NFL Draft: Bowling For Dollars (Part I)

The college bowl season can help the top senior prospects solidify their draft status and help determine the futures of many top underclassmen like North Carolina WR Hakeem Nicks (pictured left). With the bowl games underway,'s Chris Steuber identifies some of the top individual performances and where those prospects are projected to go in the 2009 draft.

OLB/DE, *Jerry Hughes, TCU

The nation’s leading sack artist, Hughes continued to pressure the quarterback at the Poinsettia Bowl and recorded four tackles and a sack against Boise State. After a narrow 17 – 16 victory over the Broncos, Hughes, a junior, now faces a tough decision on his football future. He’s a perfect fit for a 3-4 defense and could elevate his draft status into the top-20 after a 52-tackle (19.5 for a loss), 15-sack breakout season to go along with a strong offseason.

Draft Projection: First Round

LB, *Gerald McRath, Southern Miss

The most complete linebacker many people never heard of, McRath is always around the ball and makes a lot of plays in the backfield. He showcased that ability in the New Orleans Bowl against Troy where he had 11 tackles and a sack. McRath, who finished the season with 137 tackles, 9.5 for a loss and 1.5 sacks, is a junior and will be tempted to leave school early for the NFL. He will be a sure Day One selection and could emerge as a late first round pick.

Draft Projection: Late First, Early Second Round

Nicks' performance at the Meineke Car Care Bowl may have him leaning towards the NFL.
AP/Nell Redmond

WR, *Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina

Another underclassmen who made headlines in a bowl game was Nicks. The Tar Heels leading receiver, who’s been debating whether or not to turn pro, may have made up his mind after the performance he had in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Nicks was the shining star for North Carolina in their 31 – 30 defeat against West Virginia as he hauled in eight catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns. If this was Nicks’ last game in Carolina Blue, the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder should be among the top five receivers taken in the ’09 draft.

Draft Projection: Second Round

LB, Tyrone McKenzie, South Florida

A consistent performer who possesses excellent leadership qualities, McKenzie starred in a lop-sided contest, which saw his South Florida Bulls defeat Memphis 41 – 14. McKenzie led the Bulls defensive attack, which allowed just 238 total yards (172 passing; 66 rushing) with 11 tackles. He finished the season with 116 tackles, 15 for a loss, a sack and an interception. McKenzie will participate in the East-West Shrine game, an opportunity to solidify his status as a Day One selection.

Draft Projection: Second to Third Round

QB, Pat White, West Virginia

A player that everyone is convinced will have to switch positions at the next level, White saved his last performance as West Virginia’s quarterback for last. White completed 81.3-percent of his passes for 332 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. In his first 300-yard passing performance, the usually dynamic White didn’t have much success on the ground; he had 55 rushing yards on 22 carries. But his success through the air will give an NFL team some options. With the adoption of the Wildcat formation at the NFL level, a multi-dimensional weapon like White holds a lot of value. White will have an opportunity at the Senior Bowl to prove to scouts that he’s capable of playing quarterback, and with a solid offseason, he could be a late Day One selection.

Draft Projection: Late Second to Early Third Round

LB, Zack Follett, California

Follett is a hard-hitting linebacker who has a nose for the football, and he showed that unique ability against Miami at the Emerald Bowl. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Follett recorded nine tackles, four for a loss, a forced fumble and two sacks in the Golden Bears 24 – 17 victory. He’s the heart and soul of Cal’s defense and is a tremendous leader. His intimidating style of play will fit well at the next level, and if he maintains his consistent level of play, he will be an early Day Two selection.

Draft Projection: Third Round

One of the premier kickers in the nation, Gano finds himself in the mix to be the first one off the board in April.
AP/John Raoux

K/P, Graham Gano, Florida State

One of the top combo kicking specialists in the nation, Gano was a major reason why Florida State dominated Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl, 42 - 13. Gano pinned the Badgers inside their own 20 four out of the five punts he attempted, which added fuel to the Seminoles’ defensive fire. Not only was Gano exceptional on his punt attempts, but he was perfect converting extra points; he went 6-for-6. The Lou Garza Award Winner and the MVP of the Champs Sports Bowl, Gano will compete with Utah’s Louie Sakoda this offseason for the right to be the first kicker taken in the draft. 

Draft Projection: Third to Fourth Round

LB, Frantz Joseph, Florida Atlantic

The best linebacker in the country that doesn’t receive any attention is Joseph, and after his performance at the Motor City Bowl, his stock is about to soar. In the Owls 24 – 21 victory over Central Michigan, Joseph recorded 13 tackles, which gave him a total of 154 for the season, and was strong at the point of attack. The former Boston College recruit will continue his ascension this offseason when scouts get a chance to view him up close and personal.

Draft Projection: Fourth Round

LB, *Boris Lee, Troy

Not considered to be a top prospect in a draft that could potentially be flooded at the linebacker position, Lee is a big time playmaker at a school that’s produced some impact players over the last few seasons. Lee put his talents on display at the New Orleans Bowl, in which Troy lost in overtime to Southern Miss 30 – 27, and had 10 tackles and two sacks. Only a junior, Lee finished the season with 98.5 tackles, 9.5 for a loss, 4.5 sacks and two interceptions. The 6-foot, 235-pound Lee will most likely stay in school for his senior year, and if he continues to progress, he could emerge as a Day One selection in the 2010 draft.

Draft Projection: Fifth Round

TE, Kory Sperry, Colorado State

A player with a lot of potential at the tight end position, Sperry didn’t have a breakout game like his teammate Gartrell Johnson, but he flashed his ability as a deep threat against Fresno State. With nine seconds remaining in a back and forth first half, Sperry ran a go-route to the far corner of the endzone and pulled in a 22-yard, Billy Farris pass by leaping over two Bulldog defenders. It was Sperry’s only catch of the day, but it was an athletic catch by a big man that gets scouts excited.

Draft Projection: Fifth to Sixth Round

Johnson doesn't have elite speed, but his tough running style will score points in the NFL.
AP/Ross D. Franklin

RB, Gartrell Johnson, Colorado State

A strong runner with deceptive quickness, Johnson stormed on the scene at the New Mexico Bowl and rushed for 285 yards on 27 carries and scored two touchdowns. He was also a contributor in the receiving game as he hauled in five receptions for 90 yards. Johnson ran tough between the tackles, showed the ability to get on the edge and surprised Fresno State with his elusiveness in the open field. This performance will put Johnson in a favorable situation as he heads to the East-West Shrine game where plenty of scouts will be in attendance. 

Draft Projection: Sixth Round

SS, Stephen Hodge, TCU

A defender who caused all kinds of problems for Boise State at the Poinsettia Bowl was Hodge. He was all over the field and had a game that will do wonders for him heading into the offseason. Hodge finished with 11 tackles, three for a loss, an interception and a sack. A tremendous leader on defense, Hodge finished the season with 81 tackles, 10 for a loss, three sacks and an interception. He’s a late round prospect who does a lot of the dirty work and could be a steal.

Draft Projection: Sixth Round

LB, DeAndre Levy, Wisconsin

In a game where Wisconsin didn’t play a lot of defense against Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl, the Badgers had one bright spot in linebacker DeAndre Levy. Levy recorded eight tackles and two sacks against the Seminoles and finds his stock on a steady rise heading into the offseason. For the season, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Levy finished second on the team in tackles (65) and tackles for a loss (7.5). He may not receive the hype his teammates Matt Shaughnessy and Jonathan Casillas get, but he’s been consistent and will be a steal in the late rounds.

Draft Projection: Sixth Round


*denotes underclassmen

A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the network and on If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at:

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