Bowl season is officially upon us. It kicked off on Friday with a pair of games featuring a number of intriguing draft prospects. While a good chunk of draft prospects will sit out of these games to prepare for the NFL draft, there is still a lot of work to be done for prospects looking to make an impact on a more national stage. Utah State quarterback Jordan Love definitely looked sharp in his eventual loss to Kent State. The result doesn’t matter. He took care of the ball, with lone interception coming off a tipped pass that should have been caught. His draft stock received a small boost in the process, as it was a positive note to leave with evaluators heading into the pre-draft process.
There are quite a few other prospects who could do a lot to benefit their draft stock in their upcoming bowl games. Here are some of the biggest ones to keep an eye on.
Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State
You have no doubt heard about Jeff Okudah by now. He is the consensus top corner in the class and expected to be a top-10 pick. Playing alongside him is Shaun Wade, a redshirt sophomore who commands the nickel. It is not a guarantee Wade will declare, but his play during the College Football Playoff could go a long way in making that decision for him. He will get a chance to go up against a loaded receiving core at Clemson. Tee Higgins, Amari Rodgers, Justyn Ross and Joseph Ngata are likely the second-best group in the country, behind Alabama. If Wade can have a good day against that group and even potentially facing LSU’s high-powered offense, he should lock himself in as a late first round pick.
Carlos Basham Jr., EDGE, Wake Forest
Basham’s name is becoming more common in draft circles after a strong redshirt junior season. He has 10 sacks and 17 tackles for loss this year. In a class that lacks a ton of depth behind Chase Young, there is an opportunity to separate from a lot of the other mid-tier prospects facing Michigan State in the Pinstripe Bowl. He has the size to be an edge rusher at the next level, either as an end in a 4-3 scheme or standing up in a 3-4 set up. A solid outing against a Big Ten team could help propel him into the conversation to go early on Day 2 of the draft.
Austin Jackson, OT, USC
It’s hard to imagine a USC player possibly being under the radar given the history the school has in college football. Not to mention, the Trojans are ranked again entering bowl season. However, Austin Jackson is not a household name yet. He has not gotten the same press as Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs or Alabama’s Jedrick Wills. Jackson could find himself right in the mix to be drafted alongside these players in the first round with a good showing against Iowa in the Holiday Bowl. He will get a chance to face a talented Hawkeye’s defensive line, lead by projected first round pick A.J. Epenesa. With so many NFL teams needed improvement at left tackle, a good game from Jackson could make his size and footwork impossible to pass up come draft day.
Collin Johnson, WR, Texas
Texas has not had the type of season fans were expected after ranking in the preseason top 10. It has been a tough year for Collin Johnson as well. After entering the year looking like he would be one of the first 10 receivers off the board, he has slipped due to a number of injuries and a lack of game-breaking speed. He still has plenty of athletic ability and has put up good numbers since returning in mid-October. Putting together some good game tape against a suffocating Utah secondary in the Alamo Bowl would go a long way to putting him back on the right track. If Johnson performs against the likes of Jaylon Johnson, Julian Blackmon and Terrell Burgess, who all figure to be drafted this year, it would give the Texas senior a much-needed boost ahead of the Senior Bowl and combine.
Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR, Michigan
Really any of the trio of Michigan’s top receivers could be here. Donovan Peoples-Jones, Tarik Black and Nico Collins have all garnered varying amounts of draft buzz, but Peoples-Jones seems to be leading the pack. He will get an incredible opportunity to prove himself going up against the Alabama defense in the Citrus Bowl. With a secondary that boasts Day 1 hopeful in Xavier McKinney (Trevon Diggs is sitting out), Peoples-Jones will have his work cut out for him. If he shows he can generate separation from Patrick Surtain, that will be a good sign for his ability to translate to the pros. As a junior, he won’t be in the Senior Bowl, so this is his last real chance to showcase on-field traits before the combine.
Troy Dye, LB, Oregon
When you think of toughness and grit in college football, one of the first teams that comes to mind has to be Wisconsin. Troy Dye will get a chance to face that stout offense in the Rose Bowl this year. He is a tackling machine with good speed. Dye has even played through injury this season with a broken thumb. That screams toughness to me, but the biggest knock on Dye is his lack of strength. After all, he only weighs 225 pounds, very light for an NFL linebacker. If he can put together some good tape and make some disruptive plays against a Badgers front that features the best center in college football in Tyler Biadasz and a legendary running back in Jonathan Taylor, he could push himself firmly into the round one conversation heading into the Senior Bowl.
Solomon Kindley, G, Georgia
While Georgia’s offense has struggled in the second half of the season, this offensive line has still been one of the best in the nation, featuring a pair of draft prospects. Not quite as well known as the guy he plays next to in Andrew Thomas, Solomon Kindley has been showing up in the middle rounds of a lot of mock drafts. He will matchup with Baylor in the Sugar Bowl, which brings with it the challenge of facing the disruptive James Lynch. With Thomas set to sit out the game, this is a big opportunity for Kindley to show how good he can be in a vacuum. If he can hold up in protection and keep Lynch from wrecking the running game, that could go a long way in helping solidify his draft stock in a year without a ton of elite interior offensive prospects.