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.
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl
Mississippi State vs. Northwestern
Noon ET, ESPN2
Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State – With the Lions finishing the season in a free fall and ending up with the fifth overall pick, they may have taken themselves out of the running for Johnthan Banks who will likely get drafted in the middle or end of round one.
Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State – Jackson could find himself among the top guards in the draft if he declares. He is a three-year starter for the Bulldogs and finished the season as a second-team All-SEC selection. Watch to see if Jackson can play with some aggression against the Northwestern Wildcats as consistently being physical is a point for improvement. Jackson is considered a third round prospect heading into bowl season.
Darius Slay, CB, Mississippi State – Banks is the bigger name but Darius Slay will get drafted out of the Mississippi defensive backfield as well. He has good size at 6’1″ and 190 pounds and projects to come off the board in the fourth or fifth round.
Josh Boyd, DT, Mississippi State – Josh Boyd isn’t as dynamic of a player as former teammate and 2012 12th overall pick Fletcher Cox but there is still a lot of talent there, particularly as a run-stopping defensive tackle. Boyd could be had with a fifth or sixth round pick as it stands now but that could be on the rise.
Heart of Dallas Bowl
Purdue vs. Oklahoma State
Noon ET, ESPNU
Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State – Named First-Team all Big 12, Randle led the Big 12 in rushing with 1,351 rushing yards. Randle has great size at 6’0 200 lbs. and good speed that will translate well into the NFL. What makes Randle so enticing for a team like the Lions is his ability to catch out of the backfield- a trait sorely missed by the team this season with absence of Jahvid Best. Randle is expected to be a second day pick and could be the first running back off the board.
Quinn Sharp, P, Oklahoma State – Sharp is the number one punter in the country and one of the most accurate field goal kickers in college football. He is also two time First-Team All-American for punter and kicker. Sharp will likely be a third day pick, but would be a great player for the Lions depending on what happens with Jason Hanson. It’s also no secret that the Lions’ special team needs up grading and that should start with upgrading the punting position, which has been mediocre at best this season. The Lions could get good value with Sharp as he could take over field goal and punting responsibilities which would open up an extra roster spot. Could Sharp be the next Jason Hanson?
Josh Johnson, CB, Purdue – The senior corner finished the season with 64 tackles (4.5 for loss) and two interceptions. Johnson is First-Team All Big Ten Honorable mention and will be a third day pick. If Johnson made the Lions’ roster next season he would likely be used on the practice squad, but would be a good special teams addition with his solid tackling and 4.5 speed. It should be noted that 2012 sixth round pick Jonte Green started for the Lions at corner after seeing time on special teams due to injuries. Johnson could be a similar late round player.
South Carolina vs. Michigan
1 p.m. ET, ESPN
Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan – Lewan will have a decision to make after the Outback Bowl as he is projected to be a Top 15 selection in this year’s draft. That being said, he loves the University of Michigan and could come back for another season. This will be a great test for him as he will go up against Jadeveon Clowney, who could possibly be the No. 1 overall pick next year. The Lions secured the future with Riley Reiff, but if the team cannot retain both Backus and Cherilus, Lewan could be in play.
T.J. Johnson, C, South Carolina – Johnson was a second-team, all-conference performer in the toughest conference in college football which says quite a bit. Johnson has the size of a tackle, which could force him to switch positions in the pros, but has short arms would also hurt him if he made the switch to the outside. He is most likely a late-round pick at this point.
Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina – Had Taylor come out a year ago, he may have been a first round pick. Taylor is a freak of an athlete, standing at 6’6” with great speed of the edge. His upper body is extremely powerful, but what holds him back is his stiffness. The key to many edge rushers being successful is flexibility and how they bend. There is no doubt the potential is there for Taylor to be dominant at the next level, but will he ever realize it? That’s yet to be determined.
D.J. Swearinger, S, South Carolina – Something the Lions coaches continue to look for is versatility in the players they bring in. Swearinger brings that to the table as he can play both free and strong safety. The second-team, all-conference performer has been a standout player on a very good defense. He is a very physical safety that can play in the box, but has improved on his coverage skills as well. With good pre-draft workouts, the third round should be where he comes off the board.
Denard Robinson, Athlete, Michigan – Denard Robinson will not play quarterback in the NFL but that doesn’t mean he can’t carve out a nice career for himself. Robinson’s speed and athleticism will get him drafted and he could be a dangerous weapon for a creative offensive coordinator. He will have to add some bulk if he is to put together an NFL career of any meaningful length but he has been able to absorb a lot of hits as a primary ball carrier for the Michigan Wolverines. Where he will get drafted is up for debate but early on day three is a reasonable guess at this point.
*Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina – Lattimore won’t play in the game because of the gruesome injury he suffered in the middle of the year, but he has declared for the draft and should get a look in the middle rounds if teams clear him medically. If he had not gotten hurt, Lattimore would have been a first-round pick despite the declining value of running backs. He was a man amongst boys in college, and that hard-nosed running style will do well in the NFL if he can get back to 100 percent.
Capital One Bowl
Georgia vs. Nebraska
1 p.m. ET, ABC
Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia – Jones started his career as a 4-3 outside linebacker with the USC Trojans but the training staff wouldn’t sign off on his return to the field so he transferred to Georgia. He ends his collegiate career as a 3-4 outside linebacker that is primarily asked to rush the quarterback. His variety of skills could lead the Lions to give him a look with the fifth overall pick and would be a great choice if the Lions are willing to blitz more often.
Bacarri Rambo, FS, Georgia – Who wouldn’t love having a guy named ‘Rambo’ at the back end of a defense? Bacarri Rambo will finish his career as Georgia’s all-time interceptions leader and ranked second on the team this year for forced fumbles with three. Current projections put Rambo in round three or four.
Shawn Williams, SS, Georgia – The Lions might be in the market for more of a free safety type prospect but Shawn Williams is one of the better strong safeties in this class. He could be one of the top 100 players taken.
Daimion Stafford, FS, Nebraska – In a game full of safety prospects for Lions fans to watch, Daimion Stafford is the guy to keep an eye on when Nebraska is on defense. A fifth-sixth round pick might land Stafford in April.
Brett Maher, K, Nebraska – The Lions don’t have a need at kicker unless Jason Hanson decides to retire. Brett Maher is one of the nation’s best and could be a replacement if the Lions find themselves in need of a kicker.
Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio
Wisconsin vs. Stanford
5 p.m. ET, ESPN
Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford – Consistent disruptive play has helped solidify Chase Thomas as a potential top-75 pick. He is smart and instinctive and is able to make plays hustle plays while remaining disciplined.
Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin – It’s hard to go wrong with a Wisconsin offensive lineman. Ricky Wagner is the latest to head to the NFL from the Badgers line and he does so as a First Team All-Big Ten performer. He is currently projected as a fourth round pick.
Discover Orange Bowl
Northern Illinois vs. Florida State
8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
*Tank Carradine, DE, Florida State – It’s really a shame that Carradine suffered a torn ACL at the end of the year against Florida, because he had really asserted himself as a top player at the position and a possible first-round draft pick. Carradine was not used as much earlier in his career at FSU, but an injury to Brandon Jenkins allowed Carradine to step into the starting role and shine. He finished 2012 with 11.0 sacks, and is likely now a mid-round selection because of the injury.
Dustin Hopkins, K, Florida State – As much as Lions fans hate the idea, Jason Hanson will retire at some point. It sounds like he may come back for one more season, but the Lions may be wise to do some research on other kickers in case Hanson decides otherwise. Hopkins converted on 24 of 28 field goals this season, and finished as the all-time kick scorer in FBS history.
Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State – Come April, Werner could very well be the Lions pick at 5th overall. Werner was the ACC defensive player of the year with 13.0 sacks and 18.0 tackles for loss. Originally from Germany, Werner has the prototypical size and speed of a 4-3 end, and will almost assuredly be a top-five selection this upcoming draft. He has been compared to Chris Long of the Rams who had an outstanding 2012 season and was drafted second overall. With both Avril and Vanden Bosch potentially not being back next season, DE is a top position of need.
Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State – Rhodes is a cornerback with some health concerns so he may be a perfect fit for the Lions. All kidding aside, he is a very intriguing prospect at 6’2”, 215 pounds. Rhodes was a first-team, all-conference performer in 2012, and improved in a lot of the areas that he struggled with at the beginning of his college career. If he comes out, Rhodes may be a first-round draft pick.
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