Top 2014 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch in Las Vegas Bowl
The college football regular season has drawn to a close, and bowl season is now upon us. Many teams will face off against one another throughout the coming weeks to end their season on a high note.
This means there will be many opportunities for people to not only watch teams they may not have seen yet this season, but also many opportunities to look at potential draft prospects. Whether it's the clear first-round picks or diamonds in the rough, everything will be on the table for fans, scouts and writers alike.
In the case of Saturday, December 21, Fresno State will face off against USC. Fresno State has the best passing attack in the nation, while USC has the most underrated defense, one that is certainly tougher than anything Fresno State has had to deal with.
Which players from each team are the ones to watch not just in the game, but also looking forward to the NFL draft?
Players are listed in order of draft likelihood, and statistics are acquired from Pro-Football-Reference.com.
5. Marcel Jensen, TE, Fresno State
Unlike other Fresno State players who have put up gaudy numbers this season, Marcel Jensen's numbers have been quite modest, and as a result, he is a virtual unknown outside of draft circles.
The senior tight end has 344 receiving yards and three touchdowns this season, and he has relatively little game film for scouts to see. Luckily, tight end has become, more than any other position, one that utilizes athleticism and potential from college rather than production.
That, Jensen has in spades. He was named Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Week at one point this season, so he has a motor and the ability to make plays. He's also a solid blocker in the running game and is able to relieve the offensive line of added pressure.
He is not someone that anyone will be seeing much of in the bowl game unless you know where to look because he does a lot of the little things for Fresno State. That potential and ability should end up turning him into a possible mid-round steal in the draft.
4. Devon Kennard, LB, USC
The USC defense has been an underrated unit this season, and much of that was due to the leadership at linebacker. Fellow potential draft prospect Morgan Breslin fell to injury partway through the season, and Devon Kennard stepped up to lead the team.
Kennard has nine sacks and 13 tackles for loss on the season, and he served as a team captain for this season. Despite this, the senior is an unknown outside of USC. That is going to change after this game against Fresno State.
Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated notes him as a player to watch in the bowl game and noted his frequent position changes and injury issues keeping him from taking on a true leadership role. Now that he was fully healthy this season and situated at OLB, scouts saw the player that he could be.
If he is able to constantly pressure Derek Carr and notch a sack or two while doing his best to minimize Fresno State's offensive output, then he should move up draft boards. CBS Sports has him with a fifth- to sixth-round grade currently, which I see as too low; he is a player who could potentially slide into the third round if everything goes well, both in this game and afterward.
3. Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
While USC wide receiver Marqise Lee is on every scout's radar, Davante Adams may not be. That should change after his sophomore season, in which he had 1,645 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Having Derek Carr throwing to you at Fresno State helps pad those numbers somewhat, but the 6'2" wideout has shown himself off as an athletic playmaker who isn't afraid to make tough catches.
Fresno State hasn't really seen a defense like USC's this year, so this could be a big test not just for QB Derek Carr, but for Adams as well. If he is unable to get open and shake off the USC secondary, then that could hurt him moving forward.
Because Adams is just a sophomore, this game can only help him. Should he struggle, then he will have areas where he can improve next year, and if he excels against USC, then there's no harm in him declaring for the draft, especially because his quarterback is already moving to the NFL.
2. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
After a great freshman year and a sensational sophomore year, USC standout Marqise Lee has completely fallen off the radar. Having a 1,000-yard drop in receiving yards over the course of a season will tend to do that.
Despite that, being somewhat undersized at 6'0" and under 200 pounds and missing time due to injury this season, he's still considered a potential first-round prospect due to his raw physical ability.
Unlike USC, Fresno State does not have a strong defense, so Lee has the ability to break out in this game. For a guy who only has a couple of 100-yard receiving games this season, this would go a long way toward reminding scouts what he can do.
Lee is the type of prospect where this game will not make as much of a difference, because through three seasons, he has a lot of game film, but a breakout game could mean the difference between repeating fellow USC wideout Robert Woods' draft day (41st overall last year) and being a clear first-round talent.
If nothing else, Lee will want to outplay Davante Adams, who is putting up the type of numbers Lee did last year.
1. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Derek Carr has skyrocketed up draft boards throughout the season and is now considered a surefire first-round pick. This can be attributed in part to his insane numbers, which include a completion percentage of 70 percent, 48 touchdowns and nearly 5,000 passing yards.
The question for draft scouts is whether or not those numbers are a product of his playing in the Mountain West Conference or if he is just that good. USC has a good defense, certainly more so than anyone else Fresno State has played, and it's not one that Carr will perform well against without putting a great deal of effort into it.
Of course, scouting for the draft is not about the numbers, but about accuracy, pocket presence and everything else a quarterback needs. Does Carr have that?
Everyone else seems to believe that. NFL.com's Bucky Brooks has noted Carr's athleticism and arm strength in particular. Conversely, I see someone who tends to overthrow targets and make snap judgments, relying too much on screen passes.
This game more than any other will determine Carr's draft stock going forward. Will he light up USC and silence the remaining critics and make himself a top-10 lock, or will he struggle to be accurate and fall back into Day 2 of the draft?