With bowl season now nearing completion, and 20 NFL teams at home licking their wounds and, in some cases, looking to hire new GMs and coaches, it’s time for many of us to think about the NFL Draft, and the professional potential of the top prospects who finished their collegiate careers this bowl season.
With that in mind, here is a list of 15 of the top prospects and how each fared in their respective bowl match-ups.
1. Jared Goff
While Goff and Ohio State defensive lineman Joey Bosa are Nos. 1 and 1a, it is hard to go away from the quarterback who has the ability to make all of the throws with a solid pocket presence. Goff did nothing to hurt his pro stock with the six touchdowns that he tossed in the Armed Forces Bowl either. While he didn’t perform that well against the Pac-12’s top competition this season, Goff still has a chance to find his way into the top five of the draft, and rightfully so.
2. Joey Bosa
The way that Bosa’s collegiate career ended was not a true reflection on it. Bosa was ejected for targeting, marking the end of a reign of dominance at Ohio State for the lineman. Getting a push up front on the defensive end is key, and Bosa has shown the ability to do just that nearly his entire Buckeye career. While last season was stronger in regards to rushing the passer, Bosa still showed the ability to get into opponents’ backfield and wreck plays, with 16 tackles for loss on the 2105 campaign.
3. Laremy Tunsil
Tunsil got off to a slow start in 2015, with the allegations that he was working with an agent following an off season domestic fight. However, once he hit the field, Tunsil showcased why many have him as the top tackle in the class. Both pass protection and strong run blocking make Tunsil the total package. In the bowl game against a solid Oklahoma State pass rush, Tunsil did nothing to discourage those looking at him for the top pick in the draft.
4. Jalen Ramsey
Ramsey showed his true versatility in 2015, converting back to corner after working primarily as a safety the season before, making the move without a single hint of a drop off. Ramsey is a physical corner, who moves extremely fluidly and has the speed aspect as well. As a safety prospect, he has shown the ability to be all over the field. As a corner, he has lockdown potential as well. Ramsey also comes up and plays the run well. While the Noles struggled against the fast Houston offense in the bowl game, Ramsey did nothing to take away from his stock.
5. Josh Doctson
Doctson was one of many snake bitten Horned Frogs this season. In a campaign where it seemed that they lost nearly the entire starting 22, Doctson was lost for the season with an injury deep into conference play. However, while he was on the field, he showed the ability to be a playmaker at the wide receiver position. Doctson is able to run by corners, and also has the size and ability to high point the ball over smaller defenders. He may not be an A.J. Green or Julio Jones yet, but Doctson is the top receiver in the class.
6. Ezekiel Elliott
Sure, Elliott called out his coach for not getting the ball enough, but was there anything lacking truth in what he said? The Ohio State standout is one of the most complete running back draft prospects in recent years. He has the ability to explode through holes, catch passes, and is a well above average pass blocker. As good as Ohio State has been over the past two years, Elliott has been a barometer. He nearly carried the Buckeyes to a title last season, and led them to a lot of wins this season, including the blowout of Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Against a solid defensive line, Elliott had a 5.5 yard per carry average and four scores.
7. Vernon Hargreaves
With all of the names on the list, Hargreaves had the worst bowl season. He was torched repeatedly against Michigan and was beat on two long touchdown passes. He also did not have a strong showing against Alabama in the SEC title game, and has shown to have some susceptibility to be beat over the top. Either way, it is hard to argue with the success that Hargreaves has had with the Gators in his career, he just has some work to do in rebuilding his reputation among the top corners in the class.
8. Myles Jack
Jack was another victim of the injury bug and had declared for the draft well before bowl season even started. However, he may be one of the most versatile players in the entire class if he is able to bounce back from a knee injury that closed his 2015 season. Jack has played both linebacker and running back at UCLA, and has the speed to do both. On film, he is all over the field and plays with good instincts that make him a can’t miss linebacker prospect.
9. Shaq Lawson
Lawson was injured toward the beginning of the Orange Bowl, doing exactly what he has been all season long: making a play in the backfield of the opponent offense. Lawson was impressive as the backup for Vic Beasley last season, but has killed as a starter this season. Lawson racked up the sacks and led the nation in tackles for loss. He is a player who will certainly be in the top portion of the first round. Plus, the good news is that we will get to see him one more time with Clemson in the National Championship game against Alabama.
10. Robert Nkemdiche
Nkemdiche is certainly not doing himself any favors off the field during the bowl season, as he was denied participating in the game after jumping out of a window and having drug-related issues. However, on the field, it is impossible to deny the ability that Nkemdiche has. He is disruptive in the backfield and has the athletic ability and size to play any position on the defensive line. The background work at the Combine will go a long way in determining where Nkemdiche falls in the draft.
11. Jaylon Smith
Smith and Jack are split between most scouts on who is more highly regarded as a linebacker prospect, and it looks like a win-win whichever way teams decide to go. However, the Fiesta Bowl was not kind to Smith, who suffered a significant knee injury. Smith, who is a junior, could see his draft stock slide with the injury, if he chooses to declare for the draft. With news that Smith has taken out an insurance policy, declaring seems likely, but only time will tell how the injury impacts his stock.
12. Paxton Lynch
Many have Lynch as their top quarterback in the class, but he really had some issues when Memphis stepped out of their weight class. This was also true in the Birmingham Bowl against Auburn. Lynch was only able to hit on 16-of-37 passes against the Tigers and just did not look like the polished passer he did against the likes of Kansas, Tulane and SMU. However, he was strong in the Ole Miss win. Lynch has declared for the draft, making him the first or second quarterback likely off the board with strong draft prep showings.
13. Ronnie Stanley
Stanley had one of the most interesting matchups of the bowl season coming into the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State and, specifically, Bosa. However, the targeting ejection doomed that future-NFL match-up before it even really got started. Despite the loss to the Buckeyes, Stanley did nothing to hurt his stock and will still be one of the top tackles taken in a deep 2016 class at the position. Stanley is loose and a strong pass blocker that could be an anchor for years at the next level.
14. Reggie Ragland
Ragland is easily the top inside linebacker in the class, as both Jack and Smith have the making of outside prospects. Ragland diagnoses plays quickly and uses his instinct and speed to get the ball carrier. While the front four get a lot of credit for the Tide’s top run defense, Ragland plays a major part as well. Against Michigan State, Ragland also showed the ability to drop back in coverage to go with his seven tackles. In the title game, we may get to see how he does as a spy against running quarterback Dashaun Watson.
15. Laquon Treadwell
While he does not quite have the upside of Doctson or Amari Cooper in past years, Treadwell is an awfully good draft prospect, himself. After the brutal leg injury last season, Treadwell bounced down without losing a step or any speed at all. In the bowl game, half of Treadwell’s six catches went for touchdowns. For the season, he caught 76 passes for over 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns.