After a few consecutive seasons of being a top 25 team in the country, Mississippi State took a nosedive this season after losing Dak Prescott to the NFL along with some other big contributors like Chris Jones and Will Redmond. The Bulldogs still managed to eek into a bowl game and will be taking on Miami of Ohio in the St. Petersburg Bowl (11 AM on ESPN). Unsurprisingly this bowl is not loaded with stud players, but a close look will reveal some future NFL contributors with a chance to be impact players.
- Johnathan Calvin, Defensive End, Mississippi State: Two years in a row, the Bulldogs put a stud defensive linemen into the NFL draft with eh likes of Preston Smith and then Chris Jones last year. This year, Calvin has the best potential on the Bulldogs defense to become an NFL impact player. At 6-3, 275 pounds, Calvin has a stout build. He does a great job anchoring against the run and his strength and motor make him hard to handle for blockers. He is a well rounded defender who is scheme diverse, so keep an eye out for him in the mid rounds.
- Fred Ross, Wide Receiver, Mississippi State: Fred Ross is one of the most underrated receivers in the country. The 6-2 pass catcher has very good route running ability, solid hands and ability to pick up yards after catch. He has accounted for half of the Bulldog’s touchdowns through the air, a testament to his importance on the team. Due to the players around him and his improvement over his four years in college, it is fair to say Ross’ best football is still ahead of him.
- Heath Harding, Cornerback, Miami (OH): The Redhawks lack a lot of star power but Heath Harding, their junior cornerback, is a standout worth mentioning. Harding may not have great size (5-10, 190), but his quickness, physicality and on field IQ allow him to produce in the Redhawks defensive backfield. Not only is he a playmaker in coverage, but he has no qualms about coming up to stop the run or even blitz. He is a well rounded defender who might even warrant some looks at safety in the NFL.
The second of three Boxing Day Bowl Matchups features another two teams with at least six losses. In the Quick Lane Bowl (2:30 on ESPN), Boston College and Maryland face off in a match up of defensive head coaches. For Maryland, first year coach DJ Durkin has done a great job revitalizing Maryland and making them a more physical football team, but they still look like a team in the first year of a rebuild. Boston College has been the same for a few years under Steve Addazio: Tough defense and little offense. Regardless of records, this game has a potential first round caliber prospect lurking that gives the game some watchability.
- Will Likely, Cornerback, Maryland: Will Likely will likely have an uphill climb at seeing the field defensively in the NFL (I am sorry), but his playmaking ability on defense and special teams over the course of his time at Maryland will get him noticed. The tiny cornerback who is listed at 5-7, 175 lacks size to play at a high level, but he has been around the ball his whole career at Maryland. He has great ball skills, quickness and is a feisty, physical player overall. He has no qualms about making plays in the run game or delivering big hits in coverage. He is just so damn small. Luckily, his ability for big plays on special teams will give him a chance at getting a much-deserved spot on an NFL roster.
- John Johnson, Defensive Back, Boston College: John Johnson is one of the many productive players on the Boston College defense. He has solid size at six foot and 200 pounds and his impact is felt as a savvy presence in the defensive backfield. He has good ball skills and is a dependable tackler against the run. He isn’t a great athlete, but compensates with heady plays. Looks the part of an NFL strong safety and that is likely his best fit.
- Matt Milano, Linebacker, Boston College: One of the more productive players over the last few years at Boston College is their senior linebacker. Matt Milano lacks elite size at the linebacker position (6-1, 220), but has great quickness and flies around the field. I am not sure where his fit is on a starting defense, but his physicality and aggressiveness screams special teams star.
- Harold Landry, Defensive End, Boston College: The cream of the crop in this game is Harold Landry, who is the best defender in the country you haven’t heard of. Landry is a bit lighter at 6-3, 250, but he has great quickness, natural strength and is very physical in the run game. He lacks a wide away of pass rushing moves, but his ability to consistently disrupt an offense warrants praise. This is a very talented class of edge defenders, which could hurt Landry’s stock, but he has the talent to warrant a first round selection.
The last game of the day features by far the most NFL talent, including a few names who could go over the first three rounds of the draft. The Independence Bowl between Vanderbilt and NC State (5 PM on ESPN2) may feature two teams that only have six wins, but both are better than their record. Vanderbilt played tough, physical football all year under Derek Mason and NC State took a lot of good teams to the wire. Unsurprisingly, with such tough teams comes a handful of NFL talent to watch for.
- Ralph Webb, Running Back, Vanderbilt: Being a productive back in the SEC when you are the one threat on your offense is no easy task, but Ralph Webb has rushed for at least 900 yards every year he has been at Vanderbilt and is on his second straight 1000 yard season. Webb is a well built, low to the ground runner who is hard to tackle, runs angry and has very good vision. Webb may not be a game breaker like some of the backs in this class, but he has the makings of a very solid NFL runner.
- Zach Cunningham, Linebacker, Vanderbilt: The best prospect in this game is Vandy’s linebacker, Zach Cunningham. Cunningham has great athletic ability and does an excellent job attacking the line of scrimmage and flowing in coverage. He is a smaller linebacker, but he more than makes up for it with his intelligence and movement skills at the position. Cunningham can play inside in a 3-4 defense or outside in a 4-3 and I fully expect his well rounded ability to get his name called in the first forty picks of the draft.
- Jack Tocho, Cornerback, NC State: There are so many good cornerbacks in this class, but do not overlook NC State’s Jack Tocho. The six-footer has good size, ideal arm length and is a physical player in coverage. Though he does not have great ball skills, Tocho can find the ball in the air and his ability to lock down guys early in the play limits the amounts of targets he sees anyway.
- Matt Dayes, Running Back, NC State: Matt Dayes is the Wolfpack’s biggest weapon on offense and is able to produce despite defenses focusing on stopping him. He is a quick runner with great balance. He does not have elite size or speed, but his ability to consistently create yardage where there is none is impressive and his third down ability will help him see signifigant duty in the NFL.
- Jaylen Samuels, Tight End, NC State: Jaylen Samuels is a unique, H-Back Type of player who gets moved around for NC State as a match up nightmare. He has a strange build at 5-11, 230 and looks more like a big running back, but he is a dynamic pass catcher who can line up all over the place. Of course a 5-11 player would never get lined up inline in the NFL, but it is easy to see a role for him similar to Marcel Reece in the league.
- Bradley Chubb, Defensive End, NC State: Bradley Chubb is one of the more underrated defenders in college football. He has NFL size at 6-4, 275 and has a nonstop motor to go along with long arms and heavy hands. His strength and motor allow him to disrupt at the college level and he looks like a player who can impact as a strong side defensive end in the league.