NFL Draft 2013: Which Prospects Have Most to Gain During Bowl Season?

Aidan ReynoldsContributor IIIJanuary 3, 2013

NFL Draft 2013: Which Prospects Have Most to Gain During Bowl Season?

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    Whether draft stock is rising or falling, there are always some players with more to gain than others during bowl season.

    It’s a final chance to impress NFL scouts in a game situation—for some it could be the difference between a career in football and a life spent telling people how close they came to a career in football.

    A player doesn't need to be a high-round draft pick in order to be successful, but it certainly gives them a head start.

    It’s the ultimate end to a college career, and the following athletes need the bowl games to give them the edge come draft day.

Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma

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    Projected as a franchise quarterback during his early years at Oklahoma, Jones has since regressed and his ability to perform at the NFL level is now under question. He needs the bowl game to answer these questions and convince teams to take a chance on him.

    To make matters worse, he’s up against the 2012 Heisman winner, and the only player to ever win the award as a freshman, Johnny Manziel.

    Jones’ two predecessors—Sam Bradford and Jason White—both won the Heisman, so it was almost expected of Jones by the time he became the starter. Instead, Jones has never made the final rounds of the Heisman voting and has to instead console himself with bowl game victories.

    Bowl victories, however, are not Heismans, and unless they amounted to a national championship, Jones was never going to measure up to the players that preceded him.

    A victory against Texas A&M won’t suddenly solve all the issues with Jones’ decision-making and ability to remain calm under pressure. These things won’t go away for a while and will remain an obstacle between Jones and an NFL game.

    However, a convincing victory over this year’s Heisman winner will go some way toward securing his legacy as a Sooners quarterback.

Kyle Long, OL, Oregon

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    Another player with something to live up to, Kyle Long, now finds himself burdened with the reputation of his family, but the pressure comes only from himself.

    The son of Hall of Famer Howie Long and the brother of St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long, the Ducks lineman has had a strangled route to bowl season but is a fearsome talent.

    Starting as a pitcher at Florida State, Long ran into trouble when arrested for DWI in 2009. Although drafted in the 23rd round by the Chicago White Sox, Long moved to Saddlebeck College.

    He then reinvented himself as a football player, playing defensive end before switching to the offensive side of the ball and then Oregon in 2012.

    Denied another year of eligibility by the NCAA, Long will be on a lot of teams’ boards when the draft rolls around, so the Fiesta Bowl is a good chance to show that his inexperience won’t prevent him from starting in the NFL.

    Long had never played at guard before November last year, but now finds himself approaching the draft. His natural athleticism has enabled him to adapt to every new sport, school and position, so don’t expect the NFL to be any different.

Ray Graham, RB, Pittsburgh

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    Against Notre Dame, Graham ran for 172 yards and a touchdown, although his team eventually lost in triple overtime. He also ran all over Virginia Tech and their much-hyped defense, so if he doesn’t have a big day against an Ole Miss defense that allows 133.3 rushing yards per game (via ESPN.com), there will be questions asked.

    Graham has recovered from an ACL injury that threatened his 2012 season, and the BBVA Compass Bowl is a chance to solidify that recovery. This season has been the first time he has rushed for 1,000 yards, and his 11 touchdowns have helped lead his team toward a bowl game.

    Prior to the ACL tear in 2011, Graham had considered leaving for the NFL draft. His 958 yards from eight games signaled a bright future, and the way he has recovered only backs up that idea.

    "Just yesterday I was a freshman," Graham said to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It's been a long way, but I'm excited. I'm excited for what's to come, I'm excited for what's in the future."