College football bowl season starts this Saturday. If you are like most NFL fans, you know some of the top NFL draft prospects but that is about it. As a Bears fan, I’ve been looking forward to the draft for a few months now, so I’ve gotten an early start on my scouting for the 2017 NFL draft.
Like last season, I will be breaking down the potential NFL players in every bowl game to give you an idea who to watch. I’ve listed at least one player on each team who have a shot at hearing their names called in the draft or at least getting a training camp invite. So if you end up watching the Las Vegas Bowl, here are some players to keep an eye on.
Las Vegas Bowl: Houston vs San Diego St
Saturday, December 17, 3:30 p.m., ABC
#41 OLB Steven Taylor (6’1 | 225 | 4.67)
A well rounded 4-3 OLB, who has been solid in every aspect of the game the last two seasons. Taylor will need to bulk up a little at the next level, but has the speed, instincts, and innate pass-rush ability to excel at the next level.
Taylor has the speed to be a sideline-to-sideline run stopper and good enough agility and awareness to be adequate in coverage, but it’s his ability to get to the quarterback that’s boosting his draft stock. Over the last two seasons, Taylor has 18.5 sacks despite not being an every-down edge rusher.
Taylor has shown a natural ability to time blitzes well and find the right gap. His sack production from a non-primary pass rusher is really impressive. Taylor has also played best in big games with four of his sacks coming against Oklahoma and Louisville.
He’s a bit under-sized for some defenses, but Taylor has the potential to be a force in the right scheme. There is a lot to like about his game, but it’s Taylor’s pass rush ability that should earn him a day two draft selection.
Projection: 3rd round
#81 OLB Tyus Bowser (6’3 | 240 | 4.67)
Bowser lines up off the edge more often than Taylor, but hasn’t been as productive with 13.5 sacks over the last two seasons. He’s come on lately though with 7.5 sacks in his last seven games.
His size and athleticism are just average for the NFL level, but he does have excellent closing speed and plays with a high effort level. NFL teams are always desperate for edge rushers, so Bowser could be selected higher than expected.
Projection: 4th-5th round
#1 QB Greg Ward (5’11 | 185 | 4.49)
Wide receiver might end up being Ward’s position in the NFL as he lacks the size and arm strength most teams are looking for at the QB position. Ward has been extremely productive as the Cougars quarterback though, with 8,475 passing yards, 2,381 rushing yards, and 92 touchdowns in three years as a starter.
Ward is one of the most exciting players to watch in college football, but he’s more than just an athlete. Ward has legit QB skills with elite accuracy, elusiveness in the pocket, and enough arm to get zip on intermediate throws. His lack of size and elite arm strength will probably keep him from getting a chance to play QB at the NFL level, but he’s too good of a football player not to get a chance somewhere.
Ward reminds me a bit of Randall Cobb, who was a quarterback at Kentucky before moving to the slot with the Packers. I think Ward could have a similar role at the next level. He’s got elite speed, can make people miss, and could also be used on trick plays like how the Steelers used Antwaan Randle El.
It might not be until late on day three of the draft, but I think some team will take a chance on Ward’s athleticism. He’s just a good football player and will find a way to help a team if given a chance.
Projection: 6th-7th round
#21 WR Chance Allen (6’3 | 215 | 4.54)
A transfer from Oregon, Allen has been a solid red zone weapon for the Cougars the last two seasons with 12 touchdowns. He has ideal NFL size, but his speed and separation ability are question marks.
Allen has played well the second half of the season, including a four catch, 105 yard, one TD game verse Louisville. If Allen shows well in the all-star circuit and pre-draft workouts, his stock could get boosted into the early day three range.
Projection: 5th-6th round