NFL Draft Prospects – 2019 Bowl Game Preview: December 31st

There are only a dozen or so hours left until the clock strikes midnight and the calendar changes to 2020. What better way to prepare for the new year than to watch some good ole college football before heading out. There are five games scheduled today and the main event will see Utah take on Texas in what should be a great matchup.

Belk Bowl: Kentucky vs. Virginia Tech – 12 p.m. EST, ESPN

Kentucky will send one member of their roster to the 2020 Senior Bowl. Guard Logan Sternberg will make the trip to Mobile. Sternberg, a massive mauler at 6’6 and 322 pounds should be in play on day two.

Receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. is another draft prospect from Kentucky that is making some noise. Bowden reminds me a lot of Antwaan Randle El as he has experience playing both receiver and quarterback. After recording 67 receptions for 745 yards last season, Bowden stepped in at quarterback this season and led his team in rushing with 1235 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also threw for two touchdown passes and two interceptions. Bowden is going to be an offensive coordinator’s favorite gadget at the next level.

On defense, look out for Kentucky defensive lineman Calvin Taylor. The senior defensive lineman recorded 7.5 sacks and three forced fumbles this season. Could be an intriguing piece for teams to develop as an interior pass rusher.

Virginia Tech will try to counter Bowden and Kentucky’s offense with their defense and that includes linebacker Rayshard Ashby and safety Reggie Floyd.

In two seasons, Ashby has recorded 210 tackles, 24 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks. In each of the last two seasons, he has finished in the top five in the ACC in tackles. He is a tad undersized at 5’10 but he is a very physical, downhill linebacker.

Floyd did not record an interception this season but he has had a nose for the football in years’ past. The Virginia Tech safety has five career interceptions and 214 tackles.

Sun Bowl: Arizona State vs. Florida State – 2 p.m. EST, CBS

Though he just recently declared that he will be returning for his senior season, Florida State defensive tackle Marvin Wilson is still a player to watch, even if it is just to familiarize with for next year’s draft. He is a one-man wrecking crew on the FSU defensive line and should be a top prospect in the 2021 draft if he continues to play at the same level.

Two big named FSU players that will not participate are running back Cam Akers and defensive back Stanford Samuels III as both have already declared for the 2020 NFL Draft. Samuels was a three-year center piece of the Seminoles’ secondary, recording eight interceptions. Akers is a very explosive and dynamic running back that has my eye. Not only can he pound the rock as Akers has rushed for 2875 yards over his career but he can also be an effective receiving option with 69 career receptions. Perhaps he can be in play for the Steelers should they receive a third-round compensatory pick.

It is unclear if defensive back Hamsah Nasirildeen will suit up after suffering an injury near the end of November. Nasirildeen is a big hitter and big-time player in the FSU secondary as he recorded 101 tackles and two interceptions this season. He also has a major decision approaching on whether to return to school for his senior year or move forward to the NFL Draft. He could be the missing piece that many secondaries are looking for should he declare as he is physically capable to play downhill and in space.

At 5’9, Levonta Taylor is an undersized cornerback that could be a gifted nickel cornerback at the next level. He has recorded at least one interception in each of his last three seasons.

Arizona State will also be without two of their heavy hitters on offense as running back Eno Benjamin and receiver Brandon Aiyuk have already declared their intentions to enter the 2020 NFL Draft. Benjamin has rushed for over 2800 yards over his collegiate career while Aiyuk is coming off of an 1100-yard season. Both will also make the trip to Mobile for the Senior Bowl.

Liberty Bowl: Kansas State vs. Navy – 3:45 p.m. EST, ESPN

Running back James Gilbert made an impact in his first and only season at Kansas State, rushing for 698 yards and six touchdowns. One area that is concerning is his ball security as he has put the football on turf more than anyone would like to see this season.

Dalton Schoen was Kansas State’s top receiving option this season, recording 35 receptions for 567 yards and four touchdowns. Schoen was a walk on many years ago but has developed into a consistent big play provider for Kent State. He should battle for a roster spot on an NFL team next summer.

Arizona Bowl: Georgia State vs. Wyoming – 4:30 p.m. EST, CBSSN

There will not be many prospects to keep tabs on in the Arizona Bowl but there are a few late round options that will participate.

Georgia State running back Tra Barnett is one of those guys who could be picked late. He rushed for 1389 yards this season while scoring 12 rushing touchdowns. Only one running back in the Sun Belt Conference rushed for more yards than Barnett this season but the Georgia State running back will run into his biggest test in the Wyoming defense.

Interestingly enough, Wyoming has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in a calendar year according to KULR 8. If Barnett can run through that streak, he will certainly put many on notice and increase his draft stock.

One player on Wyoming who will specifically be tasked with stopping Barnett is linebacker Logan Wilson. The senior linebacker is a decorated member of the Cowboys’ defense and has been getting it done since his freshman season. His 402 career tackles rank third all time in the Mountain West Conference and he has recorded at least 90 tackles in each of his last four seasons. Not only that but Wilson has also been very aware in coverage, with 10 career interceptions under his belt.

Safety Alijah Halliburton has been quite the catch for the Wyoming defense. A tough safety who is not afraid of physicality, Halliburton led his team with 119 tackles and 10 tackles for a loss this season. He also recorded his first career interception this season.

Alamo Bowl: No. 11 Utah vs. Texas – 7:30 p.m. EST, ESPN

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger had another strong season this year though he has not made a final decision on his NFL future. If he does declare, he will have an impressive resume to boost. In three seasons, Ehlinger has thrown for 8669 yards, 65 touchdowns and just 21 interceptions.

One of Ehlinger’s most frequently targeted receivers is Collin Johnson and just one look at him will tell you why the Texas quarterback enjoys throwing him the football. Johnson stands at 6’6 and 220 pounds, there are not many balls that he cannot get to. The Texas receiver has been on my watch list since last season due to his massive frame and contested catch ability. He took a step back this season due to injuries but he still should be a mid round prospect.

Johnson’s issue with injuries led to the emergence of Devin Duvernay. The 5’11 receiver grabbed 103 receptions this season for 1294 yards and scored eight touchdowns. His performance earned him First Team Big 12 honours. Duvernay led the Big 12 in receptions was second in receiving yards and third in receiving touchdowns. His status for the Alamo Bowl is up in the air but both him and Johnson will be at next year’s Senior Bowl.

Utah defensive tackle Leki Fotu is an impenetrable object in the middle of the Utah defensive line. At 6’5 and 335 pounds, he is a nightmare to run against. Matt Miller has Fotu as his #7 defensive lineman in his big board from early November. With a Senior Bowl trip also looming, it seems that Fotu’s draft stock could only improve from here on out.

Fotu is not the only Utah player going to the Senior Bowl though as he will be joined by teammates such as running back Zack Moss and edge rusher Bradlee Anae. Moss has rushed for over 1000 yards and double-digit touchdowns in each of his last three seasons. He was also named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year for his 1300-yard campaign last season. Moss also has a lot of experience catching the football and could be a major addition to an NFL backfield.

Anae has been even more impressive as he set a career high in sacks this season with 12.5. His career number of 29 sacks ranks fifth all time in the Pac-12 as opposing offensive lines have struggled to contain him. Mel Kiper had Anae ranked as his eighth best edge prospect and he is definitely one of the names I will be keeping an eye on at the Senior Bowl.

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