Vontaze Burfict and the Top 2012 NFL Draft Prospects in Week 1 of Bowl Season

Dan Hope@Dan_HopeContributor IIIDecember 16, 2011

Vontaze Burfict and the Top 2012 NFL Draft Prospects in Week 1 of Bowl Season

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    Some critics complain about the excess of bowl games; this bowl season, there will be 35 games played, with all but two bowl-eligible teams playing in games.

    On the contrary, bowl season is great for an NFL Draft scout.

    For many of the players on each of the 70 teams participating in bowl games this season, these bowl games will be the final time they wear their respective school’s uniform.

    The select few among those players that stand out above the rest of their peers could hear their names called in the 2012 NFL Draft.

    Not only will these players be trying to win the games for their teams, but they will be making some of their final big auditions in front of NFL scouts, hoping to impress them enough to be deemed draft worthy.

    The first week of bowl season features seven bowls. Those bowls, and the teams that will be playing in them, are:

    New Mexico Bowl: Temple vs. Wyoming

    Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Ohio vs. Utah State

    New Orleans Bowl: San Diego State vs. Louisiana-Lafayette

    St. Petersburg Bowl: Marshall vs. Florida International

    Poinsettia Bowl: TCU vs. Louisiana Tech

    Las Vegas Bowl: Arizona State vs. Boise State

    Hawaii Bowl: Nevada vs. Southern Miss

    From those 14 teams, I have identified the 18 best 2012 NFL Draft prospects to watch in the upcoming week.

1. Arizona State ILB Vontaze Burfict (Junior)

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    Grade: Round 1

    There may be no middle linebacker in the nation with more playmaking ability than Vontaze Burfict.

    Burfict’s play was not as consistent as scouts would have liked this year, but he remains a first-round prospect. Burfict is a tremendous athlete and a big hitter who tackles well, can rush into the backfield and can make plays from sideline to sideline.

    The biggest concern with Burfict right now is his motor, for he is not consistently as great of a player as he should be.

    If he plans on declaring for the 2012 NFL Draft, it is very important that he performs well in this game.

    He is a first-round talent, but he must prove to scouts that he should be a first-round pick.

2. Boise State DE Shea McClellin

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    Grade: Round 3-4

    Shea McClellin plays defensive end at Boise State, but he is best suited to make the transition to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense to excel in the National Football League.

    As a prospect, McClellin is similar to Brooks Reed, the 42nd-overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft. Like Reed's, McClellin’s numbers at Boise State do not jump off of the page, but he is a high-motor player who makes a consistent impact up front for the Broncos.

    While McCllelin is a defensive end, he is not a traditional defensive end in that he often lines up in a stand-up position.

    McClellin is able to utilize his athleticism as an edge rusher. He has the ability to both track down runners outside the hash marks and work his way inside to make plays.

    Lack of size could hurt McClellin’s draft stock, but as a hybrid pass rusher, McClellin projects well and could be worth a day-two selection.

3. Boise State OT Nate Potter

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    Grade: Round 3-4

    Nate Potter has not quite become the dominant left tackle he was supposed to be at Boise State, but that said, he remains one of the nation’s top offensive linemen.

    Potter has a good frame and agile feet, but he may lack the overall pass-blocking skills to be a left tackle.

    Still, Potter is a strong technician who is a very good run blocker and should be able to shift over to right tackle, or kick inside to guard, at the next level.

    Potter has considerable experience, having started at Boise State since his freshman year, and still plenty of upside to boast. He has a good chance to be a day-two selection.

4. Temple RB Bernard Pierce (Junior)

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    Grade: Round 4

    If Bernard Pierce declares for the 2012 NFL Draft, he will be one of the top power backs in the class.

    Pierce is a terrific between-the-tackles runner. He ranks third in the nation, with 25 rushing touchdowns this season, and also ranks 13th in rushing yards gained.

    At the very least, Pierce will make a great short-yardage and goal-line back in the National Football League, but he is not only about power. Pierce has speed as well.

    He is a well-rounded back who has the potential to be an NFL feature back.

    There is nothing that stands out enough about Pierce to make him worthy of selection in the first three rounds, but he would be a great choice in Round 4 and is currently one of the NCAA’s most reliable running backs.

5. Marshall DE Vinny Curry

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    Grade: Round 4

    Marshall’s defense has had a tough year, so the Thundering Herd are not known for their defensive playmakers. They do have one, though, and that is defensive end Vinny Curry.

    Vinny Curry ranks second in the Football Bowl Subdivision this season with 21 tackles for loss. This is no fluke. Curry is an explosive athlete with an affinity for getting into the backfield and making plays.

    At the very least, Curry should make a terrific situational rusher and special teams player in the National Football League.

    In addition to his 21 tackles for loss, Curry has forced six fumbles, which ranks tied for third in the FBS, and has blocked three kicks this season, tied for sixth.

    Curry’s playmaking ability should draw the attention of NFL scouts and makes him well worth a fourth-round draft choice.

6. Boise State RB Doug Martin

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    Grade: Round 4

    Doug Martin is not as explosive as some of the other top backs in the 2012 NFL Draft class, but he is a well-rounded running back who has been known to come up with big plays at Boise State.

    Martin has good speed and can also take hits and bounce off defenders. In addition, Martin is a very good receiver out of the backfield.

    In the modern National Football League, where teams with running-back rotations look for versatile running backs with receiving ability, Martin will find a home.

    He currently stands worthy of a fourth-round draft selection.

7. Boise State DT Billy Winn

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    Grade: Round 4

    Of all four of Boise State’s senior defensive line starters, all of whom are worthy of being selected in the 2012 NFL Draft, Billy Winn has the highest potential.

    Winn is a 300-pounder with athletic ability and quickness, making him attractive both to 4-3 teams as a defensive tackle and to 3-4 teams as a defensive end.

    With only six tackles for loss and one sack this season, Winn’s numbers were significantly down from his junior year.

    That said, it is often Winn’s interior presence that has made it possible for Boise State’s defensive ends and linebackers to make plays, and statistics do not track that presence.

    Winn’s motor and stamina certainly come into question, so his bowl game is as important to his draft stock as any of the players on this list.

    Winn is currently a fourth-round value, but he has the upside and ability to be worth a higher selection, and his stock could rise with a big bowl performance.

8. Boise State QB Kellen Moore

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    Grade: Round 4

    Kellen Moore’s accolades as a collegiate quarterback are tremendous, most notably the 49 wins that the Broncos have in games Kellen has started, making him the NCAA’s all-time winningest quarterback.

    Unfortunately, NCAA accolades do not necessarily translate over to NFL success, and some question whether Moore should even be drafted.

    Moore is short for an NFL quarterback, standing at just 6'0"; lacks great mechanics; and does not have a great arm.

    That said, he has shown enough as a collegiate quarterback that he is worthy of a fourth-round selection.

    Moore is an intelligent quarterback who makes smart decisions, is a very good leader and is very accurate. Moore will have the ability to pick up an NFL system quickly.

    His football intelligence, leadership and accuracy make him an ideal backup quarterback. Even if he may never be an NFL starter, that should make him worth a fourth-round selection.

9. Nevada WR Rishard Matthews

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    Grade: Round 4

    Matthews had his breakout performance last year in Nevada’s huge upset victory over Boise State. As a senior, Matthews truly had a breakout season and emerged as one of the NCAA’s most productive wide receivers.

    This season, Matthews ranks sixth in the NCAA in receiving yardage and ninth in receptions.

    Matthews is a big-play receiver who uses his route-running ability to get open and has terrific hands.

    A player who probably would not have even been drafted coming into his senior season, Matthews has worked his value up to the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

    He is a professional-caliber receiver who will be able to make plays at the next level.

10. Florida International WR T.Y. Hilton

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    Grade: Round 5

    At 5’10’’, T.Y. Hilton is small for an NFL receiver. He makes up for that with his big-play ability, specifically with his tremendous quickness and speed.

    Hilton has been one of the NCAA’s most dangerous weapons over the past few seasons for Florida International. He has been very productive both as a wide receiver and as a kick/punt returner.

    Hilton should really shine in the shuttle drills at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine because he is one of the most laterally quick wide receivers in this draft class.

    As a slot receiver and kick/punt returner, Hilton has big potential in the National Football League.

    Worth a selection in Round 5.

11. TCU OLB Tank Carder

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    Grade: Round 5

    For the second straight season, Tank Carder was named the Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year.

    TCU’s best linebacker, Tanner Brock, has been out for most of this season with a foot injury, requiring Carder to step up and have a big year.

    He has done that.

    Carder’s impact does not always show up on the stat sheet, but he is an instinctive linebacker who always seems to be around the play.

    He is not a tremendous athlete, but his instincts make up for that. Carder is a sound tackler and is very effective in coverage.

    Carder’s upside is limited, but, one of the best players from one of the NCAA’s best defenses over the past few years, he would be a smart and safe choice in Round 5.

12. Nevada DT Brett Roy

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    Grade: Round 5

    Brett Roy had a huge senior season, coming up with 17.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks.

    As a draft prospect, Roy is similar to Karl Klug, a fifth-round selection in the 2011 NFL Draft. Roy is undersized for the defensive tackle position, but may lack the athleticism to move to defensive end.

    That said, Roy has proven his ability to make plays at the line of scrimmage, and as either a 4-3 defensive tackle or as a 3-4 defensive end, he should be able to secure a spot in an NFL defensive line rotation.

    Roy would be a solid Round 5 selection.

13. Utah State ILB Bobby Wagner

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    Grade: Round 5

    Bobby Wagner has had a huge senior season. With 140 tackles, Wagner ranks seventh in the FBS in total tackles.

    He is undersized for an NFL middle linebacker and is not a terrific athlete, but his instincts and ability to make tackles will make him a good addition to an NFL defensive rotation as a run stopper.

14. Boise State FS George Iloka

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    Grade: Round 5-6

    It has been a disappointing senior season for Boise State free safety George Iloka, who has only one pass defended the entire season.

    Statistics do not tell the whole story with Iloka. At 6'3", he has a tremendous frame for the safety position and is a good athlete. Iloka is very good in pass coverage, so the ball is often not thrown his way. He is also a good tackler and can make hits that force incompletions.

    Iloka’s lack of productivity in his senior season could very well knock him down to Round 6, but he could go a long way in rejuvenating his stock with a big performance in the Las Vegas Bowl.

15. Utah State RB Robert Turbin (Junior)

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    Grade: Round 5-6

    After missing the entire 2010 season due to a torn ACL, Robert Turbin has bounced back for a tremendous junior season.

    Turbin ranks 10th nationally with 118 yards per game and has also rushed for 19 touchdowns. He is a very good between-the-tackles runner, but also has the speed and quickness to pop outside and make plays outside the hashmarks.

    Turbin would be best served by returning for his senior season. But, he seems to be strongly considering entering the 2012 NFL Draft, so he will be looking for a big performance in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

16. San Diego State QB Ryan Lindley

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    Grade: Round 6

    In a ranking of all of the prospects on these teams prior to the start of the season, I would have ranked Ryan Lindley second, behind only Vontaze Burfict. At the time, Lindley was my big sleeper quarterback for the 2012 NFL Draft, a guy who I thought would work his way up into Round 2.

    That has not materialized in Lindley’s senior season. Lindley’s completion rate for the season is a woeful 52.5 percent, coupled with a poor passer rating that has him only 81st in the nation.

    That said, Lindley has the tools of an NFL starting quarterback: prototypical size, a strong arm and athleticism.

    However, poor decision-making and accuracy have really hurt Lindley this season.

    Lindley’s quarterback potential still makes him worth a Round 6 selection, but his performance in the New Orleans Bowl is critical to his draft stock. He really has to prove that he is better than he has played this season and could send his stock on the rise if he plays up to his ability.

17. Louisiana-Lafayette TE Ladarius Green

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    Grade: Round 6

    Of all the names on this list, Ladarius Green may be the one you have not heard unless you are a fan of the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns or of Sun Belt football.

    His is the name that people will get to know as the 2012 NFL Draft approaches.

    At 6'6" Green has tremendous size and is a very good athlete and receiver. Green is a playmaker at the tight end position whose combination of size and athleticism gives him upside.

    With big, athletic tight ends with receiving skills really becoming huge playmakers in the National Football League, Green should go for a Round 6 selection.

18. Nevada CB Isaiah Frey

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    Grade: Round 6

    When opposing teams are playing Nevada, they usually try not to throw the ball in Isaiah Frey’s direction. When they do, Frey often makes plays on the football.

    Frey has 17 passes defended this season, ranking him in a tie for fourth in the FBS. Of those passes defended, five have been interceptions.

    Frey has great coverage skills. He lacks the top-end speed that NFL scouts covet, but he plays with physicality, is good at mirroring receivers and has good ball skills.

    Frey does give up occasional big plays, and that along with a lack of great size or great speed likely limits him to being a Round Six selection.

    But, he is a talented defensive back with the skills to contribute at the next level.


    Thanks for reading!

    For more coverage throughout bowl season, the 2012 NFL Draft, and much more, follow me on Twitter @Dan_Hope!