2016 NFL Draft Prospect Matchup Preview – Bowls

Want to get to know the draft prospects for the 2016 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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BYU vs. Utah; Saturday, Dec. 19, 3:30 PM ABC

There are a few prospects to keep an eye on in this game. Each team has a defensive end to watch with Utah’s Jason Fanaika and BYU’s Bronson Kaufusi. Unfortunately, Utah running back Devontae Booker won’t play because of injury.

Nebraska vs UCLA; Saturday, Dec. 26, 9:15 PM ESPN

This game features two future defensive tackles for the NFL with the Bruins’ Kenny Clark and the Cornhuskers’ Maliek Collins. Clark could be a late first-round or second-round pick. He is an excellent run defender. Collins is a fast penetrator who would fit as a three-technique in a 4-3 defense. He had a better sophomore season, but if he enters the 2016 NFL Draft, he could go on Day 2. Bruins junior running back Paul Perkins has second-day potential as well if he enters the 2016 NFL Draft.

LSU vs Texas Tech; Tuesday, Dec. 29, 9:00 PM ESPN

Texas Tech left tackle Le’Raven Clark is a potential second-day pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, and he will see some fast edge rushers with the Tigers led by junior Lewis Neal in this contest. Neal could be one of the better pass rushers who Clark will have gone against this season, so this game is critical for Clark’s hopes to remain at left tackle in the NFL.

Auburn vs Memphis; Wednesday, Dec. 30, 12:00 PM ESPN

Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch is the consensus top quarterback prospect for the 2016 NFL Draft. He hasn’t seen a lot of good defenses this year, but he did light up Ole Miss in an upset of the Rebels. Auburn has a better stop unit than the typical team that Lynch faced. Edge rusher Carl Lawson, defensive tackle Montravius Adams, linebackers Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost are all future NFL competitors. Lynch will have his toughness and ability to hold up under pressure put to the test.

Texas A&M vs Louisville; Wednesday, Dec. 30, 7:00 PM ESPN

This game has a nice draft matchup with Texas A&M tackle Germain Ifedi going against Louisville defensive ends Sheldon Rankins and Devonte Fields. Rankins is going to the Senior Bowl, and Ifedi has been up and down this season. Fields had a slow start to the year before a strong second half. Both Fields and Ifedi need a strong finish if they are planing on entering the 2016 NFL Draft.

Oklahoma vs Clemson; Thursday, Dec. 31, 4:00 PM ESPN

Clemson redshirt sophomore cornerback Mackensie Alexander will see a quality receiver in Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard. Alexander is a shorter cornerback, so it will help his draft stock to show he can match up against a speedy slot receiver like Shepard.

Each team has a defensive end prospect for the NFL. Oklahoma senior defensive end Charles Tapper really improved as a senior and was consistent with his pass rush and run defense. Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson also played well against the run and pass. Both look like potential second-day picks.

The best pure pass rusher in this game is Oklahoma’s Eric Striker. However, he is a 3-4 outside linebacker trapped in the body of a safety. Striker looks like a luxury pick as a situational pass rusher.

Clemson safety Jayron Kearse also has second-day potential if he enters the 2016 NFL Draft.

Michigan State vs Alabama; Thursday, Dec. 31, 8:00 PM ESPN

This game will feature a potential NFL starting quarterback and early-round pick in Michigan State’s Connor Cook. He has had accuracy problems in his collegiate career, and he will be under a lot of pressure from a tremendous Alabama defensive front that features a lot of players for Sundays.

Defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson, defensive tackle Jarran Reed, defensive end Jonathan Allen and linebacker Reggie Ragland are all early-round picks and future starters in the NFL. Those four will put a lot of pressure on Cook as their run defense produces a lot of bad down-and-distance situations for quarterbacks. Another prospect to watch is Michigan State senior left tackle Jack Conklin. NFL teams feel that Conklin would be a better fit at right tackle or guard. His pass protection will be put to the test by Allen and edge rusher Tim Williams. This game could be critical for Conklin’s draft stock.

Alabama running back Derrick Henry won the Heisman Trophy and has dominated the competition as a physical workhorse. Spartans edge rusher Shilique Calhoun could be a late first-rounder, and his run defense will be challenged by Alabama.

Michigan vs Florida; Friday, Jan. 1, 12:00 PM ABC

Florida has some future NFL defenders in linebacker Antonio Morrison, defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard, linebacker Jarrad Davis, safety Keanu Neal and safety Marcus Maye. They will all be tested by Michigan junior tight end Jake Butt, who could be a second-day talent, but is returning to school next year.

Another special player to watch when Michigan has the ball is Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, who could be the top cornerback for the 2016 NFL Draft and a top-10 pick.

Gators junior running back Kelvin Taylor has put together a quality season. His teammate Florida wide receiver Demarcus Robinson was suspended against Florida State and is in dire need of a good game to help his draft grade.

Notre Dame vs Ohio State; Friday, Jan. 1, 1:00 PM ESPN

This game has the best draft matchups of any Bowl game. Notre Dame left tackle Ronnie Stanley will go against Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa. Bosa is a top-10 talent while Stanley is a good pass protector who needs more strength as a run blocker. Shutting down Bosa would be huge for Stanley’s draft stock, and Bosa’s hopes would also be bolstered by beating Stanley.

There could be another good matchup on the inside with Notre Dame center Nick Martin versus defensive tackle Adolphus Washington. Washington’s status is up in the air after getting arrested for solicitation.

On the other side of the ball, Ohio State junior running back Ezekiel Elliott has already announced he will enter the 2016 NFL Draft and is a first-round talent. Notre Dame junior linebacker Jaylon Smith is a possible top-20 pick who is a phenomenal run defender. Elliott going against Smith will be fun to watch and gauge how they handle a top NFL talent.

Notre Dame defensive lineman Sheldon Day is a potential second-day pick, and he will see some NFL talent on the Ohio State offensive line with tackle Taylor Decker. Decker is slated to play in the Senior Bowl. Another good matchup to watch is Notre Dame cornerback KeiVarae Russell taking on Ohio State wide receiver Michael Thomas.

Stanford vs Iowa; Friday, Jan. 1, 5:00 PM ABC

Iowa junior cornerback Desmond King is a potential early-round talent if he enters the 2016 NFL Draft. Stanford wide receivers Devin Cajuste and Michael Rector will test King. Cardinal tight end Austin Hooper could be one of the top tight ends if he enters the 2016 NFL Draft.

Oklahoma State vs Ole Miss; Friday, Jan. 1, 8:30 PM ESPN

This game has one of the best draft matchups of the year with Oklahoma State junior defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah going against Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil. Tunsil is a potential franchise left tackle and contender to be the No. 1-overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Ogbah is a first-round edge rusher. This will be a great test for Tunsil to show he can shut down a talented and consistent quarterback hunter.

Ole Miss defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche is a potential top-20 pick. He has a great skill set but rarely produces up to it in terms of sacks and tackles. It would help him to finish his collegiate career with a big performance against the Cowboys, but he may not play after being hospitalized for jumping off the fourth floor of a hotel. He also was arrested for marijuana possession.

Rebels junior wide receiver Laquon Treadwell should have his way with the Oklahoma State secondary. Treadwell is a likely first-rounder in the back half. Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram and safety Tony Conner are other prospects to watch.

Penn State vs Georgia; Saturday, Jan. 2, 12:00 PM ABC

This could be the final college game for Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg. He has struggled with accuracy and handling the pass rush. That will be tested as Georgia has a dynamic edge rusher in Leonard Floyd. He should be a first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Georgia linebacker Jordan Jenkins also is a potential draft pick.

Penn State edge rusher Carl Nassib led the nation in sacks despite an injury late in the year. He and defensive tackle Anthony Zettel are future NFL defensive linemen. Nassib has early-round potential.

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