Prospect Watch

Here's Jim Wexell's handy numeric guide to the Bowl Prospects to Watch for Steelers fans. The bowl season kicks off this afternoon, so here's Part I:

It's that time of year again, Bowl Season. So here are the Prospects to Watch for the first half of this ever-expanding lineup. It kicks off this afternoon with the New Mexico Bowl. Part II will be published a few days before New Year's Day.

This list was made with the Pittsburgh Steelers in mind. I've seen most of the players, but am interested in late-risers and will take a first look here. If the bowl's not listed, it's because I don't want to waste your time with undraftables or those – such as a first-round QB type – that won't be in the Steelers' plans.

Saturday, Dec. 18

New Mexico Bowl, 2 p.m. – BYU vs. UTEP I won't set my DVR for this one, but I will take a quick peak at BYU junior LT/RT Matt Reynolds (70). I watched him early and couldn't believe he was being considered a first-rounder. He has size and decent feet, but wasn't finishing his blocks and that bugged me. I was probably was watching too much Maurkice Pouncey at the time.

Humanitarian Bowl, 5:30 p.m. – Northern Illinois vs. Fresno State. Northern Illinois has intrigued me all season with its gaudy run stats and numerous and routine blowouts. As a discerning college football "punter," I've been biding my time for this team to appear as an underdog against a decent team this bowl season. But, alas, NIU was upset in the MAC championship game by Miami, a team that was 1-11 the previous year. Now I'm more interested in the Miami (Ohio) coach because that was quite a feat against an NIU squad that hasn't been this powerful since Michael Turner was burning it up. Too bad there are no prospects here. A

New Orleans Bowl, 9 p.m. – Ohio vs. Troy. Troy has a 5-9 WR, Jerrel Jerrigan (3), who supposedly runs a 4.3. He's a projected third-rounder.

Tuesday, Dec. 21

St. Petersburg Bowl, 8 p.m. – Southern Mississippi vs. Louisville. Haven't seen either team, but Louisville has a couple of players who've risen into the upper mid-rounds in CB Johnny Patrick (19) and RB Bilal Powell (15).

Wednesday, Dec. 22

Las Vegas Bowl, 8 p.m. – Utah vs. Boise State. What a disappointing landing spot for these teams, but what a coup for this bowl. Utah's junior CB Brandon Burton (27) looked like a first-round stud against Pitt's Jonathan Baldwin, but then struggled against TCU and Notre Dame. I don't know whether the kid got worse or that I had overrated Baldwin coming into the season. The answer came to me as I watched Baldwin play lazily the rest of the season. Boise State has a mid-round safety in Jeron Johnson (23), a late-round 3-4 DE prospect in Ryan Winterswyk (98) and a Drew Brees-type junior QB in Kellen Moore (11), but the relevant players to watch are third-round senior WRs Titus Young (1) and Austin Pettis (2). They'll face two solid corners, so it could be revealing.

Thursday, Dec. 23

Poinsettia Bowl Bowl, 8 p.m. – Navy vs. San Diego State. SDSU WR Vincent Brown (80) is the only player of note here. He's a projected mid-rounder.

Monday, Dec. 27

Independence Bowl, 5 p.m. – Air Force vs. Georgia Tech. Can't see the Steelers being interested in another Tech FB. This one, Anthony Allen (18), is just as big as Jonathan Dwyer, but has bad hands. You'll hear the experts talk up Tech CB Mario Butler (2), but to me he's just another skinny cover guy who avoids contact.

Tuesday, Dec. 28

Champs Bowl, 6:30 p.m. – West Virginia vs. North Carolina State. Let's start with NC State. ILB Nate Irving (56) should be commended for his courageous comeback from a car accident, but he hasn't had a good season and the Steelers really don't need small linebackers. Junior TE George Bryan (84) is a decent two-way mid-rounder. For WVU, speedy RB Noel Devine (7) is small and hurt all the time, and the Steelers already have enough speedy smurfs like WR Jock Sanders (9). CB Brandon Hogan (22) is fast and physical, but he's been in too much trouble. King-size FS Robert Sands (2) should stay in school another year to hone his instincts.

Insight Bowl, 10 p.m. – Missouri vs. Iowa. Missouri has some outstanding junior talent that will most likely stay in school. Iowa is loaded with defensive talent, starting up front with elite DE Adrian Clayborn (94) and then DT/DE Christian Ballard (46). The latter would interest the Steelers in the second round – maybe even the first if measures and times well at the combine. He's a potential 5-tech and someone to keep an eye on here. He even plays nose on passing downs, although he looks nothing like an NT. OLB Jeremiha Hunter (42) is an underrated, smooth, intelligent, athletic player who should be of later-round interest to a Steelers team that might need one more ILB if James Farrior retires. SS Tyler Sash (9) is always around the ball and is a fan favorite. On offense for Iowa, QB Ricky Stanzi (12) might interest if he falls into the late fourth or early fifth rounds.

Wednesday, Dec. 29

Military Bowl, 2:30 p.m. – East Carolina vs. Maryland. ECU could have the worst defense in bowl history, but the Pirates have a mid-round WR prospect in Dwayne Harris (17).

Texas Bowl, 6 p.m. – Illinois vs. Baylor. Illinois came on strong behind 230-pound junior RB Mikel LeShoure (5). Baylor has a pair of huge linemen, one, 352-pound NT Phil Taylor (98), was kicked out of Penn State, and the other, 310-pound OT Danny Watkins (59), is enjoying a breakout season.

Alamo Bowl, 9:15 p.m. – Oklahoma State vs. Arizona. Arguably, the best WR in the country is Okie State redshirt-sophomore Justin Blackmon (81) (I still prefer Alshon Jeffery and A.J. Green). I'll also argue that OSU RB Kendall Hunter (24) is too small, at 5-8, to be considered as high as he'll go. An OSU sleeper is 3-4 OLB prospect Ugo Chinasa (91), who's long, athletic, and loved by his coach. Arizona's best prospect is junior QB Nick Foles (8) and its top senior is tenacious 3-4 OLB prospect Ricky Elmore (44). One of the late-risers to whom I've been alerted is OT Adam Grant (78).


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