2015 NFL Draft Prospect Matchup Preview – Pre-New Year’s Bowl Games

Want to get to know the draft prospects for the 2015 NFL Draft? This weekly column breaks down the best matchups to watch on Saturday and what players to watch.

By Charlie Campbell.
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Fresno State vs Rice; Wednesday, Dec. 24, 8:00 PM ET ESPN

On Christmas Eve, Fresno State safety Derron Smith will play his final game for the Bulldogs. This is a matchup that favors Smith going out well as Rice doesn’t have a 1,000-yard running back or an 800-yard receiver. The 2015 NFL Draft class doesn’t look particularly strong at safety, so Smith could end up being a top-five prospect for the position.

Arizona State vs Duke; Saturday, Dec. 27, 2:00 PM CBS

There is an interesting draft matchup in this game with Arizona State wide receiver Jaelen Strong challenging Duke safety Jeremy Cash. Strong is a big receiver who is very dangerous in the red zone. It would be surprising if Duke didn’t send some bracket coverage Strong’s direction with the quick and physical Cash being the safety the Blue Devils want to help limit the Sun Devils’ play-maker.

Duke also two other prospects to keep an eye on: receiver Jamison Crowder and guard Laken Tomlinson. Both of them are mid-round or third-day prospects.

Miami vs. South Carolina; Saturday, Dec. 27, 3:30 PM ABC

The Hurricanes have a 6-6 record, but they could have four players get selected in the first two rounds of the 2015 NFL Draft with possibly multiple first-rounders. Sources from multiple teams have told WalterFootball.com that junior left tackle Ereck Flowers has graded out in Round 1 and some teams project him in the top 20. Junior running back Duke Johnson and linebacker Denzel Perryman will also be first- or second-round picks. Senior wide receiver Philip Dorsett could be one of the fastest players in the 2015 NFL Draft, and he also should get selected during the first two days.

South Carolina also has pro talent to scout. Left tackle Corey Robinson and guard A.J. Cann are potential second-day picks. Teams have told WalterFootball.com that Cann has received a third-round grade from them, but the team that drafts him may take him in Round 2. Robinson and Cann thrive as run-blockers for the Gamecocks’ talented junior Mike Davis. He also could join them in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Nebraska vs. USC; Saturday, Dec. 27, 8:00 PM ESPN

Two of the top defensive prospects for the 2015 NFL Draft will line up in this game with Nebraska edge rusher Randy Gregory and USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams. Both players could easily go as top-five picks and look safe in the top 10.

Gregory missed the last game of the regular season with an ankle and concussion, so NFL evaluators will want to see him be cleared to play rather than enter the offseason with lingering injuries. The fast edge rusher Gregory will have his run defense tested by Trojans talented junior Buck Allen. Allen could be a Day-2 pick if he enters the 2015 NFL Draft. Gregory had a mixed outing against Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon a few weeks back, so it will be interesting to see if he’s improved against the run.

Trojans junior quarterback Cody Kessler is considering entering the 2015 NFL Draft as well, but he probably should return for his senior year. Gregory will need to get after Kessler to keep him from getting the ball to a talented group of receivers led by Nelson Agholor. Agholor will probably enter the 2015 NFL Draft and be a second-day selection.

Williams will see a tough test as well. The Cornhuskers have a tough rushing offense led by senior Ameer Abdullah, who could go in the second or third round. Williams seemed to take his foot off the pedal against Notre Dame in his last game, so NFL evaluators will want to see him close out his career by playing inspired football to go out with a bang.

Texas A&M vs. West Virginia; Monday, Dec. 29, 2:00 PM ESPN

In this game keep an eye on Aggies left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi. He’s had a mixed season, but the senior is an elite athlete with rare quickness on the edge. Ogbuehi’s still a likely future first-round pick despite giving up some sacks this year.

For West Virginia, prolific wide receiver Kevin White looks like a future first-round pick, and he should have his way with a vulnerable Texas A&M secondary. Aggies cornerback Deshazor Everett could have the chance to redeem some ugly games by playing well against White.

Mountaineers junior safety Karl Joseph will be tested by the Aggies’ offense and a talented group of receivers.

Oklahoma vs. Clemson; Monday, Dec. 29, 5:30 PM ESPN

This game features a great draft matchup as both of Oklahoma’s offensive tackles, Tyrus Thompson and Daryl Williams, are likely early round picks and are going against one of the best pass-rushing prospects in Vic Beasley. Beasley will be a real challenge for the Sooners, and he could expose Thompson and Williams. The Oklahoma blockers will have an advantage over Beasley in the ground game, but Clemson has other quality talent in the front seven.

On Oklahoma’s defense, linebackers Eric Striker and Geneo Grissom could be mid-rounders as well.

Arkansas vs. Texas; Monday, Dec. 29, 9:00 PM ESPN

There are some defensive line prospects to watch in the Texas Bowl. The best among them is Longhorns defensive tackle Malcom Brown. He could go in the first three rounds if he enters the 2015 NFL Draft. Senior defensive end Cedric Reed and Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers are also draftable prospects with edge-rush potential. Another prospect to keep an eye on is Longhorns cornerback Quandre Diggs.

Notre Dame vs. LSU; Tuesday, Dec. 30, 3:00 PM ESPN

The draft matchup to watch in this game is LSU cornerback Jalen Collins and safety Jalen Mills taking on some talented Irish receivers. Collins has first-round potential and would help his chances by shutting down his side of the field. Mills is more of a second-day prospect who has off-the-field concerns.

LSU left tackle La’el Collins and guard Vadal Alexander also will go against some quality defensive lineman from Notre Dame. Collins is more of a right tackle or guard for the NFL, but could get consideration late in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

Georgia vs. Louisville; Tuesday, Dec. 30, 6:30 PM ESPN

The top prospects from Georgia (other than Todd Gurley) have all wisely said they’re returning to school rather than entering the 2015 NFL Draft. There will still be a few good prospects to watch in this game. Louisville edge rusher Lorenzo Mauldin will go against junior left tackle John Theus. That is a matchup that Mauldin should win.

Louisville senior wide receiver DeVante Parker is a potential top 25-pick, and he should get the better of Georgia senior cornerback Damian Swann. Swann is more of a mid-rounder, while Parker needs to continue to show NFL evaluators that he warrants consideration as a potential No. 1 receiver.

Maryland vs. Stanford; Tuesday, Dec. 30, 10:00 PM ESPN

Maryland speed receiver Stefon Diggs should be a nice challenge for the Stanford secondary. Cornerback Alex Carter could be a first- or second-round pick while safety Jordan Richards and cornerback Wayne Lyons could also get drafted. They’ll need to limit the speedy Diggs.

Stanford junior left tackle Andrus Peat also should be tested. Maryland has some fast and athletic edge rushers who humiliated Iowa left tackle Brandon Scherff earlier this season. It will be interesting see how Peat performs against the same defenders. That could provide some valuable conclusions regarding Peat and Scherff.

Another player to keep an eye on is Stanford wide receiver Ty Montgomery. He missed the regular-season finale with an injury.

Ole Miss vs. TCU; Wednesday, Dec. 31, 12:30 PM ESPN

Rebels senior quarterback Bo Wallace needs to play well to help his chances of getting drafted. TCU meanwhile has a good defense led by linebacker Paul Dawson, cornerback Kevin White and safety Sam Carter.

Ole Miss safety Cody Prewitt had a disappointing regular season, but he has a shot at helping his draft grade if he plays well against the Horned Frogs’ potent offense led by quarterback Trevone Boykin.

Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech; Monday, Dec. 31, 8:00 PM ESPN

The Bulldogs have some good NFL talent in their defensive front seven with linebacker Bernardrick McKinney, defensive tackle Kaleb Eulls and defensive end Preston Smith. All three of them are going to have their run defense challenged by the Yellow Jackets’ option attack. This should be a great opportunity for McKinney to show sideline-to-sideline skills at shutting down a ground game.

Georgia Tech guard Shaq Mason is a tough run-blocker, but the Mississippi State defense will feature more strength and athleticism than he has seen with most opponents. Mason should probably move to center in the NFL, but he could be a steal in the mid-rounds.

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