Gildan New Mexico Bowl
Arizona vs. New Mexico - 2:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
ILB Scooby Wright III, 6-foot-1, 246 pounds (#33, Junior)
I actually highlighted Wright III back in September when Arizona faced off against UCLA, so I won't go into too great of detail on him now. Wright will suit up for the first time in almost three months after dealing with a foot injury, so I expect to see a lot of rust from the third-year linebacker.
Wright's playing style is very aggressive, with a dose of recklessness. His overzealous demeanor when shooting the gap often causes him to overcommit and put himself out of position to make the play. It works a lot of the time, and he even led the NCAA in tackles last year, but he also misses almost as many plays as he makes, which is a big no-no for NFL scouts.
I know some draftniks that are very high on SWIII, but all I see is a late-round inside backer that can provide depth and nothing more. I would absolutely advise him to stay another year in school to build up his resume, especially since he's only laced up for a pair of games this year and has dealt with the injury bug.
OT Lene Maiava, 6-foot-5, 301 pounds (#77, RS Senior)
Maiava is a guy I see going in the later rounds and could possibly wind up being undrafted. He's played both guard positions as well as right tackle for the Wildcats and I believe that he's best suited to play the former. His feet are a bit slow and he plays far too upright in his stance, which causes him to lose the leverage battle quite often. Moving back inside could help mitigate Maiava's issues as a tackle. Maiava has frying pans for hands that deliver a jarring punch which gives him a huge edge in the run blocking department.
You may have also seen Maiava getting his team and the crowd pumped up with the Haka dance that was made famous by the New Zealand Rugby team years ago. Seeing that murderous look in his eyes makes me wonder whether he'll choose the career path of a serial killer if things don't work out on the football field.
Maiava will face off against a weak New Mexico defense and has also been invited to participate in this year's East/West Shrine game on Jan. 23.
Other players to watch:
DE Reggie Gilbert, 6-foot-3, 262 pounds (#8, RS Senior) - Invited to NFLPA Collegiate Bowl Game on Jan. 23
SS Will Parks, 6-foot-0, 195 pounds (#11, Senior)
New Mexico players to watch:
RB Jhurell Pressley, 5-foot-10, 200 pounds (#6, Senior)
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
BYU vs. #23 Utah - 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
Bronson Kaufusi, 6-foot-6, 265 pounds (#90, Senior)
Kaufusi has steadily increased his production throughout his collegiate career and is currently leading the Independent Conference (why does this even exist) with 10 sacks and 16 tackles for a loss. That's actually pretty impressive considering the fact that BYU often lines Kaufusi up in a two-point stance when he has no business doing so. He's an average athlete with good but not great bend and looks unbearably stiff in coverage, but I think he will be a solid mid-late round option at defensive end.
Other players to watch:
OT Ryker Mathews, 6-foot-5, 320 pounds (#72, Senior) - No relation to Ryan Mathews
WR Mitch Mathews, 6-foot-6, 215 pounds (#10, Senior) - Also no relation
WR Devon Blackmon, 6-foot-1, 185 pounds (#19, Senior)
RB Devontae Booker, 5-foot-11, 212 pounds (#23, Senior)
I grew fond of Booker's skillset last year ever since I dived into former Utah OT Jeremiah Poutasi's film last year. In fact, I found myself completely dozing off and focusing on Booker rather than jotting down notes on Poutasi. Booker really jumps out on film as a magnificent runner, but it's his ability to catch passes and make defenders miss in open space that makes him one of the best RB prospects in the country. His speed, quickness and true one-cut ability makes him a great option in a zone-blocking scheme, but he also has the patience and vision to thrive in a power-blocking scheme.
Booker's number one blemish is definitely his poor effort and technique in pass protection. I don't think Utah QB Travis Wilson is a big fan of Booker olé-ing defenders and getting him murdered, but I could be wrong. I also noticed that Booker can sometimes play with a high center of gravity, making him an easy target to tackle below the waist.
I'm still in the process of ranking RBs, but Booker is a near lock to be in my top-5 or 6 in this year's class. He's special.
Unfortunately, Devontae Booker is actually not available for today's game and will require knee surgery, but he's a name you'll need to know leading up to the draft.
Other players to watch:
ILB Jared Norris, 6-foot-1, 240 pounds (#41, Senior) - Senior Bowl invitee
P Tom Hackett, 5-foot-11, 195 pounds (#33, Senior) - Punters are people too.
DE Jason Fanaika, 6-foot-2, 270 pounds (#51, Senior) - Senior Bowl invitee
OLB Gionni Paul, 5-foot-10, 225 pounds (#13, Senior)
C Sioasi Aiono, 6-foot-2, 310 pounds (#60, Senior) - Talked a bit about him here.
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Arkansas State vs. Louisiana Tech - 9:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
TE Darion Griswold, 6-foot-5, 264 pounds (#19, Senior)
Hooray! Tight ends! Sadly, we're going to be talking about tight ends all offseason because the Lions, despite their efforts, still need one. Badly. I've seen Griswold mentioned in the Draft community as one of the more underrated prospects, but I'm not quite seeing it yet. Hopefully this bowl game will shine some light on him as a prospect. For now, all I see is a slow, big-bodied lumbering tight end that struggles to separate in the pass game. He's also not used very often as an in-line blocker and struggles to keep his feet underneath him as a run blocker. Still, he's the best shot that Arkansas State has at getting one of their players drafted.
RB Kenneth Dixon, 5-foot-10, 212 pounds (#28, Senior)
I'm saving the best for last here because I absolutely love some of the talent on this Louisiana Tech team. I'm diving into 'hot take' territory when I say that Kenneth Dixon could end up being as high as my No. 2 or No. 3 RB in this class, but it's true. He is damn good and there aren't enough people out there talking about him. As a Freshman, Dixon led the entire NCAA in total touchdowns from scrimmage and has been LA Tech's most productive option out of the backfield ever since.
There really aren't many negatives to Dixon's game that I can think of. He has lightning quick feet with great lateral agility as well as some wiggle to make defenders miss. He runs with a low center of gravity and his exceptional balance makes him a hassle to bring down. You'll rarely see Dixon dancing and trying to bounce outside unless absolutely necessary because he's a true north/south runner that takes what he's given and fights for the extra couple of yards. I also love that he's not a liability in pass protection. He actually does a wonderful job of keeping his feet in front of the defender to finish his blocks.
An obvious, and probably the biggest knock on Dixon right now is the weak competition he's had to face. It's often a legitimate concern, but in this case I think it's overblown. He's the real deal.
Dixon is quickly becoming one of my draft crushes this year and I wouldn't be surprised if his stock continues to rise leading up to the draft. He's one of Louisiana Tech's three invitees to this year's Senior Bowl.
DT Vernon Butler, 6-foot-3, 309 pounds (#9, Senior)
Butler is another Senior Bowl invitee. I've yet to actually see Vernon Butler play, so I'm pretty excited to get my first look at the New Orleans Bowl. CBS Sports currently has Butler graded as a third-round pick and their 88th overall ranked player, so that's some early praise for a small school DT. Since I'm unable to provide any real opinion on Butler, I'll quote Greg Gabriel from the National Football Post:
Vernon is a consistent player with a good motor. Has the required initial quickness and shows some explosiveness coming out of his stance. Is best as a run defender, but flashed as a pass rusher. Needs to develop his hand use and moves to become better as a pass rusher. The traits are there, it is more a matter of coaching and development. Best football should be in front of him. Should be scheme versatile and be able to play in a 3-4 or 4-3. Not a premium round guy at this point but he has the traits to be an eventual starter in the league. There is a lot to like about this player.
Other players to watch:
CB Adairius Barnes, 5-foot-11, 186 pounds (#21, Senior)
QB Jeff Driskel, 6-foot-4, 234 pounds (#6, Senior) - Senior Bowl invitee
WR Paul Turner, 5-foot-10, 192 pounds (#3, RS Senior)
Other games to watch:
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
Ohio vs. Appalachian State - 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
Autonation Cure Bowl
San Jose State vs. Georgia State - 7:00 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network