NFL Draft: High prospects to observe in early bowl video games

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NFL Draft: High prospects to observe in early bowl video games
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NFL Draft: High prospects to observe in early bowl video games
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Culminating within the Nationwide Championship at SoFi Stadium on Jan. 9, at least 42 bowl video games shall be performed this winter, sufficient to fulfill even probably the most passionate of college football followers.

And whereas the massive bowls on New 12 months’s Day additionally boast a few of the most recognizable NFL prospects, don’t make the error of overlooking the early bowl video games that kick off this weekend — the scouts actually won’t be.

[Related: Schedule, picks for every bowl game]

Taking into consideration each accidents and opt-outs, the next is a listing of one of the best NFL prospects suiting up one last time this weekend for his or her faculty groups, with gamers listed within the order by which their video games shall be performed. 

Learn how to make bowl video games extra thrilling

Joel Klatt discusses doable methods to make bowl video games not solely extra enjoyable to observe, however extra useful for the gamers.

FRIDAY, DEC. 16

Bahamas Bowl
Thomas A. Robinson Nationwide Stadium, Bahamas
Miami (Ohio) vs. UAB, 11:30 a.m. ET

DeWayne McBride, RB, Jr., Alabama-Birmingham 

In main the FBS with an eye-popping 1,713 speeding yards and rating second in speeding touchdowns with 19 (one behind Pittsburgh’s Israel Abanikanda), McBride is the right participant to kick off this text.

McBride signed with the Blazers as a three-star recruit, however whereas he could also be considerably nameless to followers throughout the nation, he actually is just not with expertise evaluators. McBride is a verifiable celebrity who has been constantly over his three years with the Blazers. The 5-foot-11, 215-pound true junior has racked up 3,523 yards and 36 speeding touchdowns in simply 31 video games — averaging practically 114 yards per contest and seven.3 yards per carry. 

Followers will wish to tune into the Bahamas Bowl, as this can be their final alternative to see McBride as an newbie. A real junior who possesses admirable sturdiness and consistency, McBride may really feel he has little left to realize by returning for his senior season, particularly given how the punishment catches up with working backs. McBride is an fascinating analysis for the NFL as he doesn’t possess elite top-end velocity or dimension. He’s a greater participant than an athlete, displaying wonderful imaginative and prescient, toughness, and steadiness to bounce by holes and spin off of contact. McBride has misleading velocity, constantly shocking opponents who misjudge pursuit angles towards him. He isn’t anticipated to place up dazzling exercise numbers, nonetheless, and affords little or no within the passing sport, catching simply 5 whole passes over his profession, together with two receptions for 10 yards this season.

Treatment Bowl
Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Florida
No. 25 UTSA vs. No. 24 Troy, 3 p.m. ET

Zakhari Franklin, WR, Sr., UTSA

Whereas soccer stays an enormous man’s sport, there was a noticeable shift towards playmakers, illustrated by the truth that 17 extensive receivers have earned first-round choices over the previous three drafts — greater than every other place. Franklin isn’t essentially going to affix them, however his statistics recommend he ought to, as he enters the showdown with Troy with 26 touchdowns scored in his final 26 video games. The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder set faculty information a yr in the past with 81 receptions for 1,027 yards and 12 touchdowns, then promptly broke all of them in 2022 with 86 grabs for 1,100 yards and 14 scores. And that is with a sport left to pad his numbers. 

As Franklin’s lean body suggests, he’s extra of a long-strider who has the build-up velocity to problem deep reasonably than the moment acceleration that usually warrants early-round NFL draft consideration. Together with above-average dimension and good velocity, Franklin boasts terrific ball abilities, displaying the power to grab the ball out of the air, together with with only one hand, as crucial. Franklin additionally might have one of the best post-TD celebration in faculty soccer, shaping his arms to type the letter “Z” after a lot of his scores, a transfer that might have scouts matching with a “thumbs up,” given his consistency.

SATURDAY, DEC. 17

Fenway Bowl
Fenway Park in Boston
Cincinnati vs. Louisville, 11 a.m. ET

Ivan Pace, Jr., ILB, Sr., Cincinnati

It’s maybe applicable that this yr’s bowl sport matchup of Cincinnati and Louisville takes place in Fenway Park as there shall be some huge hitters on show. Definitely probably the most constant of the bunch is Tempo, who was certainly one of simply 4 gamers to be named a finalist for the Dick Butkus Award because the nation’s high linebacker, an honor in the end bestowed upon Iowa’s Jack Campbell

Tempo started his faculty profession at Miami of Ohio, main the Center American Convention in tackles in 2021 with 125 stops, together with 13 behind the road of scrimmage and 4 sacks. Although he left the RedHawks to leap to Cincinnati this previous season, Tempo actually saved his instincts and velocity, main the American Athletic Convention in stops (119). Tempo didn’t show “simply” a thumper towards the run, nonetheless. His tackles included a jaw-dropping 18.5 behind the road of scrimmage (sixth within the FBS), in addition to eight sacks, incomes him AAC Defensive Participant of the 12 months honors and making him arguably the preeminent invitee to this yr’s East-West Shrine Bowl. 

Tempo’s measurements there might show fascinating, as he’s listed at 6-foot, 239 kilos, however seems to be shorter. His compact body helps him conceal behind the huge males taking part in alongside the road of scrimmage, and he is ready to rack up tackles by shocking ball carriers within the gap, displaying true knockdown energy, in addition to good burst laterally. Like many undersized linebackers, nonetheless, Tempo struggles to disengage towards greater, longer-armed blockers and must beat them to the motion to be best.

YaYa Diaby, Edge, redshirt Sr., Louisville

Together with dimension and velocity, NFL scouts are at all times looking out for ascending gamers, particularly those that include positional versatility and have a monitor document of manufacturing game-changing performs. Louisville’s 6-foot-4, 255-pound Diaby checks all of these packing containers, which is why he has already been invited to the distinguished Senior Bowl. 

Diaby really recorded extra tackles in 12 video games final season (39) than in the identical quantity to this point in 2022 (33) however his huge performs have skyrocketed, leaping from three tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks to 11.5 TFLs and seven.5 sacks, good for third within the ACC. Diaby’s manufacturing might need been even higher had Louisville allowed him to concentrate on only one place. As a substitute, he was requested to slip inside to defensive sort out and alternate between left and proper defensive finish all through his breakout 2022 marketing campaign. Nonetheless, he notched spectacular performances towards Florida State (career-high seven tackles, together with three for loss and two sacks) and Pittsburgh (5-2.5-.5). After a torrid begin to the season, Diaby tailed off down the stretch, recording simply certainly one of his TFLs over the 4 video games since Halloween, making this matchup towards Cincinnati all of the extra vital to his analysis.

Diaby has the look of an NFL edge rusher, possessing a compact body with good muscular growth and lengthy arms, which helps him break freed from the grasp of would-be blockers, in addition to lasso ball carriers out of the attain of different defenders. He’s fast off the ball and exhibits the flexibleness to show the nook effectively. Diaby is just not at the moment large enough to carry up inside at defensive sort out, however his expertise there has toughened him up, and he seems comfy amidst the ocean of humanity on the line of scrimmage, not counting on a runway the best way some edge rushers do.

New Mexico Bowl
College Stadium in Albuquerque, New Mexico
SMU vs. BYU, 2:15 p.m. ET

Blake Freeland, OT, redshirt Jr., BYU

Freeland boasts lengthy arms and light-weight ft to associate with an imposing 6-foot-8, 310-pound body, making it straightforward to see why he earned AP All-American honors this season at left sort out whereas defending the blindside of star quarterback Jaren Hall (who is taken into account questionable for this sport as a consequence of an ankle damage).

Technically a redshirt junior, Freeland is wrapping up his fourth season as a starter for the Cougars, courting again to his true freshman season of 2019, when he began the ultimate seven video games at proper sort out. He has already accepted an invite to the Senior Bowl, which means that this shall be his final sport for BYU. Freeland strikes effectively for an enormous man, easing out of his stance easily. He slides laterally whereas sustaining surprisingly good pad degree for his peak and getting highly effective preliminary shoves on defenders to maintain them at bay, which he used to carry up properly in matchups towards proficient fronts for Notre Dame, Oregon, Baylor and others. 

That pad degree is simply as vital within the working sport, the place Freeland does a pleasant job of extending his arms and producing motion, not simply turning and sealing off defenders. His expertise exhibits in his means to really feel twists, stunts and delayed blitzes, rapidly switching off of his major task to help elsewhere, together with when climbing to the second degree within the working sport. With Corridor ailing and SMU star receiver Rashee Rice opting out of this sport, Freeland is the highest NFL prospect within the New Mexico Bowl. 

LA Bowl
SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California
Fresno State vs. Washington State, 3:30 p.m. ET

Jake Haener, QB, redshirt Sr., Fresno State

Haener started his faculty profession on the University of Washington, opting to switch to Fresno State when the previous workers declared one other participant (Dylan Morris) the winner of a hotly contested quarterback competitors. Whereas he by no means had the chance to face Washington State within the Apple Cup, as destiny would have it, Haener will finish his faculty profession towards the Cougars, a workforce looking for a return to type after its highly-ranked go protection (17 passing TDs allowed in 13 video games) was scorched by Michael Penix, Jr. and the Huskies on this yr’s matchup of the state rivals. 

With WSU’s star linebacker Daiyan Henley opting out of this sport, Haener’s process is somewhat simpler, although nonetheless formidable. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 195 kilos, Haener lacks an excellent construct for the NFL and will get by extra with anticipation and accuracy reasonably than velocity as a passer. He owns a profession touchdown-to-interception ratio of 66 to 18, nonetheless, and has constantly performed effectively towards high competitors, guiding the Bulldogs to a Mountain West Convention championship this season and a win in final yr’s New Mexico Bowl. His present string of not less than one landing toss in 28 consecutive video games is a Mountain West Convention document. 

Haener was invited to the Senior Bowl a yr in the past — making him the primary participant from Fresno State to be invited to Cell since Derek Carr — however he opted to return for one more yr with the Bulldogs. A fractured proper ankle towards USC saved him out of 4 video games this season and Haener’s manufacturing dropped, however he has accomplished 72.6% of his passes regardless of his throws averaging 9 yards per try, each career-highs.

Fresno State’s Jake Haener throws a dime

Jake Haener hit Zane Pope for a 22-yard landing towards Boise State earlier this season.

Las Vegas Bowl
Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada
Florida vs. No. 14 Oregon State, 7:30 p.m. ET

Gervon Dexter, DT, Jr., Florida

Head coach Billy Napier might have a sophisticated copy of this system simply to discipline a workforce with three of his program’s greatest stars — quarterback Anthony Richardson, guard O’Cyrus Torrence and receiver Justin Shorter — opting out to organize for the NFL draft. Dexter is heading to the NFL, as effectively, however not too long ago mentioned competing within the Las Vegas Bowl towards Oregon State was “by no means a query.” 

One other factor that seems unquestionable — not less than on paper — is Dexter’s consistency, as his 2021 (50 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks) and 2022 statistics (50-4-2) are practically similar. Listed at 6-foot-6 and 303 kilos, Dexter is an enormous man able to wreaking havoc alongside the road of scrimmage, however he’s extra of a pillar of granite than a penetrator. Dexter is commonly a step late off the ball and lacks the slipperiness to ever be a lot of a real pass-rush menace. He’s very troublesome to maneuver, nonetheless, sprouting roots together with his highly effective decrease half and tossing would-be blockers apart when working backs or quarterbacks get close to, projecting properly to a two-gap scheme as a nostril guard or defensive finish.

Rejzohn Wright, CB, redshirt Sr., Oregon State

The youthful brother of Dallas Cowboys’ cornerback (and former Oregon State teammate) Nahshon Wright, Rejzhon (pronounced Ray-zhawn) affords a really comparable mix of dimension, velocity and playmaking means as his sibling, projecting as a doable High 100 choice within the 2023 NFL draft.

Nahshon, you might recall, was chosen 99th general by Dallas in 2021 after spending simply two seasons in Corvalis following his switch from Laney Faculty. If his brother’s success had not already made their title acquainted to soccer followers, Rejzohn has additionally already earned loads of consideration, each for his function within the 2020 season of the documentary “Final Probability U” and the truth that he starred for the Beavers in 2021, incomes Honorable Point out All-Pac-12 honors. He was particularly good in matchups towards USC (an interception and go breakup), Stanford (interception) and Washington (career-high six tackles, together with a sack). Pardon the pun, however opponents rightly threw away from Wright this previous season, and but he nonetheless posted a career-high 9 go breakups whereas matching his 2021 whole of two interceptions.

Like his older brother, Rejzohn is a unfastened, assured athlete with a easy backpedal and the unfastened hips to shuttle, shadow and speed up downfield in protection. Simply as vital, he performs each bit as huge as his 6-foot-2, 191 kilos, offering high quality run help and stable tackles towards receivers, as effectively.

Frisco Bowl
Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas
North Texas vs. Boise State, 9:15 p.m. ET

JL Skinner, SS, redshirt Sr., Boise State

In a basic case of saving one of the best for final, Skinner might wind up being the primary participant from this text chosen within the NFL draft. At 6-foot-4, 218 kilos, he possesses eye-popping dimension for a security and has demonstrated all through his profession the power to play within the field, as most would count on. Some, the truth is, really feel that he might proceed to bulk up and deal with outdoors linebacker duties. Defensive backs of his dimension who can even cowl, nonetheless, are fairly uncommon, and there’s loads of proof that he can deal with taking part in in area, which is why the Senior Bowl has already invited Skinner. 

For an enormous man, Skinner possesses spectacular lateral agility, acceleration and ball abilities, as his career-high 4 interceptions in 2022 can attest. A 3-star recruit out of San Diego, Skinner bypassed affords from Pac-12 faculties to affix Boise State and has earned all-conference honors the previous two seasons, culminating in First Group All-Mountain West accolades in 2022.

Learn extra:

High tales from FOX Sports activities:

Rob Rang is an NFL Draft analyst for FOX Sports activities. He has been overlaying the NFL Draft for greater than 20 years, with work at FOX, Sports activities Illustrated, CBSSports.com, USA Right this moment, Yahoo, NFL.com and NFLDraftScout.com, amongst others. He additionally works as a scout with the BC Lions of the Canadian Soccer League. Observe him on Twitter @RobRang.


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