We take a look at various draft prospects in the New Years Eve bowl games, including the Music City Bowl, Sun Bowl, Liberty Bowl and Chik-Fil-A Bowl.
Although the 49ers have plenty to do in getting ready for the upcoming playoffs, there is still plenty of bowl action to keep you otherwise occupied. Our two biggest days are today and tomorrow, with ten bowl games spread out over these two days. A lot of people are home on vacation until the turn of the New Year, so why not enjoy some bowl action.
The first two games today were broken down by Nick Chiamardas, who is on Twitter under the handle @BigSwinginNick. The second set of games for today were broken down by Trevor Woods, who is on Twitter under the handle @Woods49ers.
Feel free to contribute your own thoughts concerning prospects for these games, and the 49ers own draft needs heading into the eventual offseason (hopefully over a month away!). All times pacific
Music City Bowl: NC State vs Vanderbilt - 9:00 a.m. PT ESPN
The match up in the Music City Bowl doesn't seem like much on paper but when you consider the game will feature one of the top NFL QB prospects in NC State's Mike Glennon and his counterpart Jordan Rogers, the younger brother of Aaron it may cause a brow to rise. Still not interested, consider this: Vanderbilt's top WR, Jordan Matthews, is a cousin of the GOAT himself, Jerry Rice.
While the 49ers probably won't have Glennon or Rodgers on their radar (Glennon is trending up and looks like this year's Christian Ponder in that he'll likely rise into the first round and Rodgers may go undrafted) Matthews presents an intriguing option in the second or third round should he still be available. Matthews possesses ideal size at 6-3, 205lbs and is progressing as a route runner. Matthews' production increased notably when Vanderbilt inserted Rodgers into the starting line up. He's not the fastest prospect but what he lacks in speed he makes up for in quickness getting of the ball and in and out of his breaks. Matthews was a first team All SEC selection after hauling in 87 receptions for 1,267 yards and 7 touchdowns. While WR may not seem to be a glaring need at first look, the uncertainty surrounding Randy Moss age, AJ Jenkins development, Mario Mannigham's injury, and the all but certain departure of Ted Ginn the Niners are sure to take a gander at a WR or two. Why not spend a 2nd or 3rd round pick on a guy that comes from an elite pedigree?
Teammate Zac Stacy is coming off consecutive 1,000+ yards rushing and was rated as one of the top 10 underrated players to watch during Bowl season. Stacy is listed as 5-9 210 so he wouldn't fit that ‘big back' mold you'd guess Harbaugh will be looking to fill. He does, however possesses some of the same qualities including decisive running ability and a knack for picking up extra yardage. Stacy will likely be a late round pick and may be worth a look should the team wait that long to select a RB.
Three-fourths of NC State's secondary figures to find a home in the NFL next season. Corner David Amerson could be an ideal fit for a 49ers team looking to add depth at CB particularly with the unknown status of Tarell Brown's contract situation. Amnerson's size (6-2, 194lbs) and natural play making ability (13 INTs his sophomore year) have forced scouts to take notice. While the junior has yet to declare, many think he's just waiting until after the bowl game to announce his intentions of entering the draft. Amerson doesn't have eye-popping speed and some scouts have questioned his fluidity but he's big and physical and could benefit from being in an attacking style defense that puts pressure on the QB.
First Team All ACC SS Earl Wolff led the Wolfpack in tackles this year. While struggling in coverage Wolff is a tremendous asset in the stopping the run and excels playing in the box. If Baalke and Co. decide to let Pro Bowl SS Dashon Goldson walk (see Nick's comment below), SS will be major target in the draft. Wolff figures to be a mid round pick.
Wolfpack FS Brandon Bishop is one of those guys you root for. While he doesn't have all the gaudy stats and measurables, the kid is a player. He's smart and heady and rarely makes mental mistakes. He'll be sure to find a roster spot and be an asset on special teams.
Sun Bowl: USC vs Georgia Tech - 11:00 a.m. CBS
Every year USC churns out the NFL talent. This year is no exception. With QB Matt Barkley looking like the team's only first rounder, there could be several diamonds in the rough in the subsequent rounds.
WR Robert Woods has pretty much done it all during his time at USC. Sure he's only a junior but it seems as though he's been around forever. At 6-1 Woods has everything scouts dream of when evaluating WRs. Size, speed, and athleticism. He had 800 receiving yards and 11 TDs this season not quite duplicating his impressive sophomore campaign where he totaled nearly 1,300 yards and 15 TDs. Some scouts believe an ankle injury suffered during his sophomore year still bothers the young wide out despite his emphatic denial. Woods submitted paperwork to NFL Advisory Committee (a committee that helps underclassmen determine their draft position) and ha yet to declare. Considered a late first/early second round pick, Woods has claimed he'd only consider leaving early if he were a projected 1st rounder.
Perhaps the direst need for the 49ers comes along the offensive line at the center position. Jonathan Goodwin is starting to show his age (34) despite being selected as a Pro Bowl alternate. Depth at center is also an issue with no true center behind Goodwin. Sure, perhaps young Daniel Kilgore could player there or injured Joe Looney but I believe the 49ers should target USC center Khaled Holmes. Holmes is a three-year started along the USC front and has all the intangibles you'd want in a center. He's smart (posted a 3.3 GPA while working on his Master's in Communication), wide-bodied (6-3 305lbs) and quick. Holmes was also voted first team All PAC12. His absence from the Stanford game was quite noticeable as Stanford's defensive line was able to control the line of scrimmage all night in Holmes' absence. Holmes has fantastic upper and lower body strength allowing him to take on combo blocks and figures to fit ideally into a power running scheme. I have a feeling Holmes rates fairly high on Harbaugh's wish list.
As the son of former 49er all-pro safety Tim McDonald, TJ McDonald is set to follow in his father's footsteps. The big FS was widely regarded as the top FS prospect in this year's draft until an average senior season has seen his projections fall anywhere between rounds two and four. Still, McDonald led the Trojans in tackles in 2012 and has all the tools to be a successful starter at the next level. Size (6-2) and speed (4.5) are not an issue. He's a tough hitter and has above average ball. One factor that may be working against him, ironically, is the comparison made to former 49ers second round selection Taylor Mays. While Mays was slightly wider and much faster, McDonald is considered to be much better in coverage. While FS doesn't appear to be an immediate need, drafting McDonald in the 3rd or 4th round while letting him learn from Donte Whitner could be beneficial (see Nick's comment below).
Junior college transfer DE/OLB Morgan Breslin could be an intriguing prospect should he declare after a very solid junior season in which he registered 18 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. Breslin played DE in USC's 4-3 front but can be considered one of those hybrid OLBs given his size (6-2, 250lbs), speed and natural ability to pressure the pocket. The Niners always seem to be on the lookout for pure pass rushers and Breslin seems to fit that mold perfectly.
CB Nickell Robey is leaning toward returning to USC for his senior year. If he decides to come out, his small stature will likely work against him at the next level. At barely 5-8 165lbs, Robey will be significantly undersized to match up with NFL receivers. He did have a great junior season and was rarely tested registering only one INT since QBs didn't throw his way often.
The only prospect worth mentioning on Georgia Tech is offensive guard Omoregie Uzzi. At 6-3 and ‘only' 300lbs, Uzzi might be a little small for Harbaugh's liking. However, at Georgia Tech, where they run the spread option attack, Uzzi has become a fantastic run blocker. He has good hands and is able to drive defenders when pulling. With solid workouts, Uzzi could be one of the first 5 guards selected in the draft.
Liberty Bowl: Iowa State (6-6) vs. Tulsa (10-3) - 12:30 p.m. ESPN
These teams played each other at the beginning of the season, Iowa State winning that game 38-23. The records are deceiving, Iowa State, a Big 12 team, had a much tougher schedule than Tulsa, so expect a competitive match-up. This game isn't exactly loaded with big names, but there's some talent on the field that could translate into NFL talent.
One thing the 49ers don't need is a linebacker, but the best prospect in this game happens to be one, inside linebacker A.J. Klein. Klein racked up 98 tackles for Iowa State this season, along with over 300 in his college career. he has shown that he is a sure tackler and a player who is always around the ball, his pursuit can be impressive at times. The past two seasons Klein has received All Big 12 honors, and last year was Big 12 Co-Defensive Player Of The Year, a big honor. Klein also is a linebacker who can catch, is solid in pass coverage, and can make big plays. In his career Klein has 4 interceptions returned for a touchdown, tied for most by a linebacker in college history. He is projected to go in the late 2nd round or sometime in the 3rd, it's high unlikely the 49ers would go that direction so early in the draft and grab him or any other linebacker, I think he'll be a good contributor on Sundays for some team though (hopefully not the NFC West).
Iowa State safety Durrell Givens is also a player to keep an eye on this game, even if you aren't paying attention to him, he'll make you. Givens has 6 fumble recoveries and 3 interceptions on the season, leading the nation in takeaways per game. Givens also has 4 this season where he recorded 10 tackles or more. Strong safety is a position that the 49ers may try to get a better back up for Donte Whitner than Darcel McBath, with all the picks at the Niners disposal, a SS will be at least one of them. It will be interesting to see if Givens gets a takeaway in the game.
Tulsa has someone that Klein and Givens will be trying to stop, whether he does or doesn't could decide the game, that player being running back Alex Singleton. Singleton has amassed a whooping 21 touchdowns this season and has 41 in his career. At 6-1 & 260 pounds Singleton possesses absolutely no speed and has a 4.1 yards per carry this season, some of his play is reminiscent of Lendale White when he was at USC, White being the faster of the two though (Lendale was faster than someone?). With that said, Singleton can still hurt you if you allow him a hole to run through, he's hard to take down. At the next level he would have to be a full back full time besides short yardage situations, he's certainly a physical player and is strong, if Bruce Miller can develop into a good NFL fullback, I have no doubt Singleton can do the same.
Chik-fil-A Bowl: LSU vs. Clemson 4:30 p.m. ESPN
The only thing that is disappointing about this bowl is the winning team just gets one lousy trophy at the end of the game, not a delicious Chik-fil-A sandwich, besides that, this bowl has all the fixings.
It's time to show the offensive lineman some love, and one of the top Centers in the country will be taking the field for Clemson, Dalton Freeman. Freeman has started 48 consecutive games and has played more snaps than anyone in Clemson's long history. Clearly he's durable and has received recognition for that and his solid play. Freeman was selected to the Walter Camp All American Second Team, as well as the AP All American Second Team.
At 6-4, he weighs 286, and as the NFL continues to get bigger and stronger, it could benefit him to add a little more weight and muscle to his frame. I feel he is a little undersized right now, but he can work on that. Jonathan Goodwin is locked up through next season, but when his contract is up he will be 35, center is another position the 49ers will likely draft a player at because of their 13 picks. Daniel Kilgore could be the long term answer at Center, but we know Harbaugh loves competition, and they'll bring in players for some. Freeman is projected as a mid round pick, his durability and solid play won't hurt him, his size may a bit.
Clemson running back Andre Ellington is one of the bigger named running backs in the draft this season and will be one of the first running backs off the board, and that is because of his intangibles. Ellington has blazing speed and will be one of the fastest running backs timed at the combine. Ellington shows good acceleration and is an explosive player, he's not very big or strong, but he has good vision and knows when to hit a hole. Ellington has 1,031 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns on the year.
LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo could be a top 5 draft pick in the draft, he's only a Junior but there is a good chance he will leave college for the NFL. While his season has been disappointing from a performance standpoint with only 4 sacks, Mingo has a lot scouts like. At 6-5, 240, Mingo is freaky fast for a defensive end (can also play linebacker), there aren't many ends who are as big as him with speed like him, if groomed right he could be very dangerous in the NFL. He misses tackles now and then and has over pursued on the read option multiple times and was responsible for big gains, but there are more positives than negatives about him.
Also worth noting in this game are two underclassmen who will likely be headed back for another season for LSU, who we'll be talking about next season, FS Eric Reid and DE Sam Montgomery. Reid and Montgomery contributed to the #8th ranked defense this season, Reid helped with 81 tackles and two interceptions, while Montgomery recorded 7 sacks. Pay close attention to Montgomery and Mingo collapse the pocket repeatedly in the bowl.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for New Years Day bowl game previews.