The year is 2019. The Pittsburgh Steelers have not made the NFL playoffs and will not play meaningful football for another nine months. All hope seems lost except for the fact that the NFL Draft is creeping closer day by day. Besides the NCAA National Championship game, today will be the last of the bowl games but thankfully, every single match up is a must watch affair.
OUTBACK BOWL: Mississippi State vs. Iowa – 12 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Mississippi State has a trio of defensive prospects that hear their name called early. Defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons is their consensus top prospect, garnering top-25 attention. The mammoth defensive tackle recorded 14.5 tackles for a loss in his final season at Mississippi State and moves extremely well for a man his size.
Outside linebacker Montez Sweat really caught my eye. The senior pass rusher has good size at 6’6 and 240 pounds and also brings the production, with 11 sacks this season. Sweat has demonstrates a variety of techniques to get to the quarterback and has a quick first step off the line. Depending on how he tests at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine, Sweat could be selected in the back end of the first round.
The second level of Mississippi State’s defense is monitored by safety Johnathan Abram, who a matchup nightmare. Abram has enough in his frame to support against the run and is adequate in coverage as well. He finished his senior year with 93 tackles, two interceptions and two sacks. He could creep into the first round but Abram will likely go during day two.
Iowa tight end Noah Fant is the cream of the crop when it comes to tight end prospects but he will sit out the Outback Bowl as he prepares for the NFL Draft. Fant, who is arguably the best receiving tight end of the 2019 class should be a late round one to early round two selection.
CITRUS BOWL: Kentucky vs. Penn State – 1 p.m. ET, ABC
You will not find a more complete pass rusher than Kentucky’s Josh Allen in the 2019 class. Allen had his most disruptive year yet as a senior, recording 14 sacks and five forced fumbles. There is a lot to like with Allen, his first step off the line is explosive and he has a great bend/dip move. He also holds his own against the run and is comfortable dropping into coverage. It is almost a guarantee that Allen will go within the top 15.
Kentucky running back Benny Snell just recently declared for the NFL Draft after rushing for 1305 yards and averaging over five yards per carry. At 5’11 and 220 pounds, Snell has the size and athleticism to batter defenses. He projects to be selected during the middle rounds of the 2019 Draft.
Kentucky safeties Darius West and Mike Edwards will also garner some attention after receiving invites to the upcoming Senior Bowl. Both are expected to be selected early day three.
Teams are always looking for a tall corner who can cover well. Penn State has one of those in cornerback Amani Oruwariye. The senior cornerback stands at 6’1 and had three interceptions this season to put him at eight career interceptions. He is also not afraid to fill in against the run. Early day two grade for Oruwariye.
FIESTA BOWL: LSU vs. UCF – 1 p.m. ET, ESPN
LSU Cornerback Greedy Williams will not play in today’s game as he sits out to prepare for the 2019 NFL Draft. Williams is one of the top cornerbacks of his draft class and will likely be a first round pick.
While he is also a top prospect, linebacker Devin White will not be sitting out the Fiesta Bowl. The LSU linebacker is likely to be the first inside linebacker selected and is almost a complete package at the position. White can be a run stopper, racking up 115 tackles and 12 for a loss. He is effective in coverage and also shows good closing speed to get to the quarterback, finishing with 8.5 career sacks.
Senior tight end Fabian Moreau has been a good blocker for LSU but comes with limited pass catching experience. He could develop into a fringe starter or back up tight end at the next level.
UCF does not have many draftable names but they do have linebacker Pat Jasinski. The inside linebacker has been the heart and soul of the UCF defense but he does come with a few limitations. His athleticism and ceiling are very low as he lacks the speed to match his instincts. Jasinski will be a late day three pick who will contribute on special teams.
ROSE BOWL: Washington vs. Ohio State – 5 p.m. ET, ESPN
Make no doubt about it, if Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins declares for the NFL Draft, he will be selected within the top-15, even arguably the top-10. He has a rocket arm and has a great ability to feel pressure. Haskins threw for 4580 yards with 47 touchdowns and just eight interceptions in his only season as a starter.
Haskins’ favorite target Parris Campbell had a great senior year with 79 receptions for 992 yards and 11 touchdowns. Campbell has elite speed but lacks in other avenues. Teams will have to game plan ways to get the ball in his hands if his route running does not progress. Campbell has the potential to go late day two to early day three.
Dre’Mont Jones is another impressive defensive tackle in a stacked defensive tackle class. Jones had 13 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks last season. I think Jones could be a great interior pass rusher in a 4-3 defense at the next level and should hear his name called early on day two.
Ohio State offensive lineman Michael Jordan is another intriguing prospect with the ability to play both guard and center. Early day three for Jordan.
Washington cornerback Bryon Murphy recorded four interceptions as a sophomore this season and is another cornerback with a lot of potential. He is the complete deal as Murphy can play man or zone and even has experience playing in the slot if required. The RS sophomore corner has the potential to be a first round pick in the upcoming draft.
Murphy’s partner in crime, safety Taylor Rapp is also expected to be a hot name in the upcoming draft. Rapp showed a steady presence both in the backfield and in coverage, finishing with four sacks and two interceptions. He currently has a day two grade from myself.
Senior running back Myles Gaskin is also expected to get some notable traction from NFL teams. Gaskin has rushed for at least 1100 yards in all four of his seasons at Washington with a total of 5202 career rushing yards. He has a low center of gravity at 5’10 and 190 pounds which makes him difficult to wrap up difficult to square up on. He will also be at this year’s Senior Bowl and is one of my favorite sleeper running backs who could work their way into a starting role one day.
SUGAR BOWL: Texas vs. Georgia – 8:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
Georgia cornerback DeAndre Baker will not play in the Sugar Bowl as he prepares for the NFL Draft. Look for Baker to be one of the first cornerbacks taken as his play and ceiling are sky high.
Teams look for pass rushing help should pay attention to Georgia EDGE D’Andre Walker. The senior pass rusher had 45 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in his final season at Georgia. He is also superb against the run but he is still very raw when it comes to his pass rushing arsenal. Expect Walker to be selected during the second-third rounds unless he can increase his stock in the Sugar Bowl and Senior Bowl.
Riley Ridley is Georgia’s most prolific wide receiver with 38 receptions for 498 yards and nine touchdowns last season. At 6’2, Ridley has excellent body control to put himself in position to make some impressive grabs but ultimately, he is still quite raw. His 2018 season was a step in the right direction and the arrow is pointed up for the brother of NFL wide receiver Calvin Ridley. Early day two value for Ridley.
The Texas longhorns have a pair of wide receivers who have yet to make a decision on their NFL Draft status in Collin Johnson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey. Johnson is the physical specimen of the two, coming in at a lengthy 6’6 and 220 pounds. He recorded 65 receptions for 945 yards and seven touchdowns last season. With a frame that big, Johnson’s athleticism is very limited but he is a jump-ball and red zone weapon. Should he declare, he would likely be selected anytime from rounds 3-5.
Humphrey is another big target at 6’4 and 225 pounds and just finished his best season to date with 79 catches for over 1100 yards and nine touchdowns. He surprisingly spent some time in the slot for Texas which makes him a curious case when it comes to his NFL projection. Look for Humphrey to go sometime around the same period as Johnson.
Senior cornerback Kris Boyd will have the Sugar Bowl and Senior Bowl to increase his draft stock. He has three career interceptions and has been one of the more consistent players on the Texas defense. He has adequate size and cover skills for the position. If there is one area to improve it would be in the tackling department. Boyd will likely be a mid-draft corner project.