Early bowl games kickoff Saturday, marking the unofficial start of the NFL Draft Season. While the format lends itself to hyperbolic takes, the bowl season often serves as a first look for many football fans at the players and teams involved. This weekend’s initial offerings, while featuring unheralded or middling programs, still feature a number of prospects who will hear their names called during net spring’s NFL Draft. Here’s a look at the players I’ll be watching closely:
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl - Saturday 1:00 PM ET
Troy vs North Texas
Brandon Silvers QB Troy 6’3” 219
Season Stats: 259/412 (62.9%) 2985 YDS 7.2 YPA 13 TD 6 INT 4 rush TD
Silvers has been a four-year starter for the Trojans, and has helped lift the program up from a 3-9 team his freshman season, to a 10-2 squad that beat LSU earlier this year. After back-to-back 20+ TD seasons, his numbers took a dip this season, but Silvers enters Saturday’s game with a respectable 64.1% career completion percentage and 67 passing TDs (versus 28 INTs). While he hasn’t been officially named to any All-Star game as of this writing, I imagine he will surface at either the Shrine Game or NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. Silvers turns 24 years old in May, and is expected to be available in the late rounds or undrafted free agency.
Autonation Cure Bowl - Saturday 2:30 PM ET
Western Kentucky vs Georgia State
Mike White QB WKU 6’4” 225
Season Stats: 342/521 (65.6%) 3826 YDS 7.3 YPA 24 TD 7 INT 6 rush TD
White transferred from South Florida after the 2014 season, and took over as Western Kentucky’s QB last year, after long-time starter Brandon Doughty departed for the NFL. White entered this season with some buzz as a potential NFL Draft riser, a big, pocket passer with a strong arm. However, I came away unimpressed by his showing against Vanderbilt, and his numbers dipped across the board following the departures of receiver Taywan Taylor and running back Anthony Wales. White looks like a Day Three projection at best, though he will have an opportunity to improve his stock a the Senior Bowl next month.
Las Vegas Bowl - Saturday 3:30 PM ET
Oregon vs Boise State
Tyrell Crosby OL Oregon 6’5” 320
Crosby is a Nevada native, so Saturday will be a homecoming for the Ducks left tackle. The senior bounced back strong from an injury-marred 2016 season, to earn First Team All-Pac 12 honors and win the conference award for lineman of the year. Crosby will also represent Oregon this coming January at the Senior Bowl.
Royce Freeman RB Oregon 6’ 238
Season Stats: 1475 YDS 6.0 AVG 16 TD fishing, 164 YDS 11.7 AVG receiving
Oregon’s senior running back has lost some of his luster since piling up over 2100 yards from scrimmage as a sophomore in 2015. Still, Freeman put together a strong campaign this past season, and like Crosby, he’s expected to rep the Ducks in Mobile next month. But be aware: as of Thursday, both Freeman and Crosby were still considering sitting this game out. Should he play, know that Freeman reminds me of Niners running back Carlos Hyde, and should come off the board in the 3rd-4th round next spring.
Cedrick Wilson WR Boise State 6’3” 188
Season Stats: 73 REC 1290 YDS 17.7 AVG 6 TD
Wilson is a former high school quarterback, and arrived at Boise in 2015 after spending two seasons at the junior college level in Kansas. In two season with the Broncos, the senior receiver has racked up 2419 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns in 26 games, and averaged 18.8 yards per catch. Wilson has also pitched in on kickoff and punt returns.
Gildan New Mexico Bowl - Saturday 4:30 PM ET
Marshall vs Colorado State
Michael Gallup WR CSU 6’1” 200
Season Stats: 94 REC 1350 YDS 14.4 AVG 7 TD
Like Boise State’s Wilson, Gallup has posed two big seasons in the Mountain West since arriving from the Juco ranks, and the Colorado State senior punctuated his senior season by finishing in the top three in the race for the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver. Gallup is a solidly built player, who looks heavier than his listed weight, and he’s still just 21 years old. He’s held his own against Power Five competition, so Gallup figures to play well at next month’s Senior Bowl. If he fares well there and at the combine, he could be this year’s version of Bills 2017 second round pick Zay Jones.
Nick Stevens QB CSU 6’3” 215
Season Stats: 259/407 (63.6%) 3484 YDS 8.4 YPA 27 TD 10 INT
Stevens has started for the Rams for the better part of three seasons. After watching him earlier in the season, I had the feeling he would be a late round/undrafted free agent guy, and project as a second or third stringer tops. Stevens is a Shrine Game invite, suggesting NFL people feel similarly about his pro prospects.
Zack Golditch OL CSU 6’5” 295
I’ve only seen Golditch play once so far, and the coaching staff bounces him between right and left tackle throughout the game. It was an unusual situation, but the senior lineman seemed comfortable at either spot. He’s a three year starter on the CSU O-line, and he appeared to be a pretty athletic guy, so I’m intrigued to see him in action again.
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl - Saturday 8:00 PM ET
Middle Tennessee vs Arkansas State
JaVon Rolland-Jones LB Arkansas State 6’2” 244
Season Stats: 51 TKL 18.5 TFL 13 SCK 3 FF 1 PBU
Rolland-Jones finished the regular season second in the FBS in sacks per game, and seventh in tackles for loss. The senior linebacker has been a pass rush specialist with 26 sacks in the last two years, and 42 in 48 career games. At his size, he’ll project as a situational guy or an off-the-ball ‘backer at the next level, but the production is undeniable.
NOTE: Middle Tennessee redshirt junior receiver Richie James would deserve top billing in this game, but he’s expected to miss it with a collarbone injury