The college bowl system may be watered down but it does provide for a final look at a number of draft-eligible players on a nationals stage. Here is the bowl schedule for today as well as a look at a few players that could be on the Lions’ radar come April.
Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
Rice vs. Air Force
11:45 a.m. ET, ESPN
Vance McDonald, TE, Rice – Rice typically does not produce much NFL-type talent, and this year is much of the same. McDonald might be the only draftable player on the team right now. He has great size at 6’5”, 260 lbs. and can move a bit as well. The senior tight end was a unanimous selection as the C-USA tight end on the all-conference team. McDonald finished with 35 receptions on the year despite missing the last three games of the year. With a good Senior Bowl performance, he could be projected in the 4th-5th round range.
Sam McGuffie, WR, Rice – Many Michigan fans may remember this name. He began his collegiate career in Ann Arbor before transferring back to his home state to finish at Rice. Because of multiple options at running back, McGuffie made the transition to slot receiver and flourished. That versatility should make him a late-round option in the upcoming draft because of his ability to run the ball, catch passes and offer some value in the return game as well.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
West Virginia vs. Syracuse
3:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
Shamarko Thomas, SS, Syracuse – Thomas is a very skilled tackler leading the team with 84 tackles for the season. He has also forced three fumbles and has two interceptions on the season. Thomas displays exceptional speed that should translate well into the NFL. Thomas was selected to First-Team All Big East (coaches). At 5’10, Thomas is considered undersized to play safety at the next level, but has an NFL frame weighing in at 210 lbs. Thomas is projected as a third day selection.
Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia – Austin might just be the fastest player in college football, and is certainly one of the most dynamic. Austin finished eighth in the Heisman voting and is an AP All-American. With Jahvid Best’s future uncertain and the Lions’ receiving corps in shambles, Austin could provide the Lions with depth at receiver, a replacement for Jahvid Best’s dynamic play and an upgrade returning punts and kicks. Austin is projected as a late first round pick.
Joe Madsen, C, West Virginia – Madsen has great size (6’4” 305 lbs.) and displays solid athleticism and coordination. With the West Virginia offense aligning mostly in shotgun, Madsen’s game would transition well in the Lions vertical offense. He is projected as a late round draft pick or UDFA and could be groomed to ultimately replace the Dominic Raiola.
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
Navy vs. Arizona State
4 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State – The redshirt junior will have a decision to make after this season on whether or not to enter the 2013 NFL Draft. After not appearing on practically any preseason watch lists, Sutton ended up an All-American after his outstanding season. A bit undersized, Sutton plays with an intensity that is unmatched. He finished the year with 20 tackles for loss, and 10.5 sacks. With red flags about his size and maturity, he could slip to the third round if he decides to come out.
Cameron Marshall, RB, Arizona State – Currently sitting 10th on the school’s all-time rushing list, Marshall had a down season with the Sun Devils. Much of this had to do with his fit in the spread option offense that is being employed because of coaching changes. Marshall is a bigger back that does not have the top-end speed to be an every-down back at the next level.
Brandon Magee, LB, Arizona State – Magee is an undersized LB with pretty decent range. He is a three-year starter that has improved his number of tackles in each season. In 2012, he finished with 87 and finished third in the conference with a 8.7 tackles per game ratio. Magee would be a late-round prospect if it were not for his contract with the Boston Red Sox. It looks as if he may choose baseball over football if he is not drafted.
Jamal Miles, WR, Arizona State – Miles will most likely get a look as a priority free agent, but he could be a steal in the making with his versatility that he brings to the table, most notably as a return specialist. While 2012 could be considered a down season, Miles’ 2011 season was highlighted by four return touchdowns including kick returns of 99, 98 and 95 yards, and is the school’s all-time leader in kick return yardage. Could be exactly what the Lions need.
Valero Alamo Bowl
Texas vs. Oregon State
6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State – Wheaton may be one of the more underrated players in this draft. He finally got help from the quarterback position in 2012 and it showed in his production. Wheaton was used much like James Rodgers was a year ago, both in the run game on fly sweeps and end-around, but also a speedster on the outside that can beat you downfield. His lack of size may hurt his stock, but a Day Two selection is probable.
Alex Okafor, DE, Texas – An All-Big 12 selection in 2012, Okafor is one of the standouts on the Texas defensive line. Okafor has moved all around the defensive line throughout his career, playing both inside and out, but primarily is a pass-rushing defensive end that lead the team with eight sacks. His ability to play both the run and the pass equally makes him a top prospect at the position. He could sneak into the bottom portion of Round 1, but looks more like a second day selection.
Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State – Poyer had been a solid cover corner throughout his career, but became a star for the Beavers’ defense in 2012. Poyer is very similar to Courtland Finnegan of the St. Louis Rams. Not big, but very aggressive with receivers and has the confidence that is needed to succeed at the position. There are some character concerns, but Poyer has the potential to be a top-flight corner in the NFL. He is a sure second-round pick that could sneak in at the end of Round 1. He would look very nice paired with Chris Houston next year.
Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas – If the Lions were picking at the end of Round 1 like they were expected to be prior to the 2012 season, Vaccaro would almost certainly be the selection. There is no denying that the Lions are in need of a safety more than any other position on the field, and Vaccaro would fit across from Delmas because of his versatility to play strong or free safety. That would also help if Delmas missed playing time which almost seems like a certainty at this point. If he is there when the Lions pick at the top of Round 2, he will be the selection.
Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas – The jury is still out on Jeffcoat. Still relatively new to football, Jeffcoat is a pure pass rusher that can get after the quarterback. What separates him from Okafor is his potential. Okafor is more of a sure thing, while Jeffcoat has the frame to add muscle and improve as a rushing end. If he gets healthy, Jeffcoat could be a first round selection if he decides to come out.
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
TCU vs. Michigan State
10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
Le’Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State – As many Spartans fans know, Bell was the entire offense in 2012. The junior back is a workhorse at 244 pounds, and can punish defenders who get in his way. He also has great athleticism as he displayed when Bell would leap defenders who went low to try and bring him to the ground. If teams are not put off by the amount of carries he got this past season, Bell should be gone by the end of Round 2.
Blaize Foltz, G, TCU – Foltz is a freak athlete. Never thought I would say that about a guard, but that is what he has been described as. The senior guard has some injury concerns, but has been a solid force along the TCU offensive line. Foltz will assuredly impress at the combine as well in the weightlifting portion of the drills. He could be a late-round flyer for a team looking for offensive line help.
William Gholston, DE, Michigan State – It has been a disappointing season for Gholston because of all the expectations coming into this season. If there was a makeup for the perfect defensive end, Gholston might be it. Great size, length and physical attributes that can dominate blockers, but some question if he will ever be able to put it all together. Because of the down year, Gholston may return to school. If he doesn’t, a team could reach on him because of his potential.
Johnny Adams, CB, Michigan State – Adams, a fifth-year senior, is in his third season as the starter on a top-flight defense which is always a plus. He has a lot of the traits that makeup a good cornerback with his good ball skills, physical playing style, and range. Adams may be best suited in a zone-coverage scheme. A Day Two selection looks to be in his future.
*Mike Bainbridge and Braden Shackelford also contributed to this post.