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Top 25 future NFL stars to watch in New Year's Day bowl games

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All is not quiet leading up to New Year's Day in college football. The five NYD bowl games are loaded with future pros. In fact, the stacked rosters of the teams that will be playing crowd out many other good players from my list of the top 25 future NFL stars to watch on Jan. 1. Alabama defensive lineman Da'Shawn Hand, Auburn cornerback Carlton Davis, Clemson receiver Deon Cain and many others could have been listed here.

All of this talent on the field in one day is what makes New Year's Day the best day of the year for watching college football -- and scouting college football players for their next-level potential.

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25. Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina

Game: Outback Bowl vs. Michigan
Hurst, who has one year of eligiblity remaining, has announced his intention to enter the 2018 NFL Draft, so his work against Michigan in the Outback Bowl has officially become the start of the evaluation process for scouts. The former minor league baseball player is already 24 years old, so the decision to leave school made sense. The Wolverines' defense must match up with him physically because he's able to use his 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame to box out his opponent and make the tough catch.

24. Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma

Game: Rose Bowl vs. Georgia
Baker Mayfield's safety valve will play that role on Sundays as well. Whether he's lined up with his hand on the ground or standing up, Andrews' height (listed at 6-5) and hands make him a red-zone threat as well as a reliable seam-route target to stretch defenses. Georgia's linebackers and safeties must be on their games, and if Kirby Smart sticks a cornerback on Andrews, he'll simply go over the top. That's the sort of matchup nightmare he'll be at the next level.

23. Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson

Game: Sugar Bowl vs. Alabama
Hyatt has the traits a top-notch offensive tackle should have, including size, athleticism, and intelligence. He is fluid in his slide, hits second-level targets with ease, and is willing to finish blocks, as well. Jonathan Allen's superior upper-body strength caused Hyatt problems in last season's national championship game, though. Scouts will have interest in how he adjusts this year against the Tide's powerful edge players.

22. Devin Bush, ILB, Michigan

Game: Outback Bowl vs. South Carolina
We'll be talking about Bush a lot next year. He's a true sophomore who won't be eligible for the draft until 2019 at the earliest. A veteran scout once told me that exact 40-yard dash times are not important, but rather if players are either "slow, fast, or damn fast." Bush is damn fast. And despite a slight build, he'll be hitting South Carolina ball carriers with everything he has, chasing to the sideline or making stops inside the box.

21. Kelly Bryant, QB, Clemson

Game: Sugar Bowl vs. Alabama
Bryant has a chance to make a name for himself on a national level with a great performance against Alabama in a national semifinal. He's an athletic player who can run for big chunks of yards when needed, but he's also grown as a passer this year, placing throws in tight spaces. I'm sure Bryant has been aware of his predecessor's success against the Tide through the air the past two years. If he can emulate Deshaun Watson's postseason play, it will not only help the Tigers move forward, but also put Bryant in the early conversation for the 2018 Heisman.

20. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

Game: Rose Bowl vs. Oklahoma
It seems like many running backs are being compared to Frank Gore nowadays, as analysts try to give Gore his rightful due for a stellar career. Chubb really does remind me of Gore, though, in the way he churns through traffic using his thick legs and torso. He's also capable of lowering his pads into contact, reducing his strike zone and pushing through the pile to create yardage. The Sooners might not think he's the fastest back, but his lateral foot quickness can open a lane that he can accelerate through quickly to break off runs of 15-20 yards before they know it.

19. Damien Harris, RB, Alabama

Game: Sugar Bowl vs. Clemson
Harris' all-around game has been on display all season. He's a fine runner, of course, able to find creases, run through contact, and use straight-line speed to create nightmares for opposing defenses. Harris can also make plays as a receiver, lead blocker, and pass protecter, making him the sort of three-down back NFL teams desire. Clemson's athletic defense will be waiting for him as well as Bo Scarbrough and the rest of the Tide's backs. Harris will have to increase his production from what he provided against the Tigers last season (5-24 rushing) in order for his squad to reach the national title game.

18. Sony Michel, RB, Georgia

Game: Rose Bowl vs. Oklahoma
Michel is the most explosive back in the 2018 class. He can go from 0 to 60 (OK, 20) in a heartbeat. He will bring a LeSean McCoy-like game to an NFL offense, though with a bit more power through contact. Oklahoma's defense is not exceptionally stout, so Michel should be able to run for big yards and take advantage of space as a receiver out of the backfield. It should be a great springboard into the draft process.

17. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

Game: Citrus Bowl vs. Notre Dame
Guice struggled with an injury early this season, but over the past five games of the year, he looked like the back that ran for nearly 1,400 yards in 2016. He ran all over Ole Miss for 276 yards in October, then put up three touchdowns two weeks later against Arkansas. The Irish defense must swarm him near the line of scrimmage to keep him bottled up. Guice's strong, compact build and quick feet make him difficult to stop one-on-one, especially when he builds a head of steam.

16. Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

Game: Citrus Bowl vs. LSU
Quenton Nelson and McGlinchey form the best left side of an offensive line in the country. They won't have to face Arden Key and others on the LSU defense that won't be playing in the Citrus Bowl due to injury, but there are still several talented defenders who'll be coming at the Irish line all day. McGlinchey plays with a sturdy, wide base that is difficult to beat off the edge. He also has quick feet to get wide or redirect inside when needed. Those attributes, plus intelligence and toughness, make him a likely long-time starting left tackle in the NFL.

15. Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson

Game: Sugar Bowl vs. Alabama
This sophomore plays like a full-grown man inside, using his powerful legs and long arms to move his blocker backwards on a regular basis. Alabama's interior line is strong, however, so Lawrence will have to keep his hands active to grab either QB Jalen Hurts or 'Bama's backs when they run inside. He does have the ability to win a gap to flush Hurts out of the pocket, although Clemson's coaches might prefer to keep the athletic QB hemmed in.

14. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

Game: Sugar Bowl vs. Clemson
The Tide's passing game has been less than stellar this season, but Ridley's skill set is evident when the ball gets to him. He's managed just 50 yards on 11 catches vs. the Tigers in the past two national title games. Those numbers have to improve significantly if the Tide wants to win. Ridley has the quickness, speed, and body control to win one-on-one battles against Clemson defensive backs. NFL scouts know that he'll get a chance to make those plays at the next level, but doing so in this game would be helpful for his draft stock, as well as Alabama's chances to go to the championship game.

13. Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama

Game: Sugar Bowl vs. Clemson
Nick Saban's defense ranks third in the country against the run, allowing 94 yards a game. Payne's a major reason for this, as he can eat blocks up front so the Tide's talented linebackers can make plays. He possesses the upper-body strength to disengage from blockers to grab ball carriers himself or to pressure quarterbacks, a great trait for starting NFL nose tackles.

12. Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

Game: Sugar Bowl vs. Clemson
If Nick Saban wants to keep Clemson QB Kelly Bryant and RB Tavien Feaster in check, Evans needs to be a factor as a pass rusher and against the run. He possesses the athleticism to do so. He can attack gaps downhill and prevent Bryant from taking off under pressure to move the chains. Evans is the only player on the Tide's defense with double-digit tackles for loss (10.5), and he needs to be the leader for a still-thin linebacker corps in Crimson uniforms.

11. Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama

Game: Sugar Bowl vs. Clemson
It seems as though the ball is a magnet, and Harrison is steel. He had 10 tackles against the Tigers last year in a losing effort, and you know he'll be looking to create turnovers to ensure the final outcome is different in this contest. He has the ball skills to make those turnovers happen. Harrison is a hitter, but he's also a strong tackler, leading the team in that category.

10. Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama

Game: Sugar Bowl vs. Clemson
Williams moved from right tackle to left tackle for his sophomore campaign, and the transition appears to fit him well. He's been more fluid in his pass protection this season while maintaining his attitude in the run game. Williams' ability to reach targets in space is also impressive. Clemson's Clelin Ferrell will certainly make his life difficult on passing downs, so a strong performance here will open the eyes of scouts looking for a future starter on the blind side.

9. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan

Game: Outback Bowl vs. South Carolina
Hurst will use his quickness and power inside to harass South Carolina's offensive line. Given his physical prowess and top-notch instincts, scouts won't be worried about his lack of ideal height (listed at 6-2) for his position. His game is reminiscent of Green Bay Packers star five-technique Mike Daniels'.

8. Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

Game: Rose Bowl vs. Oklahoma
Smith, the 2017 Butkus Award winner as the nation's top linebacker, will have his hands full against Oklahoma's balanced offensive attack. His ability to cover the entire field, however, will make it difficult for the Sooners to break off big runs. This Bulldog gives no quarter whether he's chasing a quarterback or plugging a hole inside.

7. Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma

Game: Rose Bowl vs. Georgia
Brown's pure size (listed at 6-8, 345) will make it difficult for Georgia pass rushers to chase Baker Mayfield in the pocket. Guys like Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy will test Brown's lateral quickness, and Brown will test their strength on the edge. It's not surprising that Brown has moved people in the run game, but watch for him to be used on traps inside, as well.

6. Rashan Gary, DL, Michigan

Game: Outback Bowl vs. South Carolina
South Carolina hasn't seen a talent like Gary this year, even playing in the SEC. The nation's top high school recruit two years ago is playing up to the hype. Gary lines up outside and inside, using his athletic 300-pound frame to chase whoever has the ball.

5. Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame

Game: Citrus Bowl vs. LSU
Nelson is the best lineman in the country and the leader of a group that won the Joe Moore Award for the nation's top offensive line. He is stout, mobile, and most important of all -- nasty. LSU has defensive line talent, however, which means Nelson's athleticism will be tested. He'll pass the exam with flying colors.

4. Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson

Game: Sugar Bowl vs. Alabama
Wilkins is the second of three Clemson defensive linemen on this list. He played outside against Alabama last season, but will be challenging the Tide's interior lineman from a tackle spot in most situations on New Year's Day. If Wilkins can take advantage of his length and quickness in the Sugar Bowl, Alabama's run game might have some problems.

3. Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson

Game: Sugar Bowl vs. Alabama
The Clemson-Alabama semifinal will include some of the best line-of-scrimmage battles we've seen all year. Ferrell might be the best of the bunch up front, but his ability to chase the quarterback, as well as any other ball carrier, will be tested going up against Tide left tackle Jonah Williams. Even if Williams wins the initial handplay, Ferrell has a knack for getting to the ball with second and third efforts. He'll need to contain Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, however, showing scouts the discipline to make plays against mobile quarterbacks.

2. Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

Game: Sugar Bowl vs. Clemson
Scouts not only appreciate Fitzpatrick's physical gifts, but also the fact that is the leader of the Crimson Tide's defense. Clemson will see him lining up deep, in the slot, and maybe outside if the correct situation arises. That versatility will be a boon to his draft stock, whenever he elects to move on to the next level. Young quarterback Kelly Bryant had better know where the Tide's All-American defender is positioned, or turnovers will ensue.

1. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

Game: Rose Bowl vs. Georgia
The same competitive nature that led Mayfield to accept his invite to the Reese's Senior Bowl will be on display in the College Football Playoff semifinal against Georgia. The Bulldogs' defense will test the Sooners' offensive line, forcing the Heisman Trophy winner to make plays outside the pocket as well as within it. That's no big deal for Mayfield, however, who can run a bit and has the arm to find a downfield target. Some NFL scouts will be looking for one more chance to overlook his lack of height (listed at 6-1) to push him up their boards, and I suspect he will oblige.

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