The 2017-18 slate of college football bowl games is upon us, and with that, some interesting matchups across the nation. College football fans get their last looks at their teams for the year, while NFL fans can potentially get their first viewing at some top draft-eligible players their favorite team may take in the 2018 NFL Draft.
With the games as sporadic as they are during bowl season, we at PFF have split the games up into weeks, and will give you a preview of some of every bowl game’s top draft-eligible players to watch. Be it a quarterback, a cornerback, anyone on the interior at the line of scrimmage and all in between, PFF’s Draft Team has you covered on who to watch, with eyes on the 2018 NFL Draft.
Friday, December 22
Bahamas Bowl – 12:30 PM ET
UAB Blazers vs Ohio Bobcats
UAB CB Darious Williams
PFF’s second-highest graded cornerback this season is in action, fresh off his First Team All-American selection by PFF. Williams was solid in every facet this season, registering 57 total tackles with just three missed tackle attempts. In coverage, Williams added 17 plays on the ball (four interceptions, 13 pass breakups) and allowed just a passer rating of 45.5 into his coverage. His most impressive stretch of games came from Weeks 7-10 where he recorded an interception in four consecutive games. He’s a small school sleeper of a prospect with range and great ball skills to keep your eye on.
Ohio LB Quentin Poling
Poling is an extremely versatile linebacker in the Bobcats system and now has four consecutive seasons of 50-plus tackles and 35-plus defensive stops. He’s graded positively in each of his four seasons for Ohio and he’s registered at least 16 quarterback pressures in three of his four seasons as well. He has also demonstrated solid coverage skills as he’s brought in seven career interceptions and nine career pass breakups.
Other names to watch: Ohio RB Dorian Briwn, Ohio WR Papi White, Ohio OL Joe Anderson, Ohio LB Chad Moore, Ohio CB Bradd Elliss, UAB DL Stacy Keely.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl – 4:00 PM ET
Central Michigan Chippewas vs Wyoming Cowboys
Central Michigan edge defender Joe Ostman
All eyes will be on Wyoming QB Josh Allen in this one – but be sure to watch Ostman rushing the Cowboys signal-caller as he has been one of the nation’s most effective at getting after opposing quarterbacks. Ostman recorded multiple pressures in all but one game this season, and finished the year with 12 sacks, seven QB hits and 23 QB hurries. He missed two games with injury and still was able to accumulate the 17th-most pressures among all 4-3 defensive ends. Allen’s passer rating dips all the way down to 56.1 when he’s pressured this season, 83rd-lowest among 145 qualified quarterbacks. The combined pressure from Ostman and fellow edge defender Mike Danna will be a major factor in this game.
Wyoming S Andrew Wingard
Again, there will be much to say about the play of their quarterback, but when the Cowboys are on defense, Wingard should prove pivotal in this one. Wingard leads the nation with 34 stops against the run, a feat he has now accomplished for a second consecutive season. He registered a whopping 77 total tackles against the run this year while also proving effective in coverage in 2017. On the season, Wingard has brought down a career-high four interceptions, compared to just one touchdown allowed as the primary defender in coverage, a big improvement in his game from a year ago when he allowed four touchdowns. He fielded just a 50.9 passer rating on throws into his coverage, the 23rd-best mark among draft-eligible safeties with at least 15 targeted passes.
Wyoming QB Josh Allen
A polarizing figure of the past year, Allen had a down season by the lofty preseason standards set for him. He finished the regular season with a 70.6 overall grade, placing him at the bottom of the final iteration of our top draft-eligible quarterbacks list. While he did have some shining moments in 2017, he also struggled mightily during stints. He, like most quarterbacks, had difficulty dealing with pressure, as he completed just 38.1 percent of his passes under duress. He threw five interceptions under pressure, and found himself with just a 52.2 adjusted completion percentage, or 100th-best among 144 qualified signal-callers. The Wyoming offensive line will face a tough task in blocking Ostman and Danna, and Allen in all likelihood will see pressure in this game, something NFL scouts will surely be interested in seeing how he handles.
Other names to watch: CMU TE Tyler Conklin, CMU WR Corey Willis, Wyoming CB Rico Gafford.
Saturday, December 23
Birmingham Bowl – 12:30 PM ET
Texas Tech Red raiders VS USF Bulls
Texas Tech WRs Keke Coutee, Dylan Cantrell, Cameron Batson
The receiving attack of the Red Raiders is always a pivotal point to their offense, and while receivers are likely to benefit from the numbers of passes thrown their way, these three have shown flashes of top ability in different stretches this season. Coutee fields the nation’s highest catch rate on deep passes this season, hauling in 69.2 percent of his targeted passes at least 20 yards downfield. Most impressively, Coutee caught all nine of his catchable deep passes for a 0.00 drop rate, which topped the nation. In total, Coutee saw career-highs in targets (106), receptions (82), yards (1,242) and touchdowns (nine).
Batson was a monster in the slot for the Red Raiders, hauling in 80.3 percent of his targets when lined up in the slot, the fourth-highest catch rate among all FBS wide receivers. He brought down 49 of his 61 targets from the slot for 441 yards and three touchdowns. Cantrell was extremely solid this year, shoring up perhaps a case of the drops from a season ago. In 2016, Cantrell dropped five passes on 84 targets, while this season, he saw 103 targets and only logged three drops. His size at 6-foot-3 with his ball skills and two consecutive seasons of averaging 11.5 yards per catch and 4.8 yards after the catch per reception make him a quiet, productive prospect to watch for.
Texas Tech LB Dakota Allen
2017 PFF All-Big 12 First Team linebacker Allen logged 912 snaps for the Red Raiders, playing 95.2 percent of his defense’s snaps this season. He was mighty productive after a one-year stint at East Mississippi Community College, which shouldn’t be shocking. In 2015 for Texas Tech, Allen brought in 90 total tackles, 31 defensive stops while this season he recorded 106 total tackles and 40 defensive stops. His two years of production at the highest level in the offensive-first Big 12 conference really sticks out. He honed his coverage skills this year as well, fielding just a 54.9 passer rating when targeted this season on 25 targets, the seventh-lowest figure among linebackers with at least 20 targeted passes.
USF RBs D’Ernest Johnson, Darius Tice
Johnson and Tice proved a formidable 1-2 punch (1-2-3 if you count QB Quinton Flowers) for the Bulls this season as they totaled 495 and 485 yards after contact on the ground this season, respectively. Johnson led the team with 179 carries and his 36 missed tackles forced while Tice was just on his heels with 161 carries and 28 missed tackles forced on the ground. Pass protection is an oft-under appreciated skill to have as a running back is something the both possess, while Tice may have an edge. The 5-foot-10, 210-pound back saw 90 pass-blocking snaps this year, and allowed just a single pressure.
USF DBs Mazzi Wilkins, Deatrick Nichols, Devin Abraham
Much to do about the offensive power for USF this season, the secondary really took center stage this year, and rightfully so. Abraham, the safety of this trio, was stingy in coverage this year, limiting opposing quarterbacks to just a 49.5 passer rating when targeted and made seven plays on the ball (four interceptions, three pass breakups) and did not allow a touchdown. Wilkins exploded on the scene this year with three interceptions and seven pass breakups through just five games. While he cooled off on the box score, that’s because he was seemingly avoided, and rightfully so. After Week 5, Wilkins was only targeted a total of 20 times over six games, compared to 35 over the first five. He allowed just nine of those passes to be complete, including two games of no receptions allowed (Houston, Connecticut).
Nichols was also ridiculously solid in coverage this season for the Bulls, allowing just 33-of-63 targeted passes to be caught. Like Abraham, he did not allow a touchdown and recorded 14 total plays on the ball (three interceptions, 11 pass breakups). For his career, Nichols now has 11 interceptions and 22 pass breakups and a career 71.4 passer rating when targeted over four seasons.
Other names to watch: USF QB Quinton Flowers, USF OL Jeremi Hall, USF DIs Deadrin Senat & Bruce Hector, USF LB Auggie Sanchez, Texas Tech QB Nic Shimonek, Texas Tech DL Mychaelon Thomas.
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl – 3:30 PM ET
San Diego State Aztecs vs Army Black Knights
San Diego State RB Rashaad Penny
In replacing the NCAA-all-time leader in rushing yards (Donnel Pumphrey), all Penny did this year for the Aztecs was force 74 missed tackles on the ground, the second-most of any running back this season. He averaged a staggering 4.26 yards after contact, per attempt, the 12th-most among qualifying backs, but third-most among running backs with 200 or more carries. Oh, he also recorded three return touchdowns this season, two from kickoffs and a punt return showing his dynamics with the ball in his hands.
San Diego State CB Kameron Kelly
Kelly has had a nose for the football in 2017, especially when he was tasked with rushing the passer, albeit on just very few occasions. On his eight pass-rushing snaps, Kelly brought in four total QB pressures, including two sacks, one hit and one hurry. In coverage for the Aztecs this year, Kelly also had a knack for getting his hands on the ball and keeping his receivers in front of him. On 64 targets, Kelly allowed just 34 receptions and brought in three interceptions of his own while adding an additional four pass breakups. Of his 34 catches allowed, he allowed an average of just 4.14 yards after the catch per reception and in four games this year, allowed a catch rate of 25.0 percent or lower.
Other names to watch: SDSU WR Mikah Holder, Army LB Kenneth Brinson, Army S Jaylon McClinton.
Dollar General Bowl – 7:00 PM ET
Appalachian State Mountaineers vs Toledo Rockets
App State DI Tee Sims
Unfortunately, the Mountaineers will be without Antonious ‘Tee’ Sims, who has been a pass-rushing machine all season for the Mountaineers, producing 42 total QB pressures, the third-most among all interior defenders this year. Most impressively for Sims, is how efficient he got after the quarterback in 2017. Among interior defenders, no player with fewer than 200 snaps rushing the passer achieved more than 24 pressures, except for Sims, who achieved his 42 pressures on just 175 pass-rushing snaps. That, and that alone, is deserving of a look at the next level.
Toledo QB Logan Woodside
Despite the loss of his top pass-catching threat in Cody Thompson (he’s a name to remember come April, by the way), Woodside had an incredibly solid season, even if his numbers don’t match last years. Thompson completed 249-of-384 attempts this season, but was subjected to 31 dropped balls and he totaled at least 300 yards passing in seven of his 13 games this year. He showed great zip on his passes, especially on deep throws, where he fielded the nation’s 10th-highest passer rating at 123.6. On throws targeted 20-plus yards downfield, Woodside connected on 34-of-81 attempts for 1,264 yards and 16 touchdowns. Removing seven drops, Woodside’s 50.6 adjusted completion percentage on these deep shots was 16th-best among all FBS signal-callers, showing his off his arm strength and deep accuracy once again.
Other names to watch: App State T Beau Nunn (FBS-best pass-blocking efficiency among tackles at 99.3), Toledo edge defender Olasunkanmi Adeniyi.
Sunday, December 24
Hawai’i Bowl – 8:30 PM ET
Fresno State Bulldogs vs Houston Cougars
Fresno State OL Micah St. Andrew
St. Andrew might as well be called Mt. St. Andrew for his pass-blocking prowess this season, as he was seemingly unmovable from his right guard position. On his 416 snaps in pass protection, he allowed just five pressures all season long, not one of which was a sack. That figure is good enough for the ninth-most pass-blocking snaps without a sack allowed among the nation’s guards.
Houston WR Linell Bonner
A big framed receiver at 6-foot, 200-pounds, Bonner finished the season on a tear. He saw 10 or more targets in seven of his 10 games this year and hauled in at least five receptions in every contest he played. Bonner forced a career-high 10 missed tackles after receptions and averaged a very respectable 6.3 yards after the catch per reception. Over his final five games of the season however, Bonner lit up the stat-sheet, bringing home three 100-yard receiving games, including his season-high 147 against East Carolina.