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Top 25 future NFL stars to watch in Dec. 26-30 bowl games

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New Year's Day serves as the headliner of this season's bowl games, with the two College Football Playoff games set for that day, but there will be plenty of pro prospects on display this week leading up to those contests.

Some of the nation's top QBs will take the field over the next few days, and this top 25 list would be even more impressive if several players were not injured or sitting out bowl games as they begin their pre-draft training process.

Among the top players not suiting up this week as they prepare for the next level are Florida State S Derwin James and Texas OT Connor Williams. Some other top talents might also be sitting out this week due to injury or by choice.

For now, here are the top 25 future NFL stars to watch in Dec. 26-30 bowl games. NFL scouts will be happy to see them in action.

25. Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State

Game: Camping World Bowl vs. Virginia Tech, Dec. 28
As a college passer, Rudolph has been outstanding. Scouts aren't sure about his ability to create outside the Cowboys' system, though. Working through multiple progressions and moving the ball effectively from outside the pocket against a tough-minded Virginia Tech defense in the Camping World Bowl could raise his grade among pro teams looking for a future starter.

24. Josey Jewell, ILB, Iowa

Game: Pinstripe Bowl vs. Boston College, Dec. 27
I wish there would have been a tie for the Butkus Award this year. Georgia's Roquan Smith is an excellent linebacker deserving of the trophy, but Jewell's season was just as good. The Hawkeyes' leader is an instinctive, smart, and tough defender who is a better athlete than most believe. Watching Jewell take on Boston College's powerful freshman back, AJ Dillon, in the box will be a treat. The first-team All-American is also quite effective in coverage, which makes him a three-down starting inside linebacker in the pros.

23. Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis

Game: Liberty Bowl vs. Iowa State, Dec. 30
Miller and his quarterback, Riley Ferguson, have been fun to watch for the past two years. Miller's game is a lot like James Washington's, and some scouts might actually have Miller more highly rated if they believe he has the speed to excel at all routes at the next level. There is no doubt that he will be a good NFL starter -- he'll be a reliable third-down option who is as tough as nails. Iowa State's been one of the best stories in college football this year, but the Cyclones will have their hands full with Miller working his magic.

22. Dre'Mont Jones, DT, Ohio State

Game: Cotton Bowl vs. USC, Dec. 29
Jones is one of the best tackles in the country when it comes to using his length to attack gaps, forcing himself between the guard and tackle or guard and center to wreak havoc. He's also athletic enough to bring down ball carriers after winning the gap.

21. Ronald Jones II, RB, USC

Game: Cotton Bowl vs. Ohio State, Dec. 29
Jones reminds me of the great college backs of the 1970s when he high-steps through tackles at the second level. While he's not a huge back, he's not contact-shy, stiff-arming and lowering his pads through would-be tacklers to break off a big gain. The Buckeyes defense will have to watch out for Jones on pass plays, as he can be an effective safety valve over the middle and in scramble drills.

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20. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State

Game: Camping World Bowl vs. Virginia Tech, Dec. 28
The 2017 Fred Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation's most outstanding receiver has consistently taken the top off of defenses over the past four seasons. He reminds me a bit of Golden Tate, with a running back build but the speed to get down the sideline or seam. Washington likes to double-catch the ball at times, but is willing to fight anyone in the air. Michigan State corners will have their hands full with his slants, screens, and nines.

19. Jerome Baker, LB, Ohio State

Game: Cotton Bowl vs. USC, Dec. 29
Baker's the sort of undersized but fast and tenacious linebacker that NFL teams want in today's game. He fills rushing lanes in a hurry, though bigger backs can move him after contact because of his lack of size. Baker's biggest asset is his quickness; he has the skills to cover USC's talented tight ends and running backs, so scouts will be looking to see if he can consistently perform that task in a high-pressure setting.

18. Hercules Mata'afa, DL, Washington State

Game: Holiday Bowl vs. Michigan State, Dec. 28
Mata'afa mostly plays between the tackles for the Cougars' defense at 250 pounds, but scouts have questions about where he'll play on the D-line at the next level. Regardless of position, he's still among the quickest players off the snap in the country and his motor runs hot. Michigan State's sturdy and hard-nosed senior center, Brian Allen, will need to help his guards keep Wazzou's junior stud out of the backfield during the Holiday Bowl.

17. Derrick Nnadi, DT, Florida State

Game: Independence Bowl vs. Southern Mississippi, Dec. 27
Nnadi is a fire hydrant in the middle in the Casey Hampton mold. Stout but quick, he can hold up vs. double teams and get some penetration to disrupt plays -- even if he doesn't get loads of tackles in the backfield.

16. Tarvarus McFadden, CB, Florida State

Game: Independence Bowl vs. Southern Mississippi, Dec. 27
McFadden has had some struggles in coverage in 2017 after his All-American sophomore season. But in the end, he's still a viable starting prospect with the length and athleticism to stay with larger pro receivers down the field. Southern Miss receivers will test his agility, so NFL teams can take something away from his performance in the Independence Bowl.

15. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford

Game: Alamo Bowl vs. TCU, Dec. 28
Love does not have the build of a workhorse back, which won't help his grade with NFL teams, but if he can power through tackles from TCU defenders in the Alamo Bowl, pro clubs will take notice. Love is capable of knifing through creases inside and works hard to pick up every yard he can. Of course, he's well-known for his ability to explode into open spaces for signature 50-yard jaunts.

14. Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa

Game: Pinstripe Bowl vs. Boston College, Dec. 27
Jackson is one of three players in the FBS with seven interceptions this season, taking both of his picks against Wisconsin to the house. His size and playmaking ability have made him an All-American, as well as an emerging favorite with NFL scouts. Showing off those ball skills (like the one-handed INT he made against Ohio State), along with his length and physicality, against Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl will only cement his place among the top cornerbacks in college football.

13. Sam Hubbard, DE/OLB, Ohio State

Game: Cotton Bowl vs. USC, Dec. 29
Hubbard is a reliable, intelligent player who can stand up or play with his hand on the turf. His athleticism is well-known, as is his background in lacrosse before Urban Meyer convinced him to stick to football. He isn't as highly regarded as Nick Bosa at this stage, but NFL teams will love his potential as a playmaker at the next level.

12. Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

Game: Camping World Bowl vs. Oklahoma State, Dec. 28
The more I watch Edmunds, the more I like what I see. He's long, tough, and a solid tackler. The Hokies' leader covers a lot of ground, and comes to the ball with bad intentions. Edmunds has shown the ability to move in space, as well, a skill he will need against Oklahoma State's wide-open offense. NFL scouts will be impressed by the junior's ability to chase Mason Rudolph, track down running back Justice Hill, and bring down Cowboys receivers for short gains on underneath routes.

11. Billy Price, C/G, Ohio State

Game: Cotton Bowl vs. USC, Dec. 29
Price is a nasty guy, which is the biggest compliment you can give an offensive lineman. But he's not a pure brute, as his feet are agile enough to pull, snuff out linebackers at the second level, and get out in front of screens. Seeing him go against USC defensive tackle Rasheem Green (who just missed being on this list) will be one of the highlights of the bowl season.

10. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

Game: Belk Bowl vs. Wake Forest, Dec. 29
Kirk's really been underutilized by the Aggies this year as the passing game has stalled at times, but scouts know his value at the next level. Any flashes he shows against Wake Forest will only cement his status as one of the top receiving talents in the country.

9. Martinas Rankin, OT, Mississippi State

Game: TaxSlayer Bowl vs. Louisville, Dec. 30
Rankin is a solid, plug-and-play left tackle who simply does not get out of position very often. Louisville's linebackers will test his fortitude at times in the TaxSlayer Bowl, but I expect him to show off the lateral agility and strength that makes him a future NFL starter.

8. Drew Lock, QB, Missouri

Game: Texas Bowl vs. Texas, Dec. 27
Lock led the nation with 43 touchdown passes for a middling Tigers squad. Like the other junior quarterbacks listed here, Lock is susceptible to the occasional lapse in judgement. But there's no questioning his arm talent and NFL-preferred size and mobility.

7. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

Game: Cotton Bowl vs. USC, Dec. 29
If Sam Darnold tries throwing in Ward's direction too often, the junior cover corner will make him pay. Ward's been sticky as flypaper on receivers this year, leaving little room for quarterbacks to err. While not a tall or thick defender, Ward's feisty nature and foot quickness allows him to mirror his man down the sideline or over the middle.

6. Vita Vea, DT, Washington

Game: Fiesta Bowl vs. Penn State, Dec. 30
Vea is an absolute athletic freak who is difficult to stop when his motor runs high. The interior of the Nittany Lions' line will have a difficult time moving this Huskie in the middle, or preventing him from chasing down Saquon Barkley to the outside. Against Alabama last season, Vea actually stood up as a rusher on many occasions due to injuries on the edge. Coaches probably won't need him in that role this year, but it won't be surprising if he looks like a linebacker running around the Fiesta Bowl field.

5. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

Game: TaxSlayer Bowl vs. Mississippi State, Dec. 30
Clemson has really been the only team that has contained the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner's playmaking ability. He's still an electric runner, but don't underestimate his ability to zip balls downfield. Jackson's accuracy as a passer is not elite, but it is good enough to succeed if his receivers make their catches. General managers will be looking for a good performance running and throwing against a strong SEC defense when evaluating his ability to move an NFL offense.

4. Sam Darnold, QB, USC

Game: Cotton Bowl vs. Ohio State, Dec. 29
The Cotton Bowl pairing of Darnold and the Buckeyes' defense is among the most intriguing matchups of the bowl season. The redshirt sophomore's decision-making has been inconsistent this year, though scouts still love his physical tools and leadership ability. Ohio State will probably try to keep him in the pocket as long as possible, as they know he's accurate and mobile when out of structure.

3. Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State

Game: Cotton Bowl vs. USC, Dec. 29
Bosa's ability to make plays from either side of the line makes him a pain for every offensive coordinator. Like his older brother, Joey, Nick is strong, athletic, and relentless. USC must prevent him from beating its tackles if quarterback Sam Darnold and running back Ronald Jones II are to show themselves worthy of their rankings on this list.

2. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

Game: Fiesta Bowl vs. Washington, Dec. 30
Barkley has another chance to rush, receive, and return his way into NFL scouts' hearts. Facing Washington in the Fiesta Bowl is no easy task, however. He'll need to use his power, agility, and vision to avoid the Huskies' talented defenders.

1. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

Game: Cactus Bowl vs. Kansas State, Dec. 26
Last we heard from Rosen (concussion), he said he was hoping to play in the Cactus Bowl but had not yet been cleared by doctors. Scouts know Rosen's the best pure passer in the nation, but will his offensive line keep him clean against the Wildcats' defense, if he plays? If they do give him adequate time to throw, expect the junior to sling the ball all over the field.

UPDATE: Rosen did not play in the Cactus Bowl.

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