Bowl Season has become a snowball rolling downhill, and even with many well-known NFL prospects sitting out, more and more prominent names will be taking the field in the coming days. Here’s a look at Wednesdays slate of bowl games….
Walk-on’s Independence Bowl - Wednesday 1:30 PM ET
Southern Mississippi vs Florida State
#25 Ito Smith RB USM 5’9” 195
Season Stats: 1323 YDS 5.7 AVG 13 TD rushing, 36 REC 370 YDS 10.3 AVG 2 TD receiving
Postseason weigh-ins will be big for Smith - the NFL is usually shy about investing too much in sub-200 pound running backs - but the USM product has rushed for at least 1100 yards and caught at least 35 passes in each of the last three seasons. Smith is a draft twitter darling, who’s drawn LeSean McCoy comparisons from his most ardent supporters, and he’ll have his chance to impress NFL people at the Senior Bowl next month.
#15 Allenzae Staggers WR USM 6’1” 190
Season Stats: 43 REC 469 YDS 10.9 AVG 5 TD
Staggers transferred in from East Mississippi Community College, aka “Last Chance U,” and after an 1165-yard junior season, I thought he’d be a breakout senior this season. Instead he never seemed to develop chemistry with the Eagles’ new quarterbacks, and finished a distant second on the team in receptions this year. Staggers has shown deep speed and some flash on punt returns, and could still prove to be a late round or priority free agent steal.
#4 Tarvarus McFadden CB FSU 6’2” 205
Season Stats: 27 TKL (19 solo) 8 PBU 1 TD
Unlike teammates Derwin James and Josh Sweat, who have already declared for the draft, it appears McFadden plans to play in this game. The junior corner picked off eight passes last year but none this season, and still I fully exec him to declare after this game. He doesn’t turn 21 until late next month, and the NFL adores big corners, especially when they come out of big programs.
#18 Auden Tate WR FSU 6’5” 225
Season Stats: 35 REC 464 YDS 13.3 AVG 7 TD
Tate is a big target who is widely expected to declare after this game, but he’s produced all of two 100-yard games in 30 collegiate appearances. Tate has shown the ability to track the ball deep and adjust to poorly thrown passes, but his three-year career stat line of 60 catches for 873 yards and 13 touchdowns hardly screams alpha receiver. Still, I see draftniks including him in first round discussions. Color me skeptical.
#91 Derrick Nnadi DT FSU 6’1” 310
Season Stats: 51 TKL (20 solo) 9 TFL 3.5 SCK 1 FF 1 PBU
Nnadi is a squatty interior guy with a Senior Bowl invite. He followed a splashy 2016 with a solid, if unspectacular senior season. He’s more of a gap plugger than a pass pressure guy, but he’s still being projected as a Day Two pick by most of the draft media.
#6 Matthew Thomas LB FSU 6’4” 219
Season Stats: 85 TKL (43 solo) 10 TFL 2 SCK 1 INT 2 PBU 1 kick BLK
Thomas is a fast linebacker who was plagued by shoulder injuries early in his career. He’s a Shrine Game invite, which usually means Day Three draft pick, but Thomas is a player I expect to shine during the draft process. At the very least, he should post impressive athletic testing numbers.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl - Wednesday 5:15 PM ET
Iowa vs Boston College
#25 Akrum Wadley RB Iowa 5’11” 195
Season Stats: 1021 YDS 4.4 AVG 9 TD rushing, 26 REC 329 YDS 12.7 AVG 3 TD receiving
The Hawkeyes senior running back had been more of a tandem back heading into this season, but with an increased workload this year Wadley saw his yards per carry dip by two full yards. He’s a quick back who is dangerous in the open field, but as a smallish guy with average speed, I expect him to be available in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft.
#43 Josey Jewell LB Iowa 6’2” 236
Season Stats: 123 TKL (64 solo) 13.5 TFL 4.5 SCK 1 FF 2 INT 11 PBU
Jewell is the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and he reminds me of Scooby Wright in that Jewell was a lightly-regarded recruit who scrapped and clawed his way into the national spotlight in a Power Five conference. The difference is that Jewell’s game may translate better to the pros. He’s at least shown more instincts and ball skills in pass coverage, which is a must if a linebacker hopes to play three downs. Like Wright, athletic testing and speed are question marks, so the combine looms large for Jewell.
#15 Josh Jackson CB Iowa 6’1” 192
Season Stats: 47 TKL (33 solo) 0.5 TFL 1 FF 7 INT 18 PBU 2 TD 1 kick BLK
I was in attendance at Kinnick Stadium in September when Jackson pick off highly-touted quarterback Josh Allen in the season opener. I watched in awe when Jackson collected five interceptions in two games later in the year against Ohio State and Wisconsin. The junior corner ended the season as a finalist for the Thorpe Award, and he probably deserved to be the second Hawkeye to win it in the past three years. I’m not sure if Jackson declares or not, but I feel like “strike while the iron is hot” applies to his situation.
#79 Sean Welsh C Iowa 6’3” 295
Welsh is effectively a four-year starter with experience all along the offensive line, and will likely land at center or guard as a pro. Not only is Welsh a respected football player, earning First Team All-Big Ten honors as a senior, but he has also been outspoken about his personal struggles with mental health issues.