Bowl Watch III

The final part of the Bowl series from Jim Wexell arrives just in time for the New Years Day games.

Yep, the Pittsburgh Steelers are playing the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night in the NFL playoffs and I'm writing about draft prospects.

Well, somebody has to do it, and I can't wait another week to finish this Bowl Prospects series, so excuse my nerdiness. I'll get back to the Steelers right after I'm finished writing this story.

Again, these are my favorite college prospects who might fit into the Steelers' plans next season:

Thursday, Jan. 1

Outback Bowl, 12:05 p.m. - Wisconsin vs. Auburn. Melvin Gordon (25) is the feature attraction in this game, but will certainly be too rich for the blood of a Steelers backfield that, ironically, could really use him on Saturday. Auburn has a late-round runner, Corey Grant (20), who doubles as a punt gunner and also returns kickoffs. They also have a decent free safety in Jermaine Whitehead (9) who missed much of the season with an injury. NT Gabe Wright (90) might be worth a look, but don't figure me as much of a fan.

Cotton Bowl, 12:35 p.m. - Michigan State vs. Baylor. With its mid-round quarterback and talented receivers, Baylor should be able to give Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes (15) a legitimate challenge. Big 10 teams normally have lacked both elements and Waynes has been somewhat quiet throughout the season. He's 6-1 and as physical as a tall skinny corner can be, but this game should be the one to gauge him. I also like the MSU free safety, Kurt Drummond (27), as a mid to late-rounder. And MSU's senior runner, Jeremy Langford (33), might be a logical mid to late-round backup for Le'Veon Bell. Redshirt sophomore Jack Conklin (74) is another prized left tackle who could come out early. Both teams have good quarterbacks, but, again, the Steelers are unlikely to draft one. Baylor's left tackle, Spencer Drango (58), is a bit overrated in my opinion, but with so many left tackles in this draft Drango could go from overrated to underrated in the fourth or fifth round.

Citrus Bowl, 1:05 p.m. - Minnesota vs. Missouri. Bookend pass-rushers Shane Ray (56) and Markus Golden (33) of Missouri are the feature attractions here. Both are 3-4 OLB candidates. Ray is the quick-twitch blind-side rusher who'll be gone by the Steelers' first pick. Golden might be the more consistent player and might be available in the third round. Also for Mizzou, RB/RS Marcus Murphy could fill needs if the Steelers give up on Dri Archer. Minnesota RB David Cobb (27) could interest them in that regard, although the 220-pound Cobb is more RB than RS. Minnesota TE Maxx Williams (88) just declared for the draft after reportedly receiving a second-round grade from the advisory board.

Playoff Game Rose Bowl, 5:05 p.m. - Florida State vs. Oregon. In a game that features the last two Heisman Trophy winners leading their respective teams in a delicious playoff matchup, I'm going to start with the interior offensive line of Florida State. Hey, why not? But you may remember that I liked the demeanor of left tackle Cameron Erving (75) last year. I remember watching him drive his man all the way to the sideline, and then he kept going. Loved that nasty attitude. Well, he struggled a bit at LT this season so FSU moved him to center and a home was found. I'm assuming the 6-5, 304-pounder could also play both guard spots and right tackle. So what you have here is a man who could play all five positions, and the Steelers could use a guy like that. So if you get bored with the QBs who'll most likely be the first two picks of the draft, watch Erving, as well as his guards, in particular Josue Matias (70), the powerful left guard who likes to get out in front of screens and look for people to hit. Nick O'Leary (35) might be the top tight end in the draft this season, but he's only 6-3 and could last until the third round. Even then, I doubt the Steelers would look at the position so early. Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth are still playing well, and my colleague Dale Lolley tells me Rob Blanchflower has looked much-improved in practice late this season. On defense for Florida State, keep a close eye on left cornerback P.J. Williams (26). He proved he was tough enough in the last game against Georgia Tech, but I want to see if he's fast enough. Another concern for this potential first-rounder is his character. He was allegedly the driver in a hit-and-run that didn't paint a pretty picture of him or his school. Williams' cornerback counterpart, Ronald Darby (3), was also involved but wasn't the driver. Darby's had a lousy season and looks like a late-rounder. Oregon, as an 8-point favorite in this game, should probably get more space here than Florida State, but the Steelers will never get a whiff of the QB, and they aren't looking at strict centers, so that leaves 6-7 defensive lineman Arik Armstead (9), who's a potential 5-tech that I haven't been able to watch this season due to an injury, and Tony Washington (91), yet another interesting 3-4 OLB prospect.

Playoff Game Sugar Bowl, 8:35 p.m. - Ohio State vs. Alabama. Alabama has a beatable secondary, but the top playmaking DB in the country is Alabama strong safety Landon Collins (26). He's a physical and fast playmaker who would be a natural successor to Troy Polamalu. But, the Steelers believe they have that guy in Shamarko Thomas. Collins, though, could slip to the bottom of the first round and force a decision. The other Alabama player who interests me is running back T.J. Yeldon (4), because he's not the great back I thought he was and could be available in the fourth round or so. His style is similar to that of Bell's, so Yeldon would make sense if he does slip into those middle rounds. For Ohio State, Michael Bennett (63) is my favorite defensive tackle in this draft, but he's more of a 3-tech for a 4-3 team. I'm also trying to get a handle on physical CB Doran Grant (12), and the great Alabama WR Amari Cooper (9) should show us what kind of ability Grant has. Ohio State also has a tight end in Jeff Heuerman (5) who blocks better that one would expect from an H-back type.

Friday, Jan. 2

Armed Forces Bowl, 12:05 p.m. - Pitt vs. Houston. Pitt has three blue-chippers, but two of them are sophomores. That leaves this show for T.J. Clemmings (68), my favorite right tackle in the draft. Can he play left tackle? Probably won't find out until the Senior Bowl, if then. As for Houston, 6-3 WR Deontay Greenberry (3) has NFL speed, size and skills and the Steelers could be on the lookout for a quality receiver to slip into the later rounds.

Taxslayer Bowl, 3:25 p.m. - Iowa vs. Tennessee. The knock on Iowa LT Brandon Scherff (68) is footwork, and that he'll have to move to guard in the NFL. I don't see much of a problem. Yes, he's probably better built to be a guard, but I would take this guy for either position. I love the way he finishes blocks. He comes out fired up and stays that way.

Alamo Bowl, 6:50 p.m. - UCLA vs. Kansas State. Owamagbe Odighizuwa (94) is the guy to watch here. He's a short but powerful 4-3 defensive end whom I want badly to move to 3-4 OLB. Maybe it's a stretch, because he moves inside for UCLA on pass downs. Steelers LBer Jordan Zumwalt, from UCLA, has talked to me about Owa the Asskicker on a couple of occasions. Zumwalt agrees with me that even if Owa's not a scheme fit he would be a great addition. So I would like to take him for his strength and physicality at the point of attack, even if he just plays a couple of different spots on the line on pass downs. Maybe he can lose a few pounds and turn into a LaMarr Woodley type outside, or maybe he can add a few pounds and become a unique piece to the DL. Watch him here and decide for yourself. Ellis McCarthy (90) is a third-round DT/NT prospect for UCLA. Kansas State, in my opinion, has the best return man in the country in Tyler Lockett (16).

Cactus Bowl, 10:20 p.m. - Oklahoma State vs. Washington. You see his name affiliated with the Steelers on early mock drafts, and I've resisted the urge to agree with those draftnicks about Washington DT Danny Shelton (55) because I believe the Steelers are set with a veteran and a rookie at NT. Then again, can Steve McLendon stay healthy? And if there aren't any cornerbacks of value, perhaps the value pick could be Shelton. So watch him and see if he can some day play the nose in the NFL and turn the Steelers' young D-line into a great strength. Oklahoma State has a raw RB/WR/RS in the Archer mode, except only bigger in speedster Tyreek Hill (24). He's a junior and might not come out, but he looks like everything the Steelers wanted Archer to be. And Hill doesn't really have a position, so he could be a find in the late third or early fourth rounds.

Saturday, Jan. 3

Birmingham Bowl, 12:05 p.m. - East Carolina vs. Florida. It used to take so long to get through a Florida tape, but I only have to watch pass-rusher Dante Fowler (6) in this one. He's another in a long line of DE/OLB first-round prospects, meaning that one could slip to the Steelers. Hey, even if they re-sign Jason Worilds and Arthur Moats, the Steelers will need a fourth on their roster to replace James Harrison and push Jarvis Jones. It's a great position to have competition if the value in the first round is too great to ignore. For ECU, WR Justin Hardy (2) is a late-round prospect. After watching another day of interception practice (CB confidence building?) from Landry Jones and Bruce Gradkowski, QB Shane Carden (5) might look pretty good as a seventh-rounder.

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