By about midway through the third quarter of the Texas A&M Aggies' 41-13 victory over the Oklahoma Sooners in Friday's Cotton Bowl, it was clear we had an abject destruction on our hands.
For some football fans, that was a good enough excuse to switch off the game and go about their Friday night roughhousing. Johnny Manziel had obviously proved his Heisman worthiness, and the rest of the game was simply about stat accumulation.
But for those who watched the Cotton Bowl hoping to make reads on the NFL draft prospects in the game, paying attention to the last minute was crucial. As cliche as it sounds, it's important to know which players will give their best effort down to the last whistle—even in a blowout.
Before the draft, we checked in with three NFL draft prospects worth watching in the Cotton Bowl. Did their performance help or hurt their draft stock? Here's a look at how each player fared in the Aggies' massive Cotton Bowl win.
(Note: We're keeping Jake Matthews out of the conversation for now. Though it's yet to be officially decided, Matthews is expected to return to school, per The National Football Post's Russell Lande.)
Luke Joeckel (OT, Texas A&M)
Draft Stock: Unchanged
Barring something unforeseen (like a major injury) happening at the Cotton Bowl, there wasn't much Joeckel could do to change his stock. He's a virtual lock to be drafted inside the top five and there are many pundits out there who have him as the best player in the 2013 draft.
ESPN's Scouts Inc. isn't one of those outlets (they have him fourth), but there is no player with a grade higher than his overall 96, and he proved why against Oklahoma.
The Aggies were absolutely dominant at the line of scrimmage from start to finish. Some of the credit certainly goes to Manziel, who was sensational, but a team just doesn't average 10.5 yards per carry without an equally brilliant offensive line.
As to be expected, Joeckel was particularly impressive. He spent most of his night blocking against Sooners defensive end Chuka Ndulue, a raw talent but one with an abundance of physical gifts. Ndulue finished the game with exactly two tackles (one solo), as Joeckel blew him off the ball on just about every play.
It was an absolute clinic in offensive line efficiency, which should give Joeckel a ton of momentum heading into the draft process. The only problem was that his draft stock was already so high that he couldn't really do anything to improve it.
While it's wholly possible that he'll go higher, don't look for Joeckel to last past the Philadelphia Eagles at No. 4 on draft day.
Landry Jones (QB, Oklahoma)
Draft Stock: Down
An embarrassing Cotton Bowl loss certainly isn't the way Jones envisioned his legendary career ending. A four-year starter in Norman with three bowl wins already under his belt, Jones was looking to become the second quarterback in FBS history to take home four postseason wins (along with Pat White).
Well, that didn't happen. The Sooners defense was obviously far more at fault than Jones, but the Oklahoma signal-caller didn't exactly wow scouts with his decision-making or arm strength, either.
Jones finished Friday's contest 35 of 48 passing for 278 yards and both a touchdown and interception. All things considered, it wasn't a wretched performance by any means. It also wasn't very good.
Though he completed 35 passes against Texas A&M, Jones' longest completion was 19 yards. With the game in reach during the first half, only six of his 22 completions were even for double-digit gains.
It was truly an exercise in forward-passing futility. After the game, Bleacher Report's lead college football writer Adam Kramer thought Jones' performance was a perfect capper to his career:
Landry Jones' final game sums up his career perfectly. Brilliant at times, yet unproductive as a whole. Perplexing player.— Adam Kramer (@KegsnEggs) January 5, 2013
Those who are evaluating Jones for NFL play will likely be just as perplexed. Jones' game on Friday was an amalgam of his frustrating pitfalls. He checked down throughout the game, even when unnecessary, against an Aggies squad that had exploitable weaknesses in the secondary.
One game won't undo all of Jones' greatness at Oklahoma. However, it became apparent on Friday that there are more questions than answers about his ability to handle elite competition.
Damontre Moore (DE, Texas A&M)
Draft Stock: (Slightly) Up
Even though Jones had a propensity to fall in love with check-down routes prior to Friday's game, it doesn't happen without reason. On Friday, at least part of that reason was yet another great performance by Moore.
Though he did not get a sack, Moore was constantly getting penetration inside the Sooners backfield. The junior defensive end wound up with five tackles (three solo) and was good enough that very few Oklahoma receivers had time to break on downfield routes.
But it was actually Moore's play in the running game that should impress scouts. He made a couple of impressive stops inside the backfield on Sooners run attempts, and Moore's insatiable motor bled through the television screen Friday.
Even when the play isn't to his side of the field, Moore puts in top-notch effort on just about every down. Heading into the Cotton Bowl, just about everyone knew he could get to the quarterback.
Now NFL scouts are on notice that Moore could be the most complete, NFL-ready defensive end in a class that's filled to the brim with elite talent. Anything can happen between now and April, but there aren't many scenarios where Moore should fall outside the top five. He's too good, and too many teams need edge-rushers who can play all three downs.
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