Now that the 2013-14 college bowl season is nearly complete, we can begin to focus on the 2014 NFL draft. Plenty of promising prospects took part in these bowl games—some having great success, others struggling mightily.
One huge measuring stick in regards to these prospects is how well they are able to perform on a big stage. This is what makes these bowl games so important to NFL scouts.
Of course, these players' "draft stocks" will remain highly fluid. After all, they must still go through the NFL Scouting Combine and pro days before the draft rolls around in May.
Until then, we can begin to assess which of these prospects have already begun to help themselves as they continue on the path to play professional football.
Let's take a look at players who have either helped or hurt themselves during the bowl season.
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins may have been the most impressive player to watch during the Orange Bowl. Already a potential first-round pick, he surely helped his stock during Friday's contest.
Watkins set Orange Bowl records with 16 receptions and 227 receiving yards and also scored twice. He was able to use his perfect combination of strength and acceleration to consistently beat the Ohio State secondary for the duration of the game.
Expect Watkins to get plenty of looks in the early first round of the 2014 NFL draft if he has a productive combine and pro day.
Missouri defensive end Michael Sam was relatively ineffective through three-and-a-half quarters against Oklahoma State. Sam was able to come away with the sack/fumble that eventually sealed the Tigers' Cotton Bowl win, but that was his lone highlight.
Sam is undersized for a defensive end at 6'2" and 255 pounds. His lack of length will make scouts weary of his ability to get past some of the larger offensive tackles on the NFL level.
Right now it appears as though Sam could be a late-round prospect. However, after a quiet showing at the Cotton Bowl, his draft grade could be in jeopardy.
Missouri running back Henry Josey finished off a fantastic 2013 season during the Cotton Bowl after coming back from a brutal knee injury that forced him to miss all of the 2012 season.
On Friday, Josey was clutch for the Tigers offense, rushing 12 times for 92 yards—an average of 7.7 yards per carry—and three touchdowns.
Josey weighs in at 5'10" and 190 pounds, but he is a strong, fast runner. His size and injury history could be of some concern to NFL scouts. However, his performance in the Cotton Bowl should quell a good amount of questions regarding his potential.
Before the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr was considered by some to be the second-best signal-caller in this year's draft class. However, after a dismal performance on such a big stage, his excellent college career has ended with some doubts.
Carr was only able to complete 29 of his 54 passing attempts for 216 yards, two touchdowns and one interception against USC. This was by far his worst performance of the year and could lead to some concerns about his ability to perform in prime time.
Still, Carr will most likely maintain a first-round grade heading into the draft. However, his position within that round may have slipped.
USC wide receiver Marqise Lee has been widely considered one of the best wide receiver prospects in the upcoming NFL draft. Lee has dealt with injury issues throughout his college career, which has been a major concern among scouts. Still, he finished his tenure at USC with a flourish.
Lee was able to reel in seven receptions for 118 yards and two touchdowns in USC's drubbing of Fresno State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. His speed and explosiveness was the best it's been all season, which should help quiet some concerns regarding his health.
It appears as though Lee is primed to receive a first-round grade this year, and he may go earlier than initially expected after this stellar performance.
Yes, Khalil Mack is still considered one of the best outside linebacker prospects in this year's draft. He and UCLA's Anthony Barr have been fighting for position at the top of the list. However, Barr could have a major advantage after Mack's performance against San Diego State in the Idaho Potato Bowl.
The Aztecs were able to run all over Mack and the Bulls defense on their way to a 49-24 victory. Mack was only able to come away with six total tackles and one pass defended in the contest.
This was supposed to be the type of game in which Mack would flourish. Scouts were probably hoping for double-digit tackles and some disruption in the backfield from this talented linebacker. Unfortunately, Mack just did not deliver.
He will still be a first-round prospect, but where he goes within the round could partially ride on his last performance with Buffalo.
UCF quarterback Blake Bortles continued his late-season surge during the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1. Bortles has been surging up draft boards due to his strong arm, NFL-caliber size and athleticism.
Bortles was able to tear up Baylor's defense to the tune of 301 passing yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He also rushed eight times for 93 yards and another score. His one-man show should all but solidify his first-round grade in the upcoming draft.
Bortles is making a great case to be one of the first three quarterbacks taken in May.
Despite a great college career, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron would have liked a different ending to his tenure with the Crimson Tide. In a 45-31 loss to Oklahoma in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, McCarron's mistakes became the difference-maker in the game.
McCarron found himself under a great amount of pressure by the Oklahoma defense, and he did not respond well. A fumble and two badly thrown interceptions gave him a tough end to his career at Alabama.
Currently, McCarron is viewed as a mid-round prospect, and he did not do anything to bolster his stock against Oklahoma. With other quarterback prospects surging up draft boards, McCarron could find himself waiting quite a while to hear his name called in May—especially after a poor showing in the Sugar Bowl.
Senior quarterback Tajh Boyd absolutely put on a clinic against Ohio State in the Discover Orange Bowl. He showed that he is a highly efficient passer as well as a threat on the ground.
Boyd completed 31 of 40 passing attempts for 378 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. He also rushed 20 times for 127 yards and another score.
The knock on him is his size, as he is relatively short for an NFL quarterback. However, that seems to be a rather moot point these days thanks to players like Russell Wilson and Drew Brees.
The two interceptions that Boyd threw during the contest were a bit concerning. The first was a terrible decision in the red zone, and the second came late in the contest while Clemson was trying to ice the game.
Despite those hiccups, Boyd proved that he can produce under pressure. It appears as though he is poised for a seamless transition to the NFL.
Syracuse running back Jerome Smith is a big, bruising rusher. However, his slow, plodding style and lack of agility puts his NFL future in question. He is hovering between becoming a late-round pick or simply going undrafted.
His performance in the Texas Bowl points to the latter.
Smith did not show a lot of burst, as his lack of speed allowed him to gain 74 yards and a score on 16 carries. Now, he did average 4.6 yards per carry, but he needed a much more explosive performance to impress scouts enough to bolster his stock.
Smith's one-dimensional style and lack of a threat as a receiver out of the backfield was clearly on display, which could hurt him come draft day.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel continues to be one of the most polarizing figures in all of college football. However, after a stellar performance against Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Manziel could be primed to take his talents to the NFL.
Manziel put together a masterful comeback, completing 30 of his 38 passing attempts for 382 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also rushed 11 times for 73 yards and another score.
Manziel's athleticism and ability to escape pressure from pursuing defenders will make him a very hot commodity for any team willing to spend a first-round pick on him in the 2014 NFL draft.
Kyle Van Noy is one of the most sought-after outside linebackers in the upcoming NFL draft. However, he has been teetering between a late first-round selection and an early second-round pick. His performance against Washington in the Fight Hunger Bowl could push him back into the second day.
Van Noy did not have a bad performance. In fact, he had a great stop for a loss during a fourth-down play in a goal-line situation. He was credited with seven total tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss during the game.
His production took a dip this year, as BYU decided to use him more in containment on the outside than as a pass-rusher. This continued during the Fight Hunger Bowl, and Van Noy was not as visible or as much of a threat as he could have been.
It seems as though he is a casualty of the defensive scheme, which would not allow him to showcase his talent for NFL scouts.
Jace Amaro finished up a stellar season with Texas Tech after a strong performance against Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl. Amaro, at 6'5" and 260 pounds, is a huge target for any quarterback—on both the college and NFL levels.
Amaro was able to use his big, athletic frame to pile up eight receptions for 112 yards during his season finale. His performance marked the sixth time that he was able to surpass the century mark on the year.
Viewed as a first- or second-rounder to many draft pundits, Amaro helped his case to slide into day one of the draft against Arizona State. His intangibles and skill set should allow him to contribute in the NFL right off the bat.
Billy Turner, OT, North Dakota State
Terrance West, RB, Towson
Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Tracy Moore, WR, Oklahoma State
Justin Britt, OG, Missouri
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
David Fales, QB, Fresno State
Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU