The college bowl season has gotten started and plenty of players are facing the best competition that they've seen all season. For some 2013 NFL Draft prospects, the bowl matchup will give NFL scouts their best view yet at the skills and readiness of prospects. Here is a run down of the top pairings to watch from a draft perspective in the early bowl games.
Clemson 25, LSU 24
There was a lot of pro talent battling against each other on display in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. The LSU defense features potential early-round picks in defensive end Barkevious Mingo, defensive end Sam Montgomery, defensive tackle Bennie Logan, middle linebacker Kevin Minter and safety Eric Reid. Clemson has a high-powered offense led by quarterback Tajh Boyd, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, running back Andre Ellington and center Dalton Freeman.
The stars of the game who helped their draft stock the most were Boyd and Hopkins. Boyd led a great drive in the first quarter. He hooked up with Hopkins on a 3rd-and-long for a gain of 20 in front of Reid, who was late coming over in zone coverage. Boyd ran for almost 10 yards on the next play and followed that with a completion to Hopkins for 12. Boyd finished the drive by running 11 yards for a touchdown.
Boyd and Hopkins had another nice completion in the second quarter on an out route. Boyd hung tough as he was drilled by Montgomery. Hopkins made a tremendous leaping catch with a defender all over him along the sideline. The defensive back was holding on to Hopkins' jersey to keep him from getting open deep. Boyd finished the drive by throwing a low fastball between two defenders to Hopkins, who made the diving catch for an 11-yard touchdown.
Hopkins followed that score with a gain of about 15 yards on a quick swing pass on which he broke a tackle. LSU's furious pass rush shut down Boyd and Hopkins in the third quarter, but the duo got going again in the fourth quarter with a nice downfield completion. Following that, Hopkins drew a pass interference down field to get a critical first down after a third-down incompletion.
Boyd then lofted in a beautiful back shoulder throw to tight end Brandon Ford to convert a 3rd-and-15 and set up Clemson inside LSU's 15-yard line. Boyd threw a frozen rope a few plays later to Hopkins in the back of the end zone. Hopkins beat Reid on the play.
Clemson beat Reid again when Boyd made a beautiful throw to Hopkins to convert a 4th-and-16 at the Clemson 14-yard line. The wide out ran down the middle and his signal-caller dropped the ball in perfectly.
The duo went at Reid again and while the pass fell incomplete, Reid was flagged on the play. Boyd hit Hopkins for about 15 yards on the sideline to help set up the game-winning field goal. Boyd was masterful picking apart the LSU secondary on the drive to set up an easy 37-yard field goal with no time on the clock.
Boyd showed amazing toughness and composure even though he was getting pounded by the LSU defense all night. The junior took a lot of punishing hits on runs as well as passes. Boyd completed 36-of-50 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns with zero interceptions.
Despite a constant pass rush in Boyd's face, his accuracy was amazing with phenomenal ball placement. It was a superb game from him that will really help his draft stock. The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder is undersized, but he looks like a first- or second-round pick in 2013 or 2014.
Hopkins had a great performance catching 13 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns. This tape will help his bid to be a first-rounder, and at worst, he looks like a second-round pick. It has been reported that Hopkins will enter the 2013 NFL Draft.
All told, Reid had a mixed game. For one, he was flagged for going helmet-to-helmet in the first quarter. Reid did make a nice tackle on a third down to force a Clemson punt. He had clutch fumble recovery in the second half and also had a perfectly timed hit on a receiver to force an incompletion on a third down.
Reid had a nice open-field tackle late in the game to stop Ellington on a gain of 21 yards. Overall, Clemson took advantage of Reid's coverage. His weakness in pass coverage was exploited all season and that really will hurt his stock with the NFL.
This tape will do some more damage to Reid's draft stock. The junior looks like a second-day pick if he declares, but he should return for his senior year to get better in pass coverage before turning pro.
Boyd and Hopkins weren't the only juniors who helped themselves. Both Mingo and Montgomery had good performances. Mingo had perhaps his best game of the year and it could've been even better if he was able to play the entire evening.
Thirty seconds into the game, Mingo exploded into the backfield to blast Sammy Watkins. The big-time collision caused the ball to pop out and it was recovered by LSU. Watkins injured his right leg and had to be helped off the field.
Mingofired into the backfield again on his next snap to disrupt a run and cause a tackle for a loss. The next play saw Mingo almost record a sack, but he stumbled slightly while executing a spin move. Mingo shifted before the snap a few minutes later and bolted into the backfield unblocked to sack Boyd.
Mingo got in on another tackle for a loss and a half sack just before halftime. Again, he used his speed to beat the right tackle and chase down Boyd alongside safety Micah Eugene. Mingo had to go into the locker room with an intestinal issue during the second half.
The junior had disappointing production in 2012, so he needed an impressive day. There is no doubt that Mingo has elite speed, and he could be a first-round pick if he enters the 2013 NFL Draft. This tape will help him.
Montgomery left the game in the first quarter with a foot injury, but came back later in the first half. He had a good tackle for no gain on a quarterback draw after halftime. Montgomery was getting up field and getting pass pressure on Boyd. He came close to a few sacks during the third quarter.
Midway through the third, Montgomery came up with a splash play. He tackled Ellington and slammed the ball out of his hands. Reid recovered the fumble for LSU. Montgomery wrestled Boyd to the ground in the fourth quarter for a sack. It was a clutch play that set up a fourth-and-16 at the Clemson 14-yard line. Overall, Montgomery played well and this will help him to be a first-round pick.
There were a few others who played well. Minter was all over the field making tackles. He had over 10 tackles by halftime and probably finished with around 20 tackles on the day. Logan had a good game against Freeman as there was a lot of disruption up the middle at Boyd. Logan and Minter look like early-round picks if they enter the 2013 NFL Draft.
Vanderbilt 38, N.C. State 24
Some believe that N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon could skyrocket up draft boards and be the first signal-caller selected in the 2013 NFL Draft. The 6-foot-6 Glennon has a strong arm with the ability to make all the throws demanded in the NFL. However, he hurt his ability to move up draft boards with a horrible performance against Vanderbilt in his final collegiate game.
Glennon made a terrible decision late in the first quarter that illustrated some horrible fundamentals. He saw some pressure and lofted a pass off his back foot. The deep pass floated in the air and safety Kenny Ladler easily cut in front of the intended receiver for an interception. Ladler added another big play with a fumble recovery that he returned over 20 yards.
At times, Glennon would flash with some beautiful throws - he had a 28-yard gain on a frozen rope on a deep out route in the second quarter - but his inconsistency always came back to bite him. Glennon threw his second awful interception just before halftime when he forced a pass on a blanketed double-covered wide receiver. The ball fell into the cornerback for an easy pick. Again, Glennon threw off his back foot. That set up Vanderiblt's fourth touchdown of the first half.
At the beginning of the third quarter, Glennon threw a ball to the front of the end zone. The ball was underthrown and easily intercepted by Trey Wilson. Glennon was tricked into throwing the pass by Wilson as he closed on the receiver while the ball floated in the air. Wilson returned the ball 65 yards into N.C. State territory.
The next possession saw Glennon hold onto the ball too long and take a sack. He bobbled the ball and almost fumbled it away. Glennon had a grounding penalty a short bit later. He didn't react quickly enough to an unblocked blitzer off the edge.
Glennon threw a good pass for a 22-yard gain on a fourth-down play. He placed the ball well for his receiver to make the catch over a defensive back. Later on the drive, on 2nd-and-goal, Glennon held onto the ball way too long. He stepped up in the pocket and continued to wait. That led to him being drilled from behind and fumbling the ball, but, luckily for Glennon, a teammate fell on the ball.
Glennon had a receiver running open deep along the sideline on a 4th-and-4, but Glennon didn't throw the ball quickly enough. That left the pass underthrown and it was slapped away for an incompletion. He had a garbage-time touchdown pass with two minutes remaining. It was a nice pass between two defenders in the middle of the field.
Glennon completed 35-of-53 passes for 383 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. He played worse than the numbers indicate. Glennon had accuracy issues throughout this game and the season. He had a lot of passes that were far off the mark. Glennon needs to improve his footwork and really struggles if he sees a pass rush. His feet are very chaotic and not uniform.
While Glennon has all the physical tools, he needs work at the pro level. Glennon looks like a second-day pick, and this performance will definitely hurt his draft stock.
There was a good matchup on the other side of the ball between N.C. State cornerback David Amerson and Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews. Amerson has had a disappointing junior season, while Matthews was one of the best receivers in the SEC.
Matthews had a nice catch for 17 yards on an out route in front of Amerson, who had been playing zone coverage. A short reception in front of Amerson went for a Vanderbilt first down a bit later. Amerson made a tackle for a loss on a stretch run to his side of the field a few plays afterward.
Amerson bit on a wildcat run, and as a result, a receiver ran by him wide open for a touchdown, but the ball was horribly thrown by Stacy for an incompletion. The next play was a touchdown pass to Jordan Matthews on a wide receiver screen.
Matthews had Amerson beat on a deep out route for a good gain, but the pass was far off the mark for an incompletion. Amerson had a nice open field tackle of Matthews after a short completion. During the fourth quarter, Amerson had good coverage to slap a pass away.
Amerson was beaten by Matthews late in the game on an out route for a 15-yard gain. It came on a 4th-and-14 play. Amerson had pretty good coverage but was beaten by a good throw and catch. Matthews totaled seven receptions for 61 yards and a score, but could've had a bigger day if the Commodores threw the ball more. They only attempted 25 passes. Both players look like second-day picks if they enter the 2013 NFL Draft.
The final prospect worth mentioning is Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy. The 5-foot-9, 210-pounder has had a strong senior season and ran the ball well against the Wolfpack. He had a short touchdown run in the second quarter and was killing the N.C. State defense out of the wildcat. Stacy totaled 107 yards on 25 carries. He could be a nice value pick and is a sleeper on the third day of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Michigan State 17, TCU 16
The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl was typical close game for Michigan State where the team was carried by running back Le'Veon Bell. The powerful running back had another impressive performance to cap off an excellent junior season.
TCU knew that Bell was the engine of the Spartans' offense and the Horned Frogs sold out to stop him. They had success early on, but eventually Bell wore them down. He was finding no running room in the first half and had only 38 yards at halftime. In the third quarter, however, Bell started to get rolling. He had one very impressive 10-yard run where he broke four tackles and used two spin moves to get more yards after contact.
Bell even got in on some gadgetry by making a clutch throw for a big pass gain of 29-yards to a teammate. Bell kept churning with a 21-yard gain on a stretch play to go over 100 yards for the 12th time this year. He gave Michigan State the lead in the fourth quarter with a short touchdown run around the left side of the line.
Bell ran for 145 yards on 32 carries with a touchdown versus TCU. He caught two passes for 13 yards with his 29-yard pass as well. Bell (6-2, 244) has shown serious toughness and durability this season as the Spartans gave him an astounding 382 carries.
The question is if Bell has enough quickness to hit the hole in the NFL and get to the second level of the defense. If the junior declares for the 2013 NFL Draft, he looks like a potential second-day pick. His speed times at the NFL Scouting Combine will be very critical to his draft stock.
Another Michigan State candidate for the second day is junior defensive end William Gholston. He had one of his best games of the year against the Horned Frogs. Gholston had a lot of quality tackles in run support. In the second quarter, he had a tackle defending while pursuing downfield. He added another quality drag down tackle on a run up the middle.
Gholston charged around the right tackle during the fourth quarter to sack the quarterback. Gholston had some occasional pass pressure, but aside from that sack, he wasn't touching the quarterback. He chipped in a pass batted away though. Gholston totaled nine tackles, a sack and a pass defended versus TCU.
Gholston (6-7, 270) is a physical specimen, but he won't offer much as a pass-rusher in the NFL. Gholston doesn't have a good repertoire of moves and tries to bull rush or speed rush. He also struggles to shed blocks in the pass rush.
Gholston really needs to improve his ability to use his hands and feet at the same time. His get off is terrible, and NFL offensive linemen will not be challenged to get in position for his edge rushes.
Gholston would be best in the NFL as a defensive end in a 3-4 defense where he can defend the run and set the edge. Gholston could be a second-day pick, but he looks like a part-time player in the NFL who won't be on the field much against passing offenses.
Texas 31, Oregon State 27
Texas senior defensive end Alex Okafor used the Valero Alamo Bowl to make a statement that he belongs in the first round of next April's draft. He had an ankle injury in the final few games of the season and that really slowed him down in what was a good senior year. Apparently the time off after the regular season was what Okafor needed, because he was on fire against Oregon State.
Okafor got leverage on the right tackle with a speed rush midway through the first quarter. As he was pushed by the right tackle, Okafor had the awareness to slap the ball out of the hands of the quarterback for his first sack of the night. The Longhorns recovered the fumble at the Beavers' 26-yard line.
In the second quarter, Okafor took advantage of a favorable blocking matchup as he burned a tight end with a speed rush to record his second sack. That came on a third down and forced Oregon State to kick a field goal.
Okafor was held by the right tackle on a speed rush just before halftime, but Okafor still shed him to run down the quarterback. Okafor got the sack as soon as the ball was snapped. His get off was tremendous and the right tackle had no chance to keep him out of the backfield.
In the fourth quarter, Okafor started another sack with a speed rush around the edge. He showed nice redirection skills to chase down the signal-caller as he moved ahead in the pocket. Other teammates were there as well, so Okafor received a half sack.
Okafore lined up standing up over the right tackle on the final drive and fired by him off the snap. Okafor ran down his fourth solo sack of the night from there. The final play of the game saw the senior almost get another sack. He had a superb bull rush to push the right tackle into the quarterback. Okafor hit the quarterback with an arm before he escaped away only to be sacked by another defender.
Okafor totaled eight tackles, five tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks and one forced fumble. It was an awesome game for him that showed his sheer pass-rush ability. His speed off the edge was phenomenal and he also showed strength to shed blocks. This tape will be a big aid to Okafor and could help him to break into the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Another potential first-round pick on Texas' defense is safety Kenny Vaccaro. He had a quality night against Oregon State with one dumb mistake. Vaccaro had a nice pass breakup at the 10-yard line. He did a great job of picking up a receiver running a short crossing route and not allowing any separation. Shortly later, Vaccaro had an excellent break on a pass, and he slapped the ball away. Vaccaro was close to making the interception, and if he had, there was nothing but open field in front of him.
Vaccaro was flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty after a play on the same drive. He stupidly clocked a receiver twice in the head with punches. Players have been ejected for that kind of business in other games. Vaccaro totaled four tackles with two passes broken up. He should remain the favorite to be the first safety selected next April.
There were two wide receiver prospects in this affair, too. Beavers senior Markus Wheaton had a good season, but was held in check by Texas cornerbacks Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs. Wheaton was held to three receptions for 37 yards and four carries for 26 yards.
The other receiver for NFL teams to scout was Longhorns senior Marquise Goodwin. He had only 26 receptions for 340 yards and three touchdowns as a senior, but he was phenomenal against Oregon State.
Goodwin showed some blazing speed with a 64-yard touchdown run on an end around. He also caught the game-winning score on a go route down the sideline during the fourth quarter. Goodwin burned the cornerback for that 36-yard touchdown. This tape could help get Goodwin selected in the late rounds on draft weekend.
Another defensive back for the NFL to monitor was Oregon State cornerback Jordan Poyer. He had a mixed night to conclude a strong senior year and collegiate career. After reacting late in zone coverage, Poyer was beaten for a 13-yard catch on a 3rd-and-long to provide Texas with a first down. He had pretty good coverage on a go route toward the end zone a few plays later. There was slight separation, but the throw had to be perfect to beat Poyer and it wasn't. The next play was a short reception where he made the tackle.
Poyer made a good read and hit on a short pass to help force an incompletion. He also got in on a sack with a nicely timed blitz. Poyer totaled five tackles with a sack. He could contend for the second-day of the 2013 NFL Draft and should at least be a mid-rounder.
Syracuse 38, West Virginia 14
This season's New Era Pinstripe Bowl displayed two potential NFL starting quarterbacks, one of whom is the current favorite to be the No. 1-overall pick: West Virginia senior Geno Smith. Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib is in the running to be an early-round pick, but he didn't have the weapons to work with that Smith did. The talented signal-caller Smith has great play-makers in receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey; both of whom will be drafted next April.
This game featured tough conditions for all four prospects as Yankee Stadium was cold and snowy. Neither Smith or Nassib got into a throwing groove. Smith didn't react quickly enough in the second quarter as he dropped back to pass in the end zone. With blitzers crashing in on him, the senior couldn't get rid of the ball as he was sacked and fumbled the ball away. Luckily for Smith, a teammate recovered the ball for a safety rather than a Syracuse touchdown.
The Mountaineers came alive a short time later with a 32-yard touchdown pass to Bailey. It was a slip screen on which Smith threw basically a quick slant. Bailey shook a tackle and exploded downfield for the score.
Bailey later took a wide receiver screen for a 59-yard gain running along the sideline. It flipped the field and took West Virginia out of the shadow of its end zone.
After a turnover set up the Mountaineers in Orange territory, Smith made a bad decision by holding onto the ball way too long. That led to the ball being slapped out of his hand. Syracuse recovered the ball and ran for a long touchdown on the next play.
Smith bounced back on his next drive to loft in a nice touchdown pass to Bailey. On a go route down the field, Bailey he the corner away to get open for a 29-yard score. The defensive back was shoving Bailey, too, so it was a good no call.
At the end of the third quarter, Smith once again made a questionable decision as he backpedaled into the end zone. He should've thrown the ball away, but as he was tripped to the ground he flung the ball away. It was flagged for an intentional grounding penalty and a second safety for the Orange. Smith threw a hissy fit at officials and showed a lack of composure.
West Virginia never could get going at Yankee Stadium. Smith never found a throwing groove, and the Syracuse defense played an excellent game. He completed 16-of-24 passes for 197 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. The fumbles and decision-making were disappointing, and this game is going to hurt Smith's draft stock. That being said, he's still the current favorite to be the first quarterback selected.
The Orange defense did a tremendous job of limiting Austin. The unit held him to 54 yards on 12 carries with two receptions for 21 yards. Austin could be a late first-round or early second-round pick. His stock should remain unchanged.
That won't be the case for Bailey. He elevated his play to lead West Virginia's offense. Bailey caught seven passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns. The junior has already announced that he will enter the 2013 NFL Draft, and this performance will help his cause to be a top-100 selection.
Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib had a favorable matchup against a weak Mountaineers defense, but the conditions prompted the coaches to turn to the running game, which worked well for the Orange.
Nassib made some nice throws on his first drive in the short to intermediate part of the field to move the ball for a field goal. The signal-caller was hammered by an unblocked blitzing linebacker in the second quarter. He missed a play before coming back into the game.
Nassib struggled to get in rhythm as he had numerous passes dropped. He had two excellent third-quarter tosses down the field for about 40 yards. Nassib got lucky on the end of the drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass. The pass was a little low and was tipped by a safety before it fell into the hands of his tight end.
The luck ran out on the next possession. Nassib made an uncharacteristic throw with a poorly placed ball that turned into an interception on his well-covered receiver. Nassib threw his second touchdown on a screen that was well-executed.
It wasn't Nassib's best game, but he did enough to contribute to his team coasting to a bowl victory. He finished 12-of-24 for 134 yards with two scores and an interception. Both Smith and Nassib had some well-thrown balls downfield dropped by their receivers.
The gritty signal-caller Nassib enjoyed a strong senior season and carried his team on a weekly basis. He is a very intelligent quarterback who is an accurate passer and good decision-maker. The consensus view has Nassib as a second-day draft prospect. This game shouldn't hurt or help Nassib significantly.
Virginia Tech 13, Rutgers 10
There were three pro prospects battling in the Russell Athletic Bowl; Virginia Tech junior quarterback Logan Thomas, Rutgers junior cornerback Logan Ryan and senior linebacker Khaseem Greene could all be second-day picks in the 2013 NFL Draft.
On the second play from scrimmage, a terrible snap flew past Thomas as he gave signals to his wide receivers. The ball rolled into the end zone and as Thomas picked up the ball, he was immediately hit and couldn't hold onto the ball. Greene picked it up in the end zone for Rutgers' only touchdown.
Greene had a second-quarter tackle for a loss after he snuffed out a screen pass. He had a number of good run stuffs throughout the game. It was a generally solid performance that won't hurt or help his draft stock significantly.
Ryan had close coverage on a receiver running a go route down the sideline. It was a close play, and Ryan could've been flagged for hitting the receiver before the ball got there. He knocked a pass away on a wide receiver screen in the second quarter. Ryan followed that up with a breakup on a quick slant pass on a third down.
Things went bad for Ryan in the second half, however. First, he lined up offsides on a blitz. Then just a short time later, Ryan was beaten by Corey Fuller for a 21-yard touchdown. It was a perfectly thrown pass by Thomas after a terrible attempt the down earlier. The signal-caller dropped in a beautiful over-the-shoulder ball to Fuller in the front of the end zone. Ryan looked late to turn and run with Fuller as he streaked towards the front pylon. That let Fuller get a yard of separation for the uncontested completion.
Just before halftime, Thomas threw his first interception on a deep attempt. Defensive back Brandon Jones made a great play and beat the receiver for the jump ball. Thomas had a poorly overthrown pass into double coverage late in the fourth quarter that was easily picked off by Jones.
In overtime, Ryan was beaten by Marcus Davis on a deep dig route for a gain of about 20 yards. That set up the game-winning field goal. A couple of plays later, Ryan almost made up for it when he had perfect coverage on a fade route to Davis. The pass was poorly placed by Thomas and Ryan almost grabbed an interception, but Davis knocked the ball away.
Overall, Ryan had a disappointing game, and this tape made him look more like a second-day pick rather than a contender for the first round. Ryan is expected to enter the 2013 NFL Draft and skip his senior season.
Thomas, meanwhile, had awful accuracy all night. Passes were skipping in front of receivers and others were massively overthrown. Thomas held onto the ball too long and took some bad sacks. He also struggled to get plays off before the play clock expired. Once in a while, the junior would throw a perfect strike, but those were few and far between.
Thomas was 15-of-39 for 193 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions against the Scarlet Knights. It was another ugly game that showed that he is nowhere near being ready to compete in the NFL. Thomas (6-6, 260) has a great physical skill set with a powerful arm and good mobility. However, his accuracy is horrible. Furthermore, his footwork is sloppy, and he doesn't see the field well.
Thomas should return for his senior season. He needs to get the reps of throwing against college secondaries and improve his overall game as a passer.
Baylor 49, UCLA 26
The most intriguing prospect in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl has already let it be known that he will return to school for 2013. UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr entered the postseason as the nation's leader in sacks with 13.5. A year ago, he was just a fullback, so he made the right decision to return to school and improve before going to the NFL.
Baylor has a potential first-round pick in its own right with senior wide receiver Terrance Williams. Without Robert Griffin III and Kendall Wright, Williams took over as the No. 1 receiver for the Bears and had a massive senior season. He entered the bowl as the nation's leader in receiving yards.
Williams got started early by beating the secondary on a go route in the first quarter. He dodged the corner at the line of scrimmage and burned him down the sideline with three yards of separation. The ball was lofted into Williams for a 48-yard reception. He stepped out of bounds at the 30-yard line, otherwise he would've had a touchdown.
Williams added another 19-yard reception, but Baylor was dominating the game with its ground attack, leaving quarterback Nick Florence with only 13 pass attempts. If Williams plays well in the Senior Bowl and tests well at the NFL Scouting Combine, he could be a late first-round pick next April. His final college game tape won't help or hurt his cause.
There was a good draft matchup in the trenches between UCLA defensive end/tackle Datone Jones and Baylor guard Cyril Richardson. Unfortunately, Jones rarely lined up over Richardson as the former mainly went against the right guard and right tackle.
Jones had a beautiful tackle for a loss on a 3rd-and-2 in the first quarter. He shed the right guard and exploded into the backfield to stuff the back. Unfortunately for Jones, an offside penalty negated his great play. Richardson was beaten on a tackle for a loss later in the quarter.
In the second quarter, the Bears had a 26-yard touchdown run and a 43-yard touchdown run going at Jones. Richardson had some good blocks to open the holes for his backs.
Jones chipped in on a sack in the third quarter. He was initially blocked before he looped around the right side to be the second man to hit Florence. Jones helped set up a fourth-quarter fumble by driving an offensive lineman into the backfield. The running back ran into the back of the guard and fumbled the ball away to the Bruins, similar to the hilarious play by Mark Sanchez of the Jets.
Jones added another tackle for a loss in garbage time after firing into the backfield to tackle the quarterback on a designed run. There were some tough plays for Jones against the run, but overall he had a pretty solid game. Jones looks like a candidate to crack the top 100 and possibly make it into the third round. If he falls to the fourth, he should be selected quickly.
Richardson should return to Baylor for his senior season. He has two good running backs returning to the Bears in a conference that is the Arena League of college football with high-scoring affairs on a weekly basis. Richardson still needs to improve his ability to handle speed pass-rushers on the inside. If Richardson enters the 2013 NFL Draft, he could be a third- or fourth-round pick, but could go higher in the 2014 NFL Draft if he makes strides as a senior.
Another second-day pick on the UCLA is tight end Joseph Fauria. He had an excellent senior season as a receiver and was a tremendous red-zone weapon. Fauria put those skills on display against Baylor.
In the second quarter, Fauria ran down the seam to make a leaping 22-yard touchdown reception. He made it look easy as he ran by the linebacker with a safety coming too late. Fauria had a few other receptions to move the chains after that catch. He totaled 59 yards and a score on five receptions. It was a typical performance from Fauria and should help to solidify his second-day grade. He is a good receiver but really needs to get better as a run-blocker.
The Baylor defense was horrible at the beginning of the season, but the unit was much improved in the final month. The Bears' defense showed its progress by holding senior running back Johnathan Franklin to 34 yards on 14 carries. Franklin had a great senior year, but this performance won't help him on draft day. He looks like a mid-round pick and a running back to be part of a rotation in the NFL.
Central Michigan 24, Western Kentucky 21
Central Michigan senior left tackle Eric Fisher is considered to be a first-round pick in next April's 2013 NFL Draft. He has enjoyed a dominant senior season which has elevated his draft stock. One question mark about Fisher is his level of competition and its lack of opportunities to shut down elite pass-rushers.
Unfortunately, that trend continued in the Little Caesar's Bowl. Western Kentucky featured one of the nation's leaders in sacks in speed-rushing defensive end Quanterus Smith, but Smith tore an ACL in the second to last game of the regular season. As a result, Fisher dominated the backup linemen and coasted to another good tape against the Hilltoppers.
All night, Fisher dominated his blockers in the ground game and as a pass protector. He didn't allow any pass pressure and was ready for everything he saw. Fisher stonewalled bull rushes and mirrored pass-rushers well.
There was only one play on which Fisher was beaten by his man and the defender was able to get to the inside to join in on a tackle for a loss. Other than that play, Fisher graded out as winning his assignments.
The 6-foot-8, 305-pounder is massive. His arm length is phenomenal and tackles with that attribute are the rage in the NFL. Fisher has great length to help neutralize pass-rushers and keep them out of the backfield. He also does a good job of sustaining blocks.
Fisher is very quick on his feet. He uses that quickness to get deep in his pass drop to cut off speed rushes. In the ground game, Fisher is fast to fire downfield to hit blocks on the second level of the defense. The speed can also be seen when he pulls around the other side of the line.
It would be good if Fisher added some functional strength for the NFL. That will help him to push defensive linemen off the line of scrimmage. He has the frame to add on another 15-20 pounds of muscle and that would be ideal. Fisher's final collegiate game was impressive and should help him to be a first-round pick next April.
Western Kentucky junior middle linebacker Andrew Jackson has enjoyed a good season. He has been a physical force and a tremendous run-defender with 116 tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks and four forced fumbles. Overall, Jackson was pretty quiet against Central Michigan. He's definitely had better games where he made more of an impact.
In the third quarter, Jackson busted up a goal-line run in the backfield, but he missed the tackle on the running back. Jackson got in on a number of good tackles in run defense, but he didn't make any splash plays.
Jackson is an excellent run-defender in the tackle box. He is a downhill defender who blasts ball-carriers with hard hits. Jackson also is very physical taking on and shedding blocks from offensive linemen. He is not a sideline-to-sideline speed linebacker, and he may struggle in pass coverage in the NFL. Jackson is better at blitzing than he is at dropping into coverage.
For the NFL, Jackson would be better on the inside of a 3-4 defense. He still should return for his senior season and improve his ability to function in pass drops. The junior needs to get better in that crucial phase of the game for the next level. Jackson could be a second-day pick in 2013 or 2014.
SMU 43, Fresno State 10
A year ago entering SMU's bowl game, the Mustangs defensive end Margus Hunt had zero sacks and was known for his special teams prowess. Then he exploded for three sacks against Pittsburgh in a dominant performance. Hunt just used the 2012 Hawaii Bowl to make a statement for NFL scouts to cap off a quality senior season.
The 6-foot-8, 280-pounder is a physical freak who is very fast and powerful. He has improved his overall game this year and entered bowl season with six sacks on the season. The senior quickly added to that total.
Hunt had a nice swim move on the first drive to get pressure on quarterback Derek Carr and force a throwaway. Hunt lined up as a defensive tackle on the play. He had a great second-quarter rush on which he came with speed around the right tackle and dropped his right shoulder to gain leverage on the tackle. Hunt exploded into Carr and forced a fumble that was recovered by a Mustangs teammate.
On the next drive, Hunt darted to the inside to get a pressure and set up a sack for a teammate. Hunt burst by the right guard with a rip move on the next play to sack quarterback Derek Carr in the end zone for a safety.
A short time later, Hunt blasted into the backfield to pop running back Robbie Rouse just after a draw handoff. Hunt knocked the ball out of Rouse's hands, and it was recovered by an SMU teammate at Fresno State's 16-yard line. Hunt abused the right tackle on the play by starting upfield and then cutting to the inside to get there just after the handoff.
Hunt had a few more pass pressures in the second half; one of which led to another sack for a teammate. With the Mustangs so far ahead, June Jones emptied his bench and Hunt watched a lot of the fourth quarter. It was a tremendous game by the big Estonian with two sacks, a safety and two forced fumbles. This will tape will definitely help his draft stock.
In the NFL, Hunt will need to work on his pad level. He gets in trouble when he stands up too high and lets linemen get underneath his pads. That will be a constant consideration for Hunt because of his height. He also needs to continue refine his pass-rushing moves. Hunt should really master a rip move because of his natural strength and leverage.
Hunt still needs some development, but he has tremendous upside. He could warrant first-round consideration if he plays well at the Senior Bowl. Hunt could play in 4-3 or 3-4 defense. His best position could be as a 3-4 defensive end.
Bulldogs senior safety Philip Thomas also had a breakout 2012 season after injuries robbed him of playing time in earlier years. He currently leads the nation in interceptions with eight.
Thomas was nearly beaten for a touchdown in the first quarter after being late in picking up a receiver running a deep post. Luckily for Thomas, the ball was overthrown through the back of the end zone. Thomas was the last defender capable of making the stop on SMU's first touchdown, but he missed the tackle about 10 yards downfield on a 17-yard touchdown run.
Thomas had good coverage a bit later when he slapped away a deep ball. After halftime, Thomas was caught slightly out of position as a touchdown pass sailed over his hand and into the receiver.
The Hawaii Bowl was, overall, an underwhelming performance by Thomas that won't help his draft stock. He looks like a third- or fourth-round pick for the 2013 NFL Draft, if his medical exams check out well and he performs well in the postseason activities.
There were a few other prospects of note. Mustangs running back/fullback Zach Line finished up his outstanding collegiate career with 71 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown. His scoring run was an 8-yarder off right tackle. He looks like a better fit as a fullback for the NFL and worth a third-day pick.
Fresno State senior running back Robbie Rouse has had a big season and is a potential late-round pick. He was completely shut down by SMU and totaled only 22 yards on 13 carries with the fumble. This tape definitely won't help Rouse to get drafted.
BYU 23, San Diego State 6
This year's San Diego Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl displayed some good NFL prospects. The highest rated of them was senior defensive end Ezekiel Ansah. Like Jason Pierre-Paul or Chandler Jones before him, Ansah is a standout athlete who doesn't have much college production. The senior is viewed by many to be a potential late first-round pick. Against San Diego State, he put on a display of strength and speed.
Ansah made a splash play on the first third down of the night. He stayed close to the line of scrimmage and shaded down the middle of the field. A short dump off pass was juggled and Ansah snatched the ball for an interception.
On the next possession, Ansah fired by the right tackle to stop a back in the backfield and start a tackle for a loss. Ansah did a good job of reading the quarterback's eyes just before halftime to make a leaping pass break up. Ansah almost caught the pass for his second interception. It was an impressive vertical leap on his part.
Ansah bear-hugged the running back at the line of scrimmage late in the third quarter for no gain. Ansah had another nice tackle at the line during the fourth quarter. He leveled the running back on the next play, which forced a fumble that was recovered by the offense.
BYU occasionally lined up Ansah as a defensive tackle during this outing, but that was a misfit for him despite his great physical skill set. He was getting pushed off the line of scrimmage on occasion by the guards. However, Ansah's speed was too much for the interior linemen, and he was constantly getting pressure on the quarterback on passing plays. Ansah showed off some nice run defense and pass rush, so this tape should help him with NFL evaluators.
The player who helped himself the most with this bowl was BYU outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy. To say the junior had a dominant performance would be an understatement. He was outstanding and carried BYU to a victory.
Van Noy fired by the right tackle to the inside late in the first half and ran down the quarterback for a sack. Van Noy burned the right tackle with a speed rush around the corner during the fourth quarter and reached out to slap the ball out of the hands of the quarterback while tackling him. Van Noy recovered the ball in the end zone for a Cougars touchdown.
Van Noy (6-3, 235) had another great pressure a short time later to force an incompletion that was ruled an intentional grounding. That happened again as be fired up the middle and dodged the fullback to get pressure on the signal-caller. On the very next play, Van Noy dropped into coverage. He then caught a pass along the sideline that flew right to him and returned the interception 17 yards for a touchdown.
Van Noy is an interesting prospect. He could fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker if he gains a little weight, or he could stay as a 4-3 outside linebacker. If Van Noy enters the 2013 NFL Draft, he could garner consideration as a first-round pick.
On the other side of the ball, there was a good draft matchup between BYU junior wide receiver Cody Hoffman against San Diego State senior cornerback Leon McFadden.
McFadden made his presence felt late in the first quarter as he busted up a wide receiver screen. McFadden broke on the ball and forced an incompletion on a third-and-one play.
Hoffman made a number of short to intermediate catches to move the chains. He was doing a nice job running slant and crossing routes. In the third quarter, Hoffman ran a deep route and the corner stayed with him. The pass was off the mark and the defensive back adjusted a little quicker to beat Hoffman to the floating pass for an interception.
Hoffman had a gain of 24 yards on a crossing route during the third quarter after he found a soft spot in zone coverage. Hoffman stopped on a short route a few plays later, but McFadden darted in front of him to slap the pass away. Hoffman came back to take a crossing route downfield for a 30-yard gain.
The drive didn't end well as Hoffman let a contested catch in the front of the end zone fly through his hands. It got worse a couple plays later as he dropped a pass on the goal line. The ball deflected up in the air off his hands and was intercepted by the Aztecs.
Hoffman finished the night with 10 receptions for 114 yards. The dropped pass for an interception and the adjustment on the first pick were disappointing plays to damper an otherwise good performance from Hoffman. He rarely went against McFadden, and BYU threw only a few passes McFadden's direction. He had solid coverage all night. McFadden could be a top-100 pick next April, as could Hoffman, if he declares for the 2013 NFL Draft.
Utah State 41, Toledo 15
The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl hosted Utah State and two sleeper draft prospects. The highest rated of them is senior cornerback Will Davis. The Aggies standout entered the bowl game with interceptions in five straight games. The 6-foot, 186-pound Davis had an impressive senior season. He showed special athleticism with a nice combination of size and speed.
In the first quarter, Davis was flagged for a pass interference. The receiver was running a go route and rather than flipping his hips to run downfield, Davis grabbed the jersey of the wide out. The pass sailed over them incomplete. It seemed unnecessary from Davis, but he may have been caught flat-footed after peeking into the backfield.
Davis contributed some nice tackles on the perimeter versus some screens and fly sweeps. He had a good solo tackle in the third quarter to limit a run to only three yards. On the next play, Davis pushed a receiver out of bounds after a quick out reception against zone coverage.
Davis had blanket coverage during the fourth quarter to slap a pass away from the receiver on a quick out route. He stayed home on the next snap and didn't bite on a gadget play. A halfback pass to the backside went nowhere as Davis hit the receiver immediately after the catch for a short gain.
Things almost went bad for Davis on the next play though when he was in zone and let a receiver run by him on a go route. The safety thought it was man situation and didn't pick up the wide out. Luckily for Davis, the receiver dropped the pass. Davis finished the bowl game with eight tackles and a pass broken up.
Davis almost exclusively lined up at left corner against Toledo and was typically on an island in man coverage. The Aggies mixed in some zone, but the vast majority of plays saw him playing man coverage. Davis held up well on the island and looks like he has some man-coverage potential for the NFL. Davis would be better in a system that mixes in man coverage and zone. He looks like a candidate to be a second-day pick but needs a strong showing at the Senior Bowl.
The other Utah State prospect is senior running back Kerwynn Williams. He averaged seven yards per carry this season on his way to 1,512 yards and 15 touchdowns. Williams also caught 45 passes for 697 yards and five scores. He was quiet throughout the first half against Toledo.
However, Williams put the game away for Utah State in the fourth quarter. His massive final 15 minutes didn't start out that way though since he coughed up a terrible fumble. It came after minor contact with a defender's hand slapping just below the ball, but he still lost the ball. That set up the Rockets at the Aggies' 29-yard line down by a touchdown with nine minutes remaining.
Williams made up for the error with a 63-yard touchdown run on the next possession. He went virtually untouched into the secondary and exploded down the field. Things kept rolling for David as he ran for 56 yards on a counter run on Utah State's next drive. He finished the series with a short touchdown plunge. Just a couple minutes later, Williams ran a 25-yarder into the end zone on a sweep around the left side. A 31-yard run came on the next possession. All of the splash plays saw Williams get far down field before he had any contact.
Williams ran for 198 yards on seven carries in the fourth quarter and finished the evening with 235 yards and three scores on 18 carries. He could be a late-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft as a backup or change-of-pace back. Williams (5-8, 189) is very undersized and looks smaller than his listed measurements. He is fast and explosive, but won't get yards after contact. Williams could easily fall into the undrafted ranks.
Arizona 49, Nevada 48
This New Mexico Bowl matchup featured Nevada safety Duke Williams. The senior is a quality prospect who has had a good career and will be part of a strong, deep class of safeties in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Early on, Williams snuffed out a receiver after he broke a tackle from a cornerback to get extra yards. Williams flew across the field and lowered his shoulder to put a hard hit on the wide out.
Williams had blanket coverage on a receiver running down the seam late in the second quarter, but a fantastic leaping catch over him went for a big gain. Williams did everything correctly; it was just a great play by the wide out. Later in the third, Williams had a missed tackle on a screen pass after taking a bad angle.
The senior had good coverage once again, but was beaten by an outstanding leaping catch. The third time was the charm for Williams. He had great coverage running with a receiver down the seam. The ball was thrown slightly behind, and the safety made a tremendous leaping catch in front of the receiver. Williams returned the interception 27 yards before being stopped. It was a fantastic play by the senior.
Williams added a nice open field tackle on an end around. In the final minute of the fourth quarter, he was called for a pass interference. It was a questionable call because the pass seemed uncatchable and the safety had a slight hold on the back of the jersey.
A few plays later, it got worse for Williams as he muffed a catch on an onsides kick. Arizona recovered the ball and a few plays later the Wildcats scored the game-winning touchdown.
Williams totaled six tackles against Arizona. It wasn't a flawless performance, but overall, he played well. The senior showed nice coverage skills with the ability to run with receivers down the field. The NFL is looking for safeties with that ability.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Williams should add some bulk for the NFL, but he looks like a solid pick who could crack the top 100 and develop into a starter.
Wildcats senior quarterback Matt Scott is a late-round prospect. He has gone under the radar because he spent the majority of his career as a backup to Nick Foles. Against Nevada, Scott showed nice mobility and threw the ball well downfield.
The senior came up with some clutch throws to help lead a comeback win over the Wolf Pack. Scott completed 28-of-47 passes for 382 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. He made a number of good throws and ran a touchdown into the end zone.
Scott completed 60 percent of his passes for 3,620 yards 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions this year. He also ran for 632 yards (506 net) and six touchdowns. The 6-foot-3, 196-pounder has nice developmental potential and could be worth a third-day pick.