2014 NFL Draft Prospects: Top Studs to Watch During Bowl Season

Steven CookFeatured Columnist IVDecember 30, 2013

October 12, 2013; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins linebacker Anthony Barr (11) defends against the California Golden Bears during the first half at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The bowl season is typically loaded with top prospects who are set to make some considerable noise in the NFL, and 2014 is no different. Plenty of stud performers who will soon be playing on Sundays are worth the watch in late December and early January.

While their teams may or may not cruise to victory in their final appearances of the season, these few stars will shine on the big stage and further prove how valuable they are heading into the 2014 draft.

It's impossible to note each of the hundreds of future NFL draft picks in action, but here's a look at three guys you must catch during the bowl season.

 

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

COLUMBIA, MO - NOVEMBER 30:  Quarterback Johnny Manziel #2 of the Texas A&M Aggies scrambles during the game against the Missouri Tigers on November 30, 2013 in Columbia, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Johnny Manziel didn't have the best 2013 season of any player in college football. But he's far and away the most entertaining player at this level, and he's not done dominating, as his game translates well to Sundays. 

The Texas A&M star is a lethal dual-threat quarterback and one of the quickest players on the gridiron at any moment. His speed eludes linebackers and pass-rushers, and he can often make plays beyond the line of scrimmage to turn decent gains into huge plays. 

His rushing ability may be somewhat stymied in the NFL. But a new wave of quarterbacks such as Russell Wilson (who also isn't very tall) has proved that as long as you can throw against great defense, you'll generate rushing success. Johnny Football can do that.

Manziel's ability to throw the deep ball with accuracy and his progression reads make him look much more like a Wilson than a Tim Tebow. He also has the escapability that is a sought-after commodity for great NFL quarterbacks.

In the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Duke, expect nothing short of fireworks on New Year's Eve for Johnny Football in what might be his last game in college. 

 

Anthony Barr, LB, 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

This UCLA linebacker is the top pass-rusher in the class by a landslide, and he has All-Pro written all over him at the next level. 

Barr has 20 tackles for loss on the season in 2013—seventh in the NCAA—along with a whopping 10 sacks and six forced fumbles, which is second in college football. He's lethal on the edge in containing the run, getting to the quarterback or even dropping back into coverage.

At 6'4" and 248 pounds, Barr will be able to translate immediately into life on Sundays and will make a quick impact wherever he goes. B/R NFL draft expert Matt Miller has him going fourth overall to the Falcons in his latest mock. 

The Bruins finished with a 9-3 record and a trip to the Sun Bowl, where they'll face a formidable Virginia Tech squad from the ACC. Barr will have his hands full trying to contain Logan Thomas, a dual-threat quarterback who loves to scramble the pocket and is a NFL draft prospect in his own right.

If Barr can corral Thomas and keep him from making plays with his legs, it will further boost his already substantial draft stock. 

 

Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 07:  Jordan Matthews #87 of the Vanderbilt Commodores breaks a tackle against the Austin Peay Governors at Vanderbilt Stadium on September 7, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

He isn't the most talked-about receiver in the draft, by any means, but Vandy receiver Jordan Matthews may end up being the best wideout of the class when it's all said and done. 

Matthews' stellar career with the Commodores concluded with him breaking the SEC record for career receiving yards and receptions. Hundreds of great receivers have come through the conference, and Matthews has gone for more yards and catches than all of them.

He hasn't done too shabby in his senior season, averaging over 111 yards receiving per game. His touchdowns are down (five), but he's fourth in the NCAA in receptions and makes big plays every game despite constantly facing double coverage.

Matthews boasts a 6'3", 206-pound frame and is undoubtedly ready to face NFL cornerbacks. B/R's Miller has him going 26th in his latest mock, so a first-round selection may be in his future. 

The Commodores finished a respectable 8-4 in the SEC but only drew the BBVA Compass Bowl, where they'll face Houston on Jan. 4. This game is in a later time slot, when most of the best bowl games will be through, so viewers will get a treat by seeing a wideout who will soon be making plays at the next level. 

 

Note: All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.