Belk Bowl 2012: Breaking Down Top NFL Draft Prospects from Each Team
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Duke is back in a bowl game for the first time in 18 years, as the Blue Devils square off against the Cincinnati Bearcats Thursday in the Belk Bowl.
While neither team features a prospect projected to go in the top three rounds of the 2013 NFL draft, there are still quite a few players to keep your eye on Thursday night.
Much of the reason the Blue Devils managed a 6-6 record is the battery of quarterback Sean Renfree and receiver Conner Vernon.
Vernon is one of the top receivers in the ACC and should be a mid-round selection this April.
For the Bearcats, tight end Travis Kelce headlines a solid senior class that also features a pair of future NFL defenders.
Let's take a closer look at the top NFL draft prospects from the Belk Bowl.
Sean Renfree, QB, Duke
Sean Renfree tossed 18 touchdowns in 12 games this season.
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Ever since taking over the starting job in 2010, Sean Renfree has only improved.
After completing 61 percent of his passes and posting a poor 14:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio as a sophomore, Renfree improved those numbers to 65 and 13:11 in 2011 before completing a career-high 66.3 percent of his passes for 18 touchdowns and just eight picks in 2012.
At 6'5", 225 pounds with good arm strength, Renfree has most of the physical tools needed to be a successful NFL quarterback. What he does lack is great mobility and athleticism, but the pieces are there to mold.
With his high football IQ and excellent leadership skills to complement his physical stature and production, Renfree is a quarterback prospect with solid upside.
Conner Vernon, WR, Duke
Conner Vernon has the size and speed to be a productive NFL wideout.
Josh D. Weiss-USA TODAY Sports
Conner Vernon may not be a household name on the national scene, but ACC fans are very familiar with the Duke wideout.
The 6'1", 200-pound senior happens to be the conference's all-time leader in receptions (273) and receiving yards (3,630) and ranks ninth in touchdowns (20).
Paired with explosive sophomore Jamison Crowder, Vernon operates as the smooth possession receiver. While he'll never be confused as a burner, Vernon will carve out a role as a No. 3 receiver at the next level because of his reliable hands and route-running skills.
Currently rated as NFLDraftScout's No. 11 senior wideout, Vernon should hear his name called sometime in the mid rounds and could be a steal for a receiver-needy team.
Travis Kelce, TE, Cincinnati
Travis Kelce brings a great size-speed package for the position.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
While Conner Vernon enjoyed a consistent career, Cincinnati tight end Travis Kelce is a one-year wonder.
However, what he managed to do in one year has already earned him the No. 3 spot on NFLDraftScout's tight end rankings.
Checking in at 6'5", 260 pounds with 4.68 speed, Kelce fits the Rob Gronkowski/Jimmy Graham mold of king-sized, pass-catching tight ends. The younger brother of Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce harnessed those physical traits to the tune of 40 receptions, 599 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012.
Kelce's fantastic senior season earned him First-Team All-Big East honors and should make him one of the top tight ends selected in the 2013 NFL draft.
Drew Frey, SS, Cincinnati
Drew Frey has great size, but lacks good coverage skills for a safety.
USA TODAY Sports
They don't come much bigger than Drew Frey.
Measuring in at 6'3", 212 pounds, the Cincinnati strong safety brings linebacker size to the position, but unfortunately lacks the agility and coverage skills to be a starting safety at the next level.
While his toughness and effort can't be questioned, Frey needs to refine his skills in the passing game, as his eight career interceptions and 27 passes defended can be a bit misleading. Known as a big hitter, Frey can definitely contribute on special teams and as a two-down safety, but he has some work to do if he hopes to evolve into an every-down player.
He's currently projected as a seventh-round pick by CBSSports.com.
Greg Blair, LB, Cincinnati
Greg Blair made his one season as a starter count.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Bearcats middle linebacker Greg Blair is going to try and ride his one season as a starter straight to the NFL.
A former transfer from Lackawanna Community College, the hefty 6'2", 252-pound linebacker made a single tackle in 2011 before exploding for 123 tackles (8.5 for loss), 2.5 sacks, two interceptions and eight passes defended in 2012.
A step slow in the speed department, Blair makes up for the deficiency with toughness and instincts. He's currently rated as the No. 10 inside linebacker of the 2013 class and should earn a spot as a two-down run-stuffer.
If 2012 was any indication of Blair's growth potential, he could turn out to be a better pro player than college prospect. Whatever you do, watch out for No. 51 in the middle.