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Top 15 prospects playing in Saturday's bowl games


Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl (Houston vs. San Diego State, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) is one of the best opening-day bowl games in recent memory. The Aztecs finished 10-3 and won the Mountain West Conference, while the Cougars beat Oklahoma and Louisville but inexplicably lost to SMU and Memphis, costing themselves a shot at an American Athletic Conference crown.

When evaluating the top prospects for the first day of bowl season, scouts will want to keep an eye on the action in Vegas. Unlike most other bowls held before Christmas, there are at least 12 players on the two squads that have NFL futures. Here's a look at the top 15 prospects who'll be competing in bowls on Saturday. All times listed are Eastern.

1. Ed Oliver, DT, Houston
Game: Las Vegas Bowl (vs. San Diego State), 3:30 p.m., ABC
Even though he's only a freshman, Oliver is already one of the top five defenders in the country. Next year, he could prove himself as the consensus No. 1 defensive player in CFB because of his amazing combination of strength, agility, speed and hustle.

2. Damontae Kazee, CB, San Diego State
Game: Las Vegas Bowl (vs. Houston), 3:30 p.m., ABC
Kazee (5-11, 190, per school measurements) is not the largest corner in the country. Wyoming found out the hard way last weekend, though, that the senior makes you pay if you throw a poor pass in his direction, as he made two picks in the game. He'll be a starter at the next level.

3. Calvin Munson, LB, San Diego State
Game: Las Vegas Bowl (vs. Houston), 3:30 p.m., ABC
Scouts view Munson as a top-100 pick because he's an athletic, hard-nosed linebacker who's capable of playing outside or between the tackles. Look for him to surprise as a starter as a rookie, much like Blake Martinez did for the Packers this season.

4. Howard Wilson, CB, Houston
Game: Las Vegas Bowl (vs. San Diego State), 3:30 p.m., ABC
Just a sophomore, Wilson's ball skills and physicality are already eye-catching. His five interceptions and nine pass breakups rank among the nation's leaders. The Cougars seem to be regularly producing NFL talent in the secondary, so it's no surprise that they have two CBs on this list.

5. Duke Catalon, RB, Houston
Game: Las Vegas Bowl (vs. San Diego State), 3:30 p.m., ABC
It took Catalon a couple of years to get on the field after redshirting at Texas and sitting out for the Cougars as a transfer in 2015. He's had issues staying healthy this year. Nonetheless, the 6-0, 210-pound back brings size and speed to the party. He's also an excellent receiver, making him the sort of all-around threat that NFL scouts drool over.

6. Brandon Wilson, CB, Houston
Game: Las Vegas Bowl (vs. San Diego State), 3:30 p.m., ABC
Wilson is a senior, and while he doesn't get the hype that former Houston CB William Jackson did last season, he's still a more than capable player with good size and athleticism who could line up at corner or safety in the NFL.

7. Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo
Game: Camelia Bowl (vs. Appalachian State), 5:30 p.m., ESPN
Just when you think you've got Hunt in your sights, he's past you. Though listed at 6-0, 225, he runs like a 5-9 back because of his excellent lean and balance. With a great stiff-arm and always-churning feet, Hunt is not willing to go down. I expect the senior to be running even harder than usual (if that's possible) in his final game with the Golden Rockets, so be sure to tune in.

8. Donnel Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State
Game: Las Vegas Bowl (vs. Houston), 3:30 p.m., ABC
Pumphrey is approaching Ron Dayne's record for career rushing yards (though Dayne's bowl statistics weren't counted in his total). At 5-9, 190 pounds, he'll have a tough time convincing NFL teams he possesses the strength to be an every-down ball carrier. He'll need to prove he's a special-teams threat to make an impact in the NFL, and he's perfectly capable of doing so.

9. Greg Ward, Jr., QB, Houston
Game: Las Vegas Bowl (vs. San Diego State), 3:30 p.m., ABC
Ward is one of college's football most prolific offensive weapons, ranking fourth in the country in total offense. As an NFL prospect, however, scouts are concerned about his ability to work from a dirty pocket given his size and average accuracy in the intermediate passing game. He'll likely be asked at the next level to play receiver, where he started five games as a sophomore before taking over the offense at quarterback. If he proves to have pro-caliber hands in addition to elusiveness with the ball in his hands, he could have an NFL future.

10. Steven Taylor, LB, Houston
Game: Las Vegas Bowl (vs. San Diego State), 3:30 p.m., ABC
This senior from Cedar Hill, Texas, won't fit every NFL scheme as a 6-1, 225-pound inside linebacker. But he's one of the most explosive tacklers and blitzers in the draft class. He consistently attacks gaps in the Cougars' system, and averages one tackle for loss per game for his career (which ranks 15th among all FBS players).

11. Alex Barrett, DE, San Diego State
Game: Las Vegas Bowl (vs. Houston), 3:30 p.m., ABC
Aztec coaches often line Barrett up at defensive tackle because even at 6-3, 255 pounds, he gives guards fits with his strength and agility. At the next level, he'll either have to gain weight to play a five-technique or prove that he has the requisite speed to be a regular contributor as a pass rusher. He has a shot to make an NFL roster in either capacity.

12. Shaquill Griffin, DB, Central Florida
Game: Cure Bowl (vs. Arkansas State), 5:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
The Golden Knights haven't made many headlines this year, but Griffin's play has not been overlooked by NFL teams. He's intercepted four passes and broken up 12 others, giving him six and 25, respectively in his two years as a starter. His 6-1, 200-pound frame gives him flexibility to be a valued reserve at corner or safety in the NFL. His special-teams prowess might earn him a roster spot.

13. Michael Roberts, TE, Toledo
Game: Camelia Bowl (vs. Appalachian State), 5:30 p.m., ESPN
It might come as a surprise that Roberts ranks sixth in the country with 15 receiving touchdowns. Once you see him play, though, it won't take long to see why he's had that success. Scouts have questions about his long speed, but the 6-foot-5, 270-pound pass-catcher does have good agility for his size -- size that allows him to carry defensive backs into the end zone when necessary.

14. Nick Mullens, QB, Southern Miss
Game: New Orleans Bowl (vs. Louisiana-Lafayette), 9 p.m., ESPN
Mullens has been leading the Golden Eagles since his freshman campaign, but he's had no more efficient performance than in the team's win over Louisiana Tech on Thanksgiving weekend (29-for-33 passing for 342 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions). Scouts aren't wowed by his size or arm strength. Coaches, however, will like his toughness, intelligence and ability to place the football in the right spot.

15. Elijah McGuire, RB, Louisiana-Lafayette
Game: New Orleans Bowl (vs. Southern Miss), 9 p.m., ESPN
When the Rajun Cajuns have the ball, check out the quick and slippery McGuire. Although he's a smaller back, McGuire seems to find creases to move the chains. When those holes expand a bit, he exploits them for big gains. He's also an adept receiver out of the backfield, which helps his own cause running between the tackles to open space. I don't know if scouts will believe he has the power to be a starter at the next level, but someone should give him a shot.

Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter @chad_reuter.



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