College football bowl season is officially underway. 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 most of the bowl games 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 Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, here are some players to keep an eye on.
Popeyes Bahamas Bowl: Eastern Michigan vs Old Dominion
Friday, December 23, 1 p.m., ESPN
#52 DE Pat O’Connor (6’4 | 270 | 4.82)
Bounced back from missing the 2015 season due to a shoulder injury to have a productive 2016 as a disruptive pass rusher. O’Connor finished the year with 8 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. He was productive before the injury as well with 7.5 sacks in 2014.
O’Connor plays with a non-stop motor and a quick first step off the edge. He’s probably a 4-3 DE, but could get a look as a 3-4 OLB if he tests well in the short-area quickness drills at the combine.
O’Connor is most likely a late day three pick, but could go higher due to his leadership ability (three-time team captain) and relentless drive to get to the quarterback.
Projection: 6th-7th round
#75 OT Cole Gardner (6’5 | 295 | 5.02)
A former tight end who is fairly new to the left tackle position, but Gardner improved quickly and showed flashes of NFL potential. Gardner is a project, but showed quick feet and good enough technique to earn 2nd team All-MAC honors this season.
His lack of experience might drop Gardner out of the draft, but he’s an intriguing prospect with the potential to develop into a useful tackle in a couple years.
Projection: 7th round-UDFA
#6 WR Zach Pascal (6’2 | 213 | 4.47)
Consistently productive receiver who has averaged 870 receiving yards and eight touchdowns over the last three seasons. Pascal has NFL size, good enough speed, reliable hands, and has shown a knack for getting open despite being the primary focus of opposing secondaries.
In Old Dominion’s toughest game of the season, against North Carolina St, Pascal still put up a solid 4-catch /102 yard stat line which should help his draft stock. His experience returning kicks (26.8 ypr) and rushing the ball (285 yards) should help as well.
A strong draft season could earn Pascal a spot around the middle of the draft’s third day.
Projection: 5th-6th round