Biggest risers and fallers of bowl season

Is it just me, or does it feel like conference championship games were forever ago? Bowl season was a long slog, but we made it out the other side. Our patience was rewarded with an entertaining, if not always super competitive, College Football Playoff. While some of these bowl games certainly felt pointless, it is an excellent opportunity for players to put together game tape in front of a national audience heading into the pre-draft process. Unfortunately, it also means some players will walk away with a less-than-stellar end to their season and potentially tank their draft stock. It’s hard to blame some of the top prospects for skipping these games.

With bowl season done though, it is time to review the big risers and fallers from the past month. Before you get on me about players like Jerry Jeudy or Joe Burrow, they obviously played great games. However, their draft stock is pretty well cemented. There really isn’t a whole lot higher they could possibly climb. Let’s take a look at some players whose bowl performances made a real difference in their draft stock.

Risers

A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa
A.J. Epenesa capped off a huge second half to the season with a dominant showing in the Holiday Bowl. Going up against a likely top-50 pick in Austin Jackson, Epenesa consistently got pressure, often times in different ways. He showed a wide array of pass rush moves and good burst off the edge. I think he should find himself in the top 10 come draft day, but there is a lot to happen between now and then. He will definitely be in the draft after declaring on Tuesday.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, LSU
Man this kid can run. I’ve been saying he reminds me of Maurice Jones-Drew. Some of that is size profile, but Clyde Edwards-Helaire also brings that same kind of elusiveness mixed with power. He definitely lacks breakaway speed, but he could he effective in the right offense. With Chuba Hubbard and Najee Harris returning to school, he is now up to RB5 and I thinking solidly into the Day 2 conversation. I’m worried his stock will dip if he doesn’t run super well at the combine, but he should develop into a starter in the NFL.

Bradlee Anae, EDGE, Utah
I have loved what I have seen from Bradlee Anae over the past few months. He has incredible burst and timing off the edge and actually does a decent job setting the edge against the run. He still has a long way to go in terms of disengaging bigger blockers and varying up his pass rush moves. From a physical traits stand point, he has what teams want. That was on display against Texas, even if it doesn’t show in the box score. He finished with half a sack, but had a bigger presence than that.

Chase Claypool, WR, Notre Dame
Chase Claypool balled out against Iowa State in the Camping World Bowl. He showed a good ability to go up and make plays in traffic. His body control was impressive. His size is great too and you can’t coach that. Claypool sits behind a long list of guys right now on my big board because of how stacked this draft class is at the receiver, but his tape left a very positive impression heading into the Senior Bowl.

Tyler Johnson, WR, Minnesota
I was resistant to putting Tyler Johnson here because I have heard so many mixed reviews, but wow he balled out against Auburn. I went back to rewatch the tape of Marlon Davidson and Johnson stood out every time. He showcased great athleticism and an impressive ability to adjust to the ball in the air on a few spectacular catches. I know there are scouts who are knocking him down because he didn’t get a Senior Bowl invite, but he looked the part of an NFL receiver in the Outback Bowl.

Fallers

Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma
That was a really tough way for Jalen Hurts’ college career to end. Hurts simply looked inaccurate against LSU in the CFP semifinal. He showed out as a runner, but he is built more like Tim Tebow than Lamar Jackson. The truth is, Hurts reminds me of Tebow, but with slightly better mechanics. He lacks great arm strength, often times having to float balls over the middle, rather than hitting receivers on a line. We will see Hurts as part of a loaded quarterback group at the Senior Bowl though, so maybe he can start to rehab his value.

A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson
You had to know this was coming. His last game was brutal. A.J. Terrell got smoked by JaMarr Chase. Chase has made a lot of defenders look foolish this year, but Terrell looked was completely overmatched. He showed he does not have the top line speed to run with top-end receivers or the physicality to make up for that. This might force him to go back to school for another year; he is just a junior. If he does come out, I expect him to be a fringe second round player at this point.

Austin Jackson, OT, USC
The reason why Austin Jackson is on this list is because A.J. Epenesa is one of the risers. Jackson got a big test facing the Iowa edge rusher. I actually pegged him as one of the players who could help his draft stock the most given the opportunity. I think to say he failed is extreme, but he also didn’t pass with flying colors either. There were moments where he flashed franchise tackle potential. I think it is going to take some good coaching and a bit more seasoning for him to get up to NFL speed for him to reach his ceiling. Jackson might still find his way into the first round, but should not be thought of as a day-one starter.

Marlon Davidson, EDGE, Auburn
Auburn got pushed around a bit in the Outback Bowl by Minnesota. Marlon Davidson was no exception. He was undisciplined against the run a lot in that game. He didn’t make much of a mark as a pass rusher either. Auburn likes to kick him inside next to Derrick Brown. I see him as more of a 3-4 or 4-3 end, but he will need to improve his gap discipline and work on reading his keys before he can make an impact at the next level.

Raekwon Davis, DL, Alabama
The athleticism is there. The frame is there. The production and presence are not. Raekwon Davis flashed some moments of creating good leverage, but he spent much of the game simply locked up and ineffective. He looks like a project player who has the physical tools to develop into something special. The problem is, he has looked like that for two years, failing to take the next step. Alabama’s Citrus Bowl win over Michigan was just the latest example.

For more NFL Draft coverage, check out the Aftermath’s NFL Draft Podcast, with new episodes every Thursday.

7 prospects who can boost their stock during bowl season

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Georgia LogoSolomon 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.