We take a look at various draft prospects in the first three Saturday bowl games.
The college bowl season is in full swing as we approach the end of the calendar year, which means the 2013 NFL Draft season will be upon us shortly. We have had some basic NFL Draft discussion surrounding weekly Saturday college football, but it has been fairly basic. Now that the NFL regular season is coming to an end, it makes sense to ramp up our coverage.
Starting Monday, you'll start seeing content from Trevor Woods and Nick Chiamardas. I put out a call on Twitter for help providing coverage heading into the 2013 NFL Draft, and Trevor and Nick responded with solid writing backgrounds and a passion for both college football and the NFL. I wanted to try using two people for NFL Draft coverage so we can get even more out there and keep both guys fresh.
To get things started, Nick put together a look at the first three bowl games for today. Below he has provided a rundown of some notable prospects. Trevor has put together a look at the prospects from the remaining two games, and I'll have a separate thread for those just to break it up a bit. I'll pin this post into the cover for the first three games to keep the discussion up top.
All game times are pacific. Feel free to chip in with your own thoughts on prospects in each game.
Rice vs Air Force - Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl - 8:45 a.m. ET ESPN
This matchup featuring two 6-6 teams probably doesn't get anyone jumping out of their seats in excitement. The games also leaves more to be desired as far a potential draft prospects for the Niners. One player to keep an eye on is Rice tight end Vance McDonald. McDonald has prototypical TE size at 6-5 260lbs, and with a good showing in the bowl game and in the Senior Bowl he should find his way onto an NFL roster in 2013. With the uncertainty surrounding Delanie Walker's status with team next year and what seems to be a constant search for a 'blocking' TE, it wouldn't surprise me to see the Niners take two TEs in this draft particularly when will likely have 13 picks (11 regular, 2 compensatory).
McDonald is coming off a decent season where he was third in receptions (35), yards (433) and touchdowns (2) for the Owls despite missing three games due to injury. Scouts believe if the big bodied TE shows improvement in his blocking he could work his way into the mid to late rounds of the draft.
West Virginia vs Syracuse - New Era Pinstripe Bowl - 12:15 p.m. ESPN
The Mountaineers certainly aren't short on NFL talent. With prolific passing games seemingly dominating the NFL, the talent at WVU should have no problems finding homes at the next level. We know Geno Smith will be a 1st round (likely top 10) pick. But it's highly unlikely Harbaalke would trade up given the emergence of Colin Kaepernick and Harbaugh's growing fondness of Scott Tolzien.
Austin doesn't have the typical size at 5-9 but he has blazing speed and a knack for the end zone. He is a First Team AP All-American and caught 110 passes for 1,259 yards and 12 TDs as a slot receiver for WVU. He also rushed for 598 yards and 3TDs while adding 903 return yards on both punt and kickoff returns. Any skill player who accounts for 2,760 all purpose yards for one of the top offenses in major college football is worth a look. Unfortunately for Austin, his size will likely keep him out of the first round. He reminds scouts a lot of Chris Rainey the undersized RB out of Florida now playing with the Steelers. With the impending departure of the disappointing Ted Ginn, Jr., Austin would be a worthy replacement if the team is willing to spend a second round pick on him.
Teammate Stedman Bailey might have a better outlook as far as pure WR. The junior finished in among the nation's leaders in every major receiving category with 106 receptions, 1,501 yards, and a whopping 23 TDs which led the nation. Bailey apparently received a third round grade from scouts to which his QB Geno Smith took to twitter to defend, saying: "To say SB3 is a third round pic is absurd, the guy dominated every corner he lined up against..." While that may be true, we all know the Big12 lacks solid defenses and, as with Austin, Bailey's 5-10 height may hinder his draft stock. Who knows if Randy Moss will be back next year and what the development process of AJ Jenkins has been like? I wouldn't be shocked to see the Niners take a WR in the mid rounds, especially if they can get some help in the return game.
A potential sleeper pick from this team would be center Joe Masden. The 6-4 305lb lineman started 50 of 51 games in college and earned 2nd Team All Big 12 honors. He was also on the Lombardi Award preseason watch list. Masden will not play Saturday night as he has been ruled academically ineligible which will not help his chances. He'll need a good showing in workouts to make it in the late rounds.
On the other side, Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib has been a hot name of late. As we've learned year after year, QBs with size and arm strength almost always find a way into the top end of the draft. Nassib will be no different. However, as with Smith, it's hard to see a scenario where the 49ers select a QB in the first 3 or 4 rounds.
Syracuse SS Shamarko Thomas could be an option in the mid rounds. At 5-10 he lacks size desired from a SS but his 210lbs frame and sub 4.4 speed are intriguing. He's also quite versatile having lined up at LB and CB in addition to safety for the Orange. He is known for his style of play often plays with reckless abandon in throwing his body around the field looking for the big hit. Sound familiar? With Dashon Godson's future still yet to be determined and Harbaugh's love for tough physical special team's players, Thomas would be an ideal late round candidate.
Navy vs Arizona State - Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl - 1:00 p.n. ESPN2
Is it just me or have the names of these bowl games lost their luster? Not surprisingly the only draft prospects here are found on ASU's roster, as the men from Navy have much more important things to worry about after their football careers.
ASU Jr. DT Will Sutton hasn't declared for the draft yet but he just won the PAC12's defensive player of the year award so I'm considering him likely to throw his hat in the ring. Sutton is rather small for a pure DT but could be an ideal fit for DE in the 3-4. Listed at 6-1 272lbs, Sutton would certainly need to add some weight to compete at the next level. His non-stop motor and ability to cause disruption in the backfield has scouts drooling. Among his strengths is his uncanny ability to time the snaps and get off the ball extremely well. He possesses strong, active hands and feet and continuously proves he can get off blocks to pursue ball carriers. Depth on the defensive line is always invaluable. Contracts and age are going to be a question mark in the next couple of years so the 49ers will almost certainly stock up on young talent along the defensive line.
Brandon Magee an OLB for ASU could find his way into the later part of the draft but most likely as at 4-3 OLB so he probably won't be on the radar. Magee is a baseball prospect as well and could forgo the NFL draft altogether.
WR/KR Rashad Ross had a disappointing senior season and is looking at a very late round pick or undrafted free agent. He will be a project but with decent 6-0 size and above average speed, he could contribute as a kick returner right away.