2018 NFL Draft Prospect Matchup Preview – New Year’s Day 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.

Central Florida vs. Auburn; Monday, Jan. 1, 12:30 PM ESPN

Sources have told me that Central Florida cornerback Mike Hughes has been receiving some second-round grades from scouts this season. Hughes is going to see a test with the Auburn passing attack. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham has really improved during 2017 and is playing efficient football. The Tigers also have some dangerous receivers in Ryan Davis, Darius Slayton, Will Hastings, Eli Stove and Nate Craig-Myers.

Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson played really well down the stretch to get the Tigers into the SEC Championship game. He dealt with a shoulder injury, so showing NFL evaluators he’s healthy for the bowl game could help to mitigate injury concerns if he decides to enter the 2018 NFL Draft.

Auburn’s defense has pro prospects in outside linebacker Jeff Holland and cornerback Carlton Davis. Davis could be a first-rounder next April and is facing the challenge in a high-scoring offense.

Notre Dame vs. LSU; Monday, Jan. 1, 1:00 PM ABC

This game would have featured the best draft matchup of the entire bowl schedule if LSU defensive end Arden Key had lined up against Notre Dame left tackle Mike McGlinchey. They both could be top-16 picks with Key having high first-round potential. Key, however, decided to forgo this contest. McGlinchey is the top left tackle prospect, and he could use a bounce-back performance after an ugly outing against Miami late in the season.

Sources from across the NFL say that Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson is one of the elite prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft. He will see some quality interior defensive line talent with LSU.

Another few potentially great draft matchups this game are LSU cornerbacks Donte Jackson and Kevin Toliver taking on Notre Dame wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown. Jackson could be a first- or second-round pick, and Toliver has Day 2 potential. St. Brown has an excellent skill set, but hasn’t been able to show it in 2017 because quarterback Brandon Wimbush is incompetent at getting St. Brown the football. Wimbush has failed to complete 50 percent of his passes this season, even in games against cupcake opponents. Thus, it is hard to imagine that Wimbush can get St. Brown the ball against LSU.

This game has two running back prospects for the NFL in Derrius Guice and Josh Adams. LSU’s Guice could be an early-rounder in the 2018 NFL Draft. The power back Adams could be a mid-rounder.

Other prospects to watch include LSU wide receiver D.J. Chark, Notre Dame linebacker Nyles Morgan, Notre Dame tight end Durham Smythe and Notre Dame linebacker Drue Tranquill.

Oklahoma vs. Georgia; Saturday, Jan. 1, 5:00 PM ESPN

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield has gotten a ton of hype to close out the 2017 season. Mayfield could be a first- or second-day pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, and his performance in this game is going to be huge. Mayfield has beat up on weak Big XII defenses all season, but he will see a much more talented group with Georgia. Bulldogs linebacker Roquan Smith is a future first-round pick for the 2018 NFL Draft and could give the mobile Mayfield a lot of problems as a spy. Smith has been phenomenal this season. Sooners tight end Mark Andrews also has second-day potential, and he could be a challenge for Smith in man-to-man pass coverage as Oklahoma loves to send Andrews down the seam.

Defensive tackle Trenton Thompson, safety Dominick Sanders, and outside linebackers Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellmay are also NFL prospects to watch from the Bulldogs.

Georgia running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel have played really well this year with a lot of success running behind left tackle Isaiah Wynn. Those three Bulldogs should all be selected in the first three rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft.

Other Oklahoma prospects to watch include left tackle Orlando Brown and edge rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo.

Alabama vs. Clemson; Monday, Jan. 1, 8:45 PM ESPN

If you want to watch future NFL defensive starters, this is a game for you as both sides are loaded with defensive players who will be starting on Sundays. The player who is likely to go the highest next April is Alabama’s do-it-all safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. He will be tested by Clemson’s running quarterback Kelly Bryant and its vertical receivers like Deon Cain. The Crimson Tide have other future NFL defensive backs in strong safety Ronnie Harrison, cornerback Anthony Averett and third cornerback Tony Brown.

Clemson left tackle Mitch Hyatt has struggled this season, and he is going to see some future pros. Alabama nose tackle Da’Ron Payne could be a first-rounder next April.

Tigers defensive end Clelin Ferrell, defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and defensive end Austin Bryant could be Thursday night picks in the 2018 NFL Draft. Wilkins and Ferrell have top-20 potential for the 2018 NFL Draft. Wilkins was dominant against Miami in the ACC Championship Game. The Tigers will need him to continue to cause havoc against Alabama’s rushing tandem of tailback Damien Harris and running quarterback Jalen Hurts.

Clemson cornerback Mark Fields is a pro prospect who could be called on to help cover Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley. Ridley could be the first receiver selected in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Other prospects to watch are Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans and Clemson linebacker Kendall Joseph.

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