This season's bowl games were great, and we witnessed several top draft prospects produce their finest performances of the season in those contests. Playing well in big games can carry some extra weight in the draft room, as it's an indicator of how a player responds when the pressure and competition is elevated.
This year there were several big-time players that jumped off the screen with their play in their bowl games. So, which player helped himself the most with his bowl-game play? I reached out to five NFL executives and asked them that question. Here are their answers.
Executive 1: Florida State RB Dalvin Cook
"There were a bunch of players that really helped themselves during bowl season. The LSU receivers, (Baylor WR) KD Cannon and the young USC QB (Sam Darnold) were guys that jumped off the screen. Obviously, the USC kid isn't draft-eligible, but that was one to file away. I think I'll go with Dalvin Cook as the one who helped himself the most. He tore up an outstanding Michigan defense."
Executive 2: Stanford DE Solomon Thomas
"Solomon Thomas took over the (Sun Bowl) against North Carolina. He made clutch stops down the stretch. He was unblockable."
Executive 3: Thomas
"I'd go with Solomon Thomas. He didn't do anything different than he normally does as a player, but I feel like a lot of people weren't as familiar with him before that game. He made a ton of big plays and showed the kind of emotion and passion you want in a defensive leader. I think it really helped him."
Executive 4: Alabama LB Ryan Anderson
"Well, I think Deshaun Watson definitely helped himself, but I'll go with Ryan Anderson. I've always liked him more than (Alabama LB) Tim Williams and some other guys getting a lot of attention. I think the way he played against Washington and Clemson could've pushed him into the back of the first round."
Executive 5: Thomas
"I will go with Solomon Thomas vs. North Carolina. He put together a consistently disruptive game as both an interior and outside rusher. They could not block him. He just seemed to be playing at a different level. I'd give the silver medal to Derek Barnett vs. Nebraska and the bronze medal to Deshaun Watson for his game vs. Alabama."
Summary: That's three votes for Thomas and one apiece for Cook and Anderson.
Conclusion: It's hard to argue with any of the votes. I was blown away after watching the tape of Solomon Thomas against UNC. He was unbelievably explosive and disruptive. He took over a game the same way Aaron Donald can take over a game. I was at the Orange Bowl to witness Dalvin Cook's big day against Michigan. He ran through and around one of the elite defenses in college football. I was also at the Peach Bowl to watch Ryan Anderson deliver a game-changing pick-six against Washington. He followed that up with a very disruptive performance in the title game. I was a little surprised Watson didn't get a vote, although a couple of the executives mentioned him in their answers. I can't wait to dig into the tape of that game as I study this QB class.