Hope everybody is enjoying New Years' Day! Earlier today, we had a thread for the first four games with a rundown of some of the notable prospects in each game. This afternoon brings us the first two BCS bowls, both of which should be fairly interesting.
These notes come courtesy of Nick Chiamardas (@BigSwinginNick) and Trevor Woods (@Woods49ers). Nick handled the first two games, while Trevor grabbed the second pair of games.
Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Stanford - 2:00 p.m. - ESPN
This one is for all the roses! We will see a lot of players on Stanford who either played for Coach Harbaugh or were recruited by him. I'm excited to see this game, these teams both love to run the ball and are physical, and there is a lot of talent on both teams.
Two of the best running back prospects will be taking the field in Pasadena, Stanford Cardinal Stefan Taylor, and Wisconsin Badger Montee Ball. There is a lot to love about both players and they will both be drafted before the third round starts. While scouts can debate who will be better at the next level, all agree they both will be good NFL players.
On a lot of mock boards right now, Ball is the second to fourth best back coming out, and Taylor is behind him. It could stay this way, or the combine could change that, only time will tell. Ball and Taylor are both durable running backs and have never shown that they wear down during a game, these guys will make for an exciting game. Taylor played for Harbaugh and was the catalyst of the backfield in Harbaughs last year with Stanford in 2010 when they won the Orange Bowl. Taylor has big game experience and has shown he is clutch time after time. This season Taylor rushed for 1,442 yards with 12 touchdowns, while also snagging 38 receptions and two more scores.
Monete Ball was a Heisman finalist this season and last year and is nothing short of explosive. He's strong, shifty, fast, which makes him very hard to tackle. Ball has put up insane numbers the past two seasons, with 1,923 yards and 33 touchdowns last season, and 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns this year. Earlier this season Ball broke the all time touchdown record for a career with 82, and he will be looking to add to that in the Rose Bowl. If either player slips too far it could be another example of the 49ers selecting the best player available, although there clearly are other needs to address first.
Another player worth noting for the Badgers is CB Devin Smith, who is a decent cornerback. Unfortunately for him, his college career will be defined by a Hail Mary he allowed to happen last year, as well as one of the most brutal blocks you'll ever see, laid on him in the Big Ten Championship game this season. Besides a couple plays he wishes to forget, he's a corner who could be had in the later round of the draft who has playmaking ability (4 interceptions this season). He has NFL speed and will find himself in training camp with a team.
The Cardinal have a couple seniors to watch for who play hard, with intensity we are accustomed to seeing from our 49ers defense, linebackers Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov, this duo has worked together well through the years and I look for them to come up big in this game containing Ball to a good but not great game. Thomas will go higher in the draft than Skov. He is projected to be a 3rd round pick, and he will make a good addition. Thomas is a great run stopper, a sure tackler, and has always been able to blitz well and get pressure (7.5 sacks this season). The only knock on him would be he can be a liability in coverage, especially in man, this is an area he will have to improve. What teams will like about him and Skov is their passion, they never take a play off and play every play like it's their last.
Skov has a couple things that have hurt his draft stock. A torn ACL and a DUI arrest last January may have some teams looking in another direction, but he's recovered nicely from the injury and has had no off the field problems since his arrest. This season Skov has 65 tackles and 3 sacks, and has shown that the bigger the game the bigger he plays. In their upset of the then #1 Oregon Ducks, Skov registered 10 tackles. He's the kind of player Harbaugh loves. Don't be surprised if the 49ers pick him up as Skov is a blue collar player who would be a good contributor on Special Teams and would add some depth to a great linebacker group in San Francisco.
Orange Bowl: Northern Illinois vs. Florida State - 5:30 p.m. ESPN
At first glance this game seems like a yawner. A BCS buster who many believed shouldn't have earned a BCS bid verses a consistently underachieving Florida State team. On paper FSU's physical defense littered with NFL talent should dismantle the potent spread attack of NIU. But has history has shown, FSU is known to play down to their competition so this would could be similar to that famous Fiesta Bowl when Boise State upset Oklahoma in what I still consider to be the best college football game I've ever seen. As an alum of Florida State here's hoping this isn't the case.
This year the Huskies of NIU don't have a legit NFL prospect like when Michael
‘The Burner' ‘The Churner' Turner came out. The Huskies lone prospect comes in the form of ‘tweener' DE/OLB Sean Progar. At 6-2 250lbs Progar is undersized to play DE in a 4-3 front and with his 4.9 speed he's probably not fast enough to play OLB in a 3-4. Still, his 8.5 sacks and sound technique could see him selected in the late, late rounds or at the very least a tryout as an unrestricted free agent.
The Noles on the other have nine prospects that could hear their name called during the 2013 NFL draft. The best of those is Bjoern Werner who will likely be selected in the top 10. Since Werner doesn't fit the 3-4 and it's clear the Niners won't be trading up to get him, let's look at the potential fits. (As an aside, I'm holding out hope this is the year the Niners select a Seminole in the draft. It's been far too long as I can only recall William Floyd and Dexter Carter in the late 80s when I was just a pup. Who can forget Deon but that was just one year and the Niners didn't draft him. Regardless, it seems the Nole to Niner connection has been successful in the past so let's see it again! As I digress...)
CB Xavier Rhodes seems like a likely candidate in the later part of round one. Rhodes is another underclassmen who had yet to declare but many feel he will take his talents to the NFL in 2013. At 6-1 217lbs, Rhodes has the ideal size and length teams covet in a shut down corner. Rhodes' athleticism is also second to none. Recruited to FSU as a high school WR, he decided to give corner a try after getting buried on the depth chart early in his career. An injury forced him to red shirt his first year on campus, but during his red shirt freshman campaign he earned consensus Freshman All American honors with 12 pass breakups and 4 INTs.
Rhodes hasn't filled that stat column like that since but there's an easy answer to that. Teams have simply quit throwing his way. He has great press coverage skills and utilizes his hands to know receivers off their routes early. He also has the speed to make up for early mistakes and the fluidity to stay with receivers in and out of breaks. He's projected to be drafted in mid to late round one, if he's there take him!
DE/OLB Brandon Jenkins reminds me a lot of Aldon Smith. Now to be clear, I'm not saying he's the next young sack artist. But if not for a season ending Lisfrac injury in the first game of the season FSU would have three first round picks this year. Jenkins has ideal 6-3 260lbs size to be a pass rushing terror. Like Smith, Jenkins did not play much linebacker in college. Although former defensive coordinator Mark Stoops did run a multiple front and often allowed Jenkins to play standing up, however, he rarely dropped in coverage. A likely 2nd-4th round pick, Jenkins would probably be a pass rushing specialist his first year in the league until he became comfortable dropping back in coverage. The Niners have a legitimate need for pass rusher opposite Smith and Jenkins could excel there coming in on third down and passing situations.
Quarterback EJ Manuel has drawn the praise and ire of FSU fans for the past two years. To be fair, I'm not sure there anther fan base more difficult to please. Manuel completed over 70% of his passes during his career and has excellent mobility when he chooses to tuck the ball and run. That 70% completion rate is misleading, however. Manuel often misses high on intermediate routes, which you can get away with in the ACC. His long ball is nice but can flutter in the air allowing opposing defenses to close fast on the receiver. Manuel would benefit from going to a situation where he could learn from a coach known for developing QBs. He's a project anyway you put it but the intangibles are there to warrant a 3rd or 4th round selection. Just maybe not for the 49ers.
My favorite player the last four years has been FB Lonnie Pryor. Pryor is not your typical FB as he prototypical frame. Pryor is listed as 6-0 230lbs put probably plays closer to 220lbs. He wasn't flashy in anything he really did at FSU but talk about a football player! Pryor came to FSU as a RB but offered to switch to FB since the team had a major need there. He's started every game at FB since he's arrived. He has tremendous versatility to not only block but also run the ball and has soft hands to be reliable enough in the passing game. He's the epitome of an unselfish football player and will be a major asset in any facet of the game he's challenged with. Lonnie Pryor is a football player.
Kicking has been a bit of a sore subject around here lately. Luckily for 49er fans, the next kicker for faithful may be in garnet and gold. Dustin Hopkins is arguably the top kicker in the draft. While I'm not the biggest fan of selecting a kicker in any draft (fantasy or real life), Hopkins has leg and the accuracy to last many years in the NFL. A four year starter, Hopkins became the all time leader scorer for kickers in FBS history this season with 459 points. The All-American converted on 24 of 28 kicks this year including all five from 50+ yards. He's a bit flashy, evidenced by his gold shoes, which is not necessarily a quality I look for in kickers. Just do your job and do it well. Hopkins does just that.
A possible late round selection is Anthony ‘Amp' McCloud. A 320lbs DT, McCloud needs to improve his strength and endurance but with time could develop into a nice backup NT in a 3-4 front.
The other Noles to look for but are unlikely to fit into the Niners defensive scheme are 4-3 DE Cornelius ‘Tank' Carradine and 4-3 DT Everett Dawkins, both of which figure to be drafted in the first four rounds of April's draft.