Bowl season is upon us and that means it’s the last chance for most NFL draft prospects to prove their worth to NFL teams and scouts. Some top prospects will not be playing in the coming weeks due to an intense amount of preparation that goes into participating in the NFL combine.
The first set of games presents many schools outside of the Power 5, which causes us to look at many prospects who have the potential, but need a team to take a chance on them. Let’s take a look.
Celebration Bowl: North Carolina AT&T vs. Grambling State – Noon, ABC
North Carolina AT&T Offensive Tackle Brandon Parker is a 6-6, 310-pound beast. He was recently named the MEAC Offensive Lineman of the year for the 3rd consecutive year and is also listed on the watch list for the Walter Payton Award which is given to the nation’s top offensive player. Parker has been the staple of the offensive line for the Aggies and the offense has excelled in all facets of offense since his freshman season. Parker played left tackle throughout college which plays a key role in the NFL as a most quarterbacks’ blind side blocker. There are many offensive linemen from big schools in this year’s draft class, which could cause Parker to fall into the later rounds.
Grambling State has two prospects of their own: LB De-Arius Christmas and QB DeVante Kincade. Christmas is only a junior and it is hard to believe that a player from a low profile school would declare for the draft, but he definitely has what it takes. Standing at 5-10 and weighing at 220, Christmas was named the SWAC Defensive Player of the Year. He is extremely explosive and dominant against the run having 15.5 tackles for loss this season. Christmas led the Tigers with 80 total tackles and added an impressive 4.5 sacks.
Kincade is a smart decision maker and great leader for the Tigers. In a draft where big names like Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Baker Mayfield (just to name a few) are being touted, it made be very difficult for Kincade to be noticed. The senior threw for just under 3,000 yards totaling 22 TDs through the air and only 3 INTs. Similar to his teammate, Christmas, Kincade was named SWAC Offensive Player of the Year.
New Orleans Bowl: Troy vs. North Texas – 1:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
The New Orleans Bowl is going to be a battle of running backs. As previously stated, the slate of games on Saturday has only 1 Power 5 school. It will be tough for these running backs to get a shot, but don’t tell that to the likes of Chiefs rookie sensation Kareem Hunt, or Matt Forte and Alfred Morris. Jeffery Wilson of North Texas has accumulated for 1,261 yards, 6.5 YPC and 16 TDs. He is a big, physical back that the Mean Green have relied on for four years. He has the ability to run over defenders and reminds many of old school, hard-nosed football.
On the other end, Jordan Chunn (6-1, 235) is a workhorse. He won’t amaze you with his 77.4 YPG, but Troy has thrown the ball much more than they have run it this year. Chunn is a force at the goal line, scoring 10 TDs this year as the Trojans have relied on him when knocking on the door. Any NFL team looking for a goal line, 3rd string back should take a look at the Aggies large, physical running back.
Cure Bowl: Georgia State vs. Western Kentucky – 2:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Mike White. Mike White. Mike White. The quarterback for Western Kentucky has impressed several NFL scouts and coaches the past two years. White transferred to WKU after starting 15 games for South Florida from 2013-’14. His first season for the Hilltoppers raised some eyebrows, but NFL scouts said they would need to see a repeat performance from him this year. He did just that. White threw for 3,826 yards with 24 TDs and 7 INTs. His near 66% competition percentage is something all NFL fans love to see. White is a pro-style quarterback that has some serious stock to build up throughout the next couple of months. He could be extremely fun to watch in the NFL.
One of the top secondary players to watch in the first set of bowl games is Georgia State safety, Bryan Williams. Williams is a ball hawk with 4 INTs and 57 tackles on the year. He also led his team in passed deflected with 6. It will be extremely interesting to see how he handles a quarterback that has the capabilities to pick apart Georgia State’s defense. The downside to Williams is his ability to stay on the field. He is currently participating in his 6th year of football at Georgia State because injuries early on derailed the beginning of his career.
Las Vegas Bowl: Oregon vs. Boise State – 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
A Power 5! Oregon will take on Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl; however, the Ducks won’t have their biggest weapon and best draft prospect. Royce Freeman has been one of the top running backs in college football this season and checked out for the bowl game due to his desire to prepare for the combine. Freeman accounted for 1,502 yards and 16 TDs this season. He averaged 6 yards per carry and just over 122 yards per game. The projected second round pick has been compared to Panthers running back, Christian McCaffrey, but I do not see the resemblance as Freeman only caught 14 passes this year. He reminds me a little more of Leonard Fournette with his running style and physique.
Tyrell Crosby is the soul of the offensive line for the Ducks. He is 6-5 and weighs in at around 320 pounds. There is no coincidence that the Ducks love to run behind this guy and Freeman was so dominant. Crosby is recognized as an excellent run blocker with the skills to set the edge for any type of running back. He has shown progress with his pass blocking which makes him projectable at around the mid to late third round.
Boise State’s Cedrick Wilson Jr. has been a pleasure to watch this season. Yes, he is the son of former Steelers wideout, Cedrick Wilson Sr. The wide receiver has 73 catches for 1,290 yards and 6 TDs. Wilson Jr. is 5 inches taller than his father and is an explosive, playmaking wide receiver. He has a strong ability to go up and get the ball in the red zone paired with deep-ball threat potential and great route running.
Jake Roh is another guy to watch in this matchup. Wilson Jr. has taken away some opportunities for Roh, but the 6-3, 227-pound tight end is lethal inside the 20-yard line. His 9 TDs led the Broncos. He will be a later rounder, possibly 6th, but most likely 7th if he gets drafted due to the high supply and demand of tight ends in the 2018 NFL draft.
New Mexico Bowl: Marshall vs. Colorado State – 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Look for Michael Gallup to steal the show in this one. Gallup is dynamic. He was one of the three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award which is given to the nation’s most outstanding receiver. He is gifted with physical tools that allow him to gain an edge on defensive backs and has the versatility to move into the slot position if needed. The first team All-American has a chance to impress scouts in the New Mexico Bowl and is possibly looking at being drafted in the top 2-3 rounds.
Complimenting Gallup, the Rams’ running back Dalyn Dawkings is a prospect as well. Dawkins’ father and uncle both spent time in the NFL. Dawkins spent his first college season at Purdue and has been nothing short of productive since transferring to CSU. He ranks third on Colorado State’s all-time rushing list with 3,135 yards and accounted for 1,386 on the ground in 2017. He added 8 TDs. Four of the last five CSU running backs to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season were at least signed by an NFL team and Dawkins has the chance to get take in the later rounds of the 2018 draft. He has a work ethic that is impossible to ignore according to his coach Miki Bobo.
A 6-6 quarterback will open the eyes of any NFL scout and that is exactly what Marshall QB, Chase Litton has done. Litton was only 205 pounds at the end of last season, but bulked up to 230 for the 2017 campaign. I see Litton as a taller version of 49ers QB, Jimmy Garoppolo. He has a quick delivery and his size, arm strength and accuracy all make him a possible starting quarterback in the NFL. The 2018 NFL Draft will be one of the deeper drafts in recent memory when it comes to QB play so Litton could slip through the cracks, but he shouldn’t. He threw for 2,853 yards and 24 TDs this year. His 12 interceptions are a bit concerning, but he has a chance to prove himself in the New Mexico Bowl.
Camellia Bowl: Middle Tennessee vs. Arkansas State – 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Ja’Von Rolland-Jones is the player to watch in this matchup. The 6-2, 244-pound defensive end has dominated the Sun Belt for four years. He is one sack away from breaking the FBS career sack record which is currently held by Terrell Suggs. In 2017, he has 13 sacks, 18.5 tackles for loss and 3 forced fumbles. The 2017 Sun Belt Player of the Year has never had less than 7.5 sacks in a season since he first attended Arkansas State in 2014. He explodes off of the line and is a serious problem for any offensive lineman who attempts to get in his way.
If you have no reason to watch the Camellia Bowl other than Rolland-Jones, watch it. It is so worth it to watch how dominant he is on the line.