Oregon vs. Kansas State: NFL Prospects with Most to Gain During Fiesta Bowl
When Oregon and Kansas State face off in this year's Fiesta Bowl, most of the attention will be on the quarterbacks.
Marcus Mariota and Collin Klein are both dangerous dual threats who lead high-powered offenses. They can beat you in a variety of different ways and watching them go back-and-forth will be like a late Christmahanakwanzika present for those of us that enjoy a little bit of scoring during the bowl season.
However, Mariota is just a redshirt freshman and Klein, despite a near Heisman-winning campaign, isn't regarded as a future NFL quarterback.
Neither of the Fiesta Bowl's headliners will be the focus of NFL scouts on Thursday night.
Instead, let's take a look at the players who have the best chance of increasing their 2013 stock in Glendale.
Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
Barner entered the season with concerns about his size (5'9", 186 pounds) and durability (several injuries during 2010 season, sprained ankle in 2011).
Well, 267 touches, 1,856 yards from scrimmage and 22 total touchdowns later, it's pretty clear that the senior running back is more than capable of handling a full load.
Still, though, despite breakaway speed and game-changing playmaking ability, not everyone is sold on Barner continuing his success at the next level. Depending on where you look, he's ranked anywhere from No. 5 to No. 12 among running backs.
If Barner continues his 2012 success (a Madden-like 6.5 yards per carry) in 2013 against Kansas State's impressive 29th-ranked defense, however, expect that number to improve significantly.
Arthur Brown, ILB, Kansas State
Bryce Brown's younger brother is one of the best inside linebackers in the country. In two years at Kansas State, the Miami transfer has racked up 192 tackles, 15.5 for loss, three sacks, three interceptions and nine pass deflections.
He has sideline-to-sideline range, is an outstanding tackler and has shown the propensity to make plays all over the field. He is as dangerous as it gets and Oregon head coach Chip Kelly is well aware of his talent:
However, unless Brown goes out and chases cheetahs in the offseason, he has never had to deal with the speed of someone like De'Anthony Thomas.
Inside linebackers aren't always highly coveted in NFL drafts, but if Brown impresses against Oregon's spread offense that has been nearly impossible to stop this season, he'll find himself not far behind Manti T'eo.
Kiko Alonso, OLB, Oregon
Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti sums up Alonso's style perfectly (via The Wichita Eagle's Tony Adame):
Oregon DC Nick Aliotti on All-Pac 12 LB Kiko Alonso: "He is ... a wild man. See ball, get ball. I don't try to reel him in. Why would I?"— Tony Adame (@t_adame) December 30, 2012
See ball, get ball is a pretty good way for a linebacker approach the game, and that's proving true for Alonso this season. The senior has tallied 75 tackles, 12 for a loss, one sack, four interceptions, six pass deflections and two forced fumbles.
Who will improve his NFL stock the most?
Much like Brown, he's seemingly everywhere at once. He causes mayhem in the backfield as a terrific tackler, he drops back into coverage and he is a major reason why Oregon is first in the nation in takeaways.
Nonetheless, Alonso has had to make immense strides forward this season and still hasn't captured the attention of NFL pundits. If he forces the do-everything Collin Klein into a mediocre game, however, he'll be on the radar of everyone in the country.
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