The really big games are here, with the prestigious New Year’s Six Bowls, including the two playoff semi finals, set to bring us into the New Year in style! And with the turn of a New Year, the anticipation for another NFL draft on the horizon increases. Here’s a look at some of the prospects who have helped or hurt themselves in the last set of Bowl games:
OT/OG Spencer Drango, Baylor
The Russell Athletic Bowl saw arguably the performance of the entire Bowl season so far by the Baylor offense. After losing all their true quarterbacks to injury, the Bears were forced to resort to a game plan that was almost exclusively running the football on the ground with multiple receivers and running backs taking the direct snaps. The make-shift scheme ended up a huge success, as the Bears put up record numbers running the ball against a good North Carolina defence finishing with an incredible 645 rush yards and 7 rush TDs on their way to a 49-38 victory. The entire offensive line was inspired by the challenge, but left tackle Spencer Drango was the real stand out. The 6ft 6, 310 lb senior was sensational, with two touchdowns coming directly from him pulling left to right and making the key block to spring the runner into the open field. That particular move was devastating all game long on countless other big runs on the day as he was able to showcase his combination of athleticism followed by power as a drive blocker. It was a nice boost to his draft stock to demonstrate his effectiveness in this area, as he has always been known primarily for his excellence as a pass protector. His technique and co-ordination between upper body and footwork is so polished, with a solid wide base to anchor against power, and a smooth kick slide to mirror in space versus speed. A very experienced four year player, Drango could potentially stay as a tackle in the NFL, but could also really excel with a shift inside to guard. Looking at his build, Drango does seem to be very top heavy in his frame which is a minor concern, and in addition did have to have back surgery in 2013 which likely gets a close look at his Combine medical. If that all checks out though, Drango has the look of someone who ought to have a long pro career and a smart investment on day 2 of the draft.
DT Kenny Clark, UCLA
A surprising storyline of the 2015 Bowl season has been that the much-condemned three teams who got to play despite a losing 5-7 regular season record, all ended up winning their respective post-season games. UCLA were one of the unfortunate ones to get caught out by a Nebraska team who are far better than their record suggests after some heart-breaking close losses. Not for the first time this year, star defensive tackle Kenny Clark ended up on a losing side despite being one of the most impressive performers on either side. The UCLA defence has been decimated by injury this year with only Clark remaining among the Bruins’ star playmakers on that side of the ball. He continues to battle on though, and the 6ft 3, 308 lb interior lineman demonstrated why he is talked about as an early round pick in the 2016 draft. Clark isn’t normally one to pile up numbers on the stat sheet, but he is a strong and impressive athlete with good explosion to disrupt the pocket and get penetration into the backfield on top of his forte of stuffing the run. He had the statistical results to show for it against the Cornhuskers with a superb 11 tackles by a DT (8 solo), 2 tackles for loss (TFLs), and 1 sack. What is even more impressive, is that without his partner Eddie Vanderdoes who has been out almost the entire season, Clark sees almost constant double teams from the opposing O-line, yet continues to be a major factor. It wasn’t an ideal way to finish, but after reportedly receiving a projected second round grade from the draft advisory committee, the junior tackle announced shortly after the Bowl loss that he would be taking his talents to the pros as expected.
WR Keyarris Garrett, Tulsa
All the attention in the 2015 Camping World Independence Bowl was on departing Hokies head coach Frank Beamer after 29 years in charge at Virginia Tech. The Tulsa Golden Hurricane’s presence was pretty much an afterthought seemingly, with the majority of neutrals wanting the legendary coach to go out with a win in his final game. Phillip Montgomery’s team were not there just to make up the numbers though, and came close to spoiling the party before being edged out narrowly 55-52. Montgomery came to Tulsa after previously being the offensive co-ordinator for the Baylor Bears, and he brought that explosive attacking scheme with him to Oklahoma which has helped many offensive playmakers put up some big numbers this season, and none more so than receiver Keyarris Garrett. Garrett has taken big advantage of his chances to make an impression to a national audience. Earlier in the season in a primetime game against Memphis, the big 6ft 3, 221 lb senior had a huge day with 268 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns. He again showed up with plenty watching in this one with 8 receptions for 137 yards (17.13 yards per catch) and a touchdown. Garrett finishes his final collegiate season with a massive 96 catches for 1,588 yards & 8 scores. The yardage total currently has him 2nd in the entire nation behind only Roger Lewis of Bowling Green in that category. He isn’t an explosive player who will generate easy separation from his marker, but he uses his size and strength to his advantage when high pointing balls out of the air and positioning himself in front of DB’s to box them out, and as well as collecting plenty deep throws can also be a danger on quick outs to then run after the catch. He lacks any elite traits and really needs to cut out some bad drops on easy balls, but his size, smooth athleticism and generally good hands should see him drafted on day 3.
DL Destiny Vaeao, Washington State
Mike Leach and his ‘Air Raid’ offense have always been able to put up big numbers and points during his time in the North-West, but the defence has continually let this Cougars team down. The unit has seen a big turnaround this year however under new DC Alex Grinch, who has brought nothing but cheer this season. They had to be on form in this one against the Miami Hurricanes, as an unexpected snow storm hit Texas during the ironically named Sun Bowl that affected both passing games (not that it stopped WSU QB Falk throwing it up 53 times regardless). The Cougars D limited the Hurricanes to just a couple scores in a 20-14 win, as senior defensive lineman Destiny Vaeao was a big factor and constant disruptor in the backfield. Vaeao added a little weight this year, now measuring in just shy of 300 lbs with good length at 6ft 4. Part of his threat is his versatility to line up both inside and out, to eat up double teams inside, but then burst in the backfield from outside at end, something that Miami QB Kaaya can attest to after he was flattened by the big man after he beat a one on one block with ease late in the 3rd quarter at a critical point in a close game. Vaeao doesn’t put up big stats, but his presence is felt more than what shows up on the stat sheet, as a high motor disruptor who causes hassle on every snap for opposing linemen. He was recruited late out of high school by Alabama, but chose to stick with his commitment to Washington State. It’s easy to see why Saban wanted to bring him to Tuscaloosa though, as he fits that tough, physical style that is the staple of the Tide’s front seven players.
OT Jason Spriggs, Indiana
One of the biggest risers up draft boards this year, Spriggs is a name to get to know. A very athletic former tight end, Spriggs was quickly converted to the offensive line by Indiana, and after 4 years as a starter, gaining experience, learning the position, and adding strength and muscle to his frame it’s all paying off. While growing into his 6ft 6 body and getting his weight up to around 307 lbs currently, he has maintained the movement and quickness from his TE days, giving him rare athleticism for the position that is highly coveted by pro teams, and that will allow him to continue playing on the blindside at the next level. He still has to develop further, and could still be a couple years away before the investment pays off. He is still a little lean for his frame and will certainly need to continue to work in an NFL strength and conditioning program; the potential payoff could be big though. He finished off his career in a tough loss to Duke, under controversial circumstances after an overtime field goal attempt by Indiana’s kicker looked to have been wrongly called wide. Spriggs himself had another good outing individually though, not allowing a sack in pass protection, and paving the way for running back Redding to rush for 227 yards. Spriggs was a key part of the Hoosier’s run game last season that saw Tevin Coleman hit 2,000 yards, and despite missing some playing time, this year’s backfield star Jordan Howard also ran for over 1,200 yards in 2015. Howard has just declared early for the 2016 draft, so he’s another from this talented offence, along with QB Nick Sudfeld, to watch out for in April/May.
QB/RB Keenan Reynolds, Navy
As expected, Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon’s record didn’t last long. After reaching 87 rushing and receiving career touchdowns, Dixon temporarily held the NCAA record in that statistic. Reynolds quickly reclaimed that honour on Monday night as he added another 3 of his own to finish a sensational 4 years for the Midshipmen with 88 combined touchdowns. He’s also the first player in college football history to have 23+ rushing touchdowns in 3 consecutive seasons. Reynolds was arguably this year’s version of AJ McCarron in the Heisman voting, with an acknowledgement of his career as a whole. In truth his best season was last year, but he was still well deserving of his 5th place finish in that award. Going forward, Reynolds is going to be one of the most fascinating stories of this upcoming draft class. He will not be continuing as a quarterback for his potential pro career, and his attempt to find a new position will begin at the East-West Shrine All Star game, where he is listed to participate as a running back, a logical transition given his huge success in the ground game for Navy. He’s a nice athlete overall though, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get looks as a potential slot receiver as well. Either way, he could be an interesting weapon, reminiscent of either the Jaguars Denard Robertson as a runner, or Antwaan Randle El, who made a very successful conversion from QB to WR. Add in the fact that Reynolds comes with off the charts intangibles, character and leadership, and there’s not a team in the NFL that would not want to give Reynolds a shot at least.
WR Kenny Lawler, California
The unofficial declarations of underclassmen for the draft are coming in thick and fast after the conclusions of various Bowl games. Bears wide receiver Lawler has been heavily rumoured to be one of those to do so, which makes some sense given his impressive year and the fact that he won’t have Jared Goff to throw him the ball any longer should he stay! As talented as he is, with good height at 6ft 3, athleticism, and massive hands that he utilises to come down with some spectacular grabs, he is also still fairly raw in certain aspects such as his route running, and with his own physical development where he could stand to add a bit more bulk to his frame to stand up to more physical defenders. If he does bolt for the NFL however, he went out on a strong showing. Cal has so many offensive weapons in the pass game that targets are limited, but Lawler made the most of his chances against Air Force, taking 3 of his 5 receptions all the way to the end zone for touchdowns. On the subject of junior QB Jared Goff, almost certain to announce his own intentions for the draft, this was a stock neutral performance for him rather than stock up. It was absolutely one of the prettiest performances you’ll see this year by a passer, but context is required. The Falcons defence could not get close to Goff all night, he had a ridiculous amount of time in the pocket under no pressure and could pick his passes with ease all game long. That was helped even further with Air Force’s star player in the secondary being ejected for targeting on the first series of the game. Goff still comes with a few questions, which were exposed during a difficult run during PAC-12 play this season against more talented defenders. Still, a really positive game film for both these juniors.
WR Rashawn Scott, Miami (FL)
Scott was off the radar entering his final season, having missed all of 2014 with a collarbone injury. But he has bounced back nicely with a solid 52 receptions for 695 yards, both of which lead the team. Add in a solid combination of 6ft 2, 205 lb size and nice athleticism, and he could be a dark horse to sneak onto an NFL roster as a possession receiver. He’ll have to shake off a horrendous finish to his Hurricanes career though. Three dropped passes and another catch fumbled was as ugly as it gets. Brad Kaaya kept throwing it to him in the hopes of getting his confidence back up with a couple routine grabs, and he did finish with 5 receptions for 75 yards, but he can’t be feeling good after that one. It’ll be a big test of his mental strength to shake that off and show what he can do in the pre-draft build up.
K Ka’imi Fairbairn, UCLA
Every year there are some talented kickers and punters worth using a draft pick on, usually late in the process. This year, one is going to go high in fact, with Florida State’s Roberto Aguayo set to be a sought after as a mid or even early rounder. Beyond Aguayo, UCLA’s Fairbairn was giving himself a shot at a pick. 19 consecutive field goals made showed off his consistency. A 60 yard bomb vs California that showed off his leg strength. Winner of the Lou Groza award as the nation’s best kicker and a consensus All-American. The poor finish to the year might warn teams off though after he hit a late slump which saw him miss 3 of his 4 field goal attempts in his final three games, including his only attempt vs Nebraska in the Bowl game. The worry is that prior to this season, Fairbairn had only made half of his career kicks of 40 yards or longer. Will this season prove to be a one off success? There may be just enough of a question there that he has to instead resort to making it as a priority free agent in camp.