With only two days left (outside of the College Football Playoff National Championship), we will see a number of players whose names will become familiar over the course of the next few months. Two potential top-10 picks highlight the bowl games on December 30th.
Taxslayer Bowl: Louisville vs. #23 Mississippi State – Noon ET, ESPN
2016 Heisman Trophy winner, Lamar Jackson should go in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Quarterbacks like Jackson have struggled in the NFL, but his athleticism and toughness have NFL teams interested. He is capable of doing just as much with his legs as he is his arm and could be a real pain for defenses at the next level. His ability to extend plays is second to none. Jackson may not be a starting QB right away, but he certainly projects as a starting quarterback one day.
Junior CB, Jaire Alexander won’t play in this game as he has declared for the draft and has his sights set on April. Alexander broke his hand in October which caused him to miss a month of the season. In 2016, he led the team with 5 interceptions and 9 passes deflected. He has serious ball hawking skills. Alexander is excellent in man coverage and has the capabilities to be a shutdown corner at the next level. His injury may drop his stock to the 4th round or so, but he still has a chance to be selected in the first couple rounds.
The Cardinals have a couple of other draft hopefuls in DE, Trevon Young, OLB, James Hearns, and CB, Trumaine Washington.
The top prospect for the Bulldogs is OT, Martinas Rankin. Rankin is 6-5, 315 pounds and he uses all of it when he blocks. He is very good at staying with his defender once he gets his hands on him. He has the projectable body type that could succeed in the NFL, but he needs to improve his football if he wants to play on the blindside. Rankin could be picked within the first three rounds.
Mississippi State WR, Donald Gray and TE, Jordan Thomas are another two players to watch in this one.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Iowa State vs. #20 Memphis – 12:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Memphis WR, Anthony Miller is not the biggest (5-11, 190), but he possesses great route running skills. He has great hands and the ability to make very difficult catches. Playing in the slot would be ideal for him at the next level. Miller also has the chance the be a dynamic return man in the NFL. His athleticism and quickness will not only help him as a receiver, but as a return too. He could be drafted on day 2 of the draft.
Riley Ferguson is another quarterback looking to get a chance in this year’s skilled draft class. Ferguson is both athletic and has the ability to throw the ball down field with his arm strength. A commonly mentioned negative about his game is his field vision. Ferguson needs to improve this and mix in different looks if he wants to be successful in the NFL. Ferguson has enough physical tools to play at the next level, but he will need to be developed before becoming a starting QB. Due to the high demand for quarterbacks in 2018, Ferguson could go as early as the 3rd round.
ILB, Genard Avery and FS, Jonathan Cook for the Wildcats also might be selected, but very late.
Iowa State WR, Allen Lazard is the top prospect for the Cyclones. Lazard (6-4, 220) possesses size that could lead to him being lethal in the red zone. His nine touchdowns this year led Iowa State. He is a very good route runner and isn’t limited to succeeding inside the 20-yard line. He has what it takes to be an NFL receiver, but needs to sure up his hands. He tends to drop balls at times. Lazard projects as a second day draftee.
Cyclones LB, Joel Lanning and OT, Jake Campos project as late round picks at best.
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: #11 Washington vs. #9 Penn State– 4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
The best available running back in this draft will be Penn State’s, Saquon Barkley. This guy is special. He has speed, versatility, vision, strength and the skills to be an everyday back right away. His blitz pickup has been excellent in college and if he sees any small amount of daylight, he is off to the races. His breakaway speed is terrific, but he also has the power to run through defenders. Barkley will be selected very early in the 2018 draft.
6-5, 250-pound TE, Mike Gesicki could very well go in the 3rd or 4th round. Gesicki, one of the more projectable tight ends in the draft, attacks the seam. His athleticism will allow him to hurt defenses vertically or in the flat. He has great hands and knows how to go up and get the ball. His biggest strength is that he doesn’t have to be used as a receiver only when his team is in the red zone. He can be a threat anywhere on the field. He needs to improve his run blocking, but could be a #1 tight end soon after being drafted.
S, Marcus Allen is arguably the best available free safety in the draft. He is going to need some time to develop, but his raw ability at the position make him impossible to ignore. He is extremely aggressive and hits very hard. He is very good at the line of scrimmage either blitzing or disrupting the run game. Allen could hear his name called early in the 2nd round.
The Nittany Lions have some late round projected guys who also should be paid attention to during the Fiesta Bowl: WR, DaeSean Hamilton, DT, Curtis Cothran, ILB, Jason Cabinda, and CB, Christian Campbell.
Washington has their share of draft hopefuls as well. It begins on the defensive front with DT, Vita Vea. Vea is a projected first rounder with absolutely remarkable strength for a 6-5, 330-pounder. He will well as a nose tackle who takes up a lot of space at the line. He has an impressive burst off of the line. Vea is not easy to block at the college level and he won’t be easy to contain at the NFL level either.
The Huskies have two linebackers in Keishawn Bierra and Azeem Victor who have the tools to play for an NFL team next season. Bierra, a possible 2nd rounder, has remarkable closing ability. He will work best as an inside linebacker who attacks the line of scrimmage on run plays. His athleticism makes him capable of blitzing or dropping into coverage. Victor, who will most likely go a couple rounds after Bierra, has great vision and instincts. He also has the ability to drop into pass coverage. He does a very good job avoiding blocks with his speed and closes on runners quickly.
Offensively for Washington, Dante Pettis has been their guy. He has the speed to beat defenders and hands to finish plays. He also has great route running skills. Pettis holds the all-time FBS record for punt returns with 9 in his career. His ability to return kicks and punts could boost his stock to the late 1st or early 2nd round.
Capital One Orange Bowl: #6 Wisconsin vs. #10 Miami – 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
One of my favorite players to watch in college football this season was Wisconsin TE, Troy Fumagalli. Fumagalli opted to stay in school for his senior year and it paid off for him. He is going to make an impact for some NFL team immediately. Although his draft grade lies around the 3rd or 4th round, he has great potential. He is equally as good receiving the ball as he is blocking. That’s what separates him as we do not see too many tight ends capable of doing both nowadays. Fumagalli will be great on third down and in the red zone at the next level.
OT, Michael Deiter played both guard and center in his first two seasons with the Badgers, but transitioned to left tackle this past season. He is only a junior so we will have to see if he decides to declare for the draft. Deiter has fantastic run blocking skills and his pass blocking isn’t too shabby either. He has unique athleticism and versatility for an offensive lineman.
LB, Garret Dooley, DT, Conor Sheehy and CB, Derrick Tindal are other Badgers to watch in this one. They all project has possible late rounds picks, but could see themselves go undrafted if they do not impress in the next few months.
Miami DE, Chad Thomas looks to be a mid-round pick, but could go as early as the 3rd round. He is very gifted physically, but has holes in his game. His instincts are not there and, at times, Thomas makes mental mistakes. Due to his strength, power and promising traits, he will still be sought after come April.
Junior RB, Mark Walton announced that he will forego his senior season and enter the draft next year. Walton has incredible footwork and a knack for making defenders miss. He isn’t a power back at 5-9, 200, but he has astonishing agility and excellent vision. I see Walton as a second day selection.
The Canes also have OG, KC McDermott, who could be taken in the middle rounds. McDermott is a great run blocker, but needs to polish his pass blocking. He is very balanced and has the strength to handle stronger defensive linemen.
DTs, R.J. McIntosh and Kendrick Norton (juniors who have yet to make a decision), WR, Braxton Berrios, and CB, Dee Delaney are other Miami players whose names could pop up over the next few months.
The Canes’ TE, Chris Herndon, suffered a season ending knee injury that will significantly decrease his draft stock, but he also could be picked up in the late rounds.