This week on the College Draft Podcast with Ross Tucker, I broke down all the best matchups from the top bowl games of the week, but let's look at a few more matchups that fans should keep their eyes on Saturday along with some of the players who are getting buzz around the country in regard to their NFL Draft status.
One player who isn't getting a ton of buzz yet, but absolutely should be, is cornerback M.J. Stewart from North Carolina.
The Virginia native started three years at UNC and will be at the Senior Bowl next month. I don't necessarily view him as a sure-fire starter on the perimeter, and his upside on the outside may be limited due to a lack of pure top-end speed, but I really like this kid. He's a competitive player who defends the run at a high level and is a quality blitzer from the boundary. I think Stewart's future may be brightest in the slot at the next level. He's one of the best pure man cover corners I've studied in this year's draft, and his ability to mirror and match routes in all areas of the field is very impressive. He hasn't recorded an interception in two years, which is a bit of a red flag, but on film, this kid looks like he has a promising future in the league. One of my favorite things about him? He's an Eagles fan.
One of the most intriguing stories I've come across so far in preparing for the 2018 NFL Draft is that of West Georgia left tackle Desmond Harrison.
A former big-time junior college recruit, Harrison began his career at Texas, playing seven games in 2013. Under new head coach Charlie Strong in 2014, he was suspended twice and never played a down for the Longhorns eventually leaving the team in January 2015. Harrison was a ghost on the NFL radar until signing with the D-II school back in January. Now, the senior blocker is headed to the Senior Bowl. On film, Harrison is one of the most naturally athletic linemen I've evaluated over the last couple of years. He's got great feet, can make any block in the playbook, and manhandled kids at the point of attack at that level of competition. Time will tell if he's able to do that at the next level (unlikely at his listed 6-7, 288 pounds), but he's got starting athletic traits for the left tackle spot and could really help himself in Mobile next month.
The senior class at wide receiver is a bit light this year, but the class overall received a boost with Maryland wideout D.J. Moore, who officially declared for the draft this week. The Philadelphia native started 35 straight games for the Terps in his career and set a school record with 80 catches this year. Moore, who graduated from Imhotep Charter High School in North Philadelphia, was named the Big Ten Wide Receiver of the Year and was a first-team All-Big Ten pick this year. Many analysts are excited about the 5-11, 215-pound junior and his NFL future.
Last Week's Game Ball
Boise State senior receiver Cedrick Wilson caught 10 passes for 222 yards and a score last week in the Las Vegas Bowl against Oregon. It was a great way to end an accomplished career for Wilson, who will be heading to the East-West Shrine Game next month. A potential returner in the NFL, Wilson managed all of that production against the Ducks despite fighting off a leg injury throughout the contest. Keep an eye on him moving forward because I think he'll be viewed as a sleeper over the next few months.
Bowl Matchups To Watch
1. San Diego State RB Rashaad Penny vs. Army Defense
*Armed Forces Bowl, Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas - 3:30 p.m. - ESPN *
The best player taking the field on Saturday in any of the bowl games is Rashaad Penny. Donnel Pumphrey's former backup for the Aztecs, Penny took over as the starter this year and was just as productive. At 5-11, 220 pounds, Penny is a great kick returner with the burst to fly through holes in a hurry, the elusiveness to make defenders miss, and the vision to pick his way through traffic. Penny had never been a starter before this year, but he's a very talented runner, is decisive between the tackles, and has third-down potential. Keep an eye on him in this game.
Army's best defense for Penny may be its own run game, one of the best in the country at controlling the ball. However, when the Black Knights' defense takes the field, keep an eye on senior linebacker Alex Aukerman (68 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, and six sacks) and senior safety Rhyan England (30 tackles), who help lead what was a top-35 defense in the country this fall.
Prediction: Army (9-3) has been a good story with its turnaround, but I think the Aztecs win this one going away. I predict a San Diego State victory by at least 10 points while Penny runs for over 200 yards and two touchdowns. I may not be jumping out on too far of a limb here because the California native hit those marks in each of the team's final four games of the season.
2. Texas Tech WRs Dylan Cantrell/Cameron Batson/Derrick Willies vs. USF CB Deatrick Nichols
Birmingham Bowl, Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala. - Noon - ESPN
The Aggies have three senior receivers to watch in this game, and they're not even the most talented pass catchers on the team (that moniker may belong to junior slot receiver Keke Coutee). Nevertheless, Dylan Cantrell, Cameron Batson, and Derrick Willies form a formidable trio for the Bulls to defend. Cantrell (6-3, 224 pounds) is a big, strong possession receiver with limited athletic upside but reliable hands. Batson (5-8, 177 pounds) is the literal opposite, with all of the speed and quicks you'd want for a slot man but with a couple more drops than you'd like to see on film. Willies (6-3, 208 pounds), an Iowa transfer, has both size and speed and may be viewed as the best of the bunch, but he needs to work on his route running and being more consistent in contested situations to reach his full potential.
Senior cornerback Deatrick Nichols (5-10, 189 pounds) was on the radar for a lot of draftniks entering the year. A three-time all-conference pick, the Miami native recorded 51 tackles and three picks this year. He will also be at the East-West Shrine Game next month, so you can get an early look at him on Saturday against a talented receiving corps.
Prediction: The 9-2 Bulls are favored in this matchup, and I think they do come away with the win thanks to the play of senior quarterback Quinton Flowers. Texas Tech is going to get its yards. Expect the Aggies to put up over 500 yards of offense in what I think will be a shootout.
3. Toledo QB Logan Woodside vs. Appalachian State S A.J. Howard
*Dollar General Bowl, Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Ala. - 7:00 p.m. - ESPN *
A three-year starter at quarterback for Toledo, Logan Woodside is a two-time first-team All-MAC selection for the Rockets and was named the MAC Offensive Player of the Year this season as a senior, a year when he was able to lead his team over the hump to win the conference championship. At 6-2, 210 pounds, Woodside is a rhythm passer who will attack downfield in their shotgun passing game. I expect him to try to win over the top against App State.
The lone senior starter for the Mountaineers' defensive secondary, safety A.J. Howard has been a longtime impact player for head coach Scott Satterfield. The starter at "field safety" (meaning he lines up to the wide side of the field), Howard will be put in space often against this Toledo passing game. He will be a big part of trying to limit Woodside's production down the field.
Prediction: I like Toledo here by double digits and Woodside ends his career on a high note, completing over 65 percent of his passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns.
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.