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Published: Dec. 26, 2017 at 10:25 a.m.

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

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 Photos Total

  • <b>Game:</b> Camping World Bowl vs. Virginia Tech, Dec. 28 <br><br>
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. 25

    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    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.

  • <b>Game:</b> Pinstripe Bowl vs. Boston College, Dec. 27<br><br>
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. 24

    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    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.

  • <b>Game:</b> Liberty Bowl vs. Iowa State, Dec. 30<br><br>
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. 23

    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    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.

  • <b>Game:</b> Cotton Bowl vs. USC, Dec. 29<br><br>
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. 22

    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    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.

  • <b>Game:</b> Cotton Bowl vs. Ohio State, Dec. 29<br><br>
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. 21

    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    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.

  • <b>Game:</b> Camping World Bowl vs. Virginia Tech, Dec. 28 <br><br>
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. 20

    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    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.

  • <b>Game:</b> Cotton Bowl vs. USC, Dec. 29<br><br>
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. 19

    Joseph Maiorana/USA TODAY Sports

    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.

  • <b>Game:</b> Holiday Bowl vs. Michigan State, Dec. 28<br><br>
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. 18

    Young Kwak/Associated Press

    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.

  • <b>Game:</b> Independence Bowl vs. Southern Mississippi, Dec. 27<br><br>
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. 17

    Steven Cannon/Associated Press

    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.

  • <b>Game:</b> Independence Bowl vs. Southern Mississippi, Dec. 27<br><br>
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. 16

    Steven Cannon/Associated Press

    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.

  • <b>Game:</b> Alamo Bowl vs. TCU, Dec. 28 <br><br>
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. 15

    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    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.

  • <b>Game:</b> Pinstripe Bowl vs. Boston College, Dec. 27<br><br>
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. 14

    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    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.

  • <b>Game:</b> Cotton Bowl vs. USC, Dec. 29<br><br>
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. 13

    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    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.

  • <b>Game:</b> Camping World Bowl vs. Oklahoma State, Dec. 28 <br><br>
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. 12

    Steve Helber/Associated Press

    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.

  • <b>Game:</b> Cotton Bowl vs. USC, Dec. 29<br><br>
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. 11

    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    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.

  • <b>Game:</b> Belk Bowl vs. Wake Forest, Dec. 29<br><br>
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. 10

    John Glaser/USA TODAY Sports

    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.

  • <b>Game:</b> TaxSlayer Bowl vs. Louisville, Dec. 30<br><br>
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. 9

    Michael Woods/Associated Press

    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.

  • <b>Game:</b> Texas Bowl vs. Texas, Dec. 27<br><br>
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. 8

    L.G. Patterson/Associated Pres

    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.

  • <b>Game:</b> Cotton Bowl vs. USC, Dec. 29<br><br>
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. 7

    Jay LaPrete/Associated Pres

    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.

  • <b>Game:</b> Fiesta Bowl vs. Penn State, Dec. 30<br><br>
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. 6

    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    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.

  • <b>Game:</b> TaxSlayer Bowl vs. Mississippi State, Dec. 30<br><br>
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. 5

    Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports

    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.

  • <b>Game:</b> Cotton Bowl vs. Ohio State, Dec. 29<br><br>
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. 4

    Ben Liebenberg/NFL

    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.

  • <b>Game:</b> Cotton Bowl vs. USC, Dec. 29<br><br>
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. 3

    Joseph Maiorana/USA TODAY Sports

    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.

  • <b>Game:</b> Fiesta Bowl vs. Washington, Dec. 30<br><br>
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. 2

    Chris Knight/Associated Press

    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.

  • <b>Game:</b> Cactus Bowl vs. Kansas State, Dec. 26<br><br>
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.<br><br>

<b>UPDATE:</b> Rosen participated in pre-game warmups, but did not play in the Cactus Bowl. 1

    Ben Liebenberg/NFL

    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 participated in pre-game warmups, but did not play in the Cactus Bowl.