The bowl season is almost here, with the first games scheduled for Saturday, and NFL scouts will be heading out to get one last look at the top players in the country.
While a few high-profile players, including Texas OT Connor Williams and Florida State S Derwin James, are electing to sit out of their bowl games, this is a great opportunity for others to leave a positive impression on league evaluators. A year ago, Solomon Thomas put forth a dominant effort against North Carolina in the Sun Bowl and that launched him into the top three of the 2017 NFL Draft.
I recently reached out to five NFL personnel executives and asked them which player had the most to gain from playing in a bowl game this postseason. Here are their answers.
Executive 1: Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield (Rose Bowl vs. Georgia)
"He will make a huge statement if he can put awards-circuit chaos behind him and pull off 1 or 2 more wins."
Executive 2: LSU edge rusher Arden Key (Citrus Bowl vs. Notre Dame)
"Key vs. (Notre Dame OT Mike) McGlinchey will be the money-making matchup for bowl games. Big opportunity for Key."
Executive 3: Key
"Tough one. I'll go with Arden Key. He's had an uninspiring year. You see flashes, but he hasn't put it all together. If he can put a full game together against one of the better tackles in the draft (McGlinchey), he'll help himself in draft rooms in the coming months."
Executive 4: Wyoming QB Josh Allen (Potato Bowl vs. Central Michigan)
"He has all of the physical tools and he could build some momentum if he comes back (from injury) and has a huge bowl game."
Executive 5: USC RB Ronald Jones (Cotton Bowl vs. Ohio State)
"He's been a more complete runner this year and helped to carry them vs. Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship. If he can do that vs. Ohio State, it could certainly help propel him into the spring."
Summary: That's 2 votes for Key and 1 apiece for Mayfield, Allen and Jones.
Conclusion: This is a good group of players and I'm looking forward to studying them in the coming weeks. Interestingly, two of the players mentioned are questionable to play in their bowl games due to injuries (Allen, shoulder; Key, knee).
The two players I would add to the list of players with the most to gain from playing in a bowl are UCLA QB Josh Rosen and USC QB Sam Darnold. Both are jostling to be considered the top QB prospect in the country and a big bowl game will build momentum for the spring (should they enter the draft) or next fall (should they elect to return to school).