There are still eight NFL teams hot in pursuit of a Super Bowl championship, but the other 24 organizations have turned their focus to improving the roster for next season. The NFL Draft is the best way to build a championship team. This year's draft class might lack top-tier talent, but it's shaping up to be very deep at several key positions.
To kick off my draft preparation, I hopscotched across the country to attend eight bowl games that were filled with NFL prospects. I already wrote about the prospects that participated in the BCS title game. Here are 10 observations from the rest of my bowl-season journey:
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1) BYU defensive end Ziggy Ansah has a huge upside, but he is incredibly raw.Ansah is likely to be a mid-to-late first-round pick because of his combination of size, speed and motor. He plays extremely hard every snap and flashed a couple of "wow" plays during the Poinsettia Bowl. However, he is still learning to play the game and his instincts/awareness are very suspect at this time.
2) UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr's decision to return to Westwood will have a major impact on the Bruins' 2013 season. Barr was easily one of the most impressive players I watched during my bowl tour. He is long, athletic and explosive. His first step is dynamic and he has a natural feel as a pass rusher. He should easily be the top defender in the Pac-12 next season.
3) Baylor wide receiver Terrance Williams is not just a product of an effective scheme.With an offensive system like Baylor's, it is very possible for ordinary pass catchers to post big numbers. However, that wasn't the case with previous Baylor wideouts Josh Gordon and Kendall Wright, and it isn't the case with Williams, either. He has the speed to create separation down the field and he tracks the ball naturally over his shoulder. He looked like a solid second-round player in the Holiday Bowl.
4) West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith has all the tools, but his pocket awareness is a concern.The weather at the Pinstripe Bowl was less than ideal for the West Virginia offense. It was cold, snowy and windy. Smith still found a way to make a couple impressive throws, but he had issues dealing with pressure. When his first read was unavailable, he struggled to work through his progressions and held the ball too long. He took two costly safeties that were both avoidable.
5) Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib's arm strength and mobility are enticing, but he needs to develop more touch as a passer.I stood on the field during pregame warmups and was very impressed with Nassib's arm. He spins the ball easily and can make difficult drive throws look routine. While I love his arm strength, he has a lot of work to do to develop touch on underneath throws. He fires all fastballs and his accuracy is spotty at best.
6) Georgia's outstanding junior linebackers are explosive, three-down defenders.Jarvis Jones and Alex Ogletree have both announced their intentions to enter the 2013 draft following successful junior campaigns. I was well aware of Jones' pass-rushing prowess prior to the Capital One Bowl, but it was his ability to play the run that stood out in this contest. He lacks ideal size for a 4-3 end, but his hand usage and leverage allowed him to consistently set the edge in the run game.
Ogletree has an outstanding blend of size and speed, plus excellent football instincts. He has the range to make plays sideline to sideline and the athleticism to mirror running backs and tight ends in coverage.
7) Johnny Football isn't a one-man show for the Aggies.Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy after a phenomenal freshman campaign, but he had plenty of help from his offensive mates. The Alabama offensive line was rightfully praised all season long for their fantastic play, but neither one of their offensive tackles would start for Texas A&M. Juniors Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews were dominant in the Aggies' route of the Oklahoma Sooners in the Cotton Bowl. Joeckel ended up deciding to forego his senior season, while Matthews will return to continue protecting Manziel next fall.
8) Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson will be a fast riser over the next two months.Johnson hasn't been given much press for his play this season, but trusted NFL executives and scouts have taken notice of the Sooners' tackle. He was impressive on the tape that I studied prior to the Cotton Bowl and he was even better in person. He has quick feet, plays with a firm base and uses his length to keep defenders off his chest. He looked like a mid-to-late first-round pick.
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9) Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones hasn't improved over his career as much as evaluators like to see, but he is still very talented.I haven't heard any NFL evaluators offer up exciting reviews of the Sooners quarterback. Earlier in his career, there was a lot of buzz around Jones and his potential to develop into a top-tier NFL prospect. Unfortunately, his development never advanced at the desired pace. That being said, he does still possess a lot of intriguing tools. He has great size, plenty of arm strength and a plethora of experience. I could see him landing somewhere in the middle of the second round.
10) N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon is a mixture of Joe Flacco and Derek Anderson. Glennon definitely has the desired size and arm strength to be an NFL starting quarterback. During pregame warmups at the Music City Bowl, he whistled one fastball after another. He also unleashed several impressive throws during the game. Unfortunately, just as I would get excited about one of those darts, I would witness an interception, fumble or bad sack. (He tossed three interceptions, took three sacks and had one fumble.) At his best, he can resemble Flacco. But there were too many moments where he looked more like the turnover-prone Anderson.