2018 NFL Draft Prospect Matchup Preview – Pre-New Year’s Bowls

Want to get to know the draft prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft? This weekly column breaks down the best matchups to watch on Saturday and what players to watch.

By Charlie Campbell.
Send Charlie an e-mail here: [email protected]
Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell for updates.

Boise State vs. Oregon; Saturday, Dec. 16, 3:30 PM ABC

The prospect to watch in this game is Oregon running back Royce Freeman. Freeman recently set the Pac-12 record for career rushing touchdowns and faces a quality Bose State team.

Central Michigan vs. Wyoming; Friday, Dec. 22, 4:00 PM ABC

WalterFootball.com was first to report that Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen would enter the 2018 NFL Draft. Thus, this will be Allen’s last game tape to impress NFL evaluators. Sources across the league say Allen is a first-rounder next April. After missing the final two games of the regular season with a shoulder injury, it will help Allen to show evaluators that he is healthy and the injury is behind him.

Kansas State vs. UCLA; Tuesday, Dec. 26, 8:00 PM ESPN

WalterFootball.com was first to report that UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen will be entering the 2018 NFL Draft, and it will be interesting to see if Rosen plays in his bowl game. Late in the season, he dealt with injuries, including a concussion and was knocked out of the regular-season finale against California. Another prospect to watch is UCLA offensive tackle Kolton Miller.

Iowa vs. Boston College; Wednesday, Dec. 27, 5:15 PM ESPN

Iowa has some good prospects to watch in running back Akrum Wadley, linebacker Josey Jewell and cornerback Joshua Jackson. Boston College has two defensive ends for the NFL in Harold Landry and Zach Allen, although Allen has said he is returning to to the Eagles for his senior year.

Texas vs. Missouri; Wednesday, Dec. 27, 9:00 PM ESPN

This game could have had a good draft matchup with Texas left tackle Connor Williams going against Missouri edge rusher Marcell Frazier. However, Williams is ducking Frazier by sitting out the bowl game, even though Williams had some bad tape from this season and missed a huge portion of it with a knee injury. Williams could have helped his draft grade by playing well against Frazier, but he also could have gotten further exposed as a mid-rounder, which would have ended up hurting his draft grade. Thus if Williams needs to hide, it was a good decision.

Texas safety DeShon Elliott is also sitting out this bowl game for draft preparation, but Elliott played all year and had an excellent 2017. Longhorns linebacker Malik Jefferson should go in the top half of the 2017 NFL Draft, if he enters it. Jefferson is dealing with turf toe, so he may or may not play in this contest.

Virginia Tech vs. Oklahoma State; Thursday, Dec. 28, 5:15 PM ESPN

Virginia Tech has pro prospects in linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and cornerback Adonis Alexander. Unfortunately, safety Terrell Edmunds is out with an injury. The Hokies will be challenged by an explosive Oklahoma State offense led by quarterback Mason Rudolph, a potential mid-round pick. Cowboys wide receivers James Washington and Marcell Ateman will get drafted next April as well.

Washington State vs. Michigan State; Thursday, Dec. 28, 9:00 PM FS1

Washington State quarterback Luke Falk could be a second-day pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, and he needs a good game to help his draft stock after having a rough outing against Washington to end the regular season. Cougars left tackle Andre Dillard is another prospect to watch when Washington State has the ball. Michigan State running back L.J. Scott could be a second-day pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Wake Forest vs. Texas A&M; Friday, Dec. 29, 1:10 PM ESPN

There are two prospects in this game who could be early-round picks in the 2018 NFL Draft. Texas A&M wide receiver Christian Kirk could go in Round 1 or as low as Round 3. There is a lot of variance in his draft grade. Wake Forest defensive end Duke Ejiofor looks like a second-day talent. Texas A&M safety Armani Watts is another future draft pick who has been an overachiever. Watts has good instincts that help make up for not having elite size or speed.

Kentucky vs. Northwestern; Friday, Dec. 29, 4:30 PM ESPN

There are a few NFL prospects going head-to-head in this game. Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson has received some second-day grades if he enters the 2018 NFL Draft. Thorson will be seeing an early-round linebacker and edge rusher in Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen. Thorson also will see a future NFL cornerback in Derrick Baity. Northwestern running back Justin Jackson and safety Godwin Igwebuike are prospects as well.

Ohio State vs. USC; Friday, Dec. 29, 8:30 PM ESPN

Team sources have told WalterFootball.com, and others in the media have reported, that USC quarterback Darnold is leaning toward returning to USC for next year. Darnold will be taking on a talented Ohio State defense that has a number of future first-round picks. Cornerback Deznel Ward is likely to go in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft and has good ball skills to challenge Darnold and wide receiver Deontay Burnett.

Darnold also will be challenged to hold up in the face of a rush. He is seeing three defensive ends who will be playing on Sundays in Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis and Nick Bosa. Hubbard has a first-round skill set, while Lewis should get drafted on Day 2 or in the mid-rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft. Bosa, for his part, could be an early-rounder after next season, when he is eligible for the 2019 NFL Draft. Buckeyes defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones is another NFL prospect to watch.

USC running back Ronald Jones is a potential second-day talent for the 2018 NFL Draft, and he will see a future NFL linebacker in Jerome Baker.

Ohio State center Billy Price is a potential first-rounder next April. The Buckeyes have a first- or second-round pick in wide receiver Parris Campbell, but they have struggled to get him the ball this season with the passing limitations of quarterback J.T. Barrett.

USC edge rusher Uchenna Nwosu, defensive tackle Rasheem Green and cornerback Iman Marshall are other prospects to watch.

Louisville vs. Mississippi State; Saturday, Dec. 30, 12:00 PM ESPN

This could be the final collegiate game for Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. He will be seeing a SEC defense with some talent on it. Cornerback Jamal Peters and safety Johnathan Abram will challenge Jackson in coverage. There also is a good draft matchup to watch in the trenches with Louisville edge rusher James Hearns taking on Mississippi State left tackle Martinas Rankin. Louisville cornerback Jaire Alexander also is an early-round prospect to watch.

Washington vs. Penn State; Saturday, Dec. 30, 4:00 PM ESPN

This game has a great matchup of top-20 draft talents at the point of attack. Penn State running back Saquaon Barkley could be the top prospect for the 2018 NFL Draft at any position, and he is seeing a tremendous interior defensive lineman in Washington nose tackle Vita Vea. Vea is a first-rounder who could go as a top-20 pick even though he plays a position that gets downgraded. It will be interesting to see if Barkley can be effective running against the Huskies’ defense.

Other prospects to watch include Washington wide receiver Dante Pettis, Washington running back Myles Gaskin, Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki and Penn State safety Marcus Allen.

Wisconsin vs. Miami; Saturday, Dec. 30, 8:00 PM ESPN

Miami defensive end Chad Thomas has an early-round skill set and flashes some tremendous talent. However, he is inconsistent. Wisconsin left tackle Michael Deiter struggled in the Big Ten Championship Game and is going to be challenged by Thomas.

Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli could be a second-day pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Hurricanes junior cornerback Michael Jackson also might enter the 2018 NFL Draft. They, along with Badgers linebacker T.J. Edwards, are prospects to watch in this bowl game.

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