NFL Draft Prospects You Absolutely Must Watch in BCS Bowl Games

Ryan McCrystal@@ryan_mccrystalFeatured ColumnistDecember 31, 2012

NFL Draft Prospects You Absolutely Must Watch in BCS Bowl Games

0 of 13

    The BCS bowls kick off on Tuesday afternoon and will feature a strong group of NFL prospects, with potential first-round picks in every game.

    Here are 13 players from the five BCS games that you absolutely must focus on as you're sitting on your couch over the course of the next week.

Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin

1 of 13

    Montee Ball has been on the national radar screen for the past two seasons, but his performance in the Rose Bowl could still swing the momentum of his draft stock entering the offseason.

    Stanford boasts the NCAA's third-ranked rushing defense and will be Ball's stiffest test of the season.

    In five games against teams ranked in the top 50 in run defense this season, Ball averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, and the Badgers went 1-4 in those games. Another pedestrian performance from Ball against the Cardinal could convince scouts that he is simply an ordinary back who posted elite college numbers due to Wisconsin's system and a strong supporting cast.

Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford

2 of 13

    Unlike Montee Ball, Stepfan Taylor excelled against his toughest challenges this season. Stanford went 3-1 against top-50 run defenses (with the lone loss coming in overtime at Notre Dame), and Taylor averaged 4.7 yards per attempt in those contests.

    Wisconsin ranks 22nd against the run and will provide Taylor with one last opportunity to boost his stock.

    With a strong performance in the Rose Bowl, Taylor will solidify his spot as a Day 2 prospect.

Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford

3 of 13

    Zach Ertz was overshadowed by teammate Coby Fleener in 2011 but has established himself as one of the elite tight ends in this year's draft class with a strong senior year.

    Wisconsin will focus on Ertz, who had more than double the number of receptions of Stanford's leading wide receiver (Drew Terrell). He will be challenged on every play and will have to fight through the physical style of Wisconsin's linebackers.

Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State

4 of 13

    Bjoern Werner won't exactly be challenged by Northern Illinois' offensive line, but you'll want to focus on him during the Orange Bowl if for no other reason than to get one last look at the top defensive player in this year's draft class.

    Werner is arguably the most NFL-ready prospect in the draft and could potentially be the first defensive player selected No. 1 overall since the Houston Texans made Mario Williams the top pick in 2006.

Matt Elam, S, Florida

5 of 13

    Matt Elam has emerged as one of the leaders of Florida's much-improved defense this season and could be the first safety off the board in April.

    He's a prototypical strong safety who excels at stepping up against the run and delivering the big hits. But against Louisville's offense, led by the athletic Teddy Bridgewater, Elam's coverage skills will be tested. How he fares could help determine whether or not he sneaks into the late first round.

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

6 of 13

    As a true sophomore, Teddy Bridgewater technically doesn't belong on this list, but he is the most intriguing future NFL draft prospect in the Sugar Bowl.

    Bridgewater may enter his junior year as the early favorite to go No. 1 overall in 2014, and scouts will undoubtedly be tuned in to his performance against Florida. The Gators will provide Bridgewater the toughest test of his college career, and a strong performance would put him among the elite prospects in next year's draft class.

Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon

7 of 13

    We've all seen Kenjon Barner's highlight-reel plays, but how will he hold up against Kansas State's physical defense?

    Barner's toughest tests to date came in the Ducks' final two games. Against Stanford, Barner had just 66 yards on 21 carries, but against Oregon State he rushed for 198 yards on 28 carries. A similar performance against the Wildcats' 17th-ranked run defense could vault him into the late first-round discussion.

    This is a relatively weak class for running backs, so the door is definitely open for an athlete like Barner to establish himself as the top prospect.

Dion Jordan, DE/LB, Oregon

8 of 13

    This is an incredibly deep class of defensive linemen, and Dion Jordan is one of a number of prospects who could climb into the top 10 or fall to the second round.

    The Fiesta Bowl will be an opportunity for Jordan to demonstrate his skills against a strong Kansas State offensive line and a difficult offense for which to prepare. Jordan can't simply pin his ears back to go after the athletic Collin Klein.

    Klein's mobility will give Jordan an opportunity to showcase his athleticism and ability to react, which could lead to increased interest from teams running the 3-4 defense.

Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State

9 of 13

    For a team that nearly played for a national championship, Kansas State's roster has a limited amount of NFL talent. Its lone potential top-50 prospect is Arthur Brown, who will have an opportunity to showcase his athleticism against Oregon's fast-paced offense.

    As more NFL teams begin to run college-style offenses, players such as Brown could become more valuable. He's undersized, but his athleticism will make him an intriguing prospect for teams looking to find ways to slow down quarterbacks such as Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick.

Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame

10 of 13

    At this point we know all we need to know about Manti Te'o. He's a fundamentally sound prospect and an elite leader on the field, but limited in his raw physical skills.

    The national championship game won't affect Te'o's stock significantly, but if you're interested in watching a potential top-10 pick when the Irish are on defense, he is the guy to focus on. 

Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame

11 of 13

    Tyler Eifert is the top tight end prospect in this year's draft, but he hasn't been tested against a defense like Alabama's.

    Eifert plays like a receiver in a tight end's body but doesn't always play the most physical brand of football. The Crimson Tide linebackers and safeties will test his toughness and make him fight for every catch. How he fares could determine whether or not he lands in the first round.

Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama

12 of 13

    Eddie Lacy is in the hunt to be the first running back off the board, and Notre Dame's stout defense will give him an opportunity to prove his worth.

    If Lacy and the Alabama offensive line expose Notre Dame's defense, he could climb into the late first-round discussion as an option for a team like the Bengals or Packers that will be looking for a new feature back this offseason.

Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama

13 of 13

    Dee Milliner will likely be the first prospect off the board from the national championship game and has little left to prove in what's probably his final collegiate game.

    However, it will be interesting to see if the Crimson Tide use Milliner against Tyler Eifert. Not many cornerbacks can hold their ground against 6'6" tight ends, but Milliner may have the elite skills necessary to shut down the Irish's top receiver.