One of the most interesting draft prospect head-to-head matchups of the college post-season was in the Insight Bowl. Iowa left tackle Riley Reiff is considered a top-20 pick in the 2012 draft, but he had an easy slate of pass rushers this year.
Against Oklahoma, Reiff would have to take on Sooners defensive end Frank Alexander. The athletic Alexander is not a first-round talent, but he is the Co-Big XII Defensive Player of the Year and recorded 8.5 sacks in the regular season. Alexander looks like a second-day pick next April, and probably was the best pass rushing end who Reiff saw in 2011.
Reiff got the better of Alexander on passing plays. Alexander, however, got a pressure early in the game when he looped around the tackle and rushed up the middle. Overall though, Reiff was ready for Alexander's speed rush. Reiff shuffled to get back and prevent Alexander from turning the edge, and had no issues mirroring the speed rushers.
In the second quarter, Oklahoma defensive end R.J. Washington beat Reiff for a sack. He bull rushed Reiff into the pocket before shedding him and tackling James Vandenberg. In the fourth quarter, Washington recorded another sack against Reiff, but that one was the fault of the quarterback. Reiff had Washington blocked, but the Iowa signal caller scrambled to the outside, so Washington turned around and simply had Vandenberg right next to him.
Reiff's run blocking had good and bad moments. When he is required to move to hit blocks on the second level or lead the way downfield for a block, Reiff does well. When he needs to drive block a lineman off the line of scrimmage, the junior does not execute well. For the NFL, Reiff would be good in a zone blocking scheme, but he does not have the power to operate in a power man blocking scheme. Reiff, however, is a polished pass protector and a natural left tackle. He will need to add power to hold up against powerful bull rushers. Reiff had a mixed game but his draft stock shouldn't change.
It was a two-sided game for Alexander. He did well defending the run, but Reiff owned him in pass protection. In the second quarter, Alexander had two good tackles in run defense. One of them came when he got penetration into the backfield. After shoving Reiff away, Alexander dove to tackle the running back for a loss of a few yards. His pass rush wasn�t all bad, as he did break up two passes. One was at the line of scrimmage, and the other came after Alexander dropped into coverage on a zone blitz. He totaled three tackles with a tackle for a loss and two pass breakups. This Bowl shouldn't help or hurt Alexander's stock significantly.
Another second-day pick in this game was Oklahoma linebacker Travis Lewis. Late in the first quarter, he made his presence felt. Lewis blitzed up the A-gap, showing nice agility to rip down the quarterback. A couple plays later, Lewis made a solid open field tackle on a third down to stop the back from getting first-down yardage. In the game, he recorded five tackles with two tackles for a loss and a sack. Lewis has played with a hurt foot all season which has really slowed him down. He lived off his speed and athleticism, but is not very physical. Lewis looks like a second-day pick.
Iowa wide receiver Marvin McNutt is a second or third-round pick next April. He was the Big Ten Wide Receiver of the Year. On the first drive of the game, the redshirt senior caught a good gain on the first third down, extending the drive for Iowa.
Until late in the third quarter, McNutt was quiet. He caught a 16-yard gain on a third-and-6. The Sooners cornerbacks were getting away with holding McNutt a lot, and he had to start getting physical to work free. McNutt came inches away from a touchdown a little bit later. He ran a nice out route to set up the Hawkeyes� first touchdown. McNutt was held to four receptions for 46 yards, and Iowa had terrible play from its quarterback in this game.
Cornerback Shaun Prater is a prospect for Friday night of the draft as well. He had an ugly play in run defense. A fullback cut Prater and that opened up a short lane for a touchdown run. In the third quarter, he had a solid open-field tackle in zone coverage. That happened again in the fourth quarter where Prater made a good tackle of wide receiver Kenny Stills while in zone. Prater would be misfit in a man scheme in the NFL.
The final prospect who had a noteworthy performance was Oklahoma cornerback Jamell Fleming. In the first quarter, he snatched an interception. The pass was behind McNutt and flew directly to Fleming. Overall, he played well with seven tackles and three passes broken up, but got away with a lot of holds on McNutt. Right now, Fleming looks like a fourth or fifth-rounder next April.
Autozone Liberty Bowl Cincinnati 31, Vanderbilt 24
There were a few quality draft prospect worth watching in the Liberty Bowl. The player who looks the most ready to play on Sundays is Cincinnati defensive tackle Derek Wolfe. On the first play from scrimmage for the Bearcats� defense, he made a tackle for no gain on a draw play. The back came up the middle and Wolfe reached out with his right arm to stop the back. A bit later, Wolfe was a split second late on a run a little bit to his left, and the back was able to get by him to score on a short touchdown run.
Wolfe had a textbook stack and shed of a lineman to make a tackle a for a loss. On a bull rush, Wolfe had a good pressure on the quarterback. In the third quarter, Wolfe tossed the guard aside to pressure the quarterback once again. That forced a throw turned into an interception for Cincinnati. Wolfe later made back-to-back plays to force a punt. He stuffed a run and then on third down shed two blocks to blow up a play in the backfield. Later, Wolfe made another tackle defending the run. Even though he didn't log a sack, it was an impressive Bowl from Wolfe with six tackles and two tackles for a loss. He was a disruptive force, and Vanderbilt struggled to block him. Wolfe looks like a second or third-round pick next April.
A player who has benefited from the havoc caused by Wolfe has been Bearcats middle linebacker J.K. Schaffer. In the second quarter, he made a big tackle on third down to stop the ball carrier short of the first round yardage. Schaffer read his keys well to head off the run. A little bit later, he had a nice sack on a delayed blitz. At the end of the second quarter, Schaffer made a tackle for no gain on a perimeter run on a third-and-2. He had nine tackles with a sack against the Commodores. Being undersized is Schaffer�s biggest negative, but the instinctive linebacker looks like a quality developmental pick on the third day.
Another third-day pick on Cincinnati is running back Isaiah Pead. The senior had an excellent game against Vanderbilt. He ran with excellent balance, toughness and showed good vision to find holes. Late in the season, Pead had some issues with ball security and that continued in the Bowl. Early in the game, he had a fumble that fell out of bounds. Pead rebounded with some nice runs including a run on which he bounced outside for about 15 yards with a few broken tackles. The Bearcats back also had a 17-yard run up the middle.
Pead did a nice job of weaving his way through traffic on an 11-yard screen pass. At the end of the third quarter, he went into the locker room with a trainer due to a hamstring injury. Pead returned to the field in the fourth quarter and had some impressive runs. However, he also dropped a pass. To cap off the contest, Pead ran the ball into the end zone from 12 yards out. He totaled 149 yards on 28 carries with a score. This performance should help solidify Pead's stock in the fourth round.
A prospect on the other side of the ball who a stellar Bowl was Commodores cornerback Casey Hayward. In the first quarter, he missed a tackle on Pead initially, but recovered to push him out of bounds. The next play saw Hayward make a splash play. Cincinnati threw a quick slant, but he beat the receiver to the spot and out fought him for the ball. It was Hayward's six interception of the season.
The next possession saw Hayward force an incompletion on third down with tight coverage. He got away with a bit of contact in and out of the break. In the fourth quarter, Hayward flew up from the flat to make bone-shattering hit on a running back who was trying to catch a screen pass. A play later, Hayward got lucky as he was trailing a receiver who made a nice catch across the goal line but was blasted by the safety for an incompletion.
In the fourth quarter, Hayward had tight coverage on a deep route and made his second interception of the game. The ball was underthrown, allowing Hayward to get underneath it to haul in his seventh interception of the season. He definitely has some ball skills and would be best as a zone corner in the NFL. In the 2012 NFL Draft, Hayward looks like a second-day pick.
Vanderbilt senior middle linebacker Chris Marve flashed on a few plays. In the second quarter, he had a good tackle at the line of scrimmage for no gain. On an edge rush, Marve beat a block from Pead to get a sack of the quarterback on a third down. Marve made a few tackles downfield in run support and finished with seven stops in the game. He looks like a fourth or fifth-round pick.
BCS Championship Alabama 21, LSU 0
Even though BCS Championship rematch was a brutally boring game, it featured an abundance of NFL talent. Both programs are jam packed with future pro players, and in these recaps, we always focus on the draft eligible players for the NFL 2012 Draft. Here is a quick run down of some of the upperclassmen who could be in the 2012 draft and what round projection they entered the game with.
RB Trent Richardson (first round)
LT Barrett Jones (first round)
C William Vlachos (second-day pick)
WR Marquis Maze (third-day pick)
TE Michael Williams (third-day pick)
OLB Courtney Upshaw (first round)
NT Josh Chapman (second-day pick)
CB DeQuan Menzie (second-day pick)
ILB Dont'a Hightower (first round)
CB Dre Kirkpatrick (first round)
S Mark Barron (first round)
S Robert Lester (second round)
QB Jarrett Lee (third-day pick)
QB Jordan Jefferson (third-day pick)
CB Morris Claiborne (first round)
WR Rueben Randle (first round)
RT Alex Hurst (third-day pick)
Not all of them had performances eventful enough to be worth getting into, but a few did. Barrett Jones has already declared that he will return to school for his senior year. However, many of the juniors are expected to enter the draft, especially the highest rated players like: Claiborne, Richardson, Kirkpatrick and Hightower. Claiborne is the player from this matchup who is most likely selected first next April.
Claiborne contributed a couple of tackles in the first half. He didn't find much running room on kick returns as he brought back five returns with an average of 21 yards per return. His longest return was 26 yards. Throughout the evening, Claiborne had tight coverage, but was not really tested. He did not allow any game-changing plays, and this performance shouldn't hurt his stock.
Richardson figures to be another potential top-10 pick next April. In the first meeting this season, he had a good outing. Early in this second meeting, the Championship rematch, Richardson was being held in check as the LSU defense was selling out to stop the run. Midway through the second quarter, he broke out with a run off tackle, bouncing outside for a gain of 20 yards. By halftime, the junior had run for 52 yards on 11 carries.
In the fourth quarter, Richardson had a missed block in blitz protection that allowed his quarterback to be sacked. He made up for it late in the fourth quarter with a game sealing 34-yard touchdown run. Richardson ran behind Jones and the left side to break free down the sideline. Against the Tigers part deux, Richardson ran for 95 yards on 20 carries. In what is probably his final collegiate contest, he probably didn't help or hurt his draft stock.
One of the standouts of the night was Hightower. He was all over the field for the Crimson Tide. Hightower defended the run well and was a major presence in the tackle box. Late in the fourth quarter, he had a strip-sack on a blitz up the middle of the LSU offensive line. Hightower had another hit on Jefferson later on a rush off the edge. There is no doubt that Hightower is fully recovered from the knee injury that slowed him down the past two seasons. He looks like a pick for the latter half of the first round next April.
Another future first-rounder who had a solid performance was Upshaw. In the first quarter, he had a good tackle at the line of scrimmage on a third down to force a punt. Later on, Upshaw combined with Kirkpatrick for a tackle for a loss of a yard. In the second half, Upshaw came unblocked and sacked Jefferson to force a third-and-14. The right tackle Hurst blocked down on the play and Upshaw had an open lane to the quarterback.
Throughout the game, Upshaw was putting pressure on the offense from the edge and causing disruption. He is a natural 3-4 outside linebacker. With a number of 3-4 defenses that need pass-rushing help picking in the middle of the first round, it looks like Upshaw has a good shot to go in the top 20 next April.
After leaving the regular season contest early because of an injury on a cheap shot, Kirkpatrick got some revenge with a gritty performance against the Tigers. He combined to make a tackle for a loss on a perimeter run. Kirkpatrick had a dynamite first half holding Randle to only two catches for 14 yards. In the third quarter, Kirkpatrick busted a screen to Randle for a tackle for a loss.
Kirkpatrick wasn't the only corner to have success holding down Randle, but Kirkpatrick led the way. Randle finished the game with only three receptions for 13 yards. If Kirkpatrick enters the draft, he looks like a solid selection in the first half of the first round.
DeQuan Menzie, the starting counterpart on the other side from Kirkpatrick, had a good game as well. Menzie had a great tackle on a screen pass and had tight coverage all night. This tape should help his stock.
Senior wide receiver Marquis Maze had an impressive 49-yard punt return that set up a field goal for Alabama. Unfortunately for him, he suffered a hamstring injury on the return. Maze didn't catch a pass, but he averaged 26 yards on two kick returns. Maze could be a sleeper prospect on the third day of the draft as a slot receiver and returner.
Cotton Bowl Arkansas 29, Kansas State 16
There were a few quality prospects for the 2012 NFL Draft in the Cotton Bowl. The Arkansas Razorbacks had one of 2011�s top offenses in the SEC while the Kansas State Wildcats were one of the biggest surprises in college football with a 10-win regular season. The 2012 draft class had the quarterback position weakened by USC's Matt Barkley and Oklahoma's Landry Jones both deciding to return to school. One early entry quarterback who could strength the draft class is Arkansas' Tyler Wilson.
The junior Wilson hails from a complex passing attack and is a good pocket passer. The 6-foot-3, 218-pounder has a strong arm and advanced field vision. He also has some mobility. In the second quarter, Wilson had a 14-yard run on a third-and-8. A little bit later, he made a throw that will set the scouts drooling. Wilson took a deep drop and tossed a bomb down the middle of the field to wide receiver Jarius Wright. It was perfectly thrown by the signal caller, hitting Wright in stride halfway through the end zone for a 45-yard touchdown.
Just before halftime, Wilson fumbled the ball away. On a third-and-6, he was pressured up the middle. Wilson tried to step up in the pocket but he was tackled from behind and lost the ball. It was a tough play for Wilson to make, but he could have maybe thrown the ball away. The fumble set up Kansas State inside the Arkansas 15-yard line.
In the third quarter, Wilson hit a big gain to his tight end Chris Gragg for 26 yards. Wilson led Gragg just a hair too much, as he fell down after making the catch with no defenders near him. A few plays later, Wilson threw a laser to Gragg in the end zone, but the tight end couldn't hang onto the ball as he fell to the ground. It would have been a 22-yard touchdown strike. On the same drive, Wilson had a receiver wide open, but the pass was too high, and the momentum took his leaping receiver out of bounds. The next play saw Wilson throw a dart to a slanting receiver for a touchdown.
The junior threw a beautiful sideline pass between two hands from leaping defenders right into the arms of Wright. It was a tremendous catch that set up the Razorbacks deep in the Wildcats� territory. Wilson helped set up a field goal in the fourth quarter and that ended the scoring for Arkansas in its Cotton Bowl victory. He was 20-of-31 for 216 yards and two touchdowns with zero interceptions.
Right now, Wilson is going to need to continue to work on his mechanics. Sometimes, he winds up with a long delivery. Still, Wilson has gotten good preparation under head coach Bobby Petrino. If Wilson enters the 2012 draft, he looks like a second-day pick, but if Wilson returns for his senior season, and shows improvement, he could challenge for the first round in 2013.
Wright (5-10, 180) had a solid game with 88 yards on three catches with a score. He looks like a good slot receiver prospect for the NFL. Wright could sneak into the third round.
Wide receiver Greg Childs (6-3, 217) had a quality game with five receptions for 48 yards. He made some clutch catches to extend drives for the Razorbacks. Childs had a down season this year after blowing out a knee to end 2010. The senior is a late-round pick, but he could be a sleeper pick who surprises if he is fully healthy and returns to his pre-injury form.
Senior wide receiver Joe Adams (5-11, 190) caught five passes for 22 yards. In the second quarter, he had a fantastic punt return. Adams caught the ball along his own sideline and got a few blocks as he raced across the field. Adams turned down the field along the far sideline to explode for a 51-yard score. Right now, he looks like a mid-round pick, and is also a slot receiver prospect.
Arkansas senior defensive end Jake Bequette ended his college career with an impressive outing. Late in the first quarter, he recorded his ninth sack of the year. Bequette went by the left tackle with a speed rip move to sack quarterback Colin Klein. Bequette then hammered the ball out of the quarterback�s grip and the Razorbacks recovered. That set up Arkansas at Kansas State's 13-yard line.
Before halftime, Bequette got ridden out his gap and that opened up a hole for Klein to run the ball in for a touchdown. In the third quarter, Bequette came back to get a hit on the quarterback to force an incompletion on a third down. Later on, he had his second sack of the night. Bequette came around the edge and showed impressive agility to sink his hips to turn the corner around the tackle. He, essentially, fell into Klein for the sack.
Against the Wildcats, Bequette totaled three tackles with two sacks and a forced fumble. Normally,he is better in run defense than his performance in the Cotton Bowl. Kansas State�s left tackle was nothing special, so that decreases how impressive Bequette's performance truly was.
Bequette has a good motor and is a physical defender. He uses his power to beat tackles and plays with very good technique and pad level. Bequette isn't the fastest end, and there were a number of games this season where hewas extremely quiet. Bequette got hot in the second half of the season, recording eight sacks in the final five games. In the first half of 2011, he only had notched one sack. The 6-foot-5, 271-pound Bequette looks like a potential second-round pick right now.
The Wildcats have some talent for the 2013 draft class. Defensive back Nigel Malone, linebacker Arthur Brown and defensive end Meshak Williams are all players to watch next season. With only seconds remaining before halftime, Williams had to be carted off the field with a scary head injury. Fortunately, the junior was released from the hospital, and it looks like he will be fine. Brown is a fast and physical middle linebacker prospect. Malone has good ball skills with seven interceptions this season. He had a good night in coverage against the Razorbacks receivers. All three are interesting prospects to watch next year.
Chick-Fil-A Bowl Auburn 43, Virginia 24
There were some future players for Sundays in the Auburn vs. Virginia bowl matchup. Unfortunately, the top prospect from these teams for the 2012 NFL Draft was not in the game. Cavaliers cornerback Chase Minnifield did not play due to having undergone minor arthroscopic knee surgery. He is expected to make a quick recovery and be full strength by the end of January. This missed outing and minor surgery shouldn't impact Minnifield's draft stock as he looks like a late first-round or early second-round pick.
Teammate Cam Johnson will get drafted next April. Overall, he was held in check bythe Tigers. Virginia seemed to struggle with the quick tempo of the Auburn offense and that had a lot of the Cavaliers linemen looking gassed. Early in the game, Johnson almost had a safety on a speed rush around the edge.
The senior made a few tackles in run support. Late in the third quarter, Johnson came close to a sack and hit the quarterback just after he threw the ball. Against the Tigers, Johnson totaled three tackles. The big defensive end has a plus skill set for NFL coaches to work with, but he did not have much production this season, acquiring only four sacks. Right now, Johnson could be a third or fourth-rounder.
Virginia junior left tackle Oday Aboushi had a quality game. The Auburn defensive line is comprised of young players who are a speed mismatch for a lot of offensive linemen. Aboushi handled the speed well overall. He got back in his drop quickly and used his long arms to ride defenders around the pocket. It would have been interesting to see how Aboushi handles a bull rush, but none of the Tigers linemen gave him a good test of that type of rush.
There were some notable specific plays for Aboushi against Auburn. In the second quarter, he missed a block in run support that led to a tackle for a loss. Aboushi had a nice pancake block in the third quarter, but unfortunately for Virginia the right guard was beaten for a sack.
The 6-foot-6, 310-pounder looks like a better pass protector than run blocker at this point. If Aboushi enters the 2012 draft, he looks like a potential second-round pick, but this is a weak class at left tackle and that position is always in demand. That could easily push Aboushi up higher. If he returns to school, gets stronger and plays better in 2012 it is not out of the question for him to be a first-round pick in 2013.
Lining up next to Aboushi was guard Austin Pasztor. The senior had a decent game against the Tigers. Pasztor allowed some pass pressure to the speed rushers of Auburn, but he did a quality job in the ground game. Pasztor (6-7, 305) is a better run blocker than pass protector at this point. He looks like a third-day pick next April.
Another mid-round pick for next April is Tigers safety Neiko Thorpe. The senior had a strong game against Cavaliers and made his presence felt from start to finish. He flew around the field and made a number of good tackles in run support.
Early in the first quarter, Thorpe made an impressive pass breakup. After initially being beaten downfield by the receiver, the senior was able to close quickly and read the him well. Thorpe had his back to the ball, but when the receiver put his hands up, the safety also put his arms in the air, preventing the reception.
In the second quarter, Thorpe delivered a nice shot to a receiver in the end zone. The hit helped cause an incompletion. Just before halftime, Thorpe was late coming over to pick up a deep out, which set up Virginia at the Auburn 11-yard line. On the next play, he helped force an incompletion by pushing a receiver out of bounds.
Against the Cavaliers, Thorpe recorded eight tackles. The 6-foot-3, 191-pounderhas made a successful transition from corner to safety this season. He recorded 102 tackles with three interceptions and six passes broken up. Right now, Thorpe could be a third- or fourth-rounder, but he could push his stock into second round consideration if does well in a college All-Star game and has a good showing at the combine.
Another Tigers draft prospect is senior right tackle Brandon Mosley. The 6-foot-5, 305-pounder is a quality pass blocker. For the NFL, he should add some more power for the ground game. Typically, teams want right tackles who are heavier and possess the strength to push defenders off the line of scrimmage. Mosley should definitely stay at right tackle. He has the frame to get bigger for the next level.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl Rutgers 27, Iowa State 13
There were two good 2012 draft prospects in Yankee Stadium playing football for the final time in their collegiate careers. Rutgers wide receiver Mohamed Sanu and Iowa State left tackle Kelechi Osemele both had solid performances in the Pinstripe Bowl. After this contest, Sanu announced that he would be skipping his senior season to enter the draft.
Overall, Osemele had a dominant game. He didn't allow any pass pressure on his quarterback. Osemele showed quick feet to get back in his drop with the strength to stop rushers if he got his hands on them. The 6-foot-6, 347-pounder is very quick and a better athlete than one might expect. He has extremely long arms and uses them to his advantage in pass protection.
Against the Scarlet Knights, Osemele was excellently opening up running holes. It is clear that he has the power and strength to drive block. Osemele made a fantastic block to open up a long run for his quarterback. Off the snap, Osemele crashed down on the defensive end. After getting a good block there, he turned completely around and jetted a couple of yards to hit a linebacker. That second block sprung his quarterback for a big gain. In the second half, Osemele was called for a false start, but it looked like it was the center's fault because the play clock was down to one second and the ball needed to be snapped by the time the big tackle moved.
Some NFL teams might think that Osemele can stay at left tackle, but his better fit would probably be at guard or right tackle. Even though the redshirt senior is a massive blocker, he may have enough speed and athletic ability to be a zone-blocker in the NFL. Right now, Osemele looks like a solid second-round pick.
While Sanu did not have nearly as dominant of a Bowl as Osemele, it wasn't a bad performance. In the first quarter, Sanu got active with a catch of about 12 yards. He ran a curl route after lining up as the split end. Sanu moved around and lined up all over the offense. At one point, Rutgers threw the ball to him in triple coverage, and after initially making the catch, one of the defenders was able to rip the ball out of his hands while the other two defenders tackled him.
On his second catch, Sanu caught a crossing route. He ran across the field to turn the corner around a few players. Sanu made sure to get past the sticks for a first down, but as he was being tackled, the ball was slapped out of his hands. Fortunately for Sanu, his teammate recover the loose ball. It wasn't a bad fumble as Sanu was holding the ball high and tight with the proper pressure points. The defender tomahawked the ball from above him in a blind spot as the wide out was falling to the ground.
With the next snap, the Scarlet Knights went right back to Sanu for a gain of about 20 yards on a comeback route. On the same drive, he made his fourth catch with a short crossing option route. It was a short gain of about eight yards and set up a first-and-goal. Later in the second quarter, the junior got open in the end zone running a corner fade, but a terrible pass sailed out of bounds.
Sanu made a clutch catch on a third down play to get a new series for his offense. He found a soft spot in zone to make a reception. In the second half, Sanu had only one catch for a short gain. The Cyclones were sending extra coverage his direction and Rutgers was running the ball with a solid lead. Against Iowa State, Sanu totaled six receptions for 62 yards. He had some good blocking downfield on running carries.
In the 2012 NFL Draft, Sanu looks like an early pick on Friday night. At the top of the second round, the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder is a good value, and with his skill set he should be a starter early in his NFL career.
Discover Orange Bowl West Virginia 70, Clemson 33
At the beginning of this Bowl, Clemson head coach Dabo Sweeney said he hoped that everybody would be talking about the Tigers� defense after the game. People definitely are, but the conversation is more about how the defense allowed Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith threw for 400 yards and six touchdowns. Those points were easy scores for the junior, who will be an interesting prospect for the 2013 NFL Draft. There were six players in the Orange Bowl worth noticing for the 2012 draft.
The Tigers have two pro prospects on their defensive line: defensive tackle Brandon Thompson and defensive end Andre Branch. Both enjoyed good senior regular seasons. Unfortunately for them, their careers ended on a sour note as their team was blown out and neither player was individually impressive against West Virginia.
The first play of the game saw Thompson blast by the center and get into the backfield to disrupt a running play. In the second quarter, he did it again, this time firing through the line to make a big tackle for a loss. Thompson was blocked well on a run up the middle which allowed the Mountaineers to score their first points. There were plays in the first half where Thompson was not getting off blocks even though he might get a good push on the guard. The tempo of the West Virginia offense was giving Thompson problems. He seemed gassed at times in the second quarter.
Over the final two quarters, both teams rotated in a lot of backups as the outcome had been decided. It is clear that Thompson has excellent first-step quickness. He fires off the snap and gets into the guard before the offense expects him. The senior also has a lot of power to bull rush them and cause havoc at the line of scrimmage. Thompson doesn't offer much pass rush, so he may be better value in the second round. It wouldn't be surprising though if Thompson is a first-round pick. He could be a 3-4 defensive end as well.
Branch had a couple of good tackles in run support. One of them saw him chase the back down from the back side. Branch had a pressure on Smith in the second quarter when he came unblocked. Branch also had a tackle for a loss just before halftime. There were stretches where he was not getting off blocks and was contained in pass protection. Like Thompson, the tempo of the Mountaineers offense seemed to have Branch on his heels.
It is clear that the redshirt senior is extremely fast and flies around the football field. Branch also has quality size, but he is a streaky player. Branch can look like a monster in some games or in stretches of plays, while falling silent at other times. Some consider him a first-rounder, but he looks more like a second-round pick. Branch is not at the same level of consistency like other first-round defensive ends, Illinois' Whitney Mercilus and South Carolina's Melvin Ingram come to mind.
Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen is also a second-day pick. He got his evening started with a catch of 15 yards in the first quarter. Allen lined up in the slot, ran an out route and got open in zone coverage for a quality gain. In a rare sight, he had a dropped pass in the second quarter. After halftime, Allen got called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for some shoving after a whistle. Against West Virginia, the junior caught two passes for 21 yards. If the Allen enters the draft, he still is likely to be the first tight end selected.
Like the Tigers, the Mountaineers have two defensive line prospects for the second day of the 2012 draft. Defensive end Bruce Irvin and defensive end/tackle Julian Miller both have produced quality sack totals in their respective collegiate careers. Early in the Orange Bowl, Irvin had a pressure and hit on signal caller Tajh Boyd after he came virtually unblocked.
In the first quarter, Irvin's job got easier when the Clemson starting left tackle Philip Price had to leave the game because of a knee injury. However, Irvin stayed quiet and he even had some lowlights. One was when from jumping offside in the second quarter, while another was that the backup tackle was having success blocking him. Just before halftime, Boyd took off on a run. Irvin turned around and came up from behind the quarterback. As Boyd went down, Irvin tomahawked the ball out of his hands. West Virginia recovered the fumble deep inside the Tigers� territory.
In the third quarter, when it was already garbage time as the Mountaineers had a massive lead, Irvin got a sack. He performed a speed rush to the outside and cut back to the inside to get to Boyd. Later, Irvin made a routine tackle of the quarterback on a run when he came unblocked. Irvin was injured making the tackle, but he returned to the field later.
Even though Irvin had a good stat line from the Bowl with a sack and a forced fumble, the 6-foot-3, 245-pounder remains a limited player. First, Irvin is incapable of holding up against offensive linemen in the ground game. Second, as a pass rusher, every down he comes with a speed rush. Third, if the tackle gets deep enough in their drop, then Irvin tries to cut back to the inside or do a stop-start juke move and run around them. Fourth, he can't do any fighting with his hands or any kind of physical rush. And, finally, if an offensive lineman gets his hands on Irvin, he is toast.
In short, Irvin is a one-trick pony. At least initially at the next level, that means he will be a backup who rotates into the game in utterly obvious pass-rushing situations for a 3-4 defense. Irvin could have some success in that role, but he is not big or strong enough to be a three-down player at the next level
Miller (6-4, 268) has been hurt this season by playing defensive tackle. He is too undersized to take on guards and centers. Still, Miller fights and gets some pressure on the quarterback. In the first quarter, he beat a guard with a speed rush to get a hit on Boyd. Miller started a sack on Boyd in the third quarter. Miller almost brought down Boyd, but the big quarterback shook free for a second only to be gang tackled by a few West Virginia defenders.
Miller is a quality sleeper prospect for the third round. He is quick, strong and physical. In the NFL, Miller could be a good fit as a left defensive end in a 4-3 defense, or he could possibly be an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense due to his athleticism.
Another mid-round prospect worth mentioning is Mountaineers cornerback Keith Tandy. The senior had a challenge with the speed and athleticism of the Tigers receivers. In the first quarter, Tandy had good coverage on a pass intended for Sammy Watkins. A play later, Tandy allowed a catch for about 12 yards and a first down. He had a good hit as the ball was held onto by the receiver.
During garbage time in the fourth quarter, Tandy read the eyes of Boyd and worked back to undercut a receiver. Tandy made a nice catch for the interception. If the corner performs well in the All-Star games and the combine, he could get consideration in the third round. If not, Tandy could be a quality pick early on the third day of the draft.
Allstate Sugar Bowl Michigan 23, Virginia Tech 20
At this year's Sugar Bowl, between Michigan and Virginia Tech, there were a few good pro prospects. In the running to be the highest rated player on display was Hokies running back David Wilson. The junior running back had a big season, compiling 1,709 yards on the ground with nine touchdowns. The Wolverines defense defended Wilson relatively well, and he did not produce as totals as large as usual.
On the game�s first drive, Wilson started well with some good runs, but then he made a terrible decision. On second-and-goal from the four, Wilson had a run going nowhere after some defenders busted into the backfield. He ran backward to avoid being tackled and ended up losing 22 yards on the carry.
In the second quarter, Wilson showed off his burst with a 32-yard run. He took an option pitch along the sideline and slashed back towards the middle of the field for a good gain. Wilson had another impressive run where he avoided three tackles and made a second, and then third, effort in order to get good yards. It was a gain of only eight yards, but showed his desire, patience, balance and acceleration. In the Sugar Bowl, Wilson ran for 82 yards on 24 carries.
The 5-foot-10, 200-pounder had issues with ball security throughout 2011. It was his first season as the starter, and Wilson may be better off returning for his senior year and improving before going pro.
Virginia Tech senior wide receiver Jarrett Boykin also had a smaller night than was normal for him. The Hokies started the Bowl by working the ball to Boykin on a few throws, and he was getting open against the vulnerable Wolverines secondary, but was not thrown the ball much in the second half. Boykin finished with four receptions for 30 yards. He looks like a third-day pick.
A potential early second-round pick who had an impressive performance against Michigan was Jayron Hosley. The Virginia Tech cornerback was quiet for most of the first half before making some near game-changing plays in the final two quarters. In the final minute before halftime, Hosley had tight coverage in the end zone and slapped a pass away for an incompletion.
In the third quarter, the junior read a route perfectly and slipped underneath a receiver to get in position to make a diving interception. However, the play was reviewed and ruled to be incomplete. It would have been Hosley's fourth pick of the season. On the Wolverines� next possession, Hosley made a leaping interception on a pass downfield. That pick was taken away as well, this time due to a pass interference penalty on Hosley. It was a questionable call since it was a jump pass with both the corner and the receiver slapping and pushing at each other.
Hosley had a diving pass break up early in the fourth quarter. Just a bit later, he had a good punt return where he avoided a couple of tackles and darted his way upfield for a return of about 25 yards. To finish up his night, Hosley had an impressive tackle in run support for no gain. He has declared for the 2012 NFL Draft, and with the demand for cover corners, it seems unlikely that Hosley will fall far into the second round right now.
Senior safety Eddie Whitley had a disappointing season for the Hokies, including an inconsistent performance against Michigan. He went for an interception on a deep pass late in the second quarter, but the ball got by him and Michigan receiver Junior Hemingway caught the ball and ran 20 yards into the end zone.
After that play Whitley did better. He had some tackles in run support and made his presence felt on the back end in pass defense. Currently, Whitley projects to the fourth or fifth round.
Aside from Hosley, the draft prospects who had the most impressive night were Wolverines defensive tackle Mike Martin and Wolverines defensive end Ryan Van Bergen. Entering the game, Martin had 54 tackles with 5.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks this season. Van Bergen had 41 tackles with 12 tackles for a loss and five sacks.
Martin got in on a tackle of Wilson on the first drive. In the second quarter, Martin led the charge to stop a fourth-and-1 run for no gain. After halftime, he had a bunch of impressive plays. Martin had two quality pass rushes where he bull rushed his way into the pocket. Martin also had a good tackle in run support to hold Wilson to a short gain. In the fourth quarter, Martin had a tackle of Wilson a yard short of the end zone to force a second-and-goal.
Martin has a relentless motor and is a physical defender. He is powerful, tough to move at the line of scrimmage and frequently can cause disruption. That being said, the senior is not much of a pass rusher.
In the first half, there were good pass rushing situations for Martin against Virginia Tech, but he did not put heat on the quarterback. In the final two quarters, Martin got more pressure on the signal caller. He is a nose tackle prospect that shouldn't be expected to be much of a pass rusher in the NFL. Martin is also a candidate to possibly be a 3-4 defensive end. He looks like an early-round pick on the final day of the draft.
Van Bergen looks like he should go in the same range. The redshirt senior was very active with some pass pressures and quality run defense. Van Bergen set up a team sack early in the fourth quarter. It was nice strong final game for him.
Michigan Senior center David Molk was injured in pre-game warmups. He missed a possession before going out and playing the rest of the game. Molk (6-2, 286) is very undersized but is very quick and mobile. He fought through his foot injury to have a decent performance against Virginia Tech. Molk is a third day prospect who would be best for a zone-blocking scheme.
Outback Bowl Michigan State 33, Georgia 30
In the Outback Bowl, there were a lot of players who will be playing on Sundays. Both the Spartans and the Bulldogs lost in their respective conference championships, but both teams have talent for the next level. The player from this outing who is likely to get selected first next April is Georgia offensive tackle Cordy Glenn.
The senior left tackle Glenn had a solid but unspectacular performance against Michigan State. Throughout the contest, he opened up some holes in the ground game and won his blocks on running plays. In pass protection, Glenn wasn't beaten badly, but there were a number of plays where he was reaching after defenders that had a step on him.
The 6-foot-5, 348-pound Glenn should move back to guard in the NFL. He does not have quick enough feet to play left tackle. Perhaps a team could get away with him some at right tackle, but even that would be a risk considering the manner in which NFL teams move their edge rushers around for better matchups. Glenn looks like a late first-round pick to a team that is looking for a road-grading guard.
Teammate Ben Jones has been one of the better centers in college football in recent years. He had his hands full having to get in on blocks against Spartans defensive tackle Jerel Worthy. Overall, Jones had a mixed game versus Michigan State. He allowed some penetration into the backfield in the ground game and in pass protection. At the same time, there were also plays on which Jones made some good blocks. Throughout his career at Georgia, Jones� typical performance has been better than what he showed against the Spartans. This Bowl could hurt Jones' stock slightly, but he still looks like a second-day pick.
Worthy had an active game. He was disruptive in the ground game and showed the ability to fire through his gap. The Bulldogs guards were overmatched at times against Worthy. Midway through the first first quarter, he helped stuff a fourth-and-one attempt. Worthy led the charge for a tackle for a loss in the third quarter. He powered his way through Jones to pressure Murray. A little bit later, Worthy had a big run go right through him. The guard was able to crash Worthy toward the middle of the line and the back went straight through Worthy's gap.
In 2011, the junior has had some inconsistent performances. There were games, and stretches of plays, where Worthy would take control of the line of scrimmage and wreak havoc. Conversely, there were games that he was extremely quiet. If Worthy declares for the 2012 NFL Draft, he could get consideration late in the first round and should be no worse than a second-round pick. If Worthy returns to Michigan State and has a big senior season, he could be a top-20 pick in 2013.
A player on the bubble between the second and third day of the 2012 draft is senior Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins. The first half was ugly for Michigan State and Cousins couldn't get any points on the board. He had a great throw between the corner and the safety on the wide side of the field for a big completion in the first quarter. Aside from the completion, Cousins' accuracy was off on a number of throws in the first half.
In the second half, the signal caller started heating up. Cousins was fitting the ball in well on passes down the seam of the Georgia defense. He was using his tight ends well, taking what was being given to him. Overall, Cousins' receivers struggled to get separation from the Bulldogs defensive backs, so that made his job a lot more difficult. He threw a bad interception early in the fourth quarter. The pass was delivered late and took too long to get to the receiver. It was undercut and returned for 45 yards deep into the Spartans� territory. Cousins also had another interception on a tipped pass.
On his next possession, the senior hit a big gain of 50 yards on a tight end screen to Brian Linthicum. Cousins finished the drive with a touchdown toss to Keith Nichol. It was a post pattern that was well thrown. Late in the fourth quarter, Michigan State was down by a touchdown with only a couple minutes remaining. Cousins put together an excellent drive firing the ball down the field, and he took off on a big run to move the ball inside the 20-yard line. Cousins finished the drive with a nice pass to the one-yard line on a quick slant. A run tied the game up at 27 entering overtime.
In the first overtime, Cousins threw a bad pass into tight coverage and it was picked off by Bulldogs safety Bacarri Rambo. Fortunately for Cousins, Georgia missed a field goal. For the Bowl, the Spartans quarterback was 27-of-50 for 300 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. It was a gritty performance to help lead his team to a win, but overall it won't help Cousins� draft stock considering the interceptions. Linthicum caught seven passes for 115 yards. This was a huge game for the senior tight end and helps him to get selected on the third day.
A player who hurt his stock was Michigan State wide receiver B.J. Cunningham. Against a speedy secondary, he struggled to get separation. Cunningham caught some passes on short patterns simply because Georgia was them allowing to be caught. Late in the fourth quarter, he made a good leaping catch in front of Rambo. In his final collegiate contest, Cunningham caught seven receptions for 66 yards. The senior looks like a fourth or fifth-round pick, but he does not have the speed or quickness to be a starter in the NFL. Cunningham should be a depth player at the next level.
One of the biggest stars of the afternoon was Bulldogs senior cornerback Brandon Boykin. He made big plays on defense, offense and special teams. Boykin had a massive Bowl and was the most impressive player on either team. Early on, with the Spartans backed way up, he made a stellar read and tackle early in the first quarter on a bubble screen. The tackle produced a safety for Georgia. Right before halftime, Boykin caught a punt inside his own 10. He turned around, juked past a defender, and found a lane to sprint downfield. Boykin went 92 yards for a touchdown, and it was the longest punt return in school history.
Just after halftime, the senior corner fired into the backfield after coming unblocked and made a good tackle for a loss of three. The Bulldogs used Boykin on offense with some carries. In the fourth quarter, he caught a short pass and burst into the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown. Boykin had quality coverage all game. Against Michigan State, Boykin produced 16 points for Georgia. This terrific performance helps makes the case for him to sneak into the second day of the draft. If not, Boykin should be an early pick on the third day.
A few other prospects are worth mentioning. Michigan State senior safety Trenton Robinson had a mixed game. Robinson was burned for a long touchdown, but he also had some good tackles at the line of scrimmage in run support. Robinson can take some bad angles, and he looks like a third-day pick.
Aside from his interception in overtime, junior safety Rambo was quiet for Georgia. Bulldogs junior tight end Orson Charles and red-shirt sophomore defensive end Jarvis Jones had a minimal impact. All of them should return to Georgia in 2012 before entering the NFL.
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl Oklahoma State 41, Stanford 38
There was a lot of future first-round picks on display in this Bowl showdown between the Cardinal and the Cowboys. Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is the massive favorite to be the first-overall pick next April. Junior offensive tackle Jonathan Martin and junior guard David DeCastro both are future first-rounders, and are expected to enter the draft. Oklahoma State features the top wide receiver in the nation in Justin Blackmon, who is a likely top-10 pick.
The game started out quietly for Luck, but Stanford moved the ball into field goal range on the ground. With DeCastro pulling to hit a kick out block, Martin sealed the interior, springing running back Stephan Taylor for a 38-yard run. The Cardinal missed the field goal, wasting the big run. On the second possession, DeCastro made a bad read and was late to help his center with a surging defensive tackle. That allowed his signal caller to be sacked, forcing a punt.
Luck burned the Cowboys on the next possession. He lofted a 51-yard bomb in stride to wide receiver Ty Montgomery to score the first points of the evening. At the end of the first quarter, Luck rolled out and threw a pass to tight end Coby Fleener. A defensive back streaked in and undercut the route to make an interception. It wasn't a good throw or decision by Luck, but the defensive back simply made a great move, and it was a better play by him than it was a bad play by Luck.
Late in the second quarter, the senior made a picture perfect throw, dropping a sideline pass into wide receiver Griff Whalen. It was a tight window to hit him between a corner and a safety. The throw of about 30 yards was the kind of play that has NFL scouts drooling. The Stanford quarterback pump faked and used his eyes to move defenders.
In the third quarter, Luck led the Cardinal to take the lead with an easy touchdown pass to a wide open receiver. He later had a slight mistake, putting the ball in a touch high on a handoff that was fumbled. Stanford got the ball back and Luck started moving down the field with precision passes. He found holes in zone coverage and took what the defense gave him. Luck was getting superb pass protection from Martin and the rest of his offensive line. The drive ended in a field goal.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Luck scrambled outside and threw a bullet to Whalen for a conversion on a third-and-14. That set up the Cardinal to take the lead with a short touchdown run. After the Cowboys tied the game, Luck marched the ball down the field to take the lead on the final play of the game. It looked like a great drive to cap his career, but the kicker missed the 35-yard field goal. Stanford missed another field goal on its first overtime possession.
In his final college appearance, Luck completed 27-of-31 passes for 348 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He confirmed the hype with a performance that showed he is an NFL quarterback right now. Martin and DeCastro also had overall strong outings for the Cardinal and confirmed their first-round status.
Fleener had some great blocks in the ground game. He caught two passes for 20 yards. In a weak tight end class, Fleener could be a second-day pick.
On Oklahoma State's first play from scrimmage, Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeded made a bad decision, tossing a horrible interception to Terrence Brown. Weeden was trying to fit a pass into Blackmon, but he had bracket coverage around him. Blackmon was playing with a thigh infection that had him being treated with antibiotics and other medications. He didn't quite look like himself in the early going, but later got rolling to become the Fiesta Bowl offensive MVP.
Weeden started heating up in the second quarter. He threw a bullet down the seam for a gain of 29 yards. A few plays later, the Stanford secondary lost Blackmon as he ran a delayed go route. Weeden drilled Blackmon in stride and he streaked down the field for a 43-yard touchdown reception.
The prolific duo hooked up again to tie the game at 14 on Blackmon's second reception. After running a short slant, he made a good hands catch. Blackmon immediately shed a defender off his back and burst downfield for a 67-yard touchdown. The junior showed his straight line speed as he couldn't be caught from behind when he raced into the end zone.
Just before halftime, Blackmon ran a slant on fourth-and-five. Weeden hit him in the hands, and he shed two tackles to get downfield for a 23-yard gain. That play put Oklahoma State inside the Stanford 10-yard line with a minute remaining in the second quarter. Blackmon (6-1, 215) showed his good route-running and then his strength to shake defenders off of him. On second-and-goal, he let a tough catch escape him and fall incomplete. Weeden then ran a quarterback draw on the next play for a score. That play tied it up at 21 going into halftime.
In the third quarter, the Cowboys signal caller threw a bad pass on third-and-goal when he had a wide open receiver in the end zone. The low pass was dropped, so Oklahoma State had to settle for a field goal. Early in the fourth quarter, Weeden tied the game with a 17-yard touchdown toss to Blackmon.
Late in the fourth, Weeden survived a fourth-and-3 with a 26-yard conversion to Blackmon. Weeden kept firing the ball downfield and leading a scoring drive to tie the game at 38. After Stanford missed two field goals, Weeden took advantage. He threw a dart to set up an easy 23-yard field goal for the win. In the Fiesta Bowl, Weeden completed 29-of-42 passes for 399 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Due to the fact that he will turn 29 years old during his rookie NFL season, the impressive signal caller looks like only a third-day pick.
Blackmon recorded eight receptions for 191 yards and three touchdowns. He confirmed after the game that he will enter the 2012 NFL Draft. It was a dominant performance from Blackmon while playing with the infection. He showed the speed, strength, route-running and hands to be a projected No.1 receiver at the next level.
Oklahoma State senior safety Markelle Martin had a quality Fiesta Bowl. The 6-foot-1, 198-pounder made a huge hit and popped the helmet off a receiver with a bone-rattling blast in the flat. Later in the first half, he took a good angle to hold a back to a minimal game. Martin fell down in coverage and that let a receiver get wide open for a touchdown. A little bit later, he helped make up for it by recovering a fumbled Stanford handoff at the Cardinal four-yard line. Martin led a charge for a tackle for a loss in the fourth quarter.
The senior showed speed, instincts, good angles and the ability to cover a lot of ground. He looks like a solid Friday night selection next April.
Senior Cowboys defensive end Jamie Blatnick was getting shut down by Jonathan Martin throughout the night. In the third quarter, he took advantage of Martin blocking down and hitting a defensive tackle. Blatnick hurdled a running back and sacked Luck. A little bit later, Blatnick dodged a couple of blockers to make a tackle for a three-yard loss. He is projected to be a mid-rounder at this time.
A few other prospects were worth mentioning. Oklahoma State offensive tackle Levy Adcock (second-day pick) and center Grant Garner (third-day pick) had quality showings. Stanford outside linebacker Chase Thomas (second-day pick) was kept in check for the most part. Cardinal safety Delano Howell (third-day pick) had some good plays, but also got caught out of position on some big plays down the middle of the field. None of those players had performances that should significantly impact their stock.
Rose Bowl Oregon 45, Wisconsin 38
This year�s Rose Bowl had two prolific college offenses squaring off: the Oregon Ducks� spread option offense and the Badgers� downhill pro-style power offense. The Wisconsin offense has a lot of pro prospects, including junior running back Montee Ball, senior quarterback Russell Wilson, senior guard Kevin Zeitler, junior center Peter Konz and senior wide receiver Nick Toon.
The first drive of the afternoon was all Ball as he powered the footballball between the tackles. He also caught a pass for a good gain. Wilson finished the drive with a touchdown pass to wide out Jared Abbrederis. On the second possession, Ball rumbled for 42 yards. He took the ball on a delayed handoff and darted around the field avoiding defenders, exploding through a few arm tackles. It was an impressive run that showed burst, strength and vision. A few plays later, Ball made a nice catch a few yards past the line of scrimmage and charged ahead for a gain of 30 yards. That set up a short touchdown run from Wilson.
Toon got involved with a big gain when he came uncovered on a short crossing route that he turned upfield for 19 yards. That helped move the ball in position for another score. Ball then charged into the end zone from three yards out. By halftime, the junior had run for 118 yards on 20 carries with one touchdown, tying Barry Sanders� FBS single-season touchdown record.
In the second half, Ball started out running the ball well, setting up a field goal for Wisconsin. Later, Wilson scrambled for 17 yards on a third down to extend a drive into Oregon territory. Ball caught a slant for eight yards and a first down. The posession was finished with an 18-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Toon on an out route.
The next time the Badgers got the football, Ball started moving the ball down the field again. He had an excellent run where he had a defender bounce off of him at the line of scrimmage but broke outside for a gain of about 12. In the final minute of the third quarter, Wilson threw a bad pass to a covered receiver and it was intercepted. That led to Oregon taking a 42-38 lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
With Wisconsin down by seven and the clock winding down, Toon made two clutch catches for 11 yards to get the Badgers a first down. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, Abbrederis fumbled away a pass, and the Badgers didn't get a good opportunity again to try and tie the game.
Ball finished the game with 164 yards rushing on 32 carries and a touchdown. He also caught four passes for 51 yards. The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder showed excellent balance and vision. He got lots of yards after contact and did a fabulous job as a receiver out of the backfield. This performance against the Ducks showed that Ball has the skill set to be a three-down back in the NFL. It should definitely help his stock, and right now, he looks like a second-day pick.
Konz and Zeitler had strong games. They consistently opened up holes in the ground game while being generally solid in pass protection. Zeitler is firmly a second-day pick, while Konz will be a first-rounder if he declares.
Wilson completed 19-of-25 passes for 296 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He also ran for 18 yards on six carries. The 5-foot-11, 201-pounderhas top-notch mobility, a strong arm, leadership skills and is a gamer. His height is just a killer to his draft stock. Wilson may be even shorter than his listed height. That measurement alone could make him a third-day pick, although some think he could be a third-rounder.
Toon looks like a second-day pick, and he had a nice game to end his collegiate career. Against the Ducks, Toon caught nine passes for 104 yards and one touchdown. He made clutch catches and moved the chains for the Wisconsin. Toon is not the fastest of receivers, but he could be a possession receiver in the NFL. Additionally, Toon is a good blocker. For next April, he looks like a pick on Friday night.
In addition to Toon, a potential second-day selection who had a strong showing was Oregon running back LaMichael James. He ran at a good clip against the Badgers. Throughout the Bowl, James slashed and dashed his way through the Wisconsin defense. He had some good yardage on the first drive, finishing it with a short touchdown run. Late in the first half, James broke off another run of 29 yards. At halftime, he had run for 77 yards on eight carries.
Over the final two quarters, James continued to compile yards at a good rate. He has real suddenness and cutting ability to dart through holes. In his final college appearance, James ran for 159 yards on 25 carries with a touchdown. His longest run was the 29-yarder. This productive Rose Bowl should help solidify James' stock for Friday night.
Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl Florida 24, Ohio State 17
Five years ago this month, these two teams were playing for the National Championship. This Bowl was overshadowed by the presence of former Gators coach and new Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer, but there were also a few pro prospects playing their final collegiate game.
The first player likely to be picked from either team is Ohio State center Mike Brewster. He has had a disappointing senior season with some lapses in his blocking along with some bad snapping. Against the Gators, Brewster had a mixed outing. He had a big block to spring running back Boom Herron for a good run. After pulling through the hole, Brewster got a nice block on the middle linebacker to seal a lane for his back.
In the third quarter, the senior got beat on a tackle for a loss, but a penalty on Florida canceled out the tackle. Brewster got called for a hold later in the drive. On the same drive, his defender got in on a sack. It wasn't all Brewster's fault as quarterback Braxton Miller held onto the ball too long. However, Brewster had numerous plays where he allowed too much penetration and generally, he had some issues with the Gators speedier linemen. Brewster also had some good blocks in the ground game. Overall, his performance in the Bowl will probably hurt his stock as he allowed too many plays. Brewster looks like a late second or third-round pick.
Buckeyes running back DanHerron entered the contest as a potential third-day pick. He had some good runs up the middle of Florida�s defense. Herron ran with good physicality and finished his runs well. At the end of the first quarter, he fumbled the ball away and never got back on track. For the day, Herron totaled 82 yards on 12 carries. The lost ball should definitely hurt his stock.
Another pick for Saturday from Ohio State is wide receiver DeVier Posey. He was suspended and injured for much of 2011. Early on, Posey caught an out route to get a first down. Later in the drive, he caught a five-yard slant for a touchdown. Toward the end of the second quarter, Posey got wide open downfield in the end zone, but the pass was horribly thrown and flew over his head. In the third quarter, he caught a slant, but while running, the ball was slapped out of his hands. The fumble from Posey negated a scoring opportunity for the Buckeyes.
The senior totaled 38 yards on five receptions against the Gators. The 6-foot-2, 213-pounder has a decent skill set but his off-the-field concerns along with modest production over his career keep him on the last day of the draft.
On display for Florida, was Chris Rainey, a draftable running back and potential special teams� ace. The senior started the game with a nice gain on a swing pass and a run up the middle. Late in the first quarter, Rainey had a catch of about 20 yards when he ran a route down the middle seam. It was a good catch to move the ball into the Buckeyes� territory. A few plays later, he charged ahead for about 12 up the middle of the defense.
In the third quarter, Rainey made a huge game-changing play. On punt coverage, he jetted through the line and blocked a punt. The ball was scooped up by the Gators and returned for a touchdown. It was Rainey's sixth blocked kick of his career. The 5-foot-9, 175-pounder ran for 71 yards on 16 carries in the Gator Bowl. He also caught three passes for 31 yards. There are off-the-field concerns with Rainey which, along with his diminutive stature, make him a late-round pick.
The final prospect from this game worth discussing is Florida defensive tackle Jaye Howard. He gave the Ohio State offensive linemen fits with his speed. Howard had a huge sack to knock the Buckeyes back for a big loss. He timed the snap count well and jetted by the guard to run down the signal caller. Throughout the game, Howard was disruptive and busting into the backfield. He looks like a solid mid-round pick.
Capital One Bowl South Carolina 30, Nebraska 17
One of the best draft matchups of the bowl season could be seen when South Carolina played Nebraska. The Gamecocks feature junior wide receiver Alshon Jeffery while Nebraska has senior cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. Both are projected to be first-round picks.
On the first possession Dennard had decent coverage on Jeffery. The big wide out had a step on a deep route, but it wasn't enough separation for an easy throw downfield, so the ball sailed incomplete. In the second quarter, Jeffery caught a slant pass for 10 yards and was quickly tackled by Dennard. Jeffery used his size to shield the corner from the ball.
A possession later, a rare sight was seen: Dennard being burned for a long completion. In press coverage, Jeffery released off the line untouched. He got a step on Dennard and slashed across the field. The pass was lofted in perfectly to him. A safety and Dennard caught up to Jeffery and tackled him inside the 10-yard line. Still, the reception went for 78 yards. South Carolina missed a short field goal, so the big catch was wasted, rewarding Dennard for chasing him down short of the end zone.
Jeffery got a pass for 10 yards on the next drive. On the final play before halftime, the Gamecocks set up a Hail Mary. Shaw lofted a ball into a scrum. Jeffery (6-4, 230) leapt over five or six players to catch the ball. He turned around and dove a couple of yards for the 51-yard touchdown. Nebraska made a huge mistake in not having Dennard jam the big receiver at the line to keep him from getting downfield and being involved in the play. By halftime, Jeffery had his first 100-yard game of the season with four receptions for 148 yards and a touchdown.
Early in the third quarter, Dennard had a quality open field tackle on an end around. After that, the game ended terribly for both prospects. With two minutes remaining in the third quarter, Jeffery and Dennard got in a fight along the sideline. They were shoving and grabbing each other's facemasks. Dennard threw a punch and Jeffery responded by hitting Dennard in the face. The referees ejected both players from the game.
The lack of composure from both men, especially Dennard, will hurt their individual draft stocks with some teams around the league. There are other organizations which won't mind it that much, but overall, the ejections won't help the standing of either prospect. In the Bowl, the loss of Jeffery was a bigger loss for his team. Both players should still be first-round picks next April.
Another potential first-round pick playing his collegiate finale was South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram. After being a quiet for the early going, he beat his block and rocked quarterback Taylor Martinez with a huge hit and tackle for a loss on an option run. In the second half, Ingram contributed some good tackles in run support.
In the fourth quarter, the senior got in on a sack when Martinez dove to the ground rather than taking a hit from Ingram. With three minutes remaining, he got another sack after beating a guard with speed-and-shed rush move. It was an impressive performance from the versatile end. Ingram (6-2, 276) is an excellent athlete who has a rare combination of power and explosiveness. Right now, he is moving up into the first round.
A player who would be a likely first-round pick if he wasn't undersized is Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David. The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder is an instinctive playmaker with fabulous speed and consistent production. Against the Gamecocks, David started racking up tackles early including a big stop at the goal line. He jetted into the backfield and stopped the running back a yard short of the end zone. In the second quarter, David came on a delayed blitz and sacked Shaw. It was a coverage sack, but a good read by the senior to fire into the backfield with no underneath receiver to cover.
In the third quarter, David got another sack. Shaw has escaped pressure and scrambled up in the pocket but David ran him down. Late in the game, he recorded another tackle for a loss after squirting through the line to tackle the running back a yard shy of the line of scrimmage on a third-and short play. Overall, David had a good performance the Capital One Bowl. He looks like a solid second-day pick.
A prospect who is on the bubble between the second and third day if he enters the draft is South Carolina defensive end Devin Taylor. This year, he was outperformed by Ingram and freshman Jadeveon Clowney, but Taylor had a solid game against Nebraska. He started with some good tackles in run support. In the third quarter, Taylor had a quick pass rush to get to Martinez. He ripped the quarterback to the ground as he tossed the ball to a receiver, but a defender was there for a big tackle for a loss.
In the fourth quarter, Taylor came unblocked and missed a sack, but he helped get Martinez stumbling forward and the quarterback dove to the ground rather than being finished off by Ingram. In the final minutes of the game, Taylor got in on another gang sack of Martinez. Taylor should return for his senior season, but if he doesn't, his performance against Nebraska will help him.
Another second-day prospect is Gamecocks junior cornerback Stephon Gilmore. In the first quarter, he was part of an odd play that you rarely ever see. After the Cornhuskers scored a touchdown, the extra point was blocked and the loose ball was scooped by Gilmore. He sprinted down the field for a two-point conversion.
At the end of the opening period, Gilmore got caught out of position and as he chased down the receiver, he hugged him. The ball was vastly over thrown and uncatchable, but Gilmore didn't turn and look to see the ball so he didn't know that and resorted to pass interference. In the second quarter, Gilmore missed a tackle on a reverse and it went for a good gain rather than a tackle for a loss.
The junior got some revenge later with a big tackle for a loss on Rex Burkhead on a swing pass. A play later, a bad pass by Martinez was picked off by Gilmore. He was in zone coverage and closed on the receiver with the ball in the air. Gilmore's mixed bowl performance should keep his stock steady.
Champ Sports Bowl Florida State 18, Notre Dame 14
There was a lot of good NFL talent going head-to-head in the Champ Sports Bowl. One of the most impressive players was Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, but the junior has decided to return to South Bend for his senior season. He could have been a mid first-rounder next April. Teammate Michael Floyd should be taken in the same range. The senior wide out was playing in his last game for the Fighting Irish, and had a quality defense to battle in a final effort to impress NFL scouts.
Early in the game, Floyd took advantage of kick coverage that was out punted. He shed a tackle just after catching the ball, and jetted downfield for a big return of 41 yards. That return set up the Notre Dame deep in Florida State territory.
For most of the first half, Floyd was held in check by Seminoles cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Midway through the second quarter, Floyd ran a deep post, and he beat the corner and safety to run open down the middle of the field. The pass was lofted in well by Tommy Rees, but Floyd dropped the ball on what would have been a huge gain and potential touchdown. It was a terrible drop that could have been a monumental play for the Irish. A bit later, Floyd beat Rhodes for an out route and a gain of 12, but overall the corner had a lot of success in press man coverage on Floyd.
In the first minute of the third quarter, Rhodes went down with a knee injury. Not long afterwards, Floyd burned cornerback Mike Harris on a crossing route to get a good gain and a first down on a third-and-short situation. To finish the drive, Floyd got into the end zone one last time in his collegiate career with a juggling touchdown reception. He literally juggled the ball for a few seconds and finally was able to get possession of the ball. The bobbled reception was costly. Just after securing the pass, Floyd got blasted in the stomach and chest by linebacker Nigel Bradham. The hit knocked the clutch receiver off the field in crunch time in the fourth quarter. It wasn't clear the exact nature of the injury outside of it being an upper body injury.
Against Florida State, Floyd recorded five receptions for 41 yards with a touchdown. Overall it wasn't a strong outing for him since he struggled to get consistent separation from a big, quick corner like Rhodes. Even though Floyd didn't impress, this performance wasn't bad enough to cause his stock to decline significantly. He finished his career as the Fighting Irish�s all time leader in receptions (271), receiving yards (3,686), 100-yard receiving games (17) and touchdown receptions (37). In 2011, Floyd caught 100 passes for 1,147 yards and nine touchdowns. He looks like a potential mid first-round pick.
One of the big stars of the Bowl for the Irish was junior tight end Tyler Eiftert. Florida State had no answer in matching up with him. To get things started, he made a big catch in the middle of the field. Eifert then bounced off of a big hit and picked up more yards for a gain of about 20. Late in the game, he made two outstanding catches. The first came when Eifert burned man coverage running down the seam. The play went for 34 yards. Just a bit later, he worked the seam again with a leaping catch for 22 yards.
Eifert totaled 90 yards on six receptions versus the Seminoles. He has a quality skill set, and if he decides to enter the draft, could be the first tight end selected, depending on who else is in the draft class. If Eifert comes back to South Bend and has a dominant senior season, he could be a first or second-round pick. The drawback to his game is his blocking. Right now, Eifert looks like a second-day pick.
Another junior who is a first or second-round pick if he comes out for 2012 is Florida State defensive end Brandon Jenkins. He had a rough start to the game when he jumped offsides on a third-and-6 play. That set up a run for a first down. Just before halftime, Jenkins came close to a sack, but was beat to Rees by teammate Bjoern Werner.
In the second half, Jenkins got a sack coming up the middle. He looped around the defensive tackle and chased down Rees. On a speed edge rush, Jenkins came close to another sack but the Fighting Irish signal caller was able to step up and avoid him. Jenkins finished the contest with two tackles and a sack. For the year, he had 41 tackles with 12 tackles for a loss and eight sacks.
Jenkins got pressure on the quarterback throughout 2011 even though his sack numbers were down. His stock has declined from the beginning of the season, and it will be a tough decision for him. If Jenkins comes back and improves, he could be solid a first-round pick. On the other hand, if Jenkins returns to school and has only a moderately productive season, he could slide down into the middle of the second day of the draft. There is no doubt that Jenkins is fast and very athletic. His best fit in the pros could come in a 3-4 defense as an outside linebacker.
Seminoles linebacker Nigel Bradham became the first Florida State player since Marvin Jones to lead the team in tackles for three straight seasons, but Bradham is not a candidate to be a the first-round pick like Jones was. Bradham looks more like a mid-round pick. Early in the game, he batted a pass up in the air that was intercepted in the end zone by a teammate.
The 6-foot-3, 241-pound Bradham is very fast and is physical, but at times, his instincts and awareness are off. In the third quarter, he allowed a big run from the quarterback after taking a terrible angle on a blitz. Bradham came unblocked and ran straight ahead and was easily dodged. A few plays later, he delivered the shot that knocked Floyd out of the Bowl. In the fourth quarter, Bradham had an idiotic penalty on a punt. His mistake set up the Fighting Irish on the Seminoles� 29-yard line.
Aside from the penalty, Bradham finished the game strong. He had an interception on pass thrown right into his stomach. It was a terrible throw by Rees that went straight to Bradham. He also had a nice tackle for a loss where he flew into the backfield and blasted the back. Later, Bradham broke up a pass by leaping high into the air and slapping the ball away. Against Notre Dame, the senior totaled nine tackles, one interception, two passes broken up and .5 tackles for a loss. He looks like an early round pick on the third day of the draft, and his last collegiate game should help his stock.
A rising prospect this season has been Florida State offensive tackle Zebrie Sanders. Over the past few years, he has been the Seminoles right tackle. After teammate Andrew Datko went out with a season-ending injury, Sanders was moved to left tackle. He has performed well on the left side.
Sanders was rock solid in his pass blocking against Notre Dame. All game, he shielded quarterback E.J. Manuel well and didn't allow a sack or much pressure. The only real mistake that Sanders made was a poorly timed false start penalty that happened just before a third-and-1.
Overall against the Fighting Irish, the senior was impressive. Sanders is quick in his drop in pass protection and mirrors edge rushers well. Heis solid in the ground game as well. His strong senior season has pushed Sanders� stock into the second-day of the draft, and the quality tape he produced bowling with Notre Dame should help him.
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl Illinois 20, UCLA 14
One of the best pass rushers projected to be in the 2012 NFL Draft was on display in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Whitney Mercilus. The Illinois defensive end started the season as an unknown, but after leading the nation in sacks and forced fumbles he is a projected first-round pick.
Early on, Mercilus helped get a tackle for a loss in run defense. He pushed into the backfield to help gang tackle the running back. Later in the first quarter, Mercilus got a sack on a pure speed rush, beating the left tackle around the corner. He used his hands to slap away the tackle trying to hold him, and Mercilus� speed was too much as he turned the corner to sack quarterback Kevin Prince. A teammate dove on the Bruins signal caller just after Mercilus put him on the ground, so the scorers gave the sack leader a half-sack on the play.
In the second quarter, Mercilus made a phenomenal play that set up a gang tackle for a loss by his teammates. He beat a double team from a tight end and right tackle to push deep into the backfield on a run towards his side. That penetration blew up the play and forced a huge tackle for a loss. On the next snap, Mercilus pressured the quarterback and it set up a teammate to get a sack. Overall his run defense was sound versus UCLA. He didn't get pushed back and held his ground at the line of scrimmage.
In the third quarter, Mercilus made a nice tackle for a loss. He shed his block against the tackle, moved around the pulling guard and swallowed the back in the backfield for a loss of about five yards. In the fourth quarter, Mercilus bull rushed through the offensive tackle with an inside push and bear hugged Prince before wrestling him down. Mercilus showed great pad level and got his hands under the pads of the lineman to ride him back. Against the Bruins, he collected five tackles with three tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks.
Mercilus finished 2011 with 57 tackles, 16 sacks, 22.5 tackles for a loss and nine forced fumbles. He broke Simeon Rice�s single-season sack record. Mercilus has a good get off. He is lightning quick off the snap and his quick feet overwhelm offensive linemen. His strength takes offensive linemen by surprise when he bull rushes. Mercilus also features good effort on a down-by-down basis with a repertoire of pass-rushing moves. He could skyrocket in the lead up to the draft and be this year's Aldon Smith. Like Smith, with special speed and athleticism, Mercilus could also be a 3-4 outside linebacker. His consistency this season should make him a pick on Thursday night.
UCLA was playing again without safety Tony Dye. He entered the season as a second-day pick but missed nine games this year with a neck injury. Unfortunately, Dye used up all of his eligibility and will have to enter the draft. He looks like a third-day pick. Outside of Dye, the Bruins have some prospects for the 2013 and 2014 draft.