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2013 NFL DRAFT PROSPECT WATCH: BOWL GAMES PART 2B (DEC.28-29)

The second week of bowl mania comes to close with eight games across Friday and Saturday. A number of big name schools with highly ranked 2013 NFL Draft prospects will be on display for front offices, scouts and fans to see. Teams like Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Texas and Michigan State will be in action, while up to twelve prospects playing in these games could be first or second round picks in April. Prospects like Geno Smith, Logan Thomas, Tavon Austin, Alex Okafor and Jordan Poyer are just a few of the names to watch over the next two days.

ADVOCARE V100 INDEPENDENCE BOWL, DECEMBER 28/2012

Ohio Bobcats (8-4) vs. Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks (8-4)

There are no draft-eligible prospects of note on either team in this game.

RUSSELL ATHLETIC BOWL, DECEMBER 28/2012

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech Hokies (6-6)

One of the more prospect-packed bowls of the week, Rutgers and Virginia Tech will combine for ten possible NFL draft picks with three being potential Day 2 selections. The Scarlet Knights boast a pair of talented defenders in OLB Khaseem Greene (rSr) and CB Logan Ryan (rJr) that could be second round picks in April. Greene is one of the more notable prospects to make major leaps up draft boards this season as he racked up countless tackles for Rutgers. After beginning his collegiate career as a defensive back, Greene moved to the weakside linebacker position in 2011 and exploded for 141 tackles in being named the Big East Defensive Player of the Year. A distinction he repeated this season in being just the second player in Big East history to be named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year twice. Greene was a dominant force this season amassing 125 tackles, 5.5 sacks, six forced fumbles and two interceptions in leading one of the nation’s top defenses. He’s a complete, three-down linebacker that is an impact player. Logan Ryan was also a dominant force for Rutgers this season registering 87 tackles, 4 picks and averaging 1.5 passes defended per game (8th nationally). In his two seasons as a starter Ryan has made major strides in his game in becoming a pretty complete corner with good size, great instincts and fantastic ball skills. He has displayed top corner potential. Both guys are moving up and could go very early in the second round, although Ryan still has a year of eligibility left for the Scarlet Knights and could return to school. Late round hopefuls, but likely undrafted free agents on Rutgers include ILB Steve Beauharnais (Sr), OT R.J. Dill (rSr), WR Mark Harrison (Sr) and TE D.C. Jefferson (rSr). Virginia Tech was a major disappointment this year. The team managed just a .500 regular season record this year and one of the main reasons was the very disappointing performances from their top draft-eligible prospects. At the top of the list is QB Logan Thomas (Jr), who came into the season as a possible top-15 draft pick, but just didn’t makes the major leaps in his game that many thought he would make and ended up plummeting down draft boards into possibly the third round. Thomas is a huge quarterback with a cannon for an arm and possesses the speed and mobility to make plays with his legs (997 rushing yards, 20 rushing touchdowns in 2011 and 2012), specifically using his size and power to plunge through the line on short yardage where he’s almost an automatic first down. Thomas struggled throughout the season though, mainly with his accuracy, decision-making and inability to properly read defenses on a consistent basis. He has all the tools, size and athletic ability to be a star at the next level, but still remains a work in progress that could benefit greatly from another year of seasoning at the collegiate level. He is said to be leaning to returning to Virginia Tech for his senior season and if he can make the right progress in his game he could potentially be a top prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft. After Thomas, Virginia Tech has group of potential Day 3 selections in WR Marcus Davis (rSr), ILB Bruce Taylor (rSr), WR Corey Fuller (rSr) and OT Nick Becton (rSr). Davis was a disappointment this season and saw his stock drop out as well. He possesses a combination of tantalizing size and speed, but has been way too inconsistent in his route-running and with his hands to be relied upon and seems to have a little diva in him. He’s a project worth taking a shot with, but he needs to be willing to work and improve his game if he wants to stick in the NFL. Taylor is an incredible leader and has the athleticism and skills to be a very good NFL linebacker, but a bad foot has constantly held him back and teams will be wary of investing in him until he can prove that his foot is completely healthy.

MEINEKE CAR CARE BOWL OF TEXAS, DECEMBER 28/2012

Texas Tech Red Raiders (7-5) vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-6)

The late game Friday night between Texas Tech and Minnesota is lacking in noteworthy prospects, but it will still involve some late round possibilities. Red Raiders prospects include QB Seth Doege (rSr), OT LaAdrian Waddle (Sr) and SS Cody Davis (rSr), while the Golden Gophers feature LB Mike Rallis (rSr) and WR MarQueis Gray (Sr). All of which will most likely go undrafted.

BELL HELICOPTER ARMED FORCES BOWL, DECEMBER 29/2012

Rice Owls (6-6) vs. Air Force Falcons (6-6)

Rice TE Vance McDonald (rSr) is the only draftable prospect playing in this game. McDonald is a big, athletic tight end that can create mismatches against opposing defensive backs, but also possesses a variety of skills where he can be used in multiple positions on offense similar to former Owl and current Houston Texan James Casey.

NEW ERA PINSTRIPE BOWL, DECEMBER 29/2012

West Virginia Mountaineers (7-5) vs. Syracuse Orange (7-5)

Former Big East rivals West Virginia and Syracuse renew hostilities in what should be a back and forth offensive shootout. Both squads feature multiple top 100 prospects, including Mountaineers QB Geno Smith (Sr), who ranks among the top 15 and could even be taken with the first overall pick by the quarterback-desperate Kansas City Chiefs. Smith has put together back to back phenomenal seasons for West Virginia compiling 8385 passing yards with 71 touchdowns to just 13 interceptions. He completed 65.8% of his passes in 2011 and raised that number to 71.4% this season. Smith has a big-time arm with very good accuracy, although his deep ball accuracy needs improving and he possesses the NFL size teams covet. He’s a mature leader on and off the field and should do well during the interview process with front offices in the lead up to the draft. He’s the best athlete in the quarterback class and has the mobility to make plays and be dangerous with his legs. One knock against him though is his lack of experience taking snaps under center as he has primarily played only in the shotgun in his career. He is a sure-fire first round pick. Smith’s two main offensive weapons WR Tavon Austin (Sr) and WR Stedman Bailey (rJr) will be joining him the draft. Both are smaller, dynamic playmakers that can hit the home run play from multiple spots on the field and a have nose for the end zone (Bailey 23 TDs in 2012, 12 in 2011/Austin 12 TDs in 2012, 8 in 2011). They both run with exciting speed and quickness, but still play with a running back’s toughness against bigger defenders. They are reliable pass-catchers that could be used as productive slot receivers in the NFL. Austin is currently earning the higher draft grade of the two due to his ability to line up as a running back (598 rushing yards, 3 TDs in 2012) and as a returner on special teams and could go as high as the late first round, while Bailey is primarily a receiver and could be selected in the third round.  Syracuse has a talented signal-caller of their own in QB Ryan Nassib (rSr), who is one of the hottest prospects right now and is moving his way up draft boards into a possible spot in the second round. He’s possesses NFL size with a good arm strength and accuracy. He’s solid in the pocket, but has also shown that he can make the necessary throws while on the run. He plays with intelligence, toughness and has developed into an impressive leader on and off the field. He may never be elite, but he does have the look of a guy who could be a consistent starter for the next ten years. Protecting Nassib’s blind side is one of the top draft-eligible left tackles in the nation in  OT Justin Pugh (rJr). The 6’5”, 300lb. tackle helped lead an Orange offensive line that allowed just 14 sacks this year and was named to the Big-East First-Team for the second straight season and his third consecutive all-conference selection. He’s an effortless blocker in pass protection and the run game.  The ceiling is extremely high for Pugh as he continues to add more size and strength to his frame and while he currently sits as a possible second round pick, he could make a late move into the first round. Along with Nassib and Pugh, the Orange also have a pair of potential Day 3 selections in SS Shamarko Thomas (Sr) and WR Alec Lemon (Sr).

KRAFT FIGHT HUNGER BOWL, DECEMBER 29/2012

Arizona State Sun Devils (7-5) vs. Navy Midshipmen (7-4)

The Sun Devils come into this game with a pair of prospects, although one may return to school and the other could go undrafted. DT Will Sutton (Jr) is an impact player and when he was healthy this season he carried the Arizona State defense. Despite battling injuries, Sutton was still able to amass an impressive 10.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss. He also displayed an ability to get his arms in passing lanes and knock the ball down and has shown the versatility to play multiple spots on the defensive line. If he chooses to enter the draft Sutton could be a third or fourth round pick. OLB Brandon MaGee (rSr) is a productive linebacker with a well-rounded game, but he looks like a depth player at this point and has a shot to be drafted in the seventh round.

VALERO ALAMO BOWL, DECEMBER 29/2012

Texas Longhorns (8-4) vs. Oregon State Beavers (9-3)

The Longhorns and Beavers will showcase one of the more impressive groups of prospects in a bowl game this season with three draft-eligible players on each team, all of which rank among the top 100 prospects. The Longhorns boast two very talented pass-rushers in DE Alex Okafor (Sr) and DE Jackson Jeffcoat (Jr), along with one of the top safeties in the country FS Kenny Vaccaro (Sr). Okafor is a good, but not great athlete that relies on his strength, power and good hand technique that he developed as sophomore playing defensive tackle to bull rush offensive linemen from the outside on his way to the quarterback. He’s relentless in his attack and gives all-out effort on every play to make up for his lack of elite athletic ability. Okafor remained a steadying force for the Longhorns this season despite receiving added attention after fellow pass-rusher Jackson Jeffcoat went down with a season-ending injury mid-year. He’s a possible late first round pick, but could see his stock take a hit into the mid-rounds if he struggles to put up good measurables at the Combine. While Okafor gets by using superior technique, Jackson Jeffcoat relies on his impressive athleticism and explosiveness to get the job done rushing the passer. Jeffcoat is a natural pass-rusher with the pure athletic prowess to play standing up or with his hand in the ground. Despite rupturing his pectoral muscle mid-season he was still able to register 11 tackles for loss, four sacks and six quarterback pressures. The son of former NFL standout Jim Jeffcoat, Jackson has a much higher upside than Okafor, but because the injury has kept him off the field he has slipped down draft boards into Day 2 and could still choose to return to school for another season in order to get completely healthy and display his full potential to scouts. He won’t play Saturday. Kenny Vaccaro is a complete safety with the ball skills and cover ability to be steady in pass coverage and the physicality and toughness to stop the run. He is a sure tackler with the versatility and size/speed combination to man either safety position and is a special-teams ace. There’s no doubt he should come off the board on Day 2. CB Carrington Byndom (Jr) could be a mid-round pick if he chooses to enter the draft a year early. For Oregon State, CB Jordan Poyer (Sr) and WR Markus Wheaton (Sr) are their top two prospects and both could be second round picks in April. Poyer put together his second straight fantastic season this year in helping lead a turnaround of the Oregon State program. He recorded seven interceptions this season including one for a score and had 6 passes defended despite teams often throwing away from him.  He’s a good athlete with the strength and toughness to battle bigger receivers and possesses the ball skills and instincts to create turnovers and go from defense to offense in a split second. He should be able to step in as a nickel corner right away with potential to eventually develop into a NFL starter. Markus Wheaton is a dynamic receiver with incredible speed that finally took his game to another level and came into his own as a big-time playmaker this year. He amassed an impressive 88 catches for 1207 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, while adding a pair of rushing scores. He’s a versatile athlete that can line up at multiple spots on offense and create nothing into something with very little space to work with and fill up the stat sheet. He possesses reliable hands and should find a home as a slot receiver with the ability to develop into a very good no.2 wide out down the road. DE Scott Crichton (rSo) is just a sophomore, but because he’s been at Oregon State for three seasons (one as a redshirt) he can enter the draft should he choose to. He was unstoppable in the first half of the season recording eight of his nine sacks before opposing teams started focusing solely on stopping him.  He also racked up 17 tackles for loss on the year. He has an explosive first step and creates havoc in opposing backfields all game long. I expect he’ll return to the Beavers for his junior year before entering the 2014 NFL Draft with still another year of eligibility remaining. While he probably won’t be in the 2013 NFL Draft he is still a guy worth watching this Saturday night.

BUFFALO WILD WINGS BOWL, DECEMBER 29/2012

Michigan State Spartans (6-6) vs. Texas Christian Horned Frogs (7-5)

In the final bowl of the week a solid group of mid to late round prospects will be on display between Michigan State and TCU. The Spartans boast the majority of the prospects in this game with DE William Gholston (Jr) leading the way. After an outstanding sophomore campaign Gholston came into the year viewed as a potential late first round pick, but a disappointing season this year has caused his stock to drop into the mid-rounds and raised red flags about his commitment and effort to playing hard every game. Despite not living up to expectations this year, Gholston still possesses the NFL size and strength to dominate blockers and the quickness to get into the backfield from time to time. He’s a better run-stopper than pass-rusher. His best performance of the season in an overtime victory against Wisconsin showed just how dominate he can be.  Gholston could choose to return to school for his final year of eligibility in an attempt to redeem his image and improve his stock. The Spartans also have a pair of solid weapons on offense in RB Le’Veon Bell (Jr) and TE Dion Sims (rJr) that will most likely come off the board early on Day 3. Bell is the definition of a power back and he’s a giant one at 6’2”, 244lbs. His 1648 rushing yards led the Big Ten, while his 824 yards after contact was a nation-high.  He runs over defenders using his superior power and strength, but also has the foot work and speed to break off big runs on the outside. He’s a reliable receiver out of the backfield as well tallying 65 catches over the past two seasons. He could crack the late third round for a running back-needy team. Sims is a powerful tight end with near offensive lineman size that allows him to destroy defenders when blocking, but still has soft enough hands and feet to contribute in the receiving game. He’s nowhere near the pass-catching tight end that a number of the other prospects in his position class are, but he is a more complete prospect than most of those other tight ends. Like Gholston, Bell and Sims have the option to return to Michigan State for a final year of eligibility. Bell has nothing left to prove and would benefit from not having to put another 300 plus carries on his body (350 carries this season), while Sims would probably be better off with another year at the collegiate level to further improve as a receiving threat. Potential late round prospects for Michigan State include CB Johnny Adams (rSr), DT Anthony Rashad White (Sr) and OG Chris McDonald (rSr).  The Horned Frogs have just one prospect of note in CB Jason Verrett (Jr). The 2012 Third-Team All-American was fantastic this season in recording 6 interceptions and 20 passes defended as the only player in the nation to rank in the top ten in both categories. He has good all-around skills, but doesn’t have ideal size to be a starting NFL corner and could find a spot as a nickel back. He probably comes off the board early on Day 3, but still could return to school for his senior year.

 

Written By: Mark Scott

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