Bowl Watch I

We begin Jim Wexell's three-part series on draft prospects who should interest Steelers fans this bowl season.

My advice over the years won't change this bowl season because of the four-team playoff:

Ignore the annual wailing about "meaningless bowl games," because they mean plenty to those of us who pay attention to the NFL and are doing our best to filter the list of prospects.

I have my favorites, but from limited study. And now we have a chance to re-set and take a closer look before reviewing all of the tape stored on our DVRs.

Or something like that.

But, yes, it's bowl time and these are the players -- the first in a three-part series -- who interest me as someone who covers the Pittsburgh Steelers:

Saturday, Dec. 20

New Orleans Bowl, 11:05 a.m. - Nevada vs. Louisiana-Lafayette. Not much here except a mid-round QB prospect, Nevada's Cody Fajardo (#17). Experts talk about him filling the void that is the middle rounds of this position, but then the Steelers most likely won't draft anyone to compete with Landry Jones as he enters his third season.

New Mexico Bowl, 2:25 p.m. - UTEP vs. Utah State. Sean Kugler has turned UTEP around in a short time with a run-oriented offense, but right now he has nothing of interest for the draft except a QB and blocking TE who have free-agent grades. Utah State also has an athletic quarterback, Chuckie Keeton (#16), who could rise into fourth-round area with a good bowl, combine and/or pro day.

Las Vegas Bowl, 3:35 p.m. - Utah vs. Colorado State. Best game of the day, and within it is best matchup of the week. I haven't watched Utah yet, but am interested in OLB-DE Nate Orchard (#8), a 6-4, 255-pounder who's piled up 17.5 sacks this season. Another intriguing Utah prospect is 6-1 CB Eric Rowe (#18), a former safety and a physical cover man in the Steelers mold. A third top prospect in this game is Colorado State left tackle Ty Sambrailo (#51). It's rare to have two first-round possibilities going up against each other on the first day of bowls, but that's what we'll get with the Orchard-Sambrailo matchup. Colorado State QB Garrett Grayson (#18) is another mid-round prospect.

Camellia Bowl, 9:20 p.m. - South Alabama vs. Bowling Green. Must be the day to look at QBs the Steelers won't draft. I know. I know. I'm not getting into inside linebackers or wide receivers here, so why pay attention to a position at which the Steelers have three? Well, because I think they should add a fourth late in the draft. They won't. But they should. And here's this game's interesting QB: South Alabama's Brandon Bridge (#7), a 6-5, 235-pounder with raw skills.

Monday, Dec. 22

Miami Beach Bowl, 2:05 p.m. - BYU vs. Memphis. Remember when Memphis was so bad we couldn't find any tape on NT Dontari Poe? Well, now the Tigers are in a bowl but don't have a prospect worth recommending, at least to Steelers fans. BYU has a 6-7, 265-pounder DE/OLB in Bronson Kaufusi (#90) and a 6-0 CB in Robertson Daniel (#4). Kaufisi is a junior who struggled this season as he went back and forth between DE and OLB but is worth keeping an eye on.

Tuesday, Dec. 23

Boca Raton Bowl, 6:05 p.m. - Northern Illinois vs. Marshall. Another mid to late-round QB in Marshall's Rakeem Cato (#12). And if you really must tape this game, Marshall also has a 6-5, 271-pound NT in James Rouse (#11) who projects to 3-4 DE as a late-rounder. The safety for Northern Illinois, DeChane Durante (#1), will probably be drafted higher than both Marshall players.

Wednesday, Dec. 24

Bahamas Bowl, 12:05 p.m. - Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky. CMU is the school Antonio Brown made famous and the Chippewas have a WR named Titus Davis (#84). He's 6-2 and is only mentioned here because of A.B. and WKy CB Cam Thomas (#19), who's 6-1. His matchup with Davis will help us make a better call on a potential second-round CB.

Aloha Bowl, 8:05 p.m. - Fresno State vs. Rice. There's nothing worse than trying to judge safeties on TV. The Steelers have Mike Mitchell, Shamarko Thomas and Robert Golden under wraps, so you decide whether you want to try to watch FSU FS Derron Smith (#13). If you prefer to do something else on Christmas Eve, you can watch Smith at the Senior Bowl. Fresno also has a late-round 6-0 CB in Curtis Riley (#9). Rice's late-round WR, Jordan Taylor (#15), will provide the matchup there.

Friday, Dec. 26

Quick Lane Bowl, 4:35 p.m. - Rutgers vs. North Carolina. Bad day for prospects, but the Steelers should be looking at late-round tight ends and Rutgers has one in Tyler Kroft (#86).

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