Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
If there were any doubts about Blackmon being a top-five talent in the 2012 draft, they should have been put to rest with how he performed against the Cardinal. While playing with a leg infection, Blackmon tore apart a good Stanford defense to the tune of 191 yards on eight receptions with three touchdowns. His first score came when he ran a delayed go route for a 43-yard touchdown. Blackmon followed that up with a 67-yard touchdown reception that showed his power to shed a tackle, and the speed to run away from the defense. For his third touchdown of the Fiesta Bowl, he made a 17-yard catch.
The 6-foot-1, 211-pound Blackmon is a complete package as a receiver. He has the speed and strength to overwhelm defensive backs. Blackmon can make tough catches and is very dangerous with the ball in his hands. Even with defenses focused on stopping him this season, he caught 121 passes for 1,522 yards and 18 touchdowns. Blackmon made the case for the Rams, Vikings and Buccaneers to use a top-five pick on him next April.
Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
Against Oklahoma State, Martin had an excellent performance. He opened up holes in the ground game and was rock solid in pass protection. Martin didn't face a very challenging slate of pass rushers in the 2011 regular season, but he had no issue with Cowboys defensive Jamie Blatnick. Martin had no problems getting back to defend his speed rush. On one play, Blatnick beat a tight end for a sack, but the mid-round prospect Blatnick was ineffective going against Martin.
There is no doubt that Martin is a phenomenal run blocker. While, there were some games this year where he allowed some pass pressure and had issues with false starts, the senior finished the season strong. The 6-foot-6, 304-pounder has an excellent skill set. He is athletic and very powerful. In the NFL, Martin will need to continue to develop his pass protection skills, but he has a high ceiling and could be a special left tackle. Martin declared for the draft and his Fiesta Bowl showing should help solidify him as a top-16 pick.
Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
One of the most consistent players in the SEC over the past few seasons has been Melvin Ingram. He finished his collegiate career with a superb game against Nebraska. Ingram recorded four tackles with 1.5 sacks and was a disruptive force at the line of scrimmage. To get the Bowl started, Ingram blasted quarterback Taylor Martinez on an option run for tackle for a loss. In the fourth quarter, the Cornhuskers signal caller dove to the ground to avoid a hit from Ingram. He showed his versatility by beating a guard with a speed-and-shed rush move to sack Martinez.
This year, Ingram totaled 48 tackles with 15 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks. In 2010, Ingram had nine sacks and 11 tackles for a loss for the Gamecocks. He is a rare athlete. The 6-foot-2, 276-pounder has natural pad level with sudden speed and agility. Ingram ran a fake punt for a 68-yard touchdown against Georgia earlier this season and returned a fumble for a touchdown against the Bulldogs. As a pass rusher, Ingram is a mismatch for offenses if he rushes from defensive tackle or end. Ingram could get consideration in the top 20 picks of the 2012 NFL Draft.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, like his teammate Ingram, had an impressive bowl performance for South Carolina. Jeffery has seen a ton of extra coverage this season, and entering the matchup against Nebraska, he had yet to record a 100-yard game for 2011. The Cornhuskers let standout cornerback Alfonzo Dennard matchup against Jeffery, and the big wide out showed his unique skill set. A rare sight was seen when Jeffery beat Dennard on a deep post for a 78-yard catch. The corner was able to catch him from behind inside the 10-yard line, but Jeffery did what few receivers have in burning Dennard on a deep pass. Just before halftime, Jeffery (6-4, 230) used his size to outleap a scrum of players and haul in a 51-yard Hail Mary touchdown. In the third quarter, Dennard and Jeffery got into a fight after a play and were kicked out of the game. The junior wide out had four receptions for 148 yards and a score.
It was Jeffery's best game of the season, and he did it in little more than two quarters against a future first-round pick. There were plays where Dennard had tight coverage on Jeffery, but it was a big-time game that should ease some concerns about him after a down year. He caught 49 passes for 762 yards and eight touchdowns in 2011. A year ago, Jeffery hauled in 88 catches for 1,517 yards and nine scores. With the way that he played against Dennard, Jeffery proved that he has the skill set to win against NFL cornerbacks. Jeffery could go in the top half of the first round next April, especially if he runs well at the combine.
Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt
Hayward was one of the most consistent ballhawks in college football over the past two seasons. To finish his productive career at Vanderbilt, he picked off two passes from Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl. Hayward also recorded eight tackles with a tackle for a loss and a pass broken up. For 2011, he recorded seven interceptions with 62 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss and 10 passes broken up.
In the 2012 draft, Hayward is a good sleeper prospect who could be a steal on the second day. He has very good instincts and is intelligent. Hayward has the ability to be a man corner, but he may be best in a zone scheme at the NFL level. The 5-foot-11, 188-pound Hayward is a good run defender on the perimeter. The final performance, against the Bearcats, could help him to become a second-round pick.
Margus Hunt, DE, SMU
It was utter physical domination by Hunt against Pitt. He treated the Panthers left tackle like a rag doll, bullying him around and tossing him about the field. Hunt bull rushed his way through the tackle on numerous plays and was able to toss him aside to come free at the quarterback. Against Pitt, Hunt recorded three sacks with five tackles. It was a coming-out party for the junior. This season, he totaled 28 tackles with 7.5 tackles for a loss and those three sacks.
Entering his bowl matchup, Hunt did not have a sack all season. With how dominant he was against the Panthers, it raises a lot of questions as to why he didn�t produce earlier in his injury-free season. The 6-foot-8, 295-pound Hunt hails from Estonia and is very raw, but he clearly has some natural power. In 2010 as a sophomore, Hunt had 45 tackles, three sacks and 6.5 tackles for a loss with three blocked kicks. He has put himself on the map as potential draft pick in 2013 after dominating Pitt.
Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia
Boykin needed a big game to help his draft stock. He has been on the bubble between the second and third day. Against the Spartans, Boykin produced points for the Bulldogs on offense, defense and special teams. He set a school record with a 92-yard punt return for a touchdown. Boykin tackled a wide out on a quick pass for a safety, and caught a 13-yard touchdown pass on offense.
On defense, Boykin had seven tackles with two tackles for a loss. Throughout the Bowl, he had tight coverage on Michigan State�s wide receivers. While Georgia lost the game, Boykin had the most impressive performance of any player on either team.
For the season, the senior had 55 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, nine passes broken up, three interceptions, two forced fumbles, and three offensive touchdowns (two receiving, one rushing). He averaged 22 yards per kick return and 13 yards per punt return. The 5-foot-10, 183-pounder won the Paul Hornung award as the most versatile player in college football. His massive Outback Bowl should help Boykin to get consideration as a second-day pick.
2012 NFL Draft Stock Down
Mike Brewster, C, Ohio State
Brewster's quality collegiate career ended on a sour note with a weak showing against the Gators. Early in the Bowl, he helped spring his running back for a big run, but in the second half the center�s play fell apart. Florida beat Brewster for a tackle for a loss, and he was later called for holding. Brewster also had a role in a allowing a coverage sack. There were too many plays where he allowed pressure and penetration into the backfield.
Brewster started the year strong with excellent games against Nebraska and Miami. In those contests, he was very tough on future NFL defensive tackles Jared Crick and Marcus Forston. As the season progressed, Brewster's play declined and he had some troubles with bad snaps. Brewster had a terrible game snapping the ball against Penn State. In the 2012 NFL Draft, the senior looks like a pick on Friday night, and he could fall into the third round.
Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
It hurts Dennard's stock to give up a big game to Alshon Jeffery, but losing his temper and fighting with him sufficiently to see them both ejected, could be more harmful to Dennard's stock. The two talented prospects were battling hard against each other. While Jeffery got a big play off of Dennard, there were a number of plays where Dennard won the match up and had tight coverage. He recorded four tackles in the game prior to his ejection. Dennard is put together well and is a physical player who has the strength to successfully jam receivers. Coaches in the NFL aren't going to like to see Dennard resort to fighting out of frustration from allowing a big play. He needs to work on having a short memory and not losing his cool on the field.
B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State
Against the Bulldogs� speedy secondary, Cunningham struggled to get separation. He caught some passes on short patterns simply because Georgia was allowing them to be caught. In the fourth quarter of the Outback Bowl, Cunningham made a nice leaping catch above Bulldogs safety Bacarri Rambo, but on that play, Cunningham couldn't get separation. The Spartans wide out is a good college player, but when going up against defensive backs with NFL speed, he is unable to get open. Plus, Cunningham doesn't have the quickness to get yards after the catch. Against Georgia, he caught seven passes for 66 yards. Cunningham looks like a fifth or sixth-round pick who will peak as a depth player in the NFL.