The month-long college football bowl season starts Saturday, giving fans one last look at 80 teams worth of NFL Draft prospects. Even though some of these games have to dip into the pool of 5-7 teams, somehow, there are still not enough bowls to include every FBS program in the festivities. That leaves a number of promising players home for the holidays, left to presumably prepare for this spring’s draft. Listed below are the five best players I’ve seen this season, who won’t be going “bowl”-ing
1. DeShone Kizer QB Notre Dame 6’4 1/2” 230
2016 Stats: 212/361 58.7% 2925 YDS 26 TD 9 INT passing, 472 YDS 3.7 AVG 8 TD rushing
Preliminary Grade: Day 1
After months of rumors, Kizer, a third-year sophomore and two-year starter for the Irish, declared for the draft earlier this week. A three-sport high school athlete, Kizer has a strong arm and NFL size, and impressed me with his patience and poise in the pocket, and his downfield passing potential.
After a dazzling performance against Texas in the season opener, Kizer appeared to press at times as his team endured a trying season. His completion percentage took a dip, but toss out a game against NC State in which he went nine-for-26 passing amid Hurricane Matthew, and Kizer’s season-long accuracy jumps from 58.7% to 60.6%. Kizer has shown to be a quick study as a passer, and a powerful and effective runner. He has he highest ceiling of any passer in the draft, and I expect him to be in contention to be drafted first overall.
2. Takkarist McKinley DE UCLA 6’2” 265
2016 Stats: 61 TKL (50 solo) 18 TFL 10 SCK 3 FF 6 PBU
Preliminary Grade: Day 1
McKinley is an electric senior pass rusher with explosive speed out of the gate, and the type of mean streak I like to see in a defensive player. He plays like his hair is on fire, flying to the ball against the run and the pass. McKinley is effective with his hands and a fast and violent closer. I can’t recall seeing him fail to finish on a sack or a tackle behind the line of scrimmage. As an edge player, NFL teams will be anxious to learn his height and arm length, but with McKinley scheduled to attend next month’s Senior Bowl, we’ll all find out soon enough. I suspect he will meet the minimum thresholds, dazzle at the combine in February, and ultimately be selected in the first round.
3. Courtland Sutton WR SMU 6’4” 215
2016 Stats: 76 REC 1246 YDS 16.4 AVG 10 TD
Preliminary Grade: Late Day 1-Early Day 2
Sutton is another third-year sophomore, and while he hasn’t officially declared, rumors have been swirling since at least October that he’s planning on making the leap. If he does, he will probably be my favorite big receiver in the class. Sutton is a smooth athlete who glides as a runner. He has a basketball background that stretches into college, and that skill set shows up on curls, slants and back shoulder throws as he consistently screens off and out-jumps his opponents. I don’t believe Sutton will have burner speed, but he has still been able to separate at the college level, and should time somewhere in the high 4.5-low 4.6 second range in the 40.
4. Malik McDowell DL Michigan State 6’6” 276
2016 Stats: 34 TKL (20 solo) 7 TFL 1.5 SCK
Preliminary Grade: Day 2
McDowell originally said he wouldn’t leave MSU for the pros unless he was projected as a top-three pick, but changed his mind after missing time with an ankle injury late in his junior season. Even before he was banged up, McDowell’s tackles for loss and sack numbers had dipped from 13 and 4.5, to 7 and 1.5 respectively. (Lest anyone point to the fact that he missed three games, the numbers dropped on a “per game” basis as well.) McDowell is physically imposing, and his best game tape suggests a gifted athlete who will test well at the scouting combine. But this season he ran hot and cold, and left plays on the field, leaving scouts to wonder just how much production they can expect. He’s a high-risk, high-reward type, and that often leads to tears down the road.
5. Patrick Mahomes II QB Texas Tech 6’3” 230
2016 Stats: 388/591 65.7% 5052 YDS 41 TD 10 INT passing, 285 YDS 2.2 AVG 12 TD rushing
Preliminary Grade: Day 2
Like 2016’s first overall pick, Mahomes is a product of the Air Raid offense, and boasts some seriously inflated passing numbers. But the Red Raiders’ junior passer, who’s rumored to be leaning toward turning pro, has a rifle arm, an NFL build, and a flair for extending plays. Last year, I rated Jared Goff as a Day 2 (2nd-3rd round) talent, and Mahomes has better physical characteristics. He’ll have to deal with the stigma attached to his college offense, but I have a hunch that NFL personnel people will like the fact that Mahomes’ father is a former major league baseball player, and has dealt with the trials of professional athletics. Then again, maybe they won’t. Either way, the younger Mahomes has a solid resumé of his own. Worth noting, he is currently recovering from recent surgery on his left (non-throwing) wrist.