We’re one week and thirteen games into the 2015 bowl season, and there have already been some fantastic games to warm college football fans up as the New Year 6 marque matchups and the playoff semis close in. From an NFL draft perspective, several players helped themselves greatly with their individual performances. Here are a few who caught my eye in particularly this week, starting off with a record setting running back.
RB Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech
Due to a wardrobe malfunction, senior back Dixon finished his final college game in a number 1 jersey rather than his usual 28. It was fitting, on a night when the exceptionally productive runner moved into 1st position as the all-time NCAA leader in combined receiving and rushing touchdowns with a record 87. Sure, Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds has an opportunity to reclaim that distinction on Monday night, but that would not take away from the individual achievement from Dixon. His strength and stamina were on full display, as after a tight first half, the Bulldogs broke the game open against Arkansas State in the final 30 minutes with 30 points to the Red Wolves’ 11, leading to a 47-28 final score. Dixon scored 3 of his 4 touchdowns on the day after the break as he pounded on a tiring Arkansas State defense. Dixon is hugely effective coming out of the backfield as a receiver, with two scores through the air to go with two on the ground. It’s his all round game that makes Dixon so appealing as a next-level prospect, as one of the best in this year’s class as both a receiver and pass protector to go with his NFL-ready body at 5ft 10, 212 lbs. He is equally adept at powering through would-be tacklers and churning his legs up the middle as he is athletic in making lateral cuts in space, displaying superb balance. And it all comes back to the results that his skill set brings, the huge production numbers that he has piled up particularly over the last two seasons as an upperclassman. He finished his final collegiate game with 215 total yards and 4 touchdowns. Dixon will be a coveted back on day 2 of the 2016 NFL draft.
ILB Scooby Wright, Arizona
Wildcat fans got to see what they’d been missing all year when a fit again Wright, who had only suited up for 2 other games this year, was able to finally put in a full sixty minutes on the field, and put in a defensive MVP showing reminiscent of the performances that saw him win almost every defensive award after the 2014 season. Unfortunately for those fans, it’s also the last time they’ll see such a dominant display from their star, as before even leaving the field at the New Mexico Lobos University Stadium, he announced his intention to forgo his final year of eligibility and enter the draft. Wright was all over the field, around the ball seemingly every play as he racked up 15 tackles (11 solo), 3.5 tackles for loss (TFLs) and 2 sacks in the exciting back and forth 45-37 win over a New Mexico team that would not go away on their home field. One of those sacks came on a 4th down conversion attempt by the Lobos with just 6 minutes to go in one of the most critical plays of the game. While Wright, similarly to Kenneth Dixon, has also put up outstanding production statistically over his career that will see him drafted, unlike Dixon he comes with a lot more question marks as to how he projects to the NFL game. Wright weighs in at a solid 245 lbs, but comes with a lot of upper body build. He is lacking a bit in ideal strength in his lower body and legs which causes notable issues at times with leverage and anchoring, which will lead him to being outmuscled and pushed around quite a bit. He also lacks the athleticism ideal to cover to the sidelines. Crazy as it is given his huge production, but digging into his game film frequently draws attention to rather a lot of missed tackles on plays that should be routine to make. It’s certainly tricky to imaging Wright continuing in the pros to the level he achieved in college, but there’s no doubt that his instincts combined with outstanding intangibles and toughness ought to see him make a good career for himself at the next level. It may just be more as a mid-round, day 3 pick, despite being one of the better known players in the country.
QB Brandon Doughty, Western Kentucky
In truth, it could be argued that the early stages of Doughty’s performance against South Florida was as bad as he has played at any stage in the last couple of seasons, so complimenting him and considering him to have helped his stock on Monday might appear a little surprising at first glance. With many pro scouts in attendance at the Miami Beach Bowl specifically to watch the 6th year senior quarterback, Doughty got off to a very poor start, his accuracy all over the place with multiple over and under-throws plaguing the early offensive series, with an interception toward the end of the half that led to a Bulls touchdown five plays later. But this is a tough kid, with some serious fortitude. His mental toughness to regroup after the break and lead an offensive explosion to give the Hilltoppers a 45-35 bowl victory will not have gone unnoticed by said scouts on hand. Once in rhythm, Doughty’s superb arm talent was on show, featuring a strong arm along with impressive deep ball accuracy. WKU’s scheme, plus the relatively weak Conference USA opponents they play means that he is frequently throwing to pretty wide open receivers, but regardless of that you can see the touch and timing is all there that will translate to the NFL level. Despite the very slow start to this one and 2 picks, Doughty finished 32 of 44 attempts for a 72.7% completion rate, totalling 461 pass yards and 3 touchdown throws in another big statistical day in his final game. For the year, he threw for 5,055 yards at 72%, with 48 TD passes to just 9 INTs. He’s likely to be a mid-round choice, and perhaps could end up being quite the bargain – few have put up the numbers he has in the past two years.
S Tevin Carter, Utah
You could watch this sport we love for several lifetimes and likely not see a worse start to a game than BYU made to this one, and chose to pick not just a bowl game but another chapter of “The Holy War” to do so. The Cougars turned the ball over a ridiculous 5 times in the first quarter to spot the Utes a 35 point to zip lead after just 11 minutes. Credit to them for rebounding and making it close in the end, but unsurprisingly the deficit was too much to overcome. Two of those turnovers came via interceptions by senior safety Carter on consecutive BYU series, the first being returned 28 yards for a touchdown, then almost repeating the feat on the second pick returning the ball 33 yards down to the 1 yard line before being stopped to prevent the second straight pick 6. It wasn’t a particularly active day for him after that, but it was none-the-less a great way to end a strong season for Carter, who has had quite a journey to this point as a potential pro player. Signing with the Cal Bears originally in 2010 as a highly touted 4 star wide receiver, the 6ft 1, 216 lb Carter did not see the field and left to join Los Angeles SW College, where he converted to safety, playing there for two seasons. The next stop was a season at a community college which did not involve playing any football, before finally joining Utah in 2014. After getting off to a superb start including a couple INTs in the first 4 games of the season, Carter suffered a season ending injury. It took until this year, and a medical redshirt being granted to allow him to play again in 2015, to finally showcase his talent fully at a top school in college football. The lack of total experience at this level is a negative, but he has the measurables to make the NFL as a smooth athlete with solid size, and ability to cover a good range. Add in the awareness and field vision he displays, and it’s not hard to see this journeyed athlete settling down as part of an NFL roster and potential future starter.
FB Dakota Watson, San Diego State
How about some full back love! It takes a stand out at the position to get drafted these days, but Watson fits the credentials. A two year player for the Aztecs after transferring in from Fresno City Community College, he has grown into one of the leaders of this group and a team captain. Watson is just an exceptional lead run blocker, paving the way to create big holes for running back duo Donnel Pumphrey and Chase Price who both achieved 1,000+ yard seasons this year. That blocking ability and strength was on full display in the dominant 42-7 win over Cincinnati on Christmas Eve, with numerous key blocks, pancaking defenders to the ground. In what was a show of appreciation by the coaching staff to a player who has put in so much unsung work over the course of the year, Watson was given some touches of the ball himself that resulted in scoring two of the team’s 4 touchdowns on the day. He rushed in one of those scores, but the highlight was a 16 yard reception out of the backfield which required Watson to completely flatten the one defender in his path on route to the end zone. While it was a nice touch by the coaches, it gave Watson a chance to show scouts his versatility beyond the standard role of lead blocking that he excels at. Watson achieved a rare feat, as a full back deservedly being named the clear player of the game. Well worth a last round selection by a team that utilises the position.
OLB/DE Kamalei Correa, Boise State
Another defender strongly considering joining Scooby Wright in the next NFL draft, Correa certainly went out on a high if that was indeed his final game for the Broncos. Northern Illinois, who while in fairness were starting a less than 100% backup QB still have a good offensive line, were completely outclassed by Boise with Correa leading the way in creating frequent pressure in the backfield. He finished the contest with 6 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 2 sacks and a forced fumble. The junior isn’t the biggest at 6ft 3, 245 lbs and while he does line up from both a 2 and 3 point stance, he projects best as a stand-up edge rusher for the next level. In addition, he is not an elite athlete either, but has solid speed, good reactions off the snap, and a high motor that sees him get results in the backfield. While it was a strong performance, overall it hasn’t been quite as productive a season as his breakout sophomore season in which he produced 19 TFLs & 12 sacks, finishing with 11 TFLs and 7 sacks in 2015. He’s given himself plenty to think about as he makes one of the biggest decisions of his life; should he decide to take his shot in the pros, he should expect to end up somewhere in the middle rounds.
RB Tarik Cohen, North Carolina A&T
There’s practically no chance that junior back Cohen declares a year early for the draft. Indeed, at just 5ft 6 & a listed 172 lbs that looks pretty generous, he’s at a huge size disadvantage to make a pro team regardless. But it would firstly be wrong not to mention his name in a piece acknowledging the best performances of the first week of bowl games, and secondly to bet against such a talented player and athlete beating the odds and making it eventually. The bowl season for 2015 kicked off with the first ever Celebration Bowl, a championship game between the winners of the two Historically Black College Conferences, and Cohen stole the show against Alcorn State in what turned out to be a fantastic way to for the post season to begin. Cohen exploded for an eye-popping 295 rush yards (13.4 yards per carry) and 3 touchdowns, and just for good measure added 53 yards on a pair of receptions, leading North Carolina A&T to a 41-31 win.