While more and more of the top stars are bowing out in order to prepare for the next steps in their careers, the college football bowl season is often a last chance for players to impress scouts and talent evaluators on the field before the NFL draft.
Bradley Chubb, Josh Rosen and Denzel Ward were among the notable players absent in their teams' final games of the season. While a concussion ruled Rosen out, Ward and Chubb voluntarily benched themselves to avoid a possible injury.
Their decisions were understandable since both could be high first-round picks.
However, a bowl game can be an excellent showcase that could yield a healthy bump to a player's draft stock.
The four players reviewed below the mock draft are either fringe first-round prospects or out of the first round altogether. Their performances during bowl season may help them climb into the Day 1 conversation.
2018 NFL Mock Draft
1. Cleveland Browns: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
2. New York Giants: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
3. Indianapolis Colts: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State
4. Cleveland Browns (via Texans): Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
5. Denver Broncos: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
6. New York Jets: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
8. Chicago Bears: Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
9. Oakland Raiders: Derwin James, S, Florida State
9. San Francisco 49ers: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
11. Miami Dolphins: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
12. Cincinnati Bengals: Connor Williams, OT, Texas
13. Washington Redskins: Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, LB, Oklahoma
14. Green Bay Packers: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
15. Arizona Cardinals: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
16. Baltimore Ravens: James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
18. Seattle Seahawks: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
19. Dallas Cowboys: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
20. Detroit Lions: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
21. Buffalo Bills: Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
22. Buffalo Bills (via Chiefs): Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
23. Los Angeles Rams: Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado
24. Carolina Panthers: Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis
25. Tennessee Titans: Arden Key, DE, LSU
26. Atlanta Falcons: Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
27. Jacksonville Jaguars: Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State
28. New Orleans Saints: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
29. Pittsburgh Steelers: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
30. Minnesota Vikings: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson
31. Philadelphia Eagles: Martinas Rankin, OT, Mississippi State
32. New England Patriots: Jerome Baker, LB, Ohio State
Players Who Boosted Stock in Bowl Season
James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
James Washington closed out his collegiate career in strong fashion, catching five passes for 127 yards and a touchdown, which proved to be the difference in Oklahoma State's 30-21 Camping World Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.
No wide receiver in the 2018 draft class has a stronger body of work than Washington. In his four years at Oklahoma State, he had 226 receptions, 4,472 receiving yards and 39 touchdowns. Only six players in FBS history have more receiving yards.
Granted, big college numbers don't always lead to a productive pro career, and Corey Davis, the all-time FBS leader in receiving yards, had one of the most disappointing seasons of any rookie pass-catcher in 2017.
Oklahoma State's high-powered offense inflated Washington's numbers, but that doesn't change the fact he's a polished receiver with the tools to thrive at the next level. If he falls to the end of the first round, Washington should be excellent value in a draft without a can't-miss receiver at the top of the class.
Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State
Rashaad Penny's numbers from the Armed Forces Bowl are straight out of a video game. He ran for 221 yards and four touchdowns on 14 carries and also returned two kicks for 62 yards.
As Pro Football Focus noted, that game wasn't an outlier for the San Diego State senior, who finished with an FBS-best 2,248 rushing yards in 2017:
PFF College Football @PFF_College
If you didn't know who Rashaad Penny was before the Armed Forces Bowl - you know now. With his performance, he now has run for over 200 yards in five consecutive games, has 80 missed tackles forced and 1,254 rushing yards AFTER contact this season. https://t.co/TcHQKeOHbo
Penny could be the Kareem Hunt of the 2018 draft class. The Kansas City Chiefs selected Hunt in the third round last year, and he proceeded to lead the NFL in rushing yards (1,327) as a rookie.
Hunt and Penny are similar in size. The former is 5'10" and 216 pounds, while the latter is 5'11" and 220 pounds. They both have the same running style as well. Neither is particularly fast and instead relies more on strength and physicality to break off big runs.
Perhaps Penny won't have the same kind of immediate impact as Hunt, but the latter at least showed NFL teams they shouldn't overlook prolific runners from Group of Five schools.
Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State
Allen Lazard collected MVP honors in Iowa State's 21-20 win over Memphis in the Liberty Bowl. He had 10 receptions for 142 yards and a touchdown, which gave the Cyclones a 21-17 lead with 4:28 left in the third quarter.
Lazard's best contribution may have been the way in which he got the last word in his postgame press conference. He turned a Memphis helmet upside down, a reference to the Memphis players who did the same to an Iowa State helmet in the days leading up to the game.
It's fair to wonder whether Lazard has the speed to excel in the NFL. He wasn't much of a big-play threat in his four years at Iowa State. His longest touchdown catch went for 74 yards, and he averaged 13.9 yards per reception, which is solid if unspectacular.
Still, Lazard's height (6'5") will give him a matchup advantage against NFL defensive backs, and he put up good numbers (241 receptions, 3,360 yards and 26 touchdowns) despite playing in an Iowa State offense that was anything but dynamic.
Lazard is a bit like Cooper Kupp in that you watch his college highlights and believe he could be a consistent contributor to an NFL offense in the right role despite the absence of otherworldly athleticism.
Josey Jewell, LB, Iowa
If it felt like Josey Jewell was everywhere in Iowa's 27-20 Pinstripe Bowl win over Boston College, it's probably because he was. His 11 tackles were the second-most in the game.
Jewell finished his senior season with 136 total tackles, 4.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions.
The Hawkeyes linebacker is unlikely to see his stock rise ahead of April's draft because, as teammate Nathan Bazata said, Jewell doesn't have the physical tools that jump off the page at showcase events.
"You look at him, when he's here training and in the offseason running, [and] he's not that fast," Bazata said, per Hawk Central's Mark Emmert. "He's not a 'combine' guy. But when you put pads on him, he's the first one to the ball. Just the instincts that he has are amazing."
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller didn't single out Jewell for praise but recently argued Iowa traditionally has a lot of success stories come out of the draft:
Jewell could be the 2018 version of the Green Bay Packers' Blake Martinez or Nick Kwiatkoski of the Chicago Bears. Both Martinez and Kwiatkoski registered a ton of tackles in college and have gone on to be solid pros after being selected in the fourth round of the 2016 draft.