Thursday, July 10, 2014
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Eagles draft watch: Players to keep an eye on in college bowl games Thursday and Friday

For those of you who like to keep an eye on college prospects, here are some players to watch over the next two days.

Eagles draft watch: Players to keep an eye on in college bowl games Thursday and Friday

Pittsburgh defensive lineman Aaron Donald. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Pittsburgh defensive lineman Aaron Donald. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

The first six college bowl games are in the books (we profiled prospects playing in those games here). For those of you who like to keep an eye on college prospects, here are some players to watch over the next two days if you happen to find yourself taking in some college football this holiday season.

Disclaimer #1: Yes, the Eagles' season is still very much alive and kicking, however, the college bowl games are happening right now. For those of you who prefer to focus on what is going on with the Eagles against Dallas this week, there are a boatload of articles for you fine folks right here.

Disclaimer #2: We're listing all the players worth watching, regardless of the Eagles' current needs, but will add that it's not a position of need where applicable.

Little Caesars Bowl: Pittsburgh vs Bowling Green (Thursday, 6pm)

Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh (6'0, 285): Let's just list Donald's accomplishments this season in bullet point form:

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Grading the Eagles' draft picks

• Winner of the Bednarik Award (best defensive player).

• Winner of the Lombardi Award (best lineman or linebacker).

• Winner of the Outland Trophy (best interior lineman).

• Winner of the Bronco Nagurski Trophy (best defensive player)

• Unanimous All-American.

• ACC Defensive Player of the Year.

Donald's biggest negative is something that he can't control, which is his size, at 6'0, 285. But his production has been tremendous. In the last 3 seasons, Donald had 26.5 sacks from his DT spot, including 10 sacks as a senior, which led all NCAA DTs. He also led the nation with 26.5 tackles for loss in 2013, and added 4 forced fumbles.

Check out the 1:38 mark below. Syracuse is doubling Donald, but Donald's get-off and arm-over move at the snap is so quick that the guard whiffs, and the center is just flat beaten. He hurdles a teammate, then chases the QB into a throwaway (via draftbreakdown.com). Tremendous.

As far as Donald's fit with the Eagles, I don't see him as a player the Eagles are likely to land. Donald's game is predicated on getting off the snap quickly, and getting immediate pressure. That's not what the Eagles ask of their defensive linemen in their 2 gap 3-4. Donald is a far better fit for a 4-3 scheme, where he can line up and go, which will likely make him a more desirable player for other teams.

But clearly, he could be a very good pro, despite his less than ideal size.

Devin Street, WR, Pittsburgh (6'4, 190): Street is one of many big receivers who will be available in the 2014 draft. Pitt likes to use Street close to the offensive line, often in the slot, where they can work him over the middle on quick slants. Street does a good job using his body to shield defenders from the football and making catches over the middle.

Street is also not content to just go down once he has the ball in his hands, and will fight through tacklers for additional yardage. He can be a deep threat, using his size to high-point the ball. While he doesn’t have many TDs in his college career (16), he does have some attributes (size, hands catcher) which could make him a good red zone threat.

On the downside, Street is a “get in the way” blocker, as opposed to a guy who aggressively tries to move DBs out of the way for his teammates. That’s not good enough for a receiver of his size. If he’s available in the middle rounds and the Eagles want a bigger receiver with some playmaking ability to challenge Jason Avant in the slot, Street could be an option for the Birds, but he'll have to improve as a blocker.

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: Utah State vs (23) Northern Illinois (Thursday, 9:30pm)

Kyler Fackrell, OLB, Utah State (6'5, 245): Fackrell probably won't come out, as he's only a redshirt sophomore, but he absolutely has the size and athleticism the Eagles would covet at OLB. File his name away in your memory banks for now.

Tyler Larson, C, Utah State (6'4, 312): I'll see Larsen compete at the Shrine Game in a few weeks, but I'd be a liar if I said I studied him at all yet. The Eagles are set at C with Jason Kelce, and haven't needed anyone to step in to play meaningful minutes this season, as Kelce has stayed healthy since recovering from a torn ACL in 2012. The Eagles could potentially need depth at C, depending on what the team thinks of Julian Vandervelde.

Nevin Lawson, CB, Utah State (5'10, 186): Undersized, but physical. He'll blitz and stick his nose in against the run. Also had 4 INTs as a senior. Lawson is probably a late round prospect. The Eagles don't have anyone that can play the slot other than Brandon Boykin. 

Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois (6'0, 216): Lynch was 4th in the nation in rushing yards in 2012, with 1815. This year, he is currently 2nd, with 1881. Over the last 2 years, Lynch has 41 rushing TDs and 48 passing TDs. He finished 3rd in the 2013 Heisman voting.

Lynch is a fascinating prospect from the Eagles' perspective. He won't be viewed as a pro-style QB who can thrive in the NFL, so he should be available in the later rounds. Lynch's athleticism could make him a project player under Chip Kelly in the long term, and a player who can carve out a small role in Kelly's offense in the short term.

Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois (5'11, 192): Ward tied for 5th in the nation with 6 INTs, and led his team in tackles, with 89. Ward earned a Senior Bowl invite. The Eagles' need for help at safety is obvious.  

Military Bowl: Marshall vs Maryland (Friday, 2:30pm)

Marcus Whitfield, OLB, Maryland (6'3, 250): There isn't much to get fired up about in terms of pro prospects in this game. Whitfield is a late round prospect who had 9 sacks in 2013.

Texas Bowl: Syracuse vs Minnesota (Friday, 6pm)

RaShede Hageman, DT, Minnesota (6'6, 312): Hageman's sack numbers are down this year. Last season, he had 6 sacks from his interior defensive line spot. So far this season, he only has 2. However, he does have 8 batted passes, which is excellent.

Hageman is a monster at 6'6, 315, but has a sleek build and could probably put even more weight on his frame if that's what an NFL team would like him to do. Hageman plays in a 4-3 at Minnesota, but a team like the Eagles could potentially view him as guy who can play multiple spots along the line in their 3-4, including NT. 

Watch this play by Hageman dropping into coverage from his DT spot against Northwestern:

 

 

Sean Hickey, OT, Syracuse (6'5, 287): Hickey is only a junior and probably Syracuse's best pro prospect, but because he's not likely to be drafted until the 3rd day of the draft if he declares, he will likely stay in school.

Jay Bromley, DT, Syracuse (6'4, 293): Bromley was very productive for the Orangemen, collecting 9 sacks from his DT spot this season. He'll play at the Shrine Game.

Fight Hunger Bowl: BYU vs Washington (Friday, 9:30pm)

Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU (6'3, 235): Outstanding player and a surefire 1st round pick, but a little undersized for a 3-4 OLB in the pros. Van Noy was tied for 4th in the nation in 2012 with 13 sacks, but his production slipped in 2013, as he only got to the QB 4 times, although he did have 4 INTs and 15.5 TFL.

Still, he's as complete an OLB as you'll find. He has great speed, can get after the passer, is excellent against the pass, and holds his own against the run despite being just 235 pounds. In the Poinsettia Bowl last season, he basically wrecked the game. He had a sack/fumble/recovery/TD, a pick 6, he blocked a punt, and had 3 tackles for loss:

Washington will pose a great challenge for Van Noy. The Huskies have a great running back in Bishop Sankey, and a great TE in Austin Seferian-Jenkins. He'll be tested both in the run game and pass game.

The Eagles' potential interest in a player like Van Noy is obvious. He may not be around by the time the Eagles pick, but you can bet he'll be on their radar. Van Noy will be competing at the Senior Bowl.

Cody Hoffman, WR, BYU (6'4, 210): Hoffman's numbers took a significant dip from 2012 to 2013:

2012: 100 catches, 1248 yards, 11 TDs.

2013: 45 catches, 727 yards, 5 TDs.

In addition to Hoffman, there are a bunch of tall WRs who could come out this year, for those of you who love big pass catchers:

I'll have a lot more of Hoffman in a few weeks. He'll be at the Senior Bowl.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington (6'6, 276): At 6’6, 276 pounds, Austin Seferian-Jenkins (to be referred to as ASJ from here on out) isn’t just a big body. He can play. The Huskies line up ASJ out wide, in-line, in the slot, and occasionally at FB. While his production is down this season, in 2012, ASJ was 2nd in the nation among TEs with 852 receiving yards. The only TE who had more?

(Drumroll)…

Zach Ertz! Here’s ASJ’s highlight reel:

However, what you don’t see there is ASJ’s awful blocking. Bad effort, bad technique. His blocking is inexcusable for a guy of his size and athleticism, although that is something that can be taught, while his size and athleticism cannot. If he was a plus blocker and didn’t have any character concerns (DUI), he’d likely be a 1st rounder (and he may very well be anyway). A great deal of attention will be paid to his mental makeup during the pre-draft process, but the physical skills are there.

Brent Celek will count for the following amounts against the Eagles’ salary cap the next 3 years:

2014: $4,075,000

2015: $4,800,000

2016: $5,000,000

The Eagles can release Celek at any time, without penalty. The Eagles love Celek, who has become a well-rounded TE, so that seems unlikely.

James Casey can also be cut at any time, without penalty. His cap numbers over the next two years:

2014: $3,985,000

2015: $4,000,000

Casey's release seems like the more realistic possibility, if indeed the Eagles wanted to continue to load up on TEs, although it's certainly not a need area with Zach Ertz emerging as a good young player.

Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington (5'10, 203): Sankey scored at least 1 TD in every game this season, and topped 100 yards in all but 3. Over the last two seasons, he has 3214 yards and 34 TDs. He has also been a decent weapon out of the backfield, catching 58 passes the last 2 years.

The Eagles are set at RB, and Sankey will be off the board in the first two days of the draft. If the Eagles took a back, it wouldn't be until the last few rounds, and the player would have to have very good value.

Keith Price, QB, Washington (6'1, 202): Price is a late round prospect after being a 3-year starter at Washington. 20 TDs, 5 INTs. He'll compete at the Shrine Game.

Jimmy Kempski Philly.com
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