Happy New Years! For many, the new years’ celebrations ended earlier this morning but not for the NCAA. The NCAA is continuing the party all day long with four very exciting bowl games. Alabama will be in action. Michigan will be in action. Auburn will be in action. Georgia will be action. And that is only half the teams that will participate today. With all these top programs scheduled to play today, that only means one thing – there will be a heavy dosage of NFL ready prospects taking the field for what could be their last game of their collegiate career.
Citrus Bowl: No. 13 Alabama vs. No. 14 Michigan – 1 p.m. EST, ABC
It feels strange that Alabama is not participating in the college football playoffs but after finishing outside the top four, the crimson tide will have to settle for the Citrus Bowl. Depending on how you look at it, that is great as we are in store for what should be a great matchup between Alabama and Michigan.
Two members of Alabama’s defense have already made the decision to sit this one out as edge rusher Terrell Lewis and cornerback Trevon Diggs will not risk playing after declaring for the draft. Lewis registered six sacks this season but comes with his fair share of injury concerns after missing all of last season and parts of 2017. Still, he should be in play during the first two rounds of the 2020 NFL draft. Diggs figures to be selected in the same range after recording three interceptions this season.
Alabama defensive tackle Raekwon Davis is another highly talented member of the defense and will join Lewis at next year’s Senior Bowl. Davis did not statistically have the season that many hoped from him, putting up just 0.5 sack but his athleticism and physical tools are undeniable. For those reasons alone, he should go no later than round two.
Also heading to the Senior Bowl is inside linebacker Anfernee Jennings. He is just the latest of many Alabama linebacker prospects to enter the NFL ranks over the years. Jennings is coming off of a senior campaign in which he registered 73 tackles and 7.5 sacks.
While defense has been ingrained in Alabama’s culture, they also bring a highly powered offense to the table this season. Their receiving core is powered by the three headed monster that is Devonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III.
Jeudy is the consensus top receiver out of the trio and he is coming off another strong season in which he registered 959 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Jeudy was also a Consensus All-America recipient in 2018 and should be one of the top two receivers off the board.
After Jeudy is off the board, Ruggs and Smith should get plucked not too long after. Smith had a breakout year in 2019, recording 65 receptions for 1200 yards and 13 touchdowns. He is a talented route runner and is capable of providing a big play at any moment. Ruggs is the speedster of the unit and can take the top off any defense.
Just when a team thinks they have accounted for all of Alabama’s weapons, that is when they hand it off to running back Najee Harris. The junior running back had his first 1000-yard season this year while also accumulating double digit touchdowns. Harris is a big physical runner at 6’2, 230 pounds and should be able to hold his own against NFL defenses.
Michigan will try to carve up Alabama’s defense with the quarterback and wide receiver tandem of Shea Patterson and Donovan Peoples-Jones. Patterson put up very similar numbers this season though his completion percentage dropped from 64.6-percent to 57.3-percent. The Michigan quarterback will likely be a mid to late round selection but he will have a chance at the Senior Bowl to improve his stock.
Peoples-Jones also saw his numbers decrease this season, though he did play three fewer games. Matt Miller had him slotted to the Buffalo Bills in the first round in his latest mock draft.
Edge rusher Josh Uche has already declared for the NFL Draft but he has chosen to play in the Citrus Bowl anyways. Uche is a highly athletic and flexible pass rusher that has a chance to really rise up draft boards in the coming months. He has recorded over seven sacks in back to back years and will also be in attendance at next year’s Senior Bowl.
Last but not least Michigan safety Josh Metellus is another senior heading to the Senior Bowl. He is a very physical safety with great size to survive at the NFL level. He heads into the NFL with five career interceptions over his collegiate career.
Outback Bowl: No. 12 Auburn vs. No. 18 Minnesota – 1 p.m. EST, ESPN
Auburn is going to enter the Outback Bowl with a lot of defensive talent to back itself up. Defensive tackle Derrick Brown is the most noteworthy of the bunch. Brown has not only been one of the more dominant defensive tackles in the game but he has also been one of the more consistent interior players in the NCAA. For the third straight year, the Auburn defensive tackle has registered at least nine tackles for a loss and three sacks. There is no doubt in my mind that Brown is selected in the first round.
Behind Brown stands middle linebacker K.J. Britt and he is coming off his best season yet. Britt put up 60 tackles this season, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. His production and play were not only noticed by his own coaches but by others as well, Britt was named second team All-SEC by the SEC coaches for his play this year. While he is still a junior, Britt could be in play towards the middle portions of this year’s draft should he declare.
On the edge, Auburn can count on Marlon Davidson to deliver pressure. He recorded 6.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss this year. Davidson is still raw in some areas but he will have a chance at the Outback Bowl and Senior Bowl to give the NFL a close up of the potential he possesses.
Minnesota is a red-hot team, led by quarterback Tanner Morgan and receiver Tyler Johnson. In his first full 12-game season, Morgan completed 66-percent of his passes for 2975 yards along with 28 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Most of Morgan’s targets went to Johnson, who has put up monster numbers for the second season in a row. The senior receiver once again finished with more than 70 receptions, 1100 yards and double-digit touchdowns. Johnson is not a burner but he is a contested catch winner and shows good concentration on 50/50 balls.
For teams looking for a running back in the middle to later rounds of the NFL draft, Minnesota running back Rodney Smith could be an option. Smith has been at Minnesota for six years after an injury costed him majority of his 2018 season. In his final year, the running back put up 1094 yards and averaged five yards per carry.
Minnesota edge rusher Carter Coughlin saw his numbers drop this season, his sacks fell from 9.5 last season to just 4.5 this season but he has proved that he can get after the quarterback. How he performs at next month’s Senior Bowl will go a long way for how he is projected.
Rose Bowl Game: No. 6 Oregon vs. No. 8 Wisconsin – 5 p.m. EST, ESPN
Get ready to watch Jonathan Taylor run wild in the Rose Bowl. Seriously, there is not a better back in college football right now than the Wisconsin running back. In just three seasons, Taylor has registered 6080 rushing yards and 50 touchdowns. He may only have three years under his belt but Taylor has fast tracked himself to the top. His 6080 rushing yards ranks second all time in Big Ten history and sixth all time in NCAA history. He’s ready, not only for the Rose Bowl but for the NFL. Expect him to be the first running back taken next spring.
Two pass rushers that have caught my eye for Wisconsin are Zack Baun and Chris Orr. Wisconsin has sent the NFL more than a few pass rushers over the years, including the Steelers’ very own T.J. Watt. And while Baun is no Watt, he does have a lot of upside as a pass rusher. Baun is very clean off the edge and can get around the corner very efficiently. He put up 12.5 sacks this season and was also invited to the Senior Bowl. I believe that his draft stock can only rise from here.
Orr finished right behind Baun this year with 11.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss. He will also be in consideration during the middle portions of next year’s draft.
It seems that Wisconsin sends a few offensive line prospects to the NFL every year and this year is no different as center Tyler Biadasz will be one of the first centers selected.
Arguably the top prospect in the Pac-12, Oregon’s offense begins and ends with quarterback Justin Herbert. The senior quarterback should be selected very quickly during next year’s draft. Herbert improved his completion percentage, passing yardage and passing touchdowns while decreasing the number of interceptions this season.
Two seniors from Oregon’s squad that will also be important pieces of next year’s draft are guard Shane Lemieux and linebacker Troy Dye. Lemieux is a big and strong interior lineman and has the potential to be an immediate contributor. Dye has a lot of upside to his game as he is a quick and athletic inside linebacker. He has recorded 382 career tackles along with five interceptions. Most importantly, he shows a good deal of ability to play in space. Both will be in action at the Senior Bowl.
Sugar Bowl — Jan. 1: No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 7 Baylor – 8:45 p.m. EST, ESPN
You can bet that everyone will be watching Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm as a decision looms on his 2020 status. Fromm’s junior campaign was a bit of a toss up as he set career lows in completion percentage, yards per pass attempts and passing touchdowns. He has had his struggles this year and that has affected his potential draft stock. Should Fromm declare, he will likely still go within the first two rounds but there is a wide gap between Fromm and the likes of Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa.
Georgia running back D’Andre Swift is going to challenge Jonathan Taylor for the rights to most complete back in this draft class. Swift can do it all as he has rushed for 2883 yards over three seasons while also grabbing 73 receptions. He has great vision and quickness and could be a potential first round pick.
While he will not play, safety J.R. Reed is another player to keep in mind. Reed has tallied 199 tackles, 5 interceptions and two forced fumbles in three seasons with Georgia and will now head to the NFL. The senior safety was named first team All-SEC by the SEC coaches this year and has been an irreplaceable piece of the Georgia secondary.
Baylor receiver Denzel Mims is almost guaranteed to produce a big play or two, something that he has done all year. Mims averaged 15.5 yards per catch this season and totalled 945 yards and 11 touchdowns. The most eye-catching trait of Mims is his versatility. He can burn corners deep but he also shows very reliable hands on routes across the middle. Mims will join many seniors at the Senior Bowl and will likely be selected early on day two.
Joining Mims at the Senior Bowl will be running back JaMycal Hasty. He may not ever be a lead runner at the next level but he should be able to carve out a role as a third down back. Hasty has been a reliable receiving option out of the backfield for Baylor, catching 76 passes for 474 yards.
Like many juniors, Baylor defensive end James Lynch has not made a final call on if he will enter the NFL or return for his senior season. Regardless, there is a lot to get excited about should he decide to forgo his last year. Lynch was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year after a dominant year. The Baylor defensive end was a terror, recording 18.5 tackles for a loss and 12.5 sacks, most in the Big 12.