Well, it’s nearly Christmas Day, and if you were busy finishing your shopping, baking cookies, or slamming mugs of egg nog, you may have missed the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl, the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, or the Monday afternoon Miami Beach Bowl. No worries. I have you covered. Last week I ran down the top NFL Draft prospects who were already home for the holidays. Today, we’ll take a look at my top-rated prospects from the fist spate of bowl games.
1. Taywan Taylor WR Western Kentucky
Bowl Stats: 9 REC 144 YDS 1 TD
2016 Stats: 98 REC 1730 YDS 17.7 AVG 17 TD receiving, 36 YDS 6.0 AVG rushing Preliminary Grade: Day 2
Taylor isn’t some “small-school” hype monster. He was Western Kentucky’s career leader in receiving yards and touchdowns before his senior year started, then went out and broke his own single-season mark for receiving yards. Listed at 6’1” 195, I imagine Taylor will lose an inch/inch-and-a-half worth of height when he’s measured at the Senior Bowl next month, but he’s expected to dazzle at the scouting combine. Last spring, he reportedly posted a 4.33-second 40, a 39.5” vertical, and an 11’5” broad jump.
Taylor topped 100 yards in a game nine times this season, including a 121-yard outing against a vaunted Alabama defense. He’s reliable underneath, and a dangerous deep threat. Provided the quarterbacks can hit their marks, Taylor will impress in Mobile in January, and if he can approach those junior pro day numbers during draft season, he should come off the board on Day Two of the draft.
Seth’s Note: The Arizona Cardinals need to draft Taywan Taylor... That is all
2. Kareem Hunt RB Toledo 6’ 225
Bowl Stats: 120 YDS 5.5 AVG 2 TD rushing, 2 REC 26 YDS receiving
2016 Stats: 1475 YDS 5.6 AVG 10 TD rushing, 41 REC 403 YDS 9.8 AVG 1 TD receiving Preliminary Grade: Late Day 2-Early Day 3
Hunt rushed for over 1600 yards and averaged eight yards per carry as a sophomore in 2014, but last year he was hampered by injuries and a suspension. He returned this year refreshed and refocused, with a solid, but more streamlined body, and he appeared to regain his mojo as a runner. While he looked sluggish at times as a junior, this season Hunt displayed patience and quick feet, and generally ran under more control. Not only is he a big back who’s able to run through low contact and push the pile, but he also has terrific balance that makes him difficult to tackle in the open field. As a senior, he established himself as reliable receiver as well. For my money, Hunt is the best senior running back in the class, but with a number of talented underclassmen expected to declare, he could fall into the middle rounds. Still, I believe he has the potential to emerge as an NFL starter down the road.
3. Donnel Pumphrey RB San Diego State 5’9” 180
Bowl Stats: 115 YDS 6.1 AVG 1 TD rushing, 1 REC 26 YDS receiving
2016 Stats: 2133 YDS 6.1 AVG 17 TD rushing, 27 REC 231 YDS 8.6 AVG receiving Preliminary Grade: Late Day 2-Early Day 3
Because of the NCAA’s silly refusal to include Ron Dayne’s bowl stats, Pumphrey is now technically the FBS all-time leading rusher, with 6405 yards in 54 games. But the recordkeeping shenanigans shouldn’t diminish what the San Diego State senior has accomplished. Pumphrey eclipsed 1600 rushing yards each of the last three seasons, scored 67 career touchdowns, and caught an even 100 passes.
The only thing holding Pumphrey back as an NFL prospect is his slight frame, but he’s gradually added weight during each year of college. I’ll be interested to see his approach to training, and whether he’ll try to bulk up, or focus on sharpening his high-end speed and quickness. Last year, Tyler Ervin - a similar prospect - was drafted in the 4th round by Houston. Pumphrey is a better player, but again, the glut of underclassmen running backs may push him further into Day Three. If so, he’ll prove to be a bargain.
4. Damontae Kazee CB San Diego State 5’11” 190
Bowl Stats: 5 TKL (4 solo)
2016 Stats: 65 TKL (4 solo) 3 TFL 8 PBU 7 INT 1 TD
Preliminary Grade: Early Day 3
San Diego State CB Damontae Kazee ended his college career with 17 INT 29 PBU and 6 FF and 2 defensive TD in 53 games. Playmaker— Justin Higdon (@afc2nfc) December 18, 2016
Kazee is another undersized Aztec, and like a couple other guys on this list, I expect him to measure smaller than listed next month at the Senior Bowl. Regardless, he’s a tough player with game day speed whose ball skills helped him collect 15 interceptions and two conference Defensive Player of the Year awards over the past two seasons. Kazee’s stature will have him projected as a slot corner, still a valuable role, and he’ll provide added value on special teams. That should be enough to get him drafted in the fourth or fifth round next spring.
5. Michael Roberts TE Toledo 6’5” 270
Bowl Stats: 2 REC 19 YDS 1 TD
2016 Stats: 45 REC 533 YDS 11.8 AVG 16 TD
Preliminary Grade: Early Day 3
After overcoming academic issues, Roberts college career started slowly. He caught just four passes through his first two seasons before collecting 21 receptions and four TDs as a junior. In 2016 Roberts’ production skyrocketed. His 16 scores are currently double the total of any other FBS tight end, and he’s tied for fifth in the country overall.
At 270 pounds, Roberts looks like a slimmed down offensive lineman, but he’s surprisingly athletic in the open field, and has shown the ability to adjust for tough catches. He looks like the type of athlete who will test well in combine and pro day drills. Right now, Roberts is ticketed for the East-West Shrine Game, but I believe he will be a riser throughout the draft process.