For teams needing a quarterback in the 2016 NFL Draft, today’s big slate of bowl games should offer plenty of insight into just what this quarterback class offers, starting with the first game of the day.
Armed Forces Bowl — California (7-5) vs. Air Force (8-4), 2:00 p.m., ESPN
Coming into the season I had Cal quarterback Jared Goff as my No. 1 overall player in the 2016 class due to his ability to make NFL caliber throws in Cal’s Air Raid offense.
Unfortunately for Goff, the junior QB had a lackluster regular season (for his standards) and has plenty of question marks surrounding his game.
However, I’m still very high on Goff and have him as my No. 2 QB in this class due to his ability to fit throws into tight windows, accuracy in the intermediate passing game and ability to throw receivers open with anticipation, accuracy and ability to see the entire field, knowing where soft spots are in the defense.
A big bowl game against Air Force should alleviate some concerns about Goff’s game.
Along with Goff, Cal wide receiver Kenny Lawler is an intriguing prospect thanks to his explosion, route running and ability to make tough catches in traffic. With that said, Lawler most likely returns to school since he’s just five classes away from obtaining a degree.
That could all change though should the NFL Draft advisory board gives him a grade in the first three rounds.
Cal running back Daniel Lasco will be limited in this game due to an ankle injury, but he’s a powerful running back that racked up 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns the previous year. He’ll head to the East-West Shrine Game for his one last chance to impress scouts.
Russell Athletic Bowl — North Carolina (11-2) vs. Baylor (9-3), 5:30 p.m., ESPN
If you’re looking for a game loaded with NFL prospects, the Russell Athletic Bowl is the came for you.
Quarterback Marquise Williams, guard Landon Turner and wide receiver Quinshad Davis, all of whom have played a large role in the resurgence of the Tar Heels under Larry Fedora, lead the Tar Heels offensively.
Williams reminds me a lot of Jake Locker in terms of size, mobile ability and arm strength, but he’s not as accurate as one would like and doesn’t project to be a starter in the NFL at this point.
Turner is a mauling guard that is currently my No. 2 guard in this class. He’s not a flashy athlete who excels at pulling, but Turner is a great drive blocker who has a great frame to be an All-Pro guard in the NFL.
Davis is a receiver who has come on strong in 2015 thanks to his size and soft hands. As a member of the Tar Heels, Davis is going to leave the program as the greatest receiver in program history due to his numbers (119 career receptions, 25 touchdowns).
He’s an imposing redzone threat that should play right away for whichever team takes him. The 6’3”, 220-pound receiver is a likely third round pick.
For Baylor, offensive lineman Spencer Drango, wide receivers Corey Coleman and Jay Lee, and defensive end Shawn Oakman are the prospects to watch against the Tar Heels as defensive tackle Andrew Billings announced a few weeks ago that he’ll return to Waco next season.
Coleman is the headliner here as he’s a dynamic, explosive receiver that can take the top off of defenses with his speed, while also being able to make huge plays after the catch.
However, Coleman isn’t a physical receiver and was rarely asked to do much in terms of route running for the Bears. He’ll have to relearn the position at the next level if he wants to be more than a one-trick pony, but he’s got all the tools to be a clear-cut No. 1 option in the NFL.
Lee isn’t a big-name receiver for Baylor, but he’s able to beat the press and get deep on secondary’s, showing he can be an above-average compliment for No. 1 receivers out of the slot.
A team like Atlanta could use a player like Lee as a No. 3 option behind Julio Jones and another weapon, but his drop rate (12 percent) is concerning for a guy who doesn’t get a ton of targets.
As for Drango, he’ll likely kick inside at the next level because he’s not very agile laterally, which could hinder his ability to protect the edge at the next level. With that said, Drango is a mauler in the run game who uses good technique, footwork and hand placement to move guys around in the trenches. He’s likely an early Day Two selection.
Then there’s Oakman, who should be so much better than he is due to his size, but he’s a bit soft, doesn’t use his size and length to his advantage, but when he wants to he can take over a series.
His consistency has to improve moving forward, but due to his size and potential a team will pick him in the middle rounds hoping that they can develop him.
Arizona Bowl — Colorado State (7-5) vs. Nevada (6-6), 7:30 p.m., American Sports Network
This game starts and ends with Colorado State wide receiver Rashard Higgins, who showed he’s capable of being a No. 1 receiver over the last two years, which included a finalist nomination for the Biletnikoff Award.
He racks up yards after the catch, makes the difficult catches look easy, is a smooth route runner and is able to create separation quickly down the middle of the field and on the outside.
I will be shocked if he slips past the middle of the third round. He has everything you want in a receiver.
Texas Bowl — LSU (8-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5), 9:00 p.m., ESPN
Outside of watching Leonard Fournette gash the worst run defense in college football, keep an eye on LSU cornerback Tre’Davious White, who many are projecting as the Steelers’ first round pick in 2016.
White comes from the same program that has produced Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson, including Cowboys first round corner Morris Claiborne.
While Claiborne hasn’t really lived up to expectations, chances are White becomes a good corner in the NFL due to his size, athleticism, quick feet, fluid hips and instincts in coverage.
He isn’t great against the run, but he’s shown the willingness to stick his nose in there.
Along with White, offensive guard Vadal Alexander is a prospect that could be a fit for Pittsburgh should they let Ramon Foster walk.
Alexander (6’5”, 330) is very athletic for his massive, powerful frame. The senior has played right tackle in 2015 for the Tigers, but he’ll kick inside at the next level. He has outstanding upper body strength and is very quick at the snap.
Defensively, Kendall Beckwith is constantly around the ball for the Tigers and is currently my No. 3 inside linebacker in this class, one spot ahead of Alabama’s Reggie Ragland.
Beckwith is so good against the run due to his quickness, ability to diagnose the play and his power coming downhill. He’s an ideal 4-3 ILB but can play in any system.
For Texas Tech, watch left tackle Le’Raven Clark, who is a fast riser.
The senior was a four-year starter for the Red Raiders in their Air Raid attack. The offensive scheme protected Clark a ton as a pass protector, but he has the quick feet and the ideal length for an offensive tackle at the next level.
He just screams “Broncos offensive tackle” for me, as he’s athletic and agile enough to succeed in the zone-blocking scheme while also being quick enough laterally to protect against speed edge rushers.