Known as one of the favorite bowl destinations that players get to attend, the Citrus Bowl looks to play host to a tremendous amount of next-level talent between LSU and Louisville. Georgia Tech looks to carry the momentum over from a late surge to stun in-state rival Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Kentucky looks to spoil the Jackets’ chances with a heavy dosage of rushing offense with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers and maybe the nation’s best center, Jon Toth.
By: Christian Page
With possibly the last look at these prospects in a collegiate game, here are the top draft-eligible prospects from every game played on Dec. 31 excluding the College Football Playoff games.
CITRUS BOWL – No. 13 LOUISVILLE vs. No. 20 LSU (11 a.m. EST // ESPN)
Louisville (9-3, 7-1)
James Quick, WR, 6’1, 180, #17
With a quick initial burst off the snap, Quick almost gains instant separation with just speed alone. He shows his strong hands in traffic snatching balls out of the air and coming down with contested catches. An average route runner, Quick excels after the catch but can be clumsy on his feet not having great body control when on the run. Quick also shows great intensity as a blocker on the outside.
Cole Hikutini, TE, 6’5, 248, #18
An invite to the Senior Bowl is exactly what Hikutini needed to gain much more needed exposure. Hikutini is one of the best pass-catching tight ends in this class showing phenomenal athleticism and route running ability to exploit defenses. The senior tight end attacks the middle of the field gaining separation as the play dwells serving as a deep threat and a redzone target.
Devonte Fields, DE/OLB, 6’4, 242, #92
Fields isn’t a speed rusher by any means but creates havoc in the backfield with strong hands and vision. Fields is used in multiple areas with either his hand in the ground, standing up to rush the passer, dropping into coverage or blitzing from the middle. The edge rusher shows average athleticism en route to the quarterback but takes too many unneeded steps when in pursuit.
DeAngelo Brown, DT, 6’1, 310, #97
Surrounded by next-level defensive talent for the past two seasons, Brown is overlooked but may be the best prospect for the Cardinals this season. Showing potential as an interior pass rusher, Brown consistently creates penetration in the interior collapsing the pocket while smothering run plays. He plays with a lower center of gravity with adequate pad level to stay balanced when contact is initiated.
Other Cardinals to Watch
-Josh Harvey-Clemons, LB/SAF, 6’5, 230, #25
-Khalil Hunter, OG, 6’4, 304, #50
-Keith Kelsey, LB, 6’1, 236, #55
-Chucky Williams, SAF, 6’2, 210, #22 (Jr.)
LSU (7-4, 5-3)
Ethan Pocic, C/OG, 6’7, 302, #77
As his size would indicate, Pocic is generally described as a powerful inside presence in a heavy man blocking running scheme. Though he does supplement power with his length, he can struggle with one on one power battles as he has fallen short of the lofty description versus Alabama’s interior duo and Florida’s Caleb Brantley. Another tough task upfront, Pocic will need to maintain his core strength and power through to sustain his balance.
Jamal Adams, SS, 6’1, 213, #33 (Jr.)
Regarded as the top safety in the draft, Adams flies around the field making multiple plays. From his true strong safety spot Adams attacks with superb vision and shows better acceleration than most receivers in this class. One of the best traits he displays is in the run game when setting the edge like a defensive end or outside linebacker. Containing outside leverage can go unnoticed because the stat is not recorded but it won’t get overlooked when being evaluated for the NFL. Adams is a top 10 talent and there is no doubt about it.
Duke Riley, LB, 6’1, 230, #40
Riley burst on the scene versus the almighty Alabama in early November but even before then he was having a great season. With great speed as an inside linebacker, Riley shoots the gap and makes plays sideline to sideline in the backfield. Even though Kendell Beckwith has been a coveted defensive prospect for a longer period of time than Riley, I expect No. 40 to be a more sought-after prospect because of speed and athleticism.
Tre’Davious White, CB, 5’11, 185, #18
Willingness to tackle as an outside cornerback draws plenty of intrigue from draft evaluators. White serves that as part of his skills along with a physical demeanor with tight and strong hands at the line of scrimmage to prevent the receiver from getting immediate separation. White fizzled some at the end of the season with a couple of rough performances with most notably struggling to track the deep Versus the Heisman Trophy winner, White looks to get back on track not being able to afford to lose traction on a strong 2017 cornerback crop.
Kendell Beckwith, ILB, 6’3, 247, #32*
Beckwith’s prototypical size makes him immediately jump off the page as a middle linebacker prospect. A technician tackler and patient yet assertive attacker, Beckwith shows his instincts at the position even though he is not as fast as many team would like. Playing like former Alabama and now current Bills linebacker Reggie Ragland, Beckwith has a place in the league to be a solid run defender on the first couple of downs.
Other Tigers to Watch
-Leonard Fournette, RB, 6’1, 235, #7*
-Josh Boutte, OG, 6’5, 346, #76
-Tashawn Bower, DE, 6’6, 253, #46
-Malachi Dupre, WR, 6’4, 195, #15 (Jr.)
-Travin Dural, WR, 6’2, 207, #83
-Lewis Neal, DE, 6’2, 272, #92
*will not play in bowl game & is turning pro (reported)
TAXSLAYER BOWL – GEORGIA TECH vs. KENTUCKY
Georgia Tech (8-4, 4-4)
Justin Thomas, QB, 5’11, 185, #5
The style of offense that the Jackets run is obviously not attractive to NFL organizations when looking for a quarterback. Though Thomas may be the best quarterback to ever run Paul Johnson’s triple-option style of offense, he still has plenty of work to catch up on if he even wants to start as a quarterback in the CFL. As an athlete, though, is where Thomas’ upside comes. Being close enough to watch Thomas at Prattville High School, I noticed his top-notch athleticism accompanied with speed and balance as a runner. With a theme of former quarterbacks making the switch to a more appropriate position, Thomas could be on the radar of some organizations already.
Freddie Burden, C, 6’4, 299, #58
Burden is a mauler up the middle for the Yellow Jackets pancaking numerous defenders this season in the run game. The senior quickly gets to the second level when necessary and continues to punish defenders in space. Showing light feet and violent hands, Burden can be labeled as a safe pick later in the draft.
PJ Davis, ILB, 5’10, 230, #40
Leading the team in tackles two of the last three years, Davis has been a consistent productive element for the Jacket defense even when injured. Davis supplies the leadership on the defensive side of the ball if his play wasn’t impactful enough. Davis isn’t a twitched up linebacker by any means but shows enough lateral movement and has enough range to boast a good billing in pass coverage.
Other Jackets to Watch
– Patrick Gamble, DT, 6’5, 277, #91
-Francis Kallon, DT, 6’5, 294, #92
-Roderick Rook-Chungong, DE, 6’3, 245, #41
Kentucky (7-5, 4-4)
Jon Toth, C, 6’5, 310, #72
A first team selection on the All-SEC team, Toth has been one of the most consistent centers in the country. Toth wins with upper body strength as he stalemated with Jonathan Allen multiple times when playing Alabama iand looked fine versus a stout Louisville front. Toth needs to play with more knee bend to stay on par with more of the finesse and quicker interior linemen. Multiple long runs for the dangerous pair of Wildcat runners start out with seal blocks from Toth upfront. The 6-foot-5 center is the best NFL prospect in this game and will be starting his 48th consecutive game.
Marcus McWilson, FS, 6’0, 210, #15
McWilson needs to be more polished as a safety net over the top, but he does his best work in the run game. Playing the game with a linebacker mentality, McWilson is solid when playing close to the line of scrimmage showing the ability to consistently make plays in the run game.
Blake McClain, CB/SS, 5’11, 200, #24
McClain presents himself with a stout physique and plays to it on the line of scrimmage. I noticed that he tends to get beat deep on the occasion as he plays on his heels too often and can over pursue at off the snap. There is no need to worry about his open field tackling in this game as he has consistently shown he checks the box in that category.
Other Wildcats to Watch
-Mike Edwards, SS, 6’0, 200, #27 (Soph.)
-Matt Elam, DT, 6’7, 360, #69 (Jr.)
-Courtney Miggins, DE, 6’5, 285, #94
-Ryan Timmons, WR, 5’10, 198, #1
-Stanley “Boom” Williams, RB, 5’9, 295, #18 (Jr.)