The NCAA Bowl Season is underway. Some of the matchups, primarily featuring .500 teams, can look like a waste of time in comparison to the Final Four Play-Off Bowls, but it often does provide a chance to look at some relatively obscure players who are legit pro prospects. The first weekend provides several scouting opportunities, so here we go…
JOEY BANKS S #22 Buffalo 5’10/200 Sr. He wasn’t a highly regarded prospect going into the 2019 season, but he stepped up. He also showed big in run support in the Bahamas Bowl with 9 tackles. He has some cover skills and will go for the kill shot on receivers. On the season, BANKS had 87 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, and 3 INT’s. He’s right on the border of being drafted or not, but he certainly got my attention in his Bowl effort. He was literally flying around the field looking for people to hit. He may not be a perfect fit for any one secondary position, but in a day and age when up to 7 DB’s may be on the field in 3rd and long situations, I’m sure this guy will be able to earn himself some playing time. Not to mention that his style of play looks ideally suited for Special Teams service in all facets of play. I saw a football player in action who will likely be very hard for an NFL team to cut from its roster.
OMAR BAYLESS WR #7 Arkansas State 6’3/207 Sr. It’s early in the process of the Bowl season, but this guy might be one of the best prospects that I somehow missed out on watching during the regular season. This was a man among boys in the win over FIU. His size and athleticism are outstanding. Despite two dropped balls early in the contest, he caught well the rest of the night in the rain. I don’t think he will time as having jaw dropping speed in post-season testing, but he covers ground and got separation all night against a fairly talented FIU secondary. In crunch time, he came up big. He hauled in one long bomb for a 52 yard score, but saw it wiped out by a penalty, so he turned around to catch the next throw and found his way to the end zone again for a TD. On the night, he had 9 catches for 180 yards and the TD. When they posted his numbers for the full 2019 season, my jaw dropped again. He recorded 93 receptions for 1,653 yards and 17 TD’s. Let me save you some math; his average per catch came out to 17.8 yards. Where is his name on a star game roster? The NFLPA has him currently listed. Round 3 guy for me.
MATT BUSHMAN TE #89 BYU 6’5/245 Jr. I was reasonably certain that BUSHMAN was one of two BYU players who were declaring for the 2020 Draft, but he is still not on the GBN Declared Underclassmen list as of Friday morning. It’s a fairly weak year for the TE position, after a couple of strong groups in the past couple of Drafts. Therefore, I feel like BUSHMAN would be well served to go pro next year. He has clearly been an underutilized target during his BYU career. He showed his skills and values in the Hawai’i Bowl loss to the Rainbow Warriors with 6 catches for 91 yards, including a long gain of 31-yards. He’s a solid “hands catcher” with long arms and soft hands. He is a willing blocker, which he does a lot of, whether in the run game or downfield for his fellow receivers. After serving his Mormon Mission, he exits the season as a slightly overaged player with a family to support. On the season, he caught 47 balls for 688 yards and 4 TD’s. I am pretty certain that he could be a Top 100 prospect, and in the Top 6 of the TE group if he came out now. He should show pretty well in workouts over the next couple of months as well. We’ll know for sure in a few weeks if he is in the 2020 Draft, and this tale is one to illustrate why the NFL sets a deadline date, and even then gives a weekend cooling off period to rescind an early out declaration.
ALEX HIGHSMITH ER/OB #5 Charlotte 6’3/245 Sr. A very athletic guy that should have success translating into a stand-up OB job in the NFL. He already gets some work in coverage in the Charlotte D-scheme. Little known to the general public is the fact that his 14 sacks for the 2019 season placed second to CHASE YOUNG for the top spot as sack master of the FBS. He had 21.5 TFL overall as well, amongst his 75 tackles for the season. He has also shown his ability to drop into coverage. In the Bahamas Bowl, he collected 7 tackles. His versatility and athleticism may make him a pretty popular guy with pro personnel people in the next few months. Right now, he shows on the Shrine Bowl acceptance list. My guess would be that at the Shrine venue we will see him stand up on early downs, then put his hand on the ground to pass rush on throwing downs. He may struggle at first in the NFL, but with patience and coaching he should develop into a solid piece to an NFL defense. The amount of time he spends in opposing backfields has great appeal. He may not get drafted until Day 3, but it may be right away in Round 4.
SAGE LEWIS IB #3 FIU 6’1/240 Sr. Once I got his number figured out, he was on my radar for the rainy night game in Montgomery, and he was well worth the watch. LEWIS is a very active player who appears to have good foot speed, given how far he ranged to make plays. He packs a wallop when he comes up to plug the center of the field against the run. He does a good job tracking the ball and doesn’t chase the fake very often. He seems very aware of what is unfolding after the snap of the ball. His biggest play of the game was his 3rd Quarter fumble recovery, but he was active all night, finishing with 13 tackles, including 2 TFL. His play in this game was reflective of his work during the regular season when he recorded 93 T’s, 50 solo, 1 sack, 2 FF’s, 2 FR’s, 3 INT’s, and 3 PD. You can see from these stats that he is effective out on the grass for all 3 (or 4) downs. I also believe that his Pro Day and/or Combine numbers will show him to be an above average athlete. I do NOT currently see him on a Big 3 Star game roster, much to my surprise. I do see him as a mid-Round Draft Pick.
JORDAN LOVE QB #10 Utah State 6’4/220 Jr. LOVE has already declared his intentions to enter the 2020 NFL Draft, but was also adamant about playing with his teammates in their Bowl Game. This was in the wake of marijuana possession charges the week before the game. He has an adequate arm to make all the throws at the next level even though it’s not a cannon. Not making excuses, just stating facts, that 9 new offensive starters surrounded him in the Utah State offense this season. After one half of the game, I made a note in my scouting book that his very young OL flat-out sucks at this point in their collective college careers. LOVE was playing under pressure the entire game, and a running game to support the passing attack was non-existent. LOVE can extend plays and run in a pinch, so mobility is not an issue. I heard some rumbling that his accuracy is wanting, but I did not see that on the vast majority of his throws. For the game, LOVE was 30/39- 77%- 319 yards- 2 TD’s- 0 INT’s. Pick those numbers apart, if you dare, for a guy with a limited support system in place. The 2020 Draft is going to be a bit shy on elite QB prospects. As a result, I could see a healthy week’s work at the Senior Bowl and a good Combine showing leading to a Round 3 Draft spot for LOVE. Then patience will be required before expecting him to compete for a starting pro QB slot. However, I do see pro potential in his overall game.
SIAOSI MARINER WR #8 Utah State 6’2/195 Sr. The Utah transfer turned into the go-to guy for QB/LOVE this past season. He is NOT a speed burner, but uses long strides to eat up yardage and surprise DB’s trying to keep up with him. He shows good hands and the ability to compete successfully for 50/50 balls. State lost a barn-burner to Buffalo, but don’t blame the combo of LOVE-TO-MARINER. For the game, Mariner had 7 catches for 113 yards and 2 TD’s. For the season, Mariner had 63 catches, including 10 TD’s. Looks to have long arms and good sized hands. This game was his 4th 100-yard receiving game of the season. He also shows very nice footwork along the sidelines. State’s 4 top receivers from 2018 were gone, (3 to the NFL), so you might refer to MARINER as a savior for QB LOVE. NFL personnel people will be watching closely for speed and quickness numbers from his Pro Day workouts. His 40-time will weigh heavily for or against him relative to draftability. He looks like a natural receiver, which is important to most teams. Fliers who can’t catch don’t help a team much in the long run.
JAMES MORGAN QB #12 FIU 6’4/230 Sr. The BGSU transfer established himself as a legit pro prospect playing for Butch Davis at FIU. He fits the model of your traditional pocket-passer prospect with his size, limited athleticism, and strong arm. He can extend plays with his feet, but he’s not going to fit the Wilson/Jackson model. I thought his accuracy was good, passing for 312 yards on 22/38, 58%. He had 1 TD and 2 INT’s. I am not trying to make a case for him as a Top 100 Draftee or even a Top 5-6 QB prospect, but I would remind you that the Camellia Bowl was played in rain, and MORGAN spent a whole lot of time extending plays because of porous OL play. He was also not exactly blessed with as strong of a receiving group as Arkansas State had. Morgan’s final 2019 stats give a clear indication of what happens to a QB’s stats when his weapons are a BB-gun and rocks; 58%, 14 TD’s, 5 INT’s. My final opinion after watching this game is to say that we will have to gauge a lot on a reported Shrine Bowl appearance in January, as well as Combine numbers. I believe he can show enough to get himself drafted, even though it may be mid-Round at best.
STANTLEY THOMAS-OLIVER CB #21 FIU 6’2/185 Sr. This young man intrigues me going back to the 2018 season. He is not a ball hawk per se, but he has the length and speed to work as a press-cover CB at the next level, IMO. It is clear what the FIU coaching staff thinks of his ability, as they initially had him matched up one-on-one in man coverage against OMAR BAYLESS. THOMAS-OLIVER pretty much kept him under control for the first quarter, then BAYLESS began to be moved around more and the catches soon mounted without #21 blanketing him each play. His biggest weak spot may be tackling in run support, which he seems to do begrudgingly some of the time. In the loss to Arkansas State, he had 7 T’s, 6 solo, 1 sack, 1 TFL, and 1 PD. Right now, I do not see him on any Star rosters, but that would be a great showcase option for him if his agent can wrangle an invite. The biggest plus to me about THOMAS-OLIVER is his willingness to take on man-to-man coverage. Draftable, maybe.
The following players made an impact on the games in which they played. I have indicated which, if any, Star games they are currently scheduled to compete in.
AUSTIN MALONEY WR #15 FIU 5’11/190 Sr. A competitive player who almost doubled his season’s receiving record with 10 catches for 178 yards and a TD. He’s a solid competitor who might make a Training Camp roster as an URFA next Summer.
KIRK MERRITT WR #13 Arkansas State 6’0/215 Sr. Has actually gotten more pub than teammate BAYLESS, which I find crazy, but he is a solid receiver who likely gets a Day 3 Draft call. He is also listed on the NFLPA roster right now.
DOMINIK EBERLE K #62 Utah State 6’2/195 Sr. I have to be a bit conservative in praising his kicking range due to playing in high altitude, but his accuracy is solid. He hit 87.5% of his FG attempts this season, including 21/24 between 40-49 yards. He is also listed as going to the Shrine Bowl, which has an excellent track record in recruiting future pro kickers for its game.
CAMERON CLARK OT #71 Charlotte 6’5/300 Sr. Let’s just say that this young man still has a lot to learn to play for pay, but is a decent athlete with a pro-potential body. He can move his feet, which is always a good trait to NFL scouts. Another Shrine Bowl roster listing.
BENNY LEMAY RB #32 Charlotte 5’9/218 Sr. His Shrine Bowl acceptance will give him a solid platform to show his skills. I think he got too few touches in the Bahamas Bowl. He could make a nice, versatile utility back in the NFL. For the 2019 season, he had 1,072 yards rushing at 5.6 YPC for 9 TD’s. He scored another 4 TD’s on 19 pass receptions. A hard charging runner.