|Wisconsin's Montee Ball (left) and Stanford's Stepfan Taylor are two of the top running backs in college football.|
Last week, I took a look at many of the top college football prospects getting a chance to shine on the stage provided by some of the country's bigger bowl games. This week brings another slate of games that promise to put high-level talent on display for NFL scouts.
Here are some of the players I'll be watching over the next few days as they test themselves against big-time competition.
Capital One Bowl: Nebraska vs. Georgia
Tuesday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET, ABC
Aaron Murray*, QB, Georgia: The Bulldogs star has been on fire this season as a pinpoint passer from the pocket. Murray has completed 65.4 percent of his passes while posting a gaudy 31:8 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Most importantly, he has shown the ability to fire accurate strikes to open receivers at every level of the field. Although Murray's height (6-foot-1) and arm strength have been cited as concerns by some scouts, the fact that he has been an outstanding playmaker in the SEC has some evaluators intrigued about his potential as a franchise quarterback.
Jarvis Jones*, OLB, Georgia: Georgia coach Mark Richt thinks Jones might be the best defensive player in college football -- a notion that's tough to dispute, considering Jones' dominance over SEC competition. Jones has amassed 26 sacks and 42 tackles for loss over the past two seasons, showcasing a flashy game built on speed, quickness and burst. He has been nearly impossible to slow down off the corner and has shown a penchant for producing negative plays.
Alec Ogletree*, ILB, Georgia: The changing nature of the NFL game demands that defenses have a sideline-to-sideline playmaker in the middle. Ogletree is a premier defender with exceptional speed and athleticism. He excels at making big hits within the tackle-to-tackle box while displaying remarkable instincts and awareness. NFL scouts would like to see Ogletree play with more physicality when taking on blocks, but it's hard to dispute his production as the heart and soul of the Bulldogs' defense.
Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams, S, Georgia: This is arguably the best safety tandem in college football. Both players display excellent ball skills, awareness and tackling ability. Rambo, in particular, is a dynamic ball hawk with rare anticipation and instincts in the deep middle. Williams is a hard hitter with the size and strength to bang runners in the box. He's also shown solid ball skills in the back end. Collectively, Rambo and Williams make plays all over the field. NFL scouts are certainly curious to see if both guys have the tools to be star-quality playmakers at the next level.
Outback Bowl: Michigan vs. South CarolinaTuesday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN
|Wherever he lines up, Michigan's Denard Robinson can make a splash Tuesday. (Tony Ding/Associated Press)|
Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan: Robinson is still listed as the Wolverines' quarterback, but he played primarily as a running back over the final month of the season due to an elbow injury on his throwing arm. This shift has taken Robinson away from his preferred position, but it has given NFL scouts an opportunity to see his potential as a designated offensive playmaker. Most evaluators still view Robinson as a potential slot receiver in the NFL, and they'll get one more chance to see how his athleticism could transition to a non-quarterback position, possibly even defensive back.
Taylor Lewan*, OT, Michigan: There has been plenty of discussion in the NFL scouting community about Lewan's potential as a franchise-caliber left tackle. Lewan is not only a big, physical edge blocker with great tools, but he is an impressive athlete for his size (6-8, 309 pounds). Although he remains a work in progress in pass protection, Lewan's overall potential makes him an intriguing prospect for teams looking for solutions at offensive tackle. With a blockbuster matchup against an elite pass rusher (see: next blurb), Lewan can show scouts how much he's developed.
Jadeveon Clowney*, DE, South Carolina: If Clowney were eligible for the 2013 NFL Draft, he would quite possibly rank as the top defensive end. However, he has two years of eligibility remaining. Scouts are excited to monitor Clowney's continued development as an elite pass rusher. In breaking down his game this season, scouts have come away impressed with his combination of size, athleticism and rush skills. Facing a talented edge blocker in Lewan, Clowney will have an opportunity to show evaluators that he is unquestionably the top defensive end in college heading into the 2013 season.
Rose Bowl: Stanford vs. Wisconsin
Tuesday, Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN
|Wisconsin's Montee Ball will get one more chance to show he's for real. (Andy Manis/Associated Press)|
Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin: The former Heisman Trophy finalist has put together an impressive résumé for NFL scouts. Ball has posted back-to-back seasons with at least 1,700 rushing yards, scoring an NCAA-record 76 rushing touchdowns over the course of his career. Most impressively, Ball has shown improved vision, instincts and running skills as a powerful runner between the tackles in 2012. Some scouts still question Ball's burst and home-run ability, but he has consistently churned out big runs against elite competition. With a chance to showcase his skills against a rugged Cardinal defense that features a number of future pros, Ball could make a strong statement about his NFL prospects in Pasadena.
Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford: Taylor has been underrated on the national scene, but NFL scouts have plenty of respect for his pro-like game. Taylor has posted three straight 1,000-yard seasons, thriving as a dependable workhorse in the Cardinal's power-based scheme. In addition, he has flashed solid hands and receiving skills as a dynamic weapon out of the backfield. Most NFL offensive coordinators are looking for three-down playmakers at the running back position. The Rose Bowl could be a showcase for Taylor's immense talent and potential.
Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford: The dynamic duo has been critical to the success of the Cardinal defense over the past three seasons. Both have specialized in making big plays in key moments while showing the passion and intensity that has become a hallmark of the unit. Thomas has blossomed into a disruptive playmaker off the edge, displaying a relentless motor, outstanding hands and an impressive closing burst. Skov is a disruptive force with sneaky athleticism and quickness. He excels at making plays within the box and sets the tone with jaw-rattling shots in the hole. Facing a Wisconsin team that prefers smash-mouth football over finesse, Skov and Thomas should have plenty of opportunities to prove their mettle to scouts.
Orange Bowl: Florida State vs. Northern Illinois
Tuesday, Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
|Florida State QB E.J. Manuel must demonstrate that he can handle the pressure of a big game. (John Raoux/Associated Press)|
E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State: There is no denying Manuel's unbelievable physical gifts. He possesses rare size, athleticism and arm talent. Most importantly, he can make accurate throws from the pocket or on the run. While most NFL scouts have come away impressed with Manuel's physical skills, the majority of evaluators still harbor concerns about his ability to read and decipher coverage on the move. Manuel has struggled in big games against elite defenses. He must display better awareness and anticipation from the pocket. Given a final opportunity to show off his skills against a feisty opponent, Manuel must play well to silence his doubters and build some momentum heading into the pre-draft process.
Bjoern Werner*, DE, Florida State: The Seminoles have a reputation for producing elite pass rushers, and Werner certainly fits the bill. The 6-4, 255-pound defensive end finished the regular season with 13 sacks, displaying a relentless motor and underrated athleticism. Werner's ability to create consistent pressure off the edge has not only drawn the attention of NFL scouts, but led some to envision him as an eventual difference maker at the next level.
Sugar Bowl: Florida vs. Louisville
Wednesday, Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Sharrif Floyd*, DL, Florida: Floyd has developed into one of the best defensive tackles in college football after entering Florida regarded as the best prep prospect in years. Yup, he's certainly lived up to the billing. Floyd overwhelms opponents with his combination of size and athleticism, flashing impressive instincts and awareness. He has shown glimpses of being a pass rusher, but is at his best creating disruption against the run. Facing an explosive Louisville offense, Floyd will get a chance to show scouts his capacity to dominate as a run stuffer and pass rusher.
Matt Elam*, safety, Florida: Elam is a standout box-area playmaker with outstanding instincts and awareness. He has a strong nose for the ball, which is reflected in his four interceptions in 2012. Some scouts question his speed and athleticism, but his penchant for playmaking is hard to ignore. With an opportunity to play extensively in coverage against a talented pocket passer, Elam can dispel some of the concerns about his ability to be an impact player as a future pro.
Teddy Bridgewater*, QB, Louisville: Bridgewater is still in the early stages of his collegiate career, but that hasn't stopped scouts from paying attention to his considerable talent as a pocket passer. Bridgewater has completed 69 percent of his passes and sports an impressive 25:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Although scouts haven't extensively studied Bridgewater's game at this point, he can build some positive buzz with a stellar performance against an SEC heavyweight.
Fiesta Bowl: Kansas State vs. Oregon
Thursday, Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon: NFL scouts covet defenders with exceptional speed, athleticism and versatility. Jordan is a former tight end with freakish movement skills. In the pass-happy Pac-12, Jordan recorded five sacks and dazzled scouts with his ability to also drop into coverage from his hybrid defensive end position. In his final outing, scouts would love to see Jordan dominate off the edge while showing the ability to put together a series of moves to win consistently against heavy-handed offensive tackles. If he can display a better feel for getting after the passer, it will be hard for teams to bypass a big, talented athlete like Jordan on draft day.
|Oregon RB Kenjon Barner can prove that his success is not just the product of the Ducks' quirky system. (Don Ryan/Associated Press)|
Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon: Barner is still not regarded as an elite running back prospect, even though he just put up a 1,600-yard season for the Ducks. The slithery ball carrier has flashed speed, quickness and burst as the feature runner in the spread, but scouts wonder if his production is really a product of playing in a wide-open system. In addition, some evaluators question whether he's tough enough to withstand the punishment that comes with playing running back at the next level. Barner can answer several questions with a strong showing in the Fiesta Bowl against a physical Kansas State squad.
Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State: It's hard to find a more productive linebacker in college football than Brown. He has posted 10 or more tackles in four games this season, showing exceptional range as a sideline-to-sideline defender. Most importantly, he possesses the tenacity and physicality to thump runners in the hole in big games. While the Ducks' spread offense will not test Brown's ability to stand up against big blockers, the speed of Oregon's skill players will provide scouts with an opportunity to see him work in space. Given the changing nature of the NFL game, that could be enough to send his stock soaring on draft boards across the league.
Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M
Friday, Jan. 4, 8 p.m. ET, FOX
Damontre Moore*, DL, Texas A&M: Moore took the SEC by storm with his exceptional prowess as a pass rusher. He collected 80 tackles, 12.5 sacks and 20 tackles for a loss in 2012. Those numbers are impressive by any standard, but they're especially so when one factors in his transition to a new position (defensive end) within a new scheme this year. Scouts have lauded Moore's natural rush skills and athleticism while also praising his non-stop motor. Although some evaluators are still waiting to see more tape on Moore before suggesting he's a certain top-10 talent, a standout performance in the Cotton Bowl could make it hard to discount Moore's immense potential as a pass rusher.
Luke Joeckel* and Jake Matthews*, OT, Texas A&M: It's hard enough to secure one franchise-caliber offensive tackle in a program, but the Aggies have defied the odds by having a pair of top-notch edge blockers in the lineup. Joeckel and Matthews are as good as they come on the collegiate level; scouts are blown away by their natural skills and potential. This game presents a chance to show off their talents against a gritty Oklahoma defense that features speed on the edges.
|Oklahoma QB Landry Jones can still emerge as a viable prospect. (Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press)|
Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: Jones seemingly has become a forgotten man in all the talk about the 2013 quarterback class, but NFL scouts are still monitoring his play to see if he's grown as a decision maker. Jones has repeatedly made critical errors under duress, and his miscues have cost the Sooners dearly in big games. However, Jones could make amends for his inconsistent play by performing well against an Aggies defense that features one of the best pass rushers in college football (Moore). If Jones can avoid the big mistakes while showcasing his outstanding arm talent with a few magnificent throws, he could earn a reprieve from NFL scouts who doubt his ability to grow into a franchise-caliber playmaker at the next level.
Check back on Friday for Bucky Brooks' full scouting report on the BCS National Championship Game between Notre Dame and Alabama.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.