2015 NFL Draft Prospect Matchup Preview – Post-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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Auburn vs. Wisconsin; Thursday, Jan. 1, 12:00 PM ET ESPN2

This will be the final collegiate game for Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, and he can finish it like he started this season by tearing up an SEC defense. Gordon was impressive against LSU in the season opener to get his huge year started. Auburn won’t be a push-over as the Tigers have draft prospects on their defense in tackle Gabe Wright and linebacker Kris Frost. Those two need to defend Gordon well to help their respective draft grades.

The Tigers have suspended wide receiver Duke Williams for the game, and that could help wide out Sammie Coates to stand out in his final game as he should be the featured receiver for Auburn. Coates has announced he’ll enter the 2015 NFL Draft and could be a first-rounder.

Michigan State vs. Baylor; Thursday, Jan. 1, 12:30 PM ESPN

The Spartans’ tough defense will be tested by the Bears’ point-machine offense. Michigan State junior cornerback Trae Waynes could be the top-rated cornerback in the 2015 NFL Draft, while Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty and wide receiver Antwan Goodley will test Waynes. Both of those Bears are third-day prospects. Michigan State senior safety Kurtis Drummond and defensive end Shilique Calhoun also need to step up. Drummond could be a Day-2 selection while Calhoun could go in the first two rounds if he declares.

This game would have more draft relevance, but Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook and Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman have announced that they both are returning to school.

Missouri vs. Minnesota; Thursday, Jan. 1, 1:00 PM ABC

There are a few early-round picks in the Citrus Bowl. Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams is reportedly likely to enter the 2015 Draft and would be the favorite to be the first tight end selected if he comes out. Williams’ blocking skills could be on display as the Gophers are going to need help in defending Missouri’s tremendous edge-rushing tandem of Shane Ray and Markus Golden. Ray is a potential top-10 pick, while Golden could be a late first-round or second-round pick.

Oregon vs. Florida State; Thursday, Jan. 1, 5:00 PM ESPN

This matchup will have lot of NFL general managers in attendance, including Tampa Bay’s Jason Licht. This spring, Licht and head coach Lovie Smith will probably be deciding whether to take Oregon’s Marcus Mariota or Florida State’s Jameis Winston with the No. 1 overall pick. Whichever quarterback plays better and shows the best skill-set for the NFL could make him the early favorite for the first choice. Here are our scouting reports on Mariota and Winston.

The quarterbacks are going to get all the attention, but there are a ton of other legitimate pro prospects on display. Florida State tight end Nick O’Leary and wide receiver Rashad Greene are potential second-day selections, especially O’Leary.

There will be some good draft matchups in the trenches as well. Florida State has three offensive linemen who could be Day-2 picks in tackle/center Cameron Erving, left guard Josue Matias and right guard Tre Jackson. Oregon defensive lineman Arik Armstead is a talented athlete who will challenge the Florida State front.

The Seminoles’ defense has been disappointing as a unit, but the unit has a number of players that will play on Sundays. Cornerbacks Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams are early-round picks, as are defensive tackles Eddie Goldman and Mario Edwards Jr. All of them will be tested by Mariota. Oregon left tackle Jake Fisher also will need a good game giving Mariota time to throw the ball.

Alabama vs. Ohio State; Thursday, Jan. 1, 8:30 PM ESPN

Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper is a favorite to be a top-10 pick in a few months and will be facing Ohio State cornerback Doran Grant, a potential second-day pick. Cooper should win that matchup, but Grant is a competitor, and it will be interesting to see if he can rise to the occasion.

Crimson Tide junior safety Landon Collins is going to be tested by Ohio State speedster wide receiver Devin Smith. Smith is one of most explosive players in college football, so Collins will be challenged downfield and by the Buckeyes’ rushing attack.

Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon and guard Arie Kouandjio also are going against some good talent. Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett finished the year playing red hot, plus the Buckeyes have a tough defensive line. Yeldon could use a big game to help his chances of breaking into the first round.

Iowa vs. Tennessee; Friday, Jan. 2, 3:20 PM ESPN

Iowa left tackle Brandon Scherff looks like a first-round pick, but he may have to move to guard or right tackle in the NFL. The Volunteers have a double-digit sack producer in freshman defensive end Derek Barnett. Hopefully, Barnett lines up against Scherff to provide a good evaluation test to close out Scherff’s season and gauge whether he can remain at left tackle.

Kansas State vs. UCLA; Friday, Jan. 2, 6:45 PM ESPN

The Wildcats feature a competitive defense to go against UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley in his final college game. Hundley may not go in the first round, but if he performs well as a pocket passer, that could help to improve his draft stock.

Kansas State has an efficient offense, and center B.J. Finney is a pro prospect. UCLA outside linebacker Erik Kendricks will be tested by the Wildcats’ rushing attack. Defensive end Owa Odighizuwa could use a strong finish to help his chances for Day 2. Kansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett is a third-day slot receiver/returner candidate.

East Carolina vs. Florida; Saturday, Jan. 3, 12:00 PM ESPN

The Pirates feature a passing offense led by quarterback Shane Carden and wide out Justin Hardy. That duo will see its toughest test of the year with the Florida pass-rusher Dante Fowler Jr. and Vernon Hargreaves. Fowler looks like a top-20 pick in this 2015 NFL Draft, and Hargreaves would be a top-10 pick if he could declare for the 2015 NFL Draft. Both Carden and Hardy could really help themselves with a big game against Florida.

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