NFL Draft Prospects – 2018 Bowl Game Preview: December 29th

PEACH BOWL: Florida vs. Michigan – 12 p.m. ET, ESPN

Jachai Polite is Florida’s most daunted pass rusher and is also at the top of the defensive line class of the 2019 Draft. Polite had a career year during his junior 2018 season, seeing his sack numbers jump from two to 11. He also recorded 18 tackles for a loss and five forced fumbles. Polite has a great first step off the line, flashing tremendous speed off the edge and will be a hot commodity should he end up declaring for the NFL Draft.

The Florida Gators have a pretty good gem at safety with Chauncey Gardner roaming the secondary. Gardner was a jack of all trades with 66 tackles, nine tackles for a loss, two interceptions and two pass defenses. The safety can do a bit of it all – cover, make tackles in the box and roam high which should make him a day two selection.

Gators’ offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor will be an interesting project as he has the size and tools to play the position. After a great junior year, Taylor is among my top three tackles for next year’s draft.

The Michigan Wolverines have numerous prospects with NFL aspirations, though many of them will be sitting out in order to preserve their draft stock. Defensive end Rashan Gary will not play and he should be a first round pick. Linebacker Devin Bush will also sit out and could be a day two pick. Last but not least, running back Karan Higdon will also sit.

Wolverines’ defensive lineman Chase Winovich will be playing in hopes of bringing more attention to his name. Winovich finished with just four sacks this season, compared to 8.5 last season but was still an impactful player on the great Michigan defense as his pass rush and run defense skills were useful. His efforts earned him an invite to the Senior Bowl where he will continue attempting to improve his draft stock.

BELK BOWL: South Carolina vs. Virginia – 12 p.m. ET, ABC

Electric wide receiver Deebo Samuel will sit this one out, preparing for the NFL Draft instead. The senior receiver has one of the highest ceilings as his route running, hands and natural raw athleticism are among the best in his draft class. His next scheduled appearance is the Senior Bowl.

Bryan Edwards will step up in Samuel’s absence for South Carolina. Edwards, also draft eligible, recorded 809 receiving yards and seven touchdowns this season. While not as athletic as Samuel, Edwards is more physical and does provide a bigger catch radius at 6’3. Should he declare, he would likely be a mid to late day three pick.

South Carolina tackle Dennis Daley will also be another late round target for teams requiring offensive line depth and he will also be at the upcoming Senior Bowl.

Virginia cornerback Bryce Hall is seeing his name creep up draft boards after a strong 2018 campaign. Hall nabbed two interceptions and led the NCAA with 20 pass defenses. He has good length at 6’1, 200 pounds and is most comfortable playing in zone coverage where he can close on the ball quickly.

Alongside Hall, safety Juan Thornhill makes the Virginia secondary a no-fly zone. The senior safety is a true ball hawk with a career high five interceptions this season. With 12 career interceptions, Thornhill has the instincts to always be around the football and he should be rewarded with a late day two to early day three selection.

ARIZONA BOWL: Nevada vs. Arkansas State – 1:15 p.m. ET, CBSSN

Couple of potential late round prospects will be in action during the Arizona Bowl. Arkansas State defensive end Ronheen Bingham recorded nine sacks and 18.5 tackles for a loss last season. Bingham made a second home in the backfield and many NFL teams will look to take a flyer on him in the later rounds of the NFL Draft.

Arkansas State offensive tackle Lanard Bonner could also see himself become a late round pick depending on his performance during the Arizona Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game.

COTTON BOWL (CFP NATIONAL SEMIFINAL): Clemson vs. Notre Dame – 4 p.m. ET, ESPN

Clemson’s defensive line is perhaps the best in the national as they have many prospects who should hear their name called on day one of the NFL Draft. Christian Wilkins showed that he can do it all for the Clemson Tigers by rushing the passer and also clogging up run lanes from the interior of the Tigers’ defensive line. Wilkins, at 6’4, 300 pounds, finished with 12.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks. Almost a sure lock for a day one pick.

On the edge of the line lies pass rusher Clelin Ferrell, who finished with 10.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for a loss this season. Ferrell is quick off the edge and has a variety of tools such as a rip and swim move aided by hiss nifty hand technique. Like Wilkins, Ferrell also seems like he could be a lock to hear his name called on day one.

Dexter Lawrence is another talented defensive lineman who had early day one to day two stock though he will not play in the Cotton Bowl after failing a drug test. Keep an eye on senior defensive lineman Austin Bryant in his absence.

On offense, look for wide receiver Hunter Renfrow who has made a living in the slot with at least 400 yards receiving in each of his four seasons. He is a quick route runner and the receiver will use the Cotton Bowl and Senior Bowl to increase his draft stock. Likely an early day three pick.

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have a couple potential first round picks on their defense as well. Players like Jerry Tillery and Julian Love have only seen their draft stock increase during the 2018 season. Tillery, a defensive tackle, is an animal off the snap, bringing quickness, power and long violent arms to overpower opposing lineman. Tillery finished with seven sacks this season and is looking to be another interior pass rusher who will hear his name called early.

Love, a cornerback, has recorded four interceptions and a staggering 35 pass defenses over the last two seasons.

Te’von Coney has been a tackling machine for Notre Dame, recording over 100 tackles and over nine tackles for a loss in back to back seasons. He is a little stiff as a coverage linebacker but his instincts and intelligence make him a winner in run defense. Look for Coney to go between rounds two to three, though he has the chance to bolster his case at the Senior Bowl as well.

Other Senior Bowl invites who will play for Notre Dame are tight end Alize Mack, running back Dexter Williams and outside linebacker Drue Tranquill.

ORANGE BOWL (CFP NATIONAL SEMIFINAL): Alabama vs. Oklahoma – 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams is the clear-cut best prospect on the field today as the interior lineman is almost a lock to go within the first ten selections. Winner of the Outland Trophy, for best interior defensive lineman in the NCAA, Williams is one of top pass rushers and run defenders in the nation.

Williams’ play opened the remaining gaps for Raekwon Davis and Isaiah Buggs. Davis is another big kid at 6’7, 316 pounds and will be a great addition for teams that cannot land Williams. Look for Davis to go late first round. Buggs earned a Senior Bowl invite after recording 9.5 sacks this season and has the potential to be a great 4-3 exterior pass rusher on the defensive line. Buggs warrants a day two selection.

Deionte Thompson should be the first safety off the board as the Alabama safety put together a terrific season in his first year as a starter. Thompson recorded 70 tackles, two interceptions and three forced fumbles.

Offensive tackle Jonah Williams has also put together a fine resume for Alabama and is one of the top pass blocking tackles as he showed that he is strong enough to handle SEC competition and is incredibly athletic. He paved the way for running back Damien Harris, who ran for over six yards per carry this season. Harris has great contact balance and vision and will also likely be one of the first running backs taken in the upcoming draft.

There is some Steelers’ blood in the Oklahoma Sooners’ offense as Marquise Brown, cousin of Antonio Brown is one of the top receiving prospects for the 2019 NFL Draft. While many are concerned about his size as Brown is just 5’10 and 170 pounds, he has the athleticism and raw talent to overcome it. Brown has true game-changing speed and like his cousin, is a threat to score anytime he touches the football. The Oklahoma receiver should not go any later than the second round.

The Sooners also have a pair of talented linemen in Cody Ford and Ben Powers. Ford has a higher ceiling as he has experience playing both guard and right tackle, though he is better suited on the interior. Ford is top of his class as far as interior lineman prospects go while Powers is also talented but he will likely have to wait for rounds 3-4 to hear his name called. Both will also be at this year’s Senior Bowl.


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