats vs. Vanderbilt Commodores

There’s not a whole lot to talk about in this matchup between Cincinnati and Vanderbilt, but both teams do have some mid to late round prospects who should be drafted and make NFL teams as rotational players. Cincinnati features the top prospect in this game in Sr RB Isaiah Pead, who’s back to back 1000+ yard rushing seasons have him rated among the top ten draft eligible running backs and earning a third round draft grade.  Named to the 2011 All-Big East First-Team, Pead rushed for 1110 yards and 11 touchdowns, while he also displayed excellent hands out of the backfield with 36 receptions for 304 receiving yards and 3 scores this season. He has fantastic straight-line speed that allows him to break off big chunks of yardage. Sr DT Derek Wolfe was one of the most productive and effective pass rushers in all of college football this season with 9.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss in being named to the 2011 All-Big East First-Team. He is tough, physical and a relentless pass rusher from the inside. His play this year impressed scouts and moved him into an early Day 3 selection. While Vanderbilt doesn’t have any early round prospects they do have a trio of potential Day 3 players who could be solid contributors as backups on NFL defenses. Sr CB Casey Hayward is an aggressive defender that plays with an edge and loves to get involved in making tackles and stopping the run. He is reliable in coverage and has very good ball skills as seen by his 5 picks and 14 pass breakups this year. Sr SS Sean Richardson is a big, intimidating safety that is a powerful hitter and good at stopping the run. A solid linebacker, rSr ILB Chris Marve could earn late seventh round consideration.

 

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, December 31/2011

UCLA Bruins vs. Illinois Fighting Illini

Another game where one team has all of the notable prospects as Illinois comes into this matchup with a couple of potential early round selections. Their top prospect is rJr DE/OLB Whitney Mercilus, who exploded onto the scene this year with 14.5 sacks and an incredible 9 forced fumbles and may be the top pass-rusher in the draft. Mercilus has an NFL body and all the physical attributes with size, speed and strength to be a star pass-rusher in the pros. He has an explosive first step and can easily shed blockers on his way into the backfield. His size should allow him to be effective as either a natural defensive end in the 4-3 or standing up as a 3-4 OLB. Another early round and very interesting prospect, rSo DT Akeem Spence is young, but has had scouts eyeing him since stepping onto the field for the Fighting Illini and could still very likely return to school for at least another season. Like Mercilus, he is very strong with a great first step that allows him to blow past blockers into the backfield. He already has NFL size and is very similar to former Illini and Chargers’ first-round pick Corey Liuget. If he enters the draft he could get some first round love and won’t last past the second round. Illinois also has a pair of Day 3 prospects in Sr WR A.J. Jenkins and Sr OT Jeff Allen. Jenkins is incredibly fast and could put up a 40 time under 4.4. He has the ability to blow past defensive backs and make plays deep, although his size and strength will need to improve if he is to hold up against stronger defenders on the outside. He will also need to improve his route-running and discipline if he is to become a possession wide receiver at the next level. He could go as high as the fourth round. Allen is a talented, experienced lineman that can play both tackle positions, but probably fits best as a Right Tackle in the NFL. For UCLA, Sr SS Tony Dye and rJr Jonathon Franklin could be looked at late on Day 3, but I expect Franklin to return to school for his final year with such a low draft grade.

 

Chick-Fil-A Bowl, December 31/2011

Virginia Cavaliers vs. Auburn Tigers

The final game of the day and the year will showcase four note-worthy prospects in Virginia’s rSr CB Chase Minnifield, Sr DE Cam Johnson and JR OT Oday Aboushi as well as Auburn’s Sr OT Brandon Mosely. Minnifield is an excellent cover corner and the son of former Browns Pro Bowl defensive back Frank Minnifield. He is intelligent with exceptional ball skills and the ability to eventually become a number one corner in the pros.  A solid second round selection, he may even come off the board in the late first, perhaps to the defensive back-needy New England Patriots, who have two first round picks in the 2012 NFL Draft. Cam Johnson is good, but not an overwhelming pass rusher, who should fit best into a rotation with a traditional 4-3 scheme. He does have the ability to get to opposing Quarterbacks and is decent against the run. He should be a Day 2 prospect, but because he is not exceptional in any one area he may fall to the fourth round. Oday Aboushi could be the next in a long line of Virginia Offensive linemen drafted into the NFL. He has great size and mobility and can handle fast, physical pass rushers. Aboushi could stand to use another year of the college game to gain more experience and continue to fill out his large frame. Auburn’s Brandon Mosley is a raw talent, who continues to improve, largely due to his great work ethic. He has long arms with a good base and is a fast learner. He could eventually become a legitimate NFL starter with some good coaching and more experience. Each team also features a possible late seventh round selection in Virginia’s rSr DT Matt Conrath and Auburn’s Sr FS Neiko Thorpe.

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