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2013 NFL DRAFT PROSPECT WATCH: BOWL GAMES PART 4 (JAN.1)

Bowl Mania continues on New Year’s Day as six games involving a boatload of draft-eligible prospects will keep scouts, front offices and fans busy all day long. The day starts out slow for prospects, but quickly picks up as the bowls grow more important and involve higher profile prospect-stocked teams. A number of highly ranked players like Bjoern Werner, Taylor Lewan, Jarvis Jones and most of the rest of the Georgia draft class will be in action. Nothing like some college football to cure a hangover.

TAXSLAYER.COM GATOR BOWL, JANUARY 1/2013

Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-4) vs. Northwestern Wildcats (9-3)

New Year’s Day starts out pretty slow for prospects in the Gator Bowl with just one highly rated player. Mississippi State CB Johnthan Banks (Sr) is an experienced corner with very good height and length that possesses the ability to play man coverage and in zone. His ball skills and instincts are among the best at the position and allow him to contribute in a number of areas and make game-changing plays. His lack of elite speed is the biggest question surrounding him right now and could keep him out of the first round, but won’t cause him to fall any further than the second. He was fantastic this season in winning the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back and enters the 2013 NFL Draft as the top senior cornerback available. After Banks the Bulldogs have a group of mid to late round prospects that includes OG Gabe Jackson (rJr), CB Darius Slay (Sr), DT Josh Boyd (Sr) and OLB Cameron Lawrence (Sr). Jackson is a mammoth offensive lineman that moves incredibly well for a man his size and absolutely mauls defenders in pass protection and especially when run blocking. He has starting potential in the NFL and could be drafted as high as the third round. He still has a year of eligibility remaining and could return to Mississippi State for another season. CB Corey Broomfield (rSr) and WR Chad Bumphis (Sr) are likely undrafted free agents. Northwestern doesn’t have any noteworthy draft-eligible prospects this season.

HEART OF DALLAS BOWL, JANUARY 1/2013

Purdue Boilermakers (6-6) vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys (7-5)

There are even fewer prospects in the other game at noon between the Boilermakers and Cowboys, but at least each team has a noteworthy draft-eligible player in this one. Purdue DT Kawann Short (rSr) is a huge athlete with the ability to dominate a game. While he’s able to handle double-teams and clog up the middle he’s not just the typical space-eating defensive tackle, but is actually a very talented pass-rusher from the interior as evidenced by the 18.5 sacks and 48 tackles for loss he amassed over his collegiate career. He is also able to use his huge wingspan to knock down passes and block kicks on special teams. He would probably be rated as a first round pick, but major questions exist about his lack of effort game in and game out and thought that he plays too passive at times. He probably comes off the board in the second round and could end up being a steal if he can change his bad habits. Oklahoma State RB Joseph Randle (Jr) is a very talented running back with explosive speed and the ability to break off big runs when he gets just a bit of open space. He also has terrific hands out of the backfield as a pass-catcher. While he showed for the second straight season that he can handle a full workload as a feature ball-carrier, he will probably be best suited as a change of pace or third down back in the NFL. Randle has the choice to return to school for his final year of eligibility, but should he declare early he could be selected as high as the third or fourth round. Purdue CB Josh Johnson (Sr) is an underrated corner and has a chance to be a seventh round pick in April.

OUTBACK BOWL, JANUARY 1/2013

Michigan Wolverines (8-4) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (10-2)

The number of prospects starts to pick up with the Outback Bowl matchup pitting Big Ten against SEC when the Wolverines and Gamecocks take the field. Michigan LT Taylor Lewan (rJr) is the highest rated prospect in this game and the only one that will be drafted in the first round in April. He’s a massive blindside protector with elite athleticism and may just be the most physically imposing prospect in the draft. His technique still needs some work, but he’s extremely competitive and plays with a mean streak. He’s soared up draft boards as the season’s gone on and looks to be the clear no.2 offensive tackle prospect behind Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel could sneak into the top ten of the draft. While he played basically his entire career at Michigan as a quarterback, WR Denard Robinson (Sr) will enter the draft as a receiver, although some think he could even be moved to cornerback. It is unlikely he’ll take too many snaps at quarterback in this game if at all. Instead he will likely line up as a receiver or running back throughout the game. While the position he’ll eventually play in the NFL is still unknown at this point, what is known about him is that he is an extremely fast and dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands. He could come off the board in the first half of Day 3. Late round hopefuls for the Wolverines include DE Craig Roh (Sr) and SS Jordan Kovacs (rSr), while ILB Kenny Demens (rSr), CB J.T. Floyd (rSr) and DT William Campbell (Sr) will most likely go undrafted. Hearts are still broken for South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore (Jr) and what he’s had to go through after suffering his second brutal season-ending knee injury. In 2011 he went down with a torn ACL that he fought and rehabbed tooth and nail to come back from and did so successfully in regaining most of the form that had him rated as the top running back coming into the season. He was just starting to look completely like himself again when he went down with one of the most gruesome-looking injuries seen in sports in a while. Despite the injuries, the fact that he won’t be able to work out for anyone and another year of eligibility remaining, Lattimore has still chosen to declare early for the draft and hope for the best. His plan is to land on an NFL team and rehabilitate his knee with the best possible training staff. Is future at this point is a complete unknown. Aside from Lattimore whose draft stock is up in the air at this point, the Gamecocks feature a group of mid to late round prospects that will be playing in this game including FS D.J. Swearinger (Sr), OLB DeVonte Holloman (Sr), DE Devin Taylor (rSr) and C T.J. Johnson (rSr).

CAPITAL ONE BOWL, JANUARY 1/2013

Georgia Bulldogs (11-2) vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers (10-3)

Perhaps more so than any other team this season the Georgia Bulldogs are a legit showcase of NFL talent with up to twelve possible 2013 draft picks, six of which that could be taken among the first four rounds. OLB Jarvis Jones (rJr) is a freak athlete that is arguably the top pass-rusher and may even be the top prospect in the entire draft. He is an explosive pass-rusher with elite speed and strength and is constantly wreaking havoc in opposing backfields and taking out the quarterback. He rounded out his game very nicely this season displaying the ability to be more effective in stopping the run and holding his own when asked to drop into pass coverage. NFL front offices and scouts have all been eagerly waiting for Jones to enter the draft to have their shot at adding him to their squad, but if teams want him they’ll have to make a move as it’s not likely he makes it out of the top five selections. He is a big-time playmaker that should be able to start and dominate right away. NT John Jenkins (Sr) is a mammoth athlete and the best pure run-stopper in the draft. He’s basically impossible to move at the point of attack and is a dominating force in the middle. He handles double-teams without a problem and is able to make a play on the ball-carrier when he gets into the backfield. He’s not the most glamorous draft pick, but he is an immediate starter that can be plugged into the starting line up right away and will instantly upgrade anyone’s run defense. Outside of Jones, ILB Alex Ogletree (Jr) was Georgia’s best defender this year. Despite missing the first four weeks of the season he still managed to lead the team with 98 tackles in just nine games and was their most consistent and reliable player. He’s an outstanding athlete with the ability to make plays sideline to sideline whether chasing ball-carriers or dropping into pass coverage.  He possesses an excellent combination of size, length and speed and has the versatility to play multiple linebacker positions. His length especially has some scouts thinking that he could be a highly effective pass-rushing outside linebacker in the NFL. While Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o is the top ranked inside linebacker, Ogletree and his incredible athleticism is not far behind and may even be a more dynamic player than Te’o at the next level. He is a likely first round pick should he decide to declare a year early for the draft. QB Aaron Murray (rJr) is a tough, athletic quarterback with very good arm strength and clean mechanics, but he has struggles with his decision-making at times and lack ideal NFL size. He’s a confident kid with talent and could make for a nice developmental quarterback behind an established starter. A number of the quarterback prospects are closely jockeying for position with Murray likely a third or fourth round pick. Jones, Ogletree and Murray could all elect to return to school for their senior year, but only Murray is a real candidate to do that with Jones and Ogletree considered first round locks. The Bulldogs secondary is well represented with FS Bacarri Rambo (rSr) and SS Shawn Williams (Sr). Rambo is a playmaking safety that can lay the wood when delivering big hits and create turnovers in the secondary using his terrific instincts and ball skills. He’s constantly in the middle of the play making something happen. Williams is a smart, productive player that always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He’s a guy that coaches don’t have to worry about where is head is at and rarely makes mental errors. He’s a reliable safety that teams will know what they’re getting with him. Both safeties have the potential to be starters in the NFL and could be selected as high as the third round. A number of Georgia’s possible draft picks will be potential Day 3 selections including DT Abry Jones (Sr), WR Tavarres King (rSr), CB Sanders Commings (rSr), OLB Cornelius Washington (rSr) and CB Branden Smith (Sr). ILB Christian Robinson (rSr) will probably end up an undrafted free agent. The Cornhuskers have a pair of their own possible late Day 3 draft picks in RB Rex Burkhead (Sr) and FS Damion Stafford (Sr). Burkhead is a thick, power back with the ability to plow his way through the line for the hard yards inside or use his speed to make big plays on the outside with his feet or hands. He showed in 2011 that he can be a feature back, but this season he was constantly battling injuries causing him to miss six games and saw his production take a major dip. He’s probably a sixth round pick. Stafford will most likely join Burkhead in the last couple rounds of the draft. He is an underrated consistent defender that is at his best in run support and is decent in pass coverage, but could stand to make improvements in that area. He’s not going to blow any scouts away with his athleticism, but could be a solid special-teams and depth player that might come off the board late in the draft. Behind them is group of players that will likely go undrafted, but could sneak into the late portion of the draft including DE Eric Martin (Sr), K Brett Maher (Sr), ILB Will Compton (rSr) and DT Baker Steinkuhler (rSr).

ROSE BOWL GAME PRESENTED BY VIZIO, JANUARY 1/2013

Stanford Cardinal (11-2) vs. Wisconsin Badgers (8-5)

The 99th Rose Bowl will showcase two tough, smash mouth-types of teams in Stanford and Wisconsin and the seven prospects involved are perfect examples of that type of player. Stanford will feature one potential late first round pick to go with three others that could be mid-round selections. After taking over for Cody Fleener (Indy Colts), TE Zach Ertz (rJr) proved this season that he was an even better and more complete player than his former teammate. He showed off his big, soft hands and route-running ability in leading all FBS tight ends with 66 catches for 837 receiving yards, both school records, while adding six touchdowns. He’s not just another pass-catching tight end either after elevating himself into a dominant blocker this year. Ertz will be in close competition with Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert for the top spot among tight ends and could sneak into the late first round. Stanford’s linebacker combination of OLB Chase Thomas (rSr) and ILB Shayne Skov (Sr) are a pair of hard-nosed, intelligent defenders. Thomas constantly causes chaos at the line of scrimmage and in the backfield. He’s not an elite athlete, but makes up for that with high-energy all-out effort on every down. He’s the type of football player every team would want and could go as high as the late second round. Skov is a notch or two below Thomas, but is still a very good football player. He is solid in run support and can provide a pass-rush from the middle when called upon. Skov has a red flag or two off the field and should be taken in the first half of Day 3. RB Stepfan Taylor (Sr) is a workhorse back that has proven over the last three seasons that he can handle full-time duties at the position with three straight seasons of at least 1100 rushing yards and double-digit touchdowns. He’s also a running back that doesn’t need to come off the field on third down as he has proven to be a talented pass-catcher out of the back field with 91 receptions for 718 yards and five scores. He’s a tough athlete with a thick, powerful frame built to handle the rigors of the NFL. He could be selected in the late third/early fourth round. Late round hopefuls for Stanford include WR Drew Terrell (Sr) and C Sam Schwartzstein (rSr). The Badgers will feature three mid-round draft choices in RB Montee Ball (Sr), OT Ricky Wagner (rSr) and OC/OG Travis Frederick (Jr). In the end it seems like Ball’s highly publicized decision to return to school for his senior season didn’t hurt him much after all as he earned a similar third round draft grade to the one he received last year. Like Taylor, Ball is a workhorse back that can handle 30+ carries a game, while often contributing with his hands on third down. Ball compiled an amazing 5040 career rushing yards with an NCAA record for rushing touchdowns with 76 and most total touchdowns with 82, including 39 total scores in 2011 to tie Barry Sanders’ single season NCAA record. While Ball is a highly talented running back with the potential to be feature ball-carrier in the NFL, he has already put 900 carries on his body heading into the Rose Bowl. His collegiate workload could have an effect on his draft position, but will definitely have an effect on his career long-term. He’s a third or fourth round pick. Ricky Wagner and Travis Frederick will continue the Wisconsin tradition of sending talented, rugged offensive linemen to the NFL. These two are absolute maulers at the line of scrimmage and have the ability to just destroy oncoming defenders when run blocking. They are big, strong and as mean as it gets with the versatility to play multiple positions on the offensive line. Frederick has slightly more upside than Wagner, but both players should come off the board somewhere between the third and fifth rounds.

DISCOVER ORANGE BOWL, JANUARY 1/2013

Florida State Seminoles (11-2) vs. Northern Illinois Huskies (12-1)

It will be big school versus small school in this season’s Orange Bowl as legendary powerhouse Florida State welcomes upstart Northern Illinois to the big show. The big school/small school angle is quite evident in terms of NFL prospects as the Seminoles have eight or nine players that could be draft picks in April. At the top of the Florida State draft class are potential first round picks DE Bjoern Werner (Jr) and CB Xavier Rhodes (rJr). The rise of German-born Bjoern Werner has been pretty remarkable. In just five short years he’s gone from a high-school exchange student with zero football experience to a First-Team All-American and one of the very top draft-eligible prospects. He is a powerhouse pass-rusher with the strength and power to flatten offensive linemen and the speed and explosive burst to beat them around the edge. He made a name for himself as junior, but became a star and elite prospect this season when he stepped up as the Seminoles feature pass-rusher following Brandon Jenkins’ season-ending injury. Despite having to often face the opponents’ best pass protector Werner was dominant registering 13 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. He looks like a sure-fire top ten pick and could come off the board in the first three selections. Rhodes is a tough, very physical corner with imposing size and strength. He excels in the physical part of playing defense using his superior strength to get in the face of opposing wide receivers and knock them off of their routes. He also has pretty good speed and has shown he possesses the ability to cover receivers anywhere on the field. He’s projected to be a late first, early second round pick. Following Werner and Rhodes are four projected mid-round picks in OLB Brandon Jenkins (Sr), QB EJ Manuel (rSr), DE Cornellius Carradine (Sr) and DT Everett Dawkins (rSr). Jenkins is an explosive pass-rusher with first-round talent, but a Lisfranc injury in his left foot ended his season and dropped him down draft boards leaving his stock a bit up in the air. It won’t be until February or March before he’s able to show he’s fully healthy and worthy of a spot in the first half of the draft. Manuel is a big, athletic quarterback with a very strong arm and the mobility to make plays with his legs, but is still a project at this time. He makes too many bad decisions, holds on to the ball too long and seems to get rattled pretty quickly by pressure. He came into the season as a Heisman candidate and potential first round pick, but struggled despite Florida State’s impressive record and will now need a good showing at the Senior Bowl to sneak into the late third round, but could fall into Day 3. Carradine came into the season as the little known third man behind starters Werner and Jenkins, but like Werner he raised his game to another level with Jenkins’ injury and was flying up draft boards into the first round before going down with a torn right ACL in the season finale. He amassed 11 sacks and 13 tackles for loss through twelve games, but like Jenkins his draft stock is really an unknown until he can show scouts he’s healthy again. Dawkins is a very athletic interior defensive lineman who is best at creating havoc in the middle and putting pressure on the passer even if it doesn’t translate to the stat sheet. His agility and athleticism allow him to move easily around the field and pursue ball-carriers. He should be an early Day 3 selection. Possible late round draft choices for the Seminoles include FB Lonnie Pryor (Sr), WR Rodney Smith (Sr), K Dustin Hopkins (Sr) and DT Anthony McCloud (rSr). Northern Illinois has just one late round hopeful in DE Sean Progar (rSr) for the 2013 NFL Draft. S Dechance Durante (rSo) is still just a sophomore, but is definitely a guy to watch for next year as he looks to have some star potential despite missing half the season with an injury.

 

Written By: Mark Scott