NFL Draft: Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl

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Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

College football bowl season is under way. If you are like most NFL fans, you know some players on the top college football teams but that is about it. As a Bears fan, my NFL season has been over for weeks so I’ve gotten an early start on my scouting for next year’s NFL draft.

I love watching football even if it’s games I have no rooting interest in, so over the holidays I end watching a lot of random bowl games. One thing that makes the bowl games more interesting for me is to keep an eye on players who will be drafted next season. This year I will breaking down the players who have a shot at getting drafted for most of the remaining bowl games. If you end up watching the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, here are some players to keep an eye on.

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Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl: Illinois vs Louisiana Tech

When: Dec. 26th, 1 PM (EST), ESPN

Illinois

ILB Mason Monheim, JR #43 (6’1, 235, 4.69)

Scouting report – The leader on a bad Illini defense, but a solid ILB prospect who has a decent shot to get drafted if he declares this year. Monheim is a solid run stopper inside with good technique and short area quickness. He doesn’t stand out athletically, but he’s fast enough to play at the next level and his above average football instincts should land him a spot on an NFL roster.

Projection: 5th-6th round

FS Zane Petty, SR #21 (6’1, 206, 4.67) 

Scouting report – A long shot to get drafted, but was very productive for the Illini with 104 total tackles his senior year. Petty has good range in coverage, but is often a step slow to diagnose plays. He has enough speed and acceleration to recover for his mistakes at the college level, but maybe not in the NFL. Petty is most likely an undrafted free agent, but with a strong performance in the bowl and college all star games could earn a late day 3 selection.

Projection: 7th round – UFA

Louisiana Tech

Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

RB Kenneth Dixon, JR #28 (5’10, 212, 4.59)

Scouting report – Underrated RB who doesn’t get much press playing in at a non-traditional football school, but Dixon is a legit prospect. He would probably be better off going back to school for one more season, but if Dixon declares he’ll get drafted. He’s a powerful runner who will often initiate contact but has the balance to bounce of hits. Dixon has good speed for his size as he showed on his 99-yard run vs ULL this season. He’s an all around RB as well with decent pass pro skills and good enough hands to line up in the slot occasionally. Dixon had 1,542 total yards this season with 26 touchdowns. If he declares in time for the 2015 draft and drops to day 3 as projected on most sites, some team could get a steal.

Projection: 5th-6th round

OT Mitchell Bell, SR #74 (6’3. 354, 5.48)

Scouting report – Another long short to get drafted but Bell’s size at least makes him interesting. With another year or two of development Bell could become a mauling run blocker at guard, but he needs a lot of work to get there.

Projection: UFA