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2013 NFL DRAFT PROSPECT WATCH: BOWL GAMES PART 2A (DEC.24-DEC.27)

The second week of bowl mania gets underway on Christmas Eve and marks the start of a 13-game week. The first five bowls of the week will feature three potential first round picks, a couple mid-round prospects and as always a number of possible late round draft choices. The three guys to really watch in the first half of the week for the 2013 NFL Draft are Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher, Terrance Williams of Baylor and UCLA’s Anthony Barr. The Holiday Bowl match-up between Baylor and UCLA on Thursday night is the best game of the five to watch for prospects.

SHERATON HAWAII BOWL, DECEMBER 24/2012

SMU Mustangs (6-6) vs. Fresno State Bulldogs (9-3)

SMU and Fresno State kick off the second week of bowls and feature three possible mid-round draft choices. The Mustangs have one of the more intriguing prospects in the draft in massive DE Margus Hunt (rSr). The former Estonian shot put and discus throw champion is an incredible freak of an athlete that decided to make the move to American football and has done so with great success and is only getting better with more experience. An explosive pass-rusher with great power and agility, he is a problem to stop for many offensive linemen. Hunt’s not just a pass-rusher as he has displayed a remarkable uncanny ability to block kicks. He holds the NCAA career record for most blocked field goal attempts with 10 and added 7 blocked extra points making him second all-time in total blocked kicks. He’s currently rated around a third or fourth round pick, but watch out for him at the Scouting Combine where he is likely to blow scouts away with his on-field performance in the various drills and could shoot up draft boards. SMU also features the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year FB Zach Line (rSr). It’s not very often that a fullback gets talked about being drafted, let alone possibly being selected in the middle of the draft, but Line is an exceptional talent. While he is likely to make a career in the NFL blocking for other running backs, Line has shown the ability to be a very productive running back in his own right after putting up three straight seasons of at least 1200 yards rushing and displaying an ability to catch the football out of the backfield.  He has the look of a Peyton Hillis-type of athlete and it will be very interesting to see where a team takes him. Keep an eye on him possibly landing with the Jets to help their ground and pound attack if the current regime is still in place. SMU OLB Ja’Gared Davis (Sr) could be a seventh-round pick. On the other side of the field, Fresno State is led on defense by SS Phillip Thomas (rSr), who put together just an absolutely incredible year after missing the entire 2011 season with a brutal leg injury. He came back strong in 2012 though amassing 8 interceptions (3 for touchdowns), 82 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 4 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. He is the complete package at safety showing the ball skills and instincts necessary to be a dangerous playmaker in pass coverage, while also being displaying the strength and toughness in helping stop the rushing attack of opposing teams. He really is an outstanding talent that does a bit of everything on the field and is always there when a big play is needed. He is surging up draft boards as fast as any prospect right now and could possibly go early on Day 2 in the second round of the draft.

LITTLE CAESARS PIZZA BOWL, DECEMBER 26/2012

Central Michigan Chippewas (6-6) vs. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (7-5)

Central Michigan LT Eric Fisher (Sr) will have the stage to himself on Wednesday as likely the only player in this game that will get drafted. He won’t only get drafted, but could be a possible first round pick. Fisher is a name most won’t know, but will hear his name go pretty early in the draft. An extremely under the radar prospect, Fisher has started to emerge higher and higher on draft boards the past few months as more front offices and scouts see him on tape. He’s a solid athlete with good athleticism and footwork. He’s not the most stout of anchors, but can handle smaller speed rushers and displays good power and ferocity when run-blocking. He’s the top Senior Offensive Tackle and could make a team like the Bears very happy. Look for him to be selected in the bottom third of the first round in April. After Fisher, there’s a pair of potential seventh-round picks in Central Michigan SS Jahleel Addae (rSr) and Western Kentucky DE Quanterus Smith (rSr). Smith is an intriguing athletic pass-rusher that has fallen down draft boards after tearing the ACL in his left knee in mid-November. Smith won’t play in this game.

MILITARY BOWL PRES. BY NORTHROP GRUMMAN, DECEMBER 27/2012

Bowling Green Falcons (8-4) vs. San Jose State Spartans (10-2)

Not much to talk about in terms of draftable prospects between the Falcons and Spartans, but there are four players worth mentioning that could be late Day 3 selections. San Jose State TE Ryan Otten (rSr) is the best of the bunch and is another one of those athletic tight ends that are all the rage in football these days. He has very good size and is a decent pass-catcher that can create mismatches against opposing defenses and be a legit downfield threat. He has some good potential and could go as high as the fourth or fifth round. Spartans’ LT David Quessenberry (rSr) and DE Travis Johnson (Sr) could be sixth or seventh-round picks that could contribute as backups in the NFL, along with Bowling Green’s sole prospect DT Chris Jones (Sr).

BELK BOWL, DECEMBER 27/2012

Cincinnati Bearcats (9-3) vs. Duke Blue Devils (6-6)

The Bearcats and Blue Devils is another game featuring a group of possible Day 3 draft choices. Cincinnati ILB Greg Blair (Sr) emerged on scouts’ radar after putting together a fantastic senior season in which he led the Bearcats in tackles, tackles for loss while being a force defending the pass. He has the skills and potential to be a three-down linebacker and could be a great guy to have on the depth chart behind a team’s starters. Also possibly being selected late in the draft from the Bearcats could be FS Devin Drane (Jr), TE Travis Kelce (rSr), RB George Winn (rSr) and SS Drew Frey (rSr). The Blue Devils feature a pair of prospects on offense. WR Conner Vernon (Sr) just produces. He’s the type of receiver that doesn’t jump off the screen with his size, speed or playmaking ability, but just seems to fill up the stat sheet. Of all the great receivers to have played in the ACC over the years, it’s Vernon who will finish his college career as the conference’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards with 273 catches for 3,630 yards and 20 touchdowns. He’s experienced, reliable and productive. He should add good depth to an NFL receiving corps and could be a fifth or sixth round pick. It seems like QB Sean Renfree (rSr) has been starting for Duke forever. The Blue Devils quarterback has been a solid leader for the team since taking over as a sophomore in 2010 and is one of the main reasons they find themselves playing for a bowl again. Renfree doesn’t have the greatest numbers, but possesses good size, arm strength and appears to have the tools that NFL scouts look for in potential quarterbacks. He’ a traditional drop-back passer with very good intelligence and has been well-coached under David Cutcliffe, the Manning brothers’ former mentor. He should come off the board on Day 3.

BRIDGEPOINT EDUCATION HOLIDAY BOWL, DECEMBER 27/2012

UCLA Bruins (9-4) vs. Baylor Bears (7-5)

In what should be one of the more entertaining bowl games of the season, Baylor and UCLA should put on an offensive show full of fireworks. Both teams have notable prospects playing in this matchup with each team featuring a potential first round pick. The prospect to watch for Baylor is WR Terrance Williams (rSr), the nation’s leader in receiving yards with 1764 yards and 12 touchdowns. Williams took his game to another level this year after taking over the #1 receiver spot for the departed Kendall Wright. He put up some solid numbers as Wright’s wingman in 2011, but displayed this year that he too has the talent and skills to be a first round pick like his former teammate. He’s a tough downfield receiver with great hands, excellent footwork and underrated speed that allows him to separate from opposing defensive backs. He’s probably a second-round selection, but could crack the late first round and is the top senior wide out in the draft. He’s 236 yards away from becoming only the second receiver in NCAA history to finish with 2000 yards receiving. Trying to slow Williams down will be UCLA’s two best prospects OLB Anthony Barr (Jr) and DE Datone Jones (rSr). After deciding to switch from running back/wide receiver to outside linebacker this year with the arrival of new Head Coach Jim Mora Jr, Barr put together an absolutely incredible season at his new position. He led the nation in sacks with 13.5 and the Pac-12 with 20.5 tackles for loss. His unique combination of size, speed and athleticism was made to be a pass-rusher and has led to him realizing what his full potential could be. He is still very raw after just one season at outside linebacker, but his ceiling is incredibly high, as high as any other draft-eligible prospect. The son of former NFL fullback Tony Brooks, Barr is generating a ton of buzz and has entered first round discussions. He still has another year of eligibility remaining and appears to be leaning that way and returning to school, but has left his decision open depending on how high a grade he receives from draft evaluators. Another  year of coaching and experience in college could help Barr in the long run, but a possible spot in the first round could be too good to pass up. Jones is a versatile defensive lineman with the large frame, strength and athleticism to play multiple spots along the defensive front in a variety of schemes. He’s reliable against the run and has shown he has enough speed and agility to attack the quarterback and make plays behind the line of scrimmage as well. His best fit is probably as a five-technique defensive end, but teams especially ones that use multiple defensive schemes will be highly attracted to Jones and he should end up being selected on Day 2 of the 2013 NFL Draft. UCLA RB Jonathan Franklin (rSr) has been the offensive catalyst for this program since arriving on campus and amassing 4369 career rushing yards (UCLA record) with 34 career touchdowns (3 receiving), including 1700 rushing yards (UCLA record) and 13 touchdowns this year. He also displayed an added element to his game this season showing good hands out of the backfield with 32 catches for 319 yards and 2 scores, which is a big reason why his draft stock has moved up the board. Franklin possesses NFL-speed with the ability to find small holes in the line of scrimmage to squeeze through and can make defenders miss in the open field. He’s a big-play back that could find a spot as a third-down specialist, but will probably need to add more strength and bulk to his frame if he wants to become a feature NFL running back. He looks like an early Day 3 pick in the fourth or fifth round.  Some prospects to keep an eye on as late round possibilities include Baylor QB Nick Florence (rSr) and UCLA TE Joseph Fauria (rSr) and OG Jeff Baca (rSr). After patiently waiting for his turn as the Bears’ full-time starter behind Robert Griffin III, Florence made the most of his chance finishing third in the nation with 4121 passing yards while adding 31 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Despite putting up some impressive numbers Florence’s lack of decision making and inconsistency will keep him waiting until at least the sixth or seventh round to be drafted if at all. Fauria is a big, athletic tight end with soft hands and decent route-running ability, but is still a bit raw due to a lack of playing time.

Written By: Mark Scott

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