The college football bowl season is officially underway, and there are a number of exciting NFL prospects to watch for during the first week of games.
Of course, everyone will be focusing on the BCS games and teams coming out of powerhouse conferences, but there are some exciting prospects in some of the earlier bowl games that have the potential to be first-round selections or possible stars at the next level.
Below is a look at just a few top-tier NFL draft prospects to watch for from December 21 to December 27. Each prospect will be analyzed, and then a projection will be made as to where he could land in the draft in May.
Let's get started.
Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
With a big game against against the USC Trojans in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, Fresno State's Derek Carr has the opportunity to prove that he's worth a top-10 pick in May.
The Bulldogs lead the nation in passing, averaging 409.8 passing yards per game. Carr has been a machine all season, completing 70.1 percent of his passes for 4,866 yards, 48 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.
A lot of that production is due to the fact that Carr throws the ball almost 50 times a game against weaker competition, but he's still a top-tier prospect at the position. Carr is a true gunslinger with a cannon for an arm, and he uses it a lot. He's capable of making the big throws he needs to down the field, but he also shows very nice accuracy and touch on the ball when needed, especially on fade routes.
Carr has developed quite nicely as a passer over the past year, looking more comfortable in the pocket while also doing a much better job reading opposing defenses. He still isn't perfect, but the fact that he's continuing to develop is a good sign that he still has room to grow into an NFL quarterback.
With how many teams need a QB entering this offseason, it's not hard to believe that Carr will be drafted in the top 10, especially with Marcus Mariota staying at Oregon for another year.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The Oregon State Beavers will be playing to Boise State Broncos on Christmas Eve in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, and it will give wide receiver Brandin Cooks a great opportunity to shine in the spotlight.
Cooks was the 2013 Fred Biletnikoff Award winner, an award given to the nation's best receiver. The junior has caught 120 passes for 1,670 yards and 15 touchdowns this year, adding another 188 yards and two scores on the ground. Considering the success of recent Biletnikoff winners over the past few seasons, it's safe to say that the future is bright for Cooks.
While he isn't the biggest receiver at 5'10'' and 186 pounds, he shows off some incredible speed and burst that helps him create separation and make plays after the catch. He's more effective in the open field, however, and can sometimes struggle to run routes if he's lined up against an aggressive corner that likes to press.
Cooks is not the perfect prospect, but his speed and production make him hard to miss. He would fit well as a slot receiver on a team with an established No. 1 guy and could go late in the second round or early in the third.
Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
December 27 features a few exciting bowl games. In one of those games, the BYU Cougars will take on the Washington Huskies in the Fight Hunger Bowl. Kyle Van Noy will be the top NFL prospect to watch during the game.
Van Noy burst onto the national stage in 2012 after grabbing 13 sacks and 22 tackles for loss in 13 games. The numbers haven't been as impressive this season, with just four sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss, but that's mostly because opposing offenses are focusing in on him.
As an outside linebacker, Van Noy has great instincts to get to the ball, especially in the backfield. He's a very athletic prospect who reacts well to the offense and is also able to make plays in pass coverage. He doesn't have a variety of pass-rushing moves, preferring to simply bull rush, but he's still a raw prospect with a lot of upside.
While he's slowly been sliding down draft boards, Van Noy is still one of the best prospects at the outside linebacker position in this draft, and he should be able to find a home early in the second round.