2014 NFL Draft: Best Prospects to Watch During Bowl Season

Josh Cohen@@arealjoshcohenCorrespondent IIDecember 24, 2013

Anthony Barr will be a terror in the Sun Bowl.
Anthony Barr will be a terror in the Sun Bowl.Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

With the most tantalizing draft prospects playing on their biggest stages, bowl season is the best time for NFL fans to watch college football.

There's no better way to find out about the next generation of Sunday talents than to see them in their final NCAA action. They'll face a learning curve when it comes to thriving in the professional ranks, but in college, they're superstars already, and seeing them in this form grants a glimpse into the future.

With so many teams in play and so many prospects looking to prove themselves, there are two ways to approach the college football postseason: Either watch everything and everyone or curate your viewing and the players you want to watch most.

If you're opting for the latter option, here are some recommendations.

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

LOUISVILLE, KY - NOVEMBER 23:  Teddy Bridgewater #5 of the Louisville Cardinals throws the ball during the game against the Memphis Tigers at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on November 23, 2013 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

You might know Teddy Bridgewater's name from draft chatter, but unless you have taken the time to actually watch Louisville play, you don't know just how great this quarterback looks.

He has completed 70.2 percent of his passes this season, throwing 28 touchdowns and just four interceptions for the Cardinals. Weighing just 195 pounds, he doesn't have the build of an NFL quarterback quite yet, but he has a pro's acumen and arm, displays a great handle of a pro-style offense and possesses the physical ability to make all the throws.

When Louisville takes on Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl, all eyes will be on Bridgewater—not only because he'll be the best player on the field but also because he originally committed to the Hurricanes before backing out when head coach Randy Shannon was fired.

Outside of the BCS games, no player will be under as much pressure as Bridgewater, who will be carrying his offense in his home state against the team he spurned. Gauging his mental toughness in this environment will be a unique part of this bowl season.

Of course, that's all assuming he is going pro after this season.

That adds even more intrigue to his performance. Will a big game push him to the pros? If so, how well does he have to play? Will he stay in college to chase a bowl win if he goes off and Louisville loses?

All that makes Bridgewater the most intriguing prospect as well as the best QB in his class.

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

CLEMSON, SC - NOVEMBER 23: Sammy Watkins #2 of the Clemson Tigers celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the game against the Citadel Bulldogs at Memorial Stadium on November 23, 2013 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Tyler Smith/Getty Images)
Tyler Smith/Getty Images

Clemson is going to lean on its best weapon against Ohio State's defense in the Orange Bowl, which means Sammy Watkins is going to make or break the Tigers.

Thank goodness for college cornerbacks that the junior is only 6'1". That's still a lot for defensive backs to handle at the collegiate level; with this athleticism and receiving ability, if he were any bigger, it would be downright unfair.

Watkins has turned 85 receptions this season into 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns, and you can credit his speed and leaping ability for that. He's a game-breaker in every way a wide receiver can be; he's equally capable of burning a defense deep on a fly route or getting open on a crisply run route and beating his man after the catch.

The Buckeyes present his toughest challenge yet, but no wideout in college is better equipped to face it. Whenever Clemson has the ball, Watkins brings the potential for something amazing to happen.

Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

Oct 26, 2013; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies offensive linesman Jake Matthews (75) warms up against the Vanderbilt Commodores before the game at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports
Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

Any offensive line nerds out there? Or just fans of teams that desperately need a blindside blocker?

Here's what you do: Tune in to the Chick-Fil-A Bowl and divert your eyes from Johnny Manziel. While the 2012 Heisman winner is scrambling and slinging the ball around the field, focus on the left side of the line, where nothing will be happening, because Jake Matthews will lock the edge down.

He is the prototype when it comes to tackle prospects nowadays. He has the nimbleness and athleticism to move around in pass protection, but he's still 6'5" and 305 pounds, so he doesn't sacrifice any strength in the process.

Pay close attention to designed run plays, because they're few and far between for Texas A&M. When the Aggies choose to keep the ball on the ground, Matthews is going to blow holes open on the left side. Playing in A&M's offense gives the perception he's a pass-blocker first, but he's a road-grader at heart.

Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

Nov 30, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins linebacker Anthony Barr (11) celebrates after sacking Southern California Troans quarterback Cody Kessler (not pictured) in the fourth quarter at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-US
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Jadeveon Clowney might continue his annual bowl tradition of ending a running back's world, but you already know about that.

So why not learn about another elite edge defender?

Anthony Barr originally came to UCLA as a wide receiver, switching to running back as a sophomore before finally joining the linebacker corps as a junior. The hope was that his elite blend of size and athleticism would allow him to make the transition, but Barr has gone above and beyond any expectations.

As a senior, he has turned into a superb three-down linebacker. He leads the Bruins in tackles for loss (20.0), sacks (10.0) and forced fumbles (six). He still has the speed from his offensive days to fire past tackles and get after the quarterback, but what's impressive is how quickly he has picked up the discipline to defend the run as well.

It's becoming commonplace to see freaks of nature excel as pass-rushers, but that's not why you should watch the Sun Bowl. Barr has become a complete player more quickly than seemed possible, and that makes him special.

C.J. Mosley, MLB, Alabama

TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 26:  C.J. Mosley #32 of the Alabama Crimson Tide against the Tennessee Volunteers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 26, 2013 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Great Alabama defensive prospects are a dime a dozen under Nick Saban, but that doesn't make them any less spectacular in their element.

C.J. Mosley will make plays all over the field in every facet of the defensive game. The Crimson Tide's performance on that side of the ball revolves around his presence in the middle, although he has the versatility to play either inside or outside at the next level.

Unsurprisingly, he leads Alabama in tackles, registering 102 in 12 games so far. Mosley has also been a permanent presence in the opposing backfield, even more so than any of the defensive linemen. No one on the Crimson Tide can touch his nine tackles for loss, which is made even more impressive by the fact he's also second on the team with five passes defended.

Linebackers—and particularly inside linebackershave one of the easiest and most successful transitions to the NFL. So while you could be seeing long-term potential from other prospects, witnessing Mosley dominate at the Sugar Bowl could be the closest thing to a prelude of the 2014 NFL season.


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