NFL Draft Prospects – 2018 Bowl Game Preview: December 31st

Need to keep busy before you hit out for New Years Eve? Turn on the TV and digest all the bowl games that the NCAA has provided before your new years’ festivities. While there is not a lot of star power in today’s match ups, there are many middle to late round prospects who should be highlighted.

MILITARY BOWL: Virginia Tech vs. Cincinnati – 12 p.m. ET, ESPN

Cincinnati has a couple of late round defensive line prospects who are worth bookmarking. Cortez Broughton had 7.5 sacks during a breakout senior year. The defensive tackle’s pass rush abilities have garnered praise but he is far from a finished project and will need some polishing up at the next level. Broughton has late day three potential.

Marquise Copeland is plays alongside Broughton and while his ceiling is way lower, he does bring the potential to fill out a defensive line as a rotational piece, likely in a 4-3 defense as an interior defensive tackle.

Ricky Walker had a senior breakout year for Virginia Tech last season, finishing with 10.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks. His size (300 pounds) and pass rushing potential leaves his versatility in either a 4-3 or 3-4 open to interpretation which could make Walker a mid-round selection on day three.

SUN BOWL: Pitt vs. Stanford – 2 p.m. ET, CBS

Stanford running back Bryce Love will sit this one out as he prepares for the upcoming NFL Draft. After rushing for over 2000 yards in 2017, love was limited to just 739 rushing yards this season but he still figures to be among the top running backs in his class.

Wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside has improved his production year by year at Stanford, capping off his collegiate career with 60 receptions for 969 yards and 14 touchdowns. Arcega-Whiteside will be a quarterback’s red zone security blanket with his 6’3 height. Look for Arcega-Whiteside to go before the end of day two.

Stanford tight end Kaden Smith is one of the top tight end prospects for the 2019 draft class. Smith is the receiving tight ends that teams will gush over as he has recorded 70 receptions for 1049 yards in his two years at Stanford. He is an exceptional receiver and athlete and he could go as high as the second round.

Pitt running back Qadree Ollison is a bowling ball type runner, knocking down defenders like bowling pins on his way to big yardage gains. Ollison is a bruiser at 6’2 and 225 pounds and is able to punish his way through defenses. He gained a career high 1190 rushing yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry. While not athletically gifted, Ollison is gifted with adequate vision which aids his big frame. I got an early round 4-5 grade on the Pitt running back.

Ollison’s backup Darrin Hall also cracked 1000 yards this season. Also 225 pounds, Hall will be a late round pick and will have to work his way up the ladder on an NFL roster.

REDBOX BOWL: Oregon vs. Michigan State – 3 p.m. ET, Fox

Michigan State running back LJ Scott had a disappointing senior year for the Spartans as he was limited to just four games after dealing with injury issues all year. Scott averaged just 3.3 yard per carry during these four contests but he was still rewarded with an invite to the Senior Bowl. Scott is another big body running back at 225 pounds and will have today’s Redbox Bowl and the upcoming Senior Bowl to pick up his sunken draft stock.

Kenny Willekes has been the Spartans’ most promising prospect. The defensive lineman has tallied 33.5 tackles for a loss and 13.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Willekes has a high motor and most importantly, took another step in his progression as a pass rusher this season. The junior defensive end could go as high as the second round in the upcoming NFL draft.

Spartans’ safety Khari Willis also earned an invite to this year’s Senior Bowl and will be a late round target.

With Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert announcing that he will return for his senior year, our attention shifts to the defensive side of the ball on DE/OLB Jalen Jelks. The senior outside linebacker finished with just 3.5 sacks this season after recording a career high 7.5 last season but still warrants some recognition. Jelks’s athleticism and quickness make him a problem for opposing offenses as he hard to contain in both passing and rushing situations. He has a high motor but is still quite raw as a pass rusher. Look for Jelks to be selected sometime around rounds 2-4.

LIBERTY BOWL: Missouri vs. Oklahoma State – 3:45 p.m. ET, ESPN

Missouri quarterback Drew Lock has now become one of the top quarterbacks, if not the top quarterback of the 2019 class. Lock completed a career high 63.2% of his passes this season while throwing 25 touchdowns to eight interceptions. His junior year was even better with 44 touchdowns and almost 4000 passing yards. His arm is perhaps the most legit of his draft class, though it is a considerably weak quarterback class.

Missouri wide receiver Emanuel Hall closed out his career with 35 receptions for 756 yards and six touchdowns during his senior year. Hall is a deep ball threat and has the speed to chase down any ball. The Missouri wide receiver will likely be a late round pick.

HOLIDAY BOWL: Northwestern vs. Utah – 7 p.m. ET, FS1

In a quarterback class that weakens day by day, Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson is witnessing his stock continue to rise. Thorson’s accuracy has always been his best asset as he has completed 60% of his passes in back to back seasons. His decision making and ability to read defenses are his biggest weaknesses as he has thrown 26 interceptions over the last two seasons. Look for Thorson to be a mid-round project pick and backup quarterback at the next level.

Utah has a star linebacker in Chase Hansen who has been a tackling machine over his collegiate career. Hansen recorded 114 tackles, five sacks, two interceptions and four pass defenses. While he comes from a smaller school, Hansen should go middle to late rounds on day three.

GATOR BOWL: North Carolina State vs. Texas A&M – 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

North Carolina State wide receiver Kelvin Harmon will sit this one out to prepare for the NFL draft. He’s a tall target at 6’3 and has great hands. Harmon should hear his name called sometime during the second or third rounds.

Garrett Bradbury is a highly athletic center who has quick feet for a man his size. The North Carolina State offensive lineman who has won All-ACC honors in the past. Expect Bradbury to be one of the first centers off the board.

Another quarterback making waves in a weak quarterback class is NC State quarterback Ryan Finley. The senior checks all the boxes when it comes to accuracy and ball placement, scoring a career 64.3% completion percentage. Finley just had his best season to date with over 3700 yards and 24 touchdowns to just nine interceptions. One area of concern is his lack of arm strength which could leave the quarterback a mid round selection.

Texas A&M has one of the best guard prospects of the draft class in Erik McCoy. McCoy is a mauler in the run game and has experience at both guard and center. He is projected to go sometime during day two.

One of the benefits of having blockers like McCoy on the team is it allows running backs like Trayveon Williams to reach their full potential. Williams ended up the SEC’s leading rusher with 1524 rushing yards this season.

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