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Bowl Game Previews 1/1-1/2

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The college football bowl season is a crucial time for players who plan to enter the NFL draft. For a large majority of the prospects, they will compete against some of the best competition they’ve faced all year, while being under immense pressure to finish the year strong. For a lot of them this will be the last football they play before becoming a professional, so they want to leave on a good note.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at which players you should look for while watching this week’s slate of bowl games.

Michigan State vs. Baylor | Thursday 12:30 P.M. ET

Shilique Calhoun | Michigan State

One of the most talked about players before this season started was defensive end Shilique Calhoun; however, he hasn’t responded well as he has been slightly disappointing. Despite that fact, he has a great frame (6-foot-5 and 256 pounds) to go with above-average athleticism and a solid understanding of the technical nuances of the position. He is a good run-defender who sets the edge well and has the length create separation so that he can shed blockers easily. Calhoun is a junior who would likely benefit from going back his senior year, but with a stellar game against Baylor, he may see it fit to declare.

Preliminary Projection: Round 2-3

Bryce Petty | Baylor

One of the top senior quarterback’s this year is Baylor’s Bryce Petty. When Petty has a clean pocket and can step into his throws, he has one of the prettiest deep balls in the country. The problem is that when things break down, he tends to struggle. His mechanics go by the wayside and he misses a lot of throws and makes bad decisions. Petty has very good athleticism for a quarterback, which causes defense to have to account for his ability to run on a regular basis. Petty will likely need to sit his first few years in the NFL, but he needs to get on a team with a good offensive line because if not, he doesn’t posses the necessary qualities to make things happen with bodies around him.

Preliminary Projection: Round 3-5

Antwan Goodley | Baylor

With a short and stocky build (5-foot-10 and 225 pounds), Baylor’s Antwan Goodley is built more like a running back than his actual position of wide receiver. Goodley is dynamic after the catch as he combines great speed with ridiculous power. As a receiver, he has a great burst off the line of scrimmage to go along with a great ability to track the ball and make contested catches. As is the case with most Baylor wide receivers, Goodley is raw from a route-running perspective because he is not asked to run many different route combinations. Goodley’s height may be a hindrance to some teams and others may view him as a pure running back. Whatever the case, Goodley is a dynamic playmaker who will make a positive impact for any team that he gets drafted by.

Preliminary Projection: Round 3-4

Trae Waynes | Michigan State

Michigan State’s Trae Waynes has the opportunity to be the first cornerback taken when the NFL draft rolls around in May. Waynes combines incredible size and length (6-foot-1 and 182 pounds) for the position with impressive athletic ability and change of direction skills for his size. He does a great job of using his length to get his hands on opposing receivers and interrupt their timing with the quarterback. He is at his best in man coverage where he can use his size and physicality to take opposing receivers out of the game. His biggest weakness is that he is not that great in run support. However, Waynes still has incredible talent and should be one of the first cornerbacks of the board.

Preliminary Projection: Round 1

Other Players to Watch

Jermey Langford- Michigan State- RB- Preliminary Projection: Round 3-5

Tony Lippett- Michigan State- WR-  Preliminary Projection: Round 3-5

Kurtis Drummond- Michigan State-  Safety – Preliminary Projection: Round 2-4

Missouri vs. Minnesota | Thursday 1:00 P.M. ET

Shane Ray | Missouri

Missouri’s Shane Ray is one of the most dynamic and prolific pass-rushers in college football. He doesn’t have great size (6-foot-3 and 245 pounds) but he combines incredible quickness with great upfield burst and ability to run the arc, which allows him to generate a ton of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Oftentimes, Ray beats opposing offensive tackles with his initial burst alone. He puts an extreme amount of stress of opposing tackle’s pass set, which causes offensive tackles to over set against him a lot. This allows Ray to execute his excellent inside rip move to take advantage of that fact. Ray needs to develop a wider pass-rush repertoire and learn better roll his hips through contact, but he has uncoachable traits that make him a valuable commodity.

Preliminary Projection: Round 1-Early 2

Markus Golden | Missouri

Missouri’s Markus Golden has much better size than his defensive end counterpart, but he lacks the elite quickness and explosion that make Ray such a valuable player. Despite that fact, Golden is much more developed as a run defender as he knows how to use his hands and leverage much better. Golden plays with a relentless effort to go with good instincts. Like most Missouri defensive lineman, Golden has a great rip move that he uses to win inside and outside. While Ray may receive all the accolades, Golden isn’t a bad player in his own right.

Preliminary Projection: Round 3-4

Maxx Williams | Minnesota

Minnesota’s Maxx Williams is one of the few redshirt sophomores to decide to declare for the NFL draft. Even though he is still early in his development, Williams made a smart decision. The tight end class is extremely weak and Williams is one of the few players with great ability. He has a wide catch radius to go along with being a natural hands catcher. He has above-average athleticism that allows him to stretch the field and make plays down the seam. He has a long ways to go as a blocker, but that is to be expected with the ways that tight ends are utilized in college football. Williams should be one of the first tight ends selected when the NFL draft rolls around

Preliminary Projection: Round 2-3

David Cobb | Minnesota

The best senior running back is Minnesota’s David Cobb, who combines power with great vision. Cobb is not afraid to run in between the tackles and he gets the most yards out of every run. He may be the best in this draft class at getting the tough yards in between the tackles. Cobb uses great leg drive when running through traffic, which allows him to break a lot of tackles that ware square to his body along with always falling forward when he does get tackled. Cobb is not a home-run type of back as he lacks top end speed and overall athleticism, but he will make the type of runs that are extremely valuable in the NFL.

Preliminary Projection: Round 3-4

Oregon vs. Florida State | Thursday 5:00 P.M. ET

Marcus Mariota | Oregon

Oregon’s Marcus Mariota could possibly be the premier prospect in the 2015 NFL draft. He has incredible athleticism for the position to go with timing, poise and accuracy from the pocket. He’s not the biggest quarterback (6-foot-4 and 219 pounds), but he has enough size to make it in the NFL. He showcases above-average arm strength and touch to hit on some beautiful deep throws. The biggest knock on Mariota is the offense he plays for. Oftentimes, he doesn’t have to go through multiple reads because his first receiver is open. Also, he doesn’t have to make NFL throws into tight windows too often. This game will go a long way toward silencing Mariota’s critics if he can put together another great performance.

Preliminary Projection: Top-10

Jameis Winston | Florida State

The other fantastic quarterback prospect in this game is Florida State’s Jameis Winston. While he has a ton of off-the-field baggage, on the field Winston doesn’t have too many flaws. He has great size (6-foot-4 and 230 pounds) with a great arm. He makes NFL throws on a game-by-game basis and doesn’t waver under any type of pressure. Winston’s biggest knock, beside the off-the-field stuff, is his decision making. Thus far, he has thrown 17 interceptions and has made a number of troubling decisions. A lot of it has to do with how much Winston trust his ability to make tight throws; however, in the NFL he is going to need to become a better decision maker and learn when he can and can’t trust his physical abilities.

Preliminary Projection: Top-10

Jake Fisher | Oregon

One of the most underrated offensive tackle prospects is Oregon’s Jake Fisher. He displays elite footwork in pass protection with great pad level and mirroring ability. He has great size (6-foot-6 and 300 pounds) and length for the position.  In Oregon’s offense, he doesn’t have to make a lot of man blocks in the running game, but his athleticism fits in perfectly for a zone-blocking system. The biggest worry with Fisher is that he doesn’t play much from a three-point stance and doesn’t have to be very physical at the point of attack as Oregon’s misdirection often makes easy blocks for their offensive linemen.

Preliminary Projection: Round 2

Rashad Greene | Florida State

In a draft class for of height/weight/speed dynamos, Florida State’s Rashad Greene may be the most technically sound receiver in the draft class. He has a very thin frame (6-foot and 180 pounds) and he is not the best athlete, but he makes up for it in the other phases of playing wide receiver. He runs precise routes and has extremely reliable hands. He knows how to vary his stride length, while showcasing deceptive speed down the field. He has been Winston’s most reliable target this season as he’s the player Florida State calls on when they need a big play. Greene can step right in and be a great slot receiver in the NFL and eventually develop into a productive No. 2 or a solid No. 1 wide receiver in the NFL.

Preliminary Projection: Round 2-3

Other Players to Watch

Josue Matias – Florida State – OG – Preliminary Projection: Round 3-4

Tre Jackson – Florida State – OG – Preliminary Projection: Round 4-5

Eddie Goldman – Florida State – DT – Preliminary Projection: Round 2

Nick O’ Leary – Florida State – TE – Preliminary Projection: Round 2-4

P.J. Williams – Florida State – CB – Preliminary Projection: Round 2-4

Ronald Darby – Florida State – CB – Preliminary Projection: Round 2-3

Cameron Erving – Florida State – OT – Preliminary Projection: Round 3-5

Roberto Aguayo – Florida State – K – Preliminary Projection: Round 4-6

Hroniss Grasu – Oregon – OC – Preliminary Projection: Round 3-5

Arik Armstead – Oregon – DE – Preliminary Projection: Round 2-4

Alabama vs. Ohio State

Michael Bennett | Ohio State

Following in the footsteps of Aaron Donald, Ohio State’s Michael Bennett is the next undersize defensive tackle who will try to make it in the NFL. Bennett plays with good pad level with a quick initial burst. He does a great job of beating an offensive lineman’s initial punch as he wins early in plays. He struggles to anchor against double teams as his below-average size (6-foot-2 and 288 pounds) hurts him there. He also struggles to disengage once he is engaged at the point of attack. Bennett needs to find himself with a 4-3 defense in the NFL as a 3-technique so that he can maximize what he does best.

Preliminary Projection: Round 2

Jeff Heuerman | Ohio State

Another player who benefits from the thin tight end class is Ohio State’s Jeff Heuerman. At a position where blocking has gone by the wayside, Heuerman is a reliable blocker who gets the job done. He is not going to blow any players off the ball, but he knows how the seal the edge well, which will allow him to stay on the field regardless of the situation in the NFL. As a receiver, Heuerman has reliable hands along with sound route-running. He is not an explosive athlete like some of the best tight ends in the league, but he knows how to position his great size (6-foot-5 and 255 pounds) to get open. When it is all said and done, Heuerman may be the first tight end drafted come May.

Preliminary Projection: Round 2-3

Amari Cooper | Alabama

In an extremely deep wide receiver class, Alabama’s Amari Cooper is the best in the class. Cooper isn’t a big receiver (6-foot-1 and 210 pounds), but he displays impressive speed, sound route-running and reliable hands. He has been one of the most productive receivers in college football and he has done it going against some of the toughest secondaries in the nation. He is extremely quick in and out of his cuts and he knows how to create separation throughout his routes. Cooper should see his named called early in the draft and instantly become a productive No. 1 wide receiver for any teams that selects him.

Preliminary Projection: Top-10

Landon Collins | Alabama

The NFL has a shortage of playmaking, well-rounded safeties. The next player who hopes to help fill that void is Alabama’s Landon Collins. He does his best work in run-support as he shows incredible geometric instincts and an impressive ability to fill extremely quickly. He reads his keys very well and comes downhill quick, fast and in a hurry. In coverage, Collins does a good job running with receivers and being in good position to defend deep passes. He showcases good hip fluidity and ability to change directions. If a team is in need of a safety, Collins will likely be at the top of their list.

Preliminary Projection: Round 1

Others to Watch

Jalston Fowler – Alabama – FB – Preliminary Projection: Round 3-5

Arie Kouandjio – Alabama – OG – Preliminary Projection: Round 2-4

T.J. Yeldon – Alabama – HB – Preliminary Projection: Round 2-4

Trey Depriest – Alabama – LB – Preliminary Projection: Round 3-5

Blake Sims – Alabama – QB – Preliminary Projection: Round 6-UDFA

Jarran Reed – Alabama – DL -Preliminary Projection: Round 2-3

Doran Grant – Ohio State – CB – Preliminary Projection: Round 3-5

Devin Smith – Ohio State – WR – Preliminary Projection: Round 3-5

Kansas State vs. UCLA | Friday 6:45 P.M. ET

Tyler Lockett | Kansas State

Kansas State’s Tyler Locket is a dynamic wide receiver who is also a huge threat in the return game as well. Lockett has great explosion and long speed that serves him well in the return game and with his ability to run after the catch. He is a small receiver (5-foot-11 and 175 pounds), which will likely limit him to a slot receiver at the next level. Lockett’s explosion of the line allows him to eat up opposing cornerback’s cushion quickly, which allows him to create separation when the cornerback gets out of their back pedal. He doesn’t run the whole route tree so he will likely need to work on his short and intermediate route-running. Lockett will make an immediate impact as a return man on special teams as he develops into a legitimate receiving threat.

Preliminary Projection: Round 3-4

Brett Hundley | UCLA

One of the most frustrating prospects in the draft class is UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley. He has all the tools you want with a quarterback; great size (6-foot-3 and 227 pounds), a strong arm, fantastic athleticism. However, he struggles to be accurate on a consistent basis and he routinely misses easy throws. Despite that fact, Hundley also showcases the ability to make extremely tough throws that many quarterbacks can’t even attempt. Hundley will need to sit for a few years as he learns to become sounder with his mechanics and footwork, but with some seasoning, he can become a great starting quarterback in the NFL.

Preliminary Projection: Round 2-3

Owamagbe Odighizuwa | UCLA

The best defensive end prospect that nobody is talking about is UCLA’s Owamagbe Odighizuwa. He has great size (6-foot-3 and 270 pounds) to go with above-average athleticism and excellent hand usage. Odighizuwa is held back by the scheme he plays in, but when he aligns in more traditional places, he is extremely productive. He is one of the best run-defenders in college football as he showcases great strength and hand usage at the point of attack. He showcases a solid understanding of how to set up opposing lineman and he knows how to convert speed-to-power extremely well. Odighizuwa is one of the most complete defensive ends in this class and he should see his name called fairly early.

Preliminary Projection: Round 2

Others to Watch

Eric Kendricks – UCLA – LB – Preliminary Projection: Round 2-3

B.J. Finney – Kansas State – OC – Preliminary Projection: Round 4-5

 


About John Owning

John Owning

John Owning is a NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has years of experience covering the NFL, NFL draft and NCAA football. John's work has been featured on the Bleacher Report and DraftBreakdown.com