2014 NFL Draft: Prospects Who Will Gain Momentum with Strong Bowl Performances

Alex BallentineFeatured ColumnistDecember 22, 2013

LOUISVILLE, KY - OCTOBER 18:  Blake Bortles #5 of the Central Florida Knights throws a pass during the game against the Louisville Cardinals at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on October 18, 2013 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

College football's bowl season means one last chance for prospects to gain notoriety in an actual competitive football setting before April's NFL draft. 

There's plenty of time for stocks to go up and down from now until the spring's draft. Players will rise and fall due to combine workouts, pro days and good or bad interviews, but the most important thing at the end of the day is what they can do on the field.

What they can do on the big stage of a bowl game can be the last little thing that improves their stock. 

As the heart of bowl season approaches, here are the prospects who will make the most of their final opportunity to put some good footage on tape. 

Honorable Mention
ProspectOpponentBowlQuick Take
Sammy Watkins, WR, ClemsonOhio StateOrangeWatkins will cement his status as the No. 1 receiver in the draft against fellow draft prospect Bradley Roby.
C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, IowaLSUOutbackUnderrated tight end gets a shot to prove he's a Day 2 pick against a defense with name recognition.
Tre Mason, RB, AuburnFlorida StateNational Championship GameLate riser gets grandest stage of them all against one of the nation's top defenses.


Blake Bortles, QB, UCF vs. Baylor

ORLANDO, FL - SEPTEMBER 28:  Kadetrix Marcus #25 of the South Carolina Gamecocks trips up Blake Bortles #5 of the Central Florida Knights during a game at Bright House Networks Stadium on September 28, 2013 in Orlando, Florida.  South Carolina won the gam
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

With Marcus Mariota staying at Oregon for his junior season in 2014, the competition for top quarterback behind Teddy Bridgewater is wide open. 

Derek Carr and Johnny Manziel have been bandied about for a while for the distinction, but Blake Bortles isn't too far behind. The problem for Bortles, to the average fan, is a lack of exposure. 

Carr has been well-known because that's what happens when you are the little brother of a former No. 1 overall pick in the draft and Manziel is the most covered player in college football. Bortles, meanwhile, has been quietly doing big things at UCF. 

The 6'3" 230-pound junior has the prototypical size that NFL scouts love and a strong arm to boot. His 22 touchdowns to seven interceptions this season are evidence of sound decision-making, too. He even got the last word in when going head-to-head against Bridgewater. He threw the game-winning touchdown pass against Louisville with 23 seconds remaining to complete a 21-of-32, 250-yard performance with two touchdowns.

Going against Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl will provide him with a nice matchup to exploit on a national stage. The Bears have an explosive offense, but gave up big passing games to better quarterbacks on the schedule including a 370-yard performance from Clint Chelf of Oklahoma State. 


Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington vs. BYU

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 29: Bishop Sankey #25 of Washington rushes the ball as Tana Pritchard #33 of Washington State tries to make a tackle during the second half of a game at Husky Stadium on November 29, 2013 in Seattle, Washington. Washington won the g
Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Running backs aren't nearly the commodity they once were. It's very likely that the first round of the draft goes by without a single ball-carrier taken. The race for the No. 1 running back in the class is still up for debate, though. 

Sankey is currently one of the four backs who CBS Sports projects as a second rounder and a big bowl performance might just be what he needs to separate himself from Ka'Deem Carey, Lache Seastrunk and Tre Mason. 

Putting up big numbers won't be easy, though. Of those four, only Tre Mason faces a tougher run defense in terms of yards per carry allowed. BYU's defense allows just 3.82 yards per attempt. 

Sankey has risen to the occasion against strong defenses more often than not this season. He's third in the nation in rushing yardage and had 125 yards with two touchdowns against Stanford, which ranks third in the nation in yards per attempt allowed at just 2.98.

The Cougars may have a strong rushing defense, but they've allowed big games to great backs this season. Wisconsin's rushing attack piled on 229 yards including 147 from James White. Sankey should make one last statement by dominating this game. 


Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State vs. Missouri

STILLWATER, OK - OCTOBER 5:   Cornerback Justin Gilbert #4 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys returns a kickoff against the Kansas State Wildcats October 5, 2013 at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The Cowboys defeated the Wildcats 33-29.  (Photo
Brett Deering/Getty Images

Switching to the defensive side of the ball, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert has a big test ahead of him in the Cotton Bowl. 

Gilbert is another player right in the middle of a positional log jam as there are several cornerbacks who could have first or second round consideration according to CBS Sports' rankings. That list includes the likes of Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard and Oregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, but few will have as big an opportunity to prove themselves than Gilbert in the Cotton Bowl. 

That's because Missouri happens to have one of the best one-two punches at receiver in college football. L'Damian Washington (6'4", 205 pounds) and Dorial Green-Beckham (6'6", 225 pounds) combine to form a duo that boasts incredible size and athleticism. Gilbert will be asked to keep them in check. 

At 6'0" and 200 pounds Gilbert has good size for a cornerback, but will still be at a disadvantage. If he can keep the clamps on whichever receiver he's been assigned against the Tigers, it will be a great indication that he has what it takes to defend the Dez Bryants and Alshon Jefferys of the NFL.