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2013 NFL DRAFT PROSPECT WATCH: BOWL GAMES PART 5 (JAN.2-JAN.3)

The final two BCS Bowl games before the National Championship will be played over the next two days and they shouldn’t disappoint for those watching for NFL prospects in this year’s upcoming draft. The Florida Gators lead the way with a very impressive group that could feature up to ten potential draft choices, while Oregon, Kansas State and Louisville will all have multiple entries into the 2013 NFL Draft.

ALLSTATE SUGAR BOWL, JANUARY 2/2013

Florida Gators (11-1) vs. Louisville Cardinals (10-2)

The Gators and Cardinals will get the main stage to themselves in the Sugar Bowl on Wednesday night and there will be more than enough NFL prospects on display. Like fellow SEC powerhouses Alabama, Georgia and LSU, the Gators roster is jam-packed with draft-eligible players for the 2013 NFL Draft. The top of Florida’s draft class is headed by SS Matt Elam (Jr) and DT Sharrif Floyd (Jr). Elam is a powerful, hard-hitting safety that is a high impact player. He possesses the ability to change games whether it be with a ferocious hit that he often delivers multiple times a game or by using his ball skills and instincts to create a turnover and take it the other way. He contributes in a number of areas and has the versatility that NFL teams are demanding in today’s safeties. One of the most impressive things that Elam accomplished this season was his development as an elite leader. He stepped up in a big way and was a driving force in the Gators improvement from a 7-6 squad in 2011 to the no.3 ranked team in the country this season. Floyd is a dominating defensive lineman with the versatility to line up at multiple positions in the front four. He uses a great burst off the snap along with terrific hands and power to take out offensive linemen and get into the backfield. His best spot on the field is as a penetrating defensive tackle. Both Elam and Floyd are rising up prospect lists and expected to declare for this year’s draft where they are projected to be second round picks, but could definitely work their way into the first day of the draft. Florida has multiple potential mid-round selections in RB Mike Gillislee (Sr), TE Jordan Reed (rJr), DL Dominique Easley (Jr), ILB Jon Bostic (Sr) and OLB Jelani Jenkins (rJr). Gillislee had a career year this season and carried the Florida offense on his back from start to finish. He’s a three-down back with the ability to bang inside, take it for big yards on the outside or make plays with his hands as a receiver out of the backfield and is very similar to Tampa Bay rookie Doug Martin. He has feature back potential. Jordan Reed has developed into a pretty nice pass-catching tight end in his time at Florida. He’s very similar to former Gator Aaron Hernandez as a faster, undersized tight end with the versatility to line up at multiple positions on offense, including quarterback where he took snaps as a freshman. He’s still in a bit of developmental stage and could opt to return to school for another season. Easley is a reliable defender that can be used at multiple spots on the defensive line. He’s best at shutting down the run, but does have a bit of pass-rushing ability that he shows on occasion. He should fit in nicely with a defensive line rotation at the next level. Athletic linebackers Bostic and Jenkins are a pair of talented, versatile defenders. Bostic is a steady presence in the middle against the run with the ability to provide a pass-rush and make plays behind the line of scrimmage. He’s also an excellent leader that can be trusted with on-the-field play-calling duties. Jenkins is an extremely aggressive player that reads the action quickly and attacks the ball-carrier. His aggressive play isn’t all good as it has caused him to leave early and miss multiple games with injury. Both have NFL starting potential with the ability to contribute right away and could be steals. Late round prospects for the Gators include OLB/DE Lerentee McCray (rSr), OT Xavier Nixon (Sr), FS Josh Evans (Sr), K Caleb Sturgis (rSr) and DT Omar Hunter (rSr). Louisville has a pair of their own Day 3 prospects in CB Adrian Bushell (rSr) and C Mario Benavides (rSr). Bushell is a solid corner with decent all-around skills that excels on special teams, but has been around the block playing for multiple teams in high school and college and has various off-the-field red flags. Benavides is a tough, reliable interior lineman with good hands and ranks among the top five prospects at the center position.

TOSTITOS FIESTA BOWL, JANUARY 3/2013

Oregon Ducks (11-1) vs. Kansas State Wildcats (11-1)

Oregon and Kansas State will do battle on Thursday night in what should be an offensive shootout. Both squads have multiple pro prospects with each team having a player or two that could be taken in the first three rounds. Oregon DE/OLB Dion Jordan (rSr) is a freak athlete blessed with outstanding physical attributes and incredible potential, but still has some raw aspects to his game after coming to Oregon as a tight end. He is quickly developing into a terrific pass-rusher and hybrid defender that can stay on the field for every down. His rare athleticism and various skills have scouts drooling and should result in a first round selection. OL Kyle Long (Sr) is the son of Hall of Famer Howie Long and another Oregon player that made a position change during his college career that resulted in him becoming a top-100 prospect. He’s a very good athlete with natural talent and the ability to play offensive tackle or guard, but is still raw in his development as an offensive lineman due to a lack of game-time experience. He could come off the board in the third round. RB Kenjon Barner (rSr) is a gifted, speed back with incredible vision and homerun hitting ability. He dominated the college ranks with a monster year in 2012 racking up 1624 rushing yards for 21 touchdowns including a 321-yard, 5 touchdown performance against USC. He also possesses good hands out of the backfield as a receiver. Unfortunately he is an undersized ball-carrier like former teammate and current 49er LaMichael James and will probably only be viewed as a change of pace or third down back in the NFL. He’ll be selected somewhere in the mid-rounds. The Ducks also have a pair of possible late round prospects in ILB Kiko Alonso (rSr) and FS John Boyett (rSr). Talented P Jackson Rice (rSr) should catch on with a team as an undrafted free agent. Kansas State LB Arthur Brown (rSr) was an integral part of the Wildcats’ revival under Head Coach Bill Snyder the last few years. He’s been the leader on defense for the Wildcats since transferring from Miami-Florida and was so good this season he was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a FWAA First-Team All-American. He’s slightly undersized, but makes up for it with fantastic speed, vision and awareness. He’s able to sniff out what the offense is doing and possesses the ability to defend both the run and pass. He has every down starting linebacker potential and could be a second round pick. Some scouts have compared him to future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis. Potential late round prospects for the Wildcats include WR Chris Harper (rSr), OLB Meshak Williams (Sr), QB Collin Klein (rSr) and CB Nigel Malone (Sr).

 

Written By: Mark Scott



2013 NFL Draft Prospect Watch: Week 2

The second week of the college football season won’t feature the type of high profile matchup like we saw in Week 1 with David Amerson and Justin Hunter, however there is a pair of intriguing battles happening this weekend when LSU’s Zach Mettenberger has to throw passes into a Washington secondary led by potential first round pick Desmond Trufant while an under the radar matchup on Friday night between one of the draft’s top rated players, Utah’s Star Lotulelei and Utah State’s Tyler Larsen will take place in the trenches. The best game to watch this weekend for your prospect fix will definitely be Texas A&M’s SEC debut against Florida. The Aggies will have three potential first round picks on display in offensive tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews along with pass rusher Sean Porter. On the other side, the Gators will have a myriad of players that should be taken throughout the draft, although a couple of their top prospects like SS Matt Elam and DT Sharrif Floyd may choose to wait until the 2014 NFL Draft.

Best Head to Head Matchups: Washington CB Desmond Trufant vs. LSU QB Zach Mettenberger @ Tiger Stadium and Utah NT Star Lotulelei vs. Utah State C Tyler Larsen @ Romney Stadium

The top head to head matchup to watch this weekend will be between LSU QB Zach Mettenberger and Washington CB Desmond Trufant. Mettenberger is the most physically talented quarterback that LSU has had since former 2007 first overall pick JaMarcus Russell. He has NFL prototype size at 6’5”, 230lbs with a big arm and the talent to lead LSU back to the National Title game. Mettenberger may be a better candidate for the 2014 NFL Draft as he just made his first start for LSU last week and is lacking in high level experience (Started 12 games for Butler Community College in 2010). Getting more experience should lead him to improving his decision-making, especially when facing heavy pressure, which he had problems with vs. North Texas in the season opener. He will face his first real big test on Saturday when he will have to throw passes into a Washington secondary featuring CB Desmond Trufant. A potential first round pick and one of the top corners available for the 2013 NFL Draft, Trufant is the younger brother of Marcus (Seattle Seahawks) and Isaiah Trufant (New York Jets). NFL eyes have been on him since he stepped on to the Campus in Washington and he’s done nothing to disappoint. He’s put together three outstanding seasons after starting as a true freshman with each year better than the last. He’s displayed next level cover ability and the ball skills and instincts to make game changing plays. He continues to make major strides in his game and it won’t be a shock to hear his name on the first day of the draft.

While Mettenberger and Trufant will take center stage, an under the radar matchup to check out will happen Friday night when Utah NT Star Lotulelei and Utah State C Tyler Larsen go head to head in the trenches of one of the longest standing rivalries in college football. Lotulelei came into this season with a ton of hype as one of top rated draft eligible prospects and for good reason. He may not put up eye-catching numbers, but his play certainly catches the eye of everyone watching as he blows up play after play despite facing double and triple-teams on every down. His combination of athleticism and massive size has scouts drawing favorable comparisons to Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata, a player every team in the NFL wants. Tyler Larsen won’t be a first round pick or anything close to one, but he is one of the top centers in the nation and finds himself on the 2012 Rimington Award Watch List (Top center in the Nation). He’s a rock in the middle for the Aggies with a ton of starting experience and possesses great technique and footwork. This should be one heck of a battle between these two on Friday night.

Best Game to Watch for Prospects: #24 Florida vs. Texas A&M @ Kyle Field

The best game to watch for draft eligible prospects this weekend will be the debut of Texas A&M in the SEC when they welcome the Florida Gators to town. The Aggies boast a trio of potential first round draft choices in offensive tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews as well as pass rushing outside linebacker Sean Porter. Joeckel and Matthews make up the best offensive tackle tandem in the nation. Joeckel mans the all important left tackle position and is the top offensive lineman in the draft. He isn’t quite a finished product, but he’s pretty darn close. He possesses the size and athleticism to play the blind side at the next level along with the experience after starting immediately as a true freshman and ever since. If there’s an offensive tackle that can ascend into the top five of the draft, it’ll be Joeckel. Matthews is the son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews and is the top right tackle prospect in the country. He is a strong, physical run blocker that plays with a mean streak that he puts on display every time he throws a defensive lineman to the ground and opens up a huge running lane. He has first round talent, but because he plays the less heralded right tackle position he could fall into the early second round. He too is experienced after winning the starting right tackle job midway through his true freshman season. Sean Porter is the leader of the Aggies’ defense and has drawn comparisons to his former teammate and 2011 second overall pick Von Miller. He’s very similar in size, speed and athleticism to Miller and plays the same type of hybrid pass rusher role from a 4-3 outside linebacker position. He’s not quite the natural pass rusher that Miller is, but he makes up for it with his ability to better pursue ball-carriers from sideline to sideline and drop into coverage on passing downs. It will be very interesting to see how high teams value Porter in comparison to Miller. After their top three prospects Texas A&M also has a pair of offensive playmakers in RB Christine Michael and WR Ryan Swope. Both look like mid round selections.

The 2012 NFL Draft was one to forget for the Florida Gators as they had just two players selected, neither among the top-100 picks. The 2013 draft might not be much different if Florida’s top prospects choose to return to school for another season. However, if they do choose to forgo another season in Gainesville then the Gators’ should be well represented at the 2013 draft. Currently rated as the top strong safety prospect for the 2014 NFL Draft, Matt Elam lived up his considerable hype as a high school recruit following a stand out season last year. Athletic and versatile, he has the ability to make all the plays required for the position whether dropping into coverage or moving up near the line of scrimmage to defend the run or rush the quarterback. Should he decide to enter the draft, he’ll be in a battle with the likes of Kenny Vaccaro (Texas) and Robert Lester (Alabama) for a spot as the top strong safety available, likely somewhere on Day Two. Sharrif Floyd is Florida’s next best prospect behind Elam and like Elam, he could be better off waiting for the 2014 draft. Floyd is a traditional defensive tackle, although he did start for the Gators at defensive end last season due to a lack at depth on the outside, but will be back on the inside this year. He possesses a great burst off the line and uses his raw power and talented hands to get into opposing backfields. Due to his ability to play inside and outside in a 4-3 defense, he will draw interest as a five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 scheme.  Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic are talented and fast attacking linebackers that should receive attention from traditional 4-3 defenses. Jenkins is the more talented and experienced of the two and will draw comparisons to the group of smaller 4-3 linebackers that went in the 2012 NFL draft in second round selections, Mychal Kendricks (Philadelphia) and LaVonte David (Tampa Bay). The team’s top Senior prospect is offensive tackle Xavier Nixon. He has the size of the NFL prototype left tackle with a naturally large frame and long arms. As a true freshman he looked like a potential star, but injuries and inconsistencies in the last couple of seasons have seen his stock decline. Nixon has shown he has the potential, but will need to show that he can stay healthy and play with more consistency this year if he wants to improve his draft stock among a very impressive group of draft eligible offensive tackles. Center/Guard Jonothan Harrison is also a prospect to keep any eye on, but I expect he’ll be back next season for another year in school.

Written By: Mark Scott