This week on the College Draft Podcast with Ross Tucker, I broke down all the best matchups from the first wave of bowl games and discussed the quarterbacks who have accepted invitations to the Senior Bowl, but let's look at a few more matchups that fans should keep their eyes on in this weekend's action along with some of the players who are getting buzz around the country in regard to their NFL Draft status.
A few more names were announced for next month's Senior Bowl. One of the prospects with the highest profile from this week's acceptances was wide receiver James Washington. The winner of this year's Fred Biletnikoff Award as the country's top wideout, Washington thrives at the catch point thanks to his length, play strength, and soft hands. He is a big-play threat at the college level who averaged over 20 yards per catch as a senior. However, Washington isn't a true burner who will stretch the field in the NFL, but he tracks the ball very well and can finish at the catch point at a very high rate. Washington certainly has the ability to help himself during the week of practice in Mobile by showing he can run a full route tree and beating press coverage.
There are a TON of small-school prospects heading to the Senior Bowl, particularly along the offensive line and at cornerback. In the trenches, the name that stands out the most to me is North Carolina A&T left tackle Brandon Parker. At 6-7, 314 pounds with long arms, the four-year starter for the Aggies is also a good athlete for the position who can execute any block in the playbook and excels out in space. He's also got pretty good feet for a man his size. I think in Year 2 or Year 3 this kid will be a starting tackle in the NFL after continuing to get bigger and stronger in a professional weight room.
There is a Senior Bowl-bound tight end who has a loose connection to the Eagles. Indiana tight end Ian Thomas, at 6-5, 248 pounds, is a prospect who I view as having a high floor with a relatively low ceiling at the next level. He's got soft hands, looks like a natural in pass protection, and has the size to develop into a "dirty work" kind of player at the tight end spot at the next level. He's smooth and fluid, but he's not explosive or twitchy as an athlete. I don't think he's got the speed to attack down the seam in the passing game at a really high level, but I think he can turn into a nice backup in the NFL. The Philly connection? He was a teammate of cornerback Rasul Douglas at Nassau Community College before joining the Hoosiers.
Last Week's Game Ball
Army senior quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw led the Black Knights to their second straight victory over Navy last Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field, the first time that's happened in over 20 years. At 5-11, 205 pounds, Bradshaw won't be viewed as a quarterback prospect if he decides to pursue the NFL, but he's an athletic kid who can make plays as a runner. He's got to get my game ball this week in a true classic.
Five Matchups To Watch
1. Georgia State CB Chandon Sullivan vs. Western Kentucky QB Mike White
*Cure Bowl, Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida - 2:30 p.m. - CBS Sports Network *
I mentioned earlier that there are a bunch of "small-school" cornerbacks headed to the Senior Bowl. While Georgia State is a member of the FBS, it is outside of the Power 5 conferences, so many will lump Chandon Sullivan in with that group. An NFL athlete with the smooth hips, fluid movement, and makeup speed to play on the outside, it's Sullivan's competitiveness and toughness that impressed me most while watching him earlier this year. I think he could project as an inside-outside-type of defensive back at the next level, similar to the type of role Patrick Robinson has played in the Eagles' secondary this year. I'm excited to continue watching more of Sullivan as the process continues.
For Western Kentucky's offense, the senior tight end, Deon Yelder, has received some buzz this season, but quarterback Mike White is the player most scouts will have their eyes on. There are things to like about Mike White. He's a big kid with a decent arm who shows an innate ability to navigate a muddy pocket and deliver the football downfield. I personally don't view him as a definite starter in the NFL, but I do think he can develop into a nice backup with time and patience.
Prediction: I like Georgia State to win this game by at least a touchdown, but White is going to get his share of yards. The senior threw for 300-plus in his last seven games and eight of his last nine overall, throwing just four picks in that span. I don't expect him to test Sullivan, who has just one pick this year, but I think he'll be around the ball. I'll call for 325 yards and two touchdowns for White, while Sullivan racks up six stops and a pass breakup in the win.
2. Oregon RB Royce Freeman/T Tyrell Crosby vs. Boise State Defense
*Las Vegas Bowl, Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas - 3:30 p.m. - ABC *
The Ducks have two players on offense you should be focusing on in this game in running back Royce Freeman and left tackle Tyrell Crosby, two players who will be at the Senior Bowl in January. Freeman is a big, strong downhill runner who protects the football and has been extremely productive as a four-year starter in Eugene. It's Crosby, however, who has my eye. At 6-5, 325 pounds, he's got an NFL frame and uses his hands very well both in the run and pass games. He needs a little work with his footwork in his pass set and he's not what I'd call a great athlete for the offensive line, but I really like the way Crosby plays. He'll be considered one of the top tackles in this draft when it's all said and done.
There's only one senior on this Boise State defense (linebacker Gabe Perez), so there aren't a bunch of names to watch for this draft class. However, this group was one of the best in the country in a number of categories. Junior defensive tackle David Moa (6-3, 271 pounds) is a name to watch for down the road. Freshman pass rusher Curtis Weaver racked up nine sacks this fall at 6-3, 255 pounds. I like the flashes I've seen from junior cornerback Tyler Horton, a scrappy, competitive kid on the perimeter. Junior linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was the Mountain West Conference's Defensive Player of the Year. All of those players should (or must) stay in school.
Prediction: The Oregon roster is psyched about the school promoting Mario Cristobal to the role of head coach last week, and I think the Ducks ride that high into this game for a victory. Two of Boise's three losses this year have come away from the Smurf Turf, and Oregon enters the game having won three of its last four games. The Broncos do have a top-20 run defense entering this game, and I think they'll be able to keep Freeman at around 100 yards and potentially keep him out of the end zone. Still, I see the Ducks winning this game in a tight, tight contest.
3. Colorado State WR Michael Gallup vs. Marshall
*New Mexico Bowl, Dreamstyle Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico - 4:30 p.m. - ESPN *
If you polled media analysts who follow the NFL Draft and asked which player they're most excited to watch on Saturday, I'd be willing to bet that one of the favorites would be Michael Gallup from Colorado State. At 6-1 and over 200 pounds, Gallup has pretty good size for the receiver position and plays the ball strong in the air. A natural at the catch point who can finish on the ball with defenders draped over him, Gallup is a possession receiver who still needs to work on some of the finer points of his game, particularly as a route runner. In a lot of ways, Gallup reminds me a bit of a shorter version of former Eagles receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who was a second-round pick out of Missouri a couple of years ago. Keep an eye on him in this game.
The Thundering Herd has exactly three seniors in the secondary out of 10 players who are either first- or second-string, so this is a young defense on the back end. The lone starter among the upperclassmen is senior safety C.J. Reavis, who finished the season having posted nine or more tackles in three of the final four games. A former three-star recruit who signed with Virginia Tech out of high school, Reavis actually attended East Mississippi Community College of "Last Chance U" fame before joining Marshall in 2016.
Prediction: These are two teams that started hot but limped into the postseason, but I expect the Rams to pull ahead and win a nail-biter. I'll take CSU by a field goal in this one as Gallup secures six catches for 97 yards and a score.
4. Arkansas State DE Ja'Von Rolland-Jones vs. Middle Tennessee
*Camellia Bowl, Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Alabama - 8 p.m. - ESPN *
If you want one reason to watch the Camellia Bowl on Saturday night, Ja'Von Rolland-Jones is it. I've only done a little bit of work on Rolland-Jones, who will be at the East-West Shrine Game, up to this point, but he's certainly got some potential as a pass rusher. Just how much potential? Well, the senior defensive end needs just a half-sack to break the long-held FBS sack record set by Terrell Suggs back in 2002. Rolland-Jones is a little stiff in the lower half, but he has a solid first step and has obviously displayed a knack for getting to the quarterback. Keep a close eye on him in this game if you like developmental pass rushers.
A first-team All-Big 12 choice a year ago for TCU, senior linebacker Travin Howard will likely return to the lineup for the Horned Frogs after missing the last two weeks with an ankle injury. He leads the team in tackles, despite missing those two games, and racked up a season-high 13 against the Sooners the last time he took the field. Howard is an undersized but athletic linebacker who actually saw some time at safety a year ago. Keep a close eye on Howard in this game.
Prediction: I expect Arkansas State to win this one by at least a touchdown thanks to Rolland-Jones and the top offense in the Sun Belt Conference, led by junior quarterback Justice Hansen and wideout Justin McInnis. Rolland-Jones gets a sack to break the record in the win.
5. Troy RB Jordan Chunn vs. North Texas S Kishawn McClain
*New Orleans Bowl, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans - 1 p.m. - ESPN *
Considered the hero of Troy's upset over LSU earlier this year, running back Jordan Chunn is still a bit lost in the shuffle of a strong running back class. A strong, physical runner who has some power downhill, Chunn isn't a burner by any stretch and won't pull away from defenders in the open field. I do like his running style and he's also a good pass protector for a college back. I'd keep an eye on him and quarterback Brandon Silvers in this game.
Stopping Chunn will be the top priority for the North Texas Mean Green, and senior safety Kishawn McClain will be counted on to be a part of that. At 5-11, 187 pounds, the Texas native isn't a prototype in terms of his size, but he has been active all year against the run. He's the guy to watch for UNT in the first bowl game of the year.
Prediction: I think Troy, who went into Baton Rouge and beat LSU earlier this year, wins this game by double digits. Chunn runs for 80 yards and a touchdown in the win.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.