Bowl Game Previews: December 30th

Kyle Pollock

We’re into the heart of bowl season, with many games beginning to feature marquee matchups. This means that there’s a lot of potential NFL prospects to take a look at in these games. Here’s a preview of the December 30th slate which features some potential first rounders.

Liberty Bowl

Iowa State vs Memphis

The Liberty Bowl looks to be one of the most underrated bowl games of the season, and I’m pretty excited for it. It has the second highest over under of any bowl game and boasts plenty of offensive skill talent.

Iowa State has two intriguing prospects in running back David Montgomery and wide receiver Allen Lazard. Montgomery has been a favorite of Pro Football Focus all season and set their record for missed tackles forced in a season with 104. Typically you tend to think of smaller, lighter players as the ones who are the most agile but that’s not the case with Montgomery. He’s a physical back at 5’11”, 219 pounds, and was also eighth in the nation with 828 yards after contact. He’s also a more than capable receiver out of the backfield, catching 35 passes this season. I currently have Montgomery as my overall RB6 and the RB1 for the class of 2019.

Lazard is the highest ranked recruit to ever attend Iowa State, and he’s certainly lived up to the billing for them. He’s 6’5”, 222 pounds and moves tremendously well for a player of his size. Lazard has had a dominator rating of at least .31 for each of the last three seasons, and should go down as one of the best receivers in Iowa State history. I like Lazard a lot and currently have him as my overall devy WR21 and WR12 for this class.

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On the Memphis side, Riley Ferguson gets some hype as an NFL prospect but I really don’t see it. I’m not sure he’ll be able to even stick on as a backup but in the up-tempo Memphis offense he’ll certainly put up some big numbers.

I haven’t watched much of running back Darrell Henderson this year, but he looks pretty interesting from the limited action that I’ve seen. He rushed for 1154 yards and nine touchdowns on just 130 carries (8.9 yards per carry) while only playing in ten games. He also caught 26 passes, marking the second year in a row that he’s caught at least 20 balls. Henderson is a player to add to devy watchlists over the off-season.

Lastly, Anthony Miller is likely the biggest name player on either team in this game. After putting up a dominator rating of .39 last year, he stepped up his game and produced a .41 dominator rating this year. With strong hands, a capable route runner, and tremendous leaping ability, Miller is one of the more exciting receivers in this class to me. However, he’s already 23 which is a major concern for me. Coming into the year I had him ranked as my WR8 in this class, and he’s stayed there for me, while being the WR17 overall.

Taxslayer Bowl

Louisville vs Mississippi State

If Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald hadn’t suffered a gruesome ankle injury in the last game of the season I’d be a lot more excited for this game. However, we do get to watch Lamar Jackson for what is likely the last time, which is always a treat. While I had some hope about Fitzgerald potentially being an NFL quarterback coming into the year, I don’t see him as such anymore.

The quarterback who will start in place of him this game, Keytaon Thompson, has flashed some potential this year. A true freshman dual threat who was a former four star, Thompson came in for Fitzgerald against Mississippi and rushed for 121 yards and a touchdown, while also passing for 195 yards and a touchdown. His completion percentage is below 50% this year, but as a runner I think he’s already a solid player. Thompson could be pretty fun in new coach Joe Moorhead’s offense in the coming years.

For Louisville, Lamar Jackson likely will wrap up one of the most memorable college careers in the recent memory with this game. Right now Jackson is a top three quarterback in the class for me, but I’m not entirely sure how to order them. I currently have him at two behind Baker Mayfield, but Josh Rosen could also make a case as the top quarterback. Jackson is one of the most dynamic dual threat quarterbacks to come through the collegiate ranks, and it’s been a pleasure to watch him play. He’s really developed as a passer this year, and I’m excited to see him put on one last show against the Bulldogs.

I’d also like to see wide receiver Jaylen Smith have a big game, as I was intrigued by him coming into the year but injuries derailed his season a bit as he missed three games. In the games he did play, Smith had a .33 dominator rating which is pretty solid. He’s a big (6’4”, 219 pounds), athletic, deep threat, who could be one of the better wide receivers in 2019 if he does come back to school.

Orange Bowl

Wisconsin vs Miami (FL)

I’m not very excited for this game, especially since so many of Miami’s skill players are out or banged up. Ahmonn Richards won’t play in this game, and although he’s ranked high by many of our experts I’m not a big fan of him. As a freshman he had a .19 dominator rating, and this year in the games he did play (counting this game he’ll have missed five) he had a .18. While his average ranking is about the overall WR7, I have him at WR28 and WR9 for his class. I think Richards will need to become more productive, a better route runner, and add weight to become a better prospect.

Running back Mark Walton is injured but has already declared for the draft, and I think he’s a decent prospect. I have him as the RB14 for this class and RB28 overall. I don’t think he’s particularly great in one area, but his speed and agility are above average. He’s just a solid all around back who I think may end up being a better real life player than fantasy player.

Miami’s current starter at running back, Travis Homer, was a guy I liked a lot coming out of high school. He has tremendous speed and has looked good in his starts this year, racking up 950 yards seven touchdowns. I’m interested to see him go up against an elite Wisconsin defense.

Lastly, although he may not play, tight end Christopher Herndon is someone who was decently productive this year and should test very well athletically if he does get invited to the combine. He could be a sleeper tight end prospect in this year’s draft.

Wisconsin has two potential NFL players in running back Jonathan Taylor and tight end Troy Fumagalli. Taylor has been magnificent as a true freshman, rushing for 1800 yards and 13 touchdowns. He’s a very physical back with good vision and excellent speed. He ran a 4.42 at Nike’s the Opening last year, and at 214 pounds this would give him a weight-adjusted speed score of 112 which is well above average. He also had a 34 inch vertical jump (83rd percentile for high school running backs) and a 4.30 shuttle time (also 83%). He did struggle to get anything going against Ohio State’s defense so if he can bounce back against an equally impressive Canes defense I’ll be very happy. I’d also like to see him get more involved in the pass game next season, as he only caught seven passes all year. Taylor is currently my overall RB5 and the RB3 for his class.

I’ve seen some people have Fumagalli as the top tight end in the class, but I don’t think he’s close to that distinction. He’s currently my TE6 for this year’s class, but if he tests poorly I may drop him even lower. He is probably the best blocking tight end in the class and may also have the best hands, but he hasn’t been very productive, especially in the touchdown department with only seven career scores. He can’t really stretch the field (career yards per catch of 12), and without a red zone presence I don’t see how he’ll ever be fantasy relevant. I’d rather take a shot on a more athletic tight end who can make plays as a receiver in rookie drafts.

Fiesta Bowl

Penn State vs Washington

This should be one of the most even matchups in all of bowl season. It’s a strength on strength matchup, as Washington boasts one of the nation’s top defenses, while Penn State boasts one of the most explosive offenses. With those game so close (Penn State is a 2 point favorite) something as small as Penn State’s gunner getting kicked off the team could swing the game.

Missing your gunner against Washington isn’t something I would recommend. The Huskies have one of the best punt returners all time in Dante Pettis, who is the all time leader in punt return touchdowns with nine. He’s no slouch as a receiver either, as he’s extremely athletic, a solid route runner, and has strong hands. He doesn’t have elite production and is on the older side, but I think Pettis profiles as a perfect second receiver at the next level. If he could slide in next to a receiver like Julio Jones I think that would be an ideal fit. I have Pettis as my WR5 for this year’s class and my WR11 overall.

Washington also has a bevy of talented running backs, starting with Myles Gaskin. After this game, Gaskin will have his third straight season with at least 1300 yards and ten touchdowns. At 5’10”, 200 pounds Gaskin is a little bit on the smaller side. Similar to Mark Walton, he doesn’t have one facet of his game that really stands out above the rest, but he’s a solid all around player. If Gaskin does end up declaring for the draft this year Salvon Ahmed will likely start next year, and he’s a name to keep on your watchlist going into next year.

Saquon Barkley is without a doubt the most exciting player in this game. Getting to see him go up against one of the top run defenses in the country is going to be so interesting to watch. Barkley has everything you could possibly want in a back including size, speed, physicality, agility, and receiving ability. He truly is the most complete back that I’ve seen. Barkley isn’t the only potential NFL player on the Nittany Lion roster though.

Quarterback Trace McSorley is expected to be a Heisman favorite next year with the departure of Barkley, and if he is able to improve his decision-making and accuracy I think he has a shot of at least making an NFL roster. Tight end Mike Gesicki is one of the best athletes at the tight end position and should be highly drafted this year. He’s my TE3 in this year’s draft class, and I think he can thrive as a red zone threat and field stretcher at the next level.

Lastly, two guys to remember for next year are Miles Sanders and Juwan Johnson. Sanders was a five star running back just two years ago, but has had to sit behind Barkley for the past few seasons. He’s bulked up to 220 pounds but has maintained his speed, and I think he has the potential to put up bigger rushing numbers than Barkley did this year.

Johnson is a massive receiver at 6’4”, 226 pounds who moves very well for someone his size. While he hasn’t produced much I think he also has the potential to blow up next year, as Penn State loses about 60% of its receiving production. A Chris Godwin-esque season could be in store.