Richner: Bowl Prospects

Last Updated: 8/19/2014 10:03 PM ET’s NFL Draft Expert, Matt Richner, takes his weekly look at three notable college prospects as well as who to watch in the upcoming bowl games.

Montee Ball (Wisconsin, RB): The NCAA’s career touchdown leader with 76, Montee Ball tied Barry Sanders’ single-season touchdown mark with 39 TDs last season. As one of the most consistent, productive running backs in college football history, Ball has averaged 5.6 yards per carry for his career. Going up against Nebraska in the Big 10 championship game, Ball exploded for 202 yards on 21 carries and three TDs.  Showing a tough, physical running style, Ball had 88 YASC (yards-after-significant-contact), an average of 4.2 YASC per carry.

When Ball received a third-round grade last season from the NFL Draft advisory board, he decided to return to school to improve his draft stock. He is a north-south runner, who has excellent vision to see his hole and run through it at full speed. On his first touchdown of the game, Ball came on a reverse and was able to beat Nebraska safety Daimion Stafford to the corner, which allowed him to get up field for the score. On his third touchdown, Ball broke through three separate tackles, ending his run with a ferocious stiff-arm to end his 57-yard touchdown run.

With 58 receptions for 591 yards and six TDs, Ball shows above-average hands for a running back capable of turning a short checkdown into a big gain. The most complete, NFL-ready running back in the draft, Ball looks to be a second-round pick.

Johnathan Hankins (Ohio State, DT): This mammoth, run-stuffing defensive tackle/nose tackle for the Buckeyes held opponents to 3.6 yards-per-carry average for the season. At 6’3” and 335 lbs, Hankins is considered a shooting star among scouts. He shows great effort and a high motor each and every play, and he was involved in all 47 defensive snaps against Michigan. In that game, Michigan gained 108 rushing yards, but only six of those yards came when they ran at Hankins.

On pass downs, Hankins was able to slide down the line of scrimmage and occupy blockers, which allowed his linebackers to roam free and make plays. Going against double teams throughout the game, Hankins was still able to get a consistent push of 2 to 3 yards.

Big, athletic nose tackles don’t come around very often. Look for Hankins to rise up the draft boards and be selected in the first round.

Ricky Wagner (Wisconsin, OT): A consensus first-team All-American this season, Ricky Wagner has been able to continue the Wisconsin tradition of producing technically sound offensive linemen. A three-year starter, the last two at the left tackle position, Wagner has the experience and physical abilities NFL teams are looking for from the tackle position.

Not overly athletic, Wagner is a step slow on his pull-out blocks; at 6’6” and 317 lbs, he has room to add some size, but only if it does not limit his speed. He will shine at the kick-slide drill at the upcoming combine, having the nation’s best kick slide. Wagner excels in run blocking, and when he is able to get his hands on his man, shows a bit of a nasty streak, finishing his blocks to the end of the whistle.

Wagner will most likely slide over to the right tackle position in the NFL. Scouts I’ve talked to have given Wagner a third-round grade.

Gildan New Mexico Bowl

Nevada (Stefphon Jefferson, RB), (Duke Williams, SS): Stefphon Jefferson started this season as one of the hottest running backs, gaining 877 rushing yards in the month of September. Jefferson finished the season with 1703 rushing yards and 22 TDs on 301 carries. He is a creative runner, who has some quickness to hit the holes playing in the Pistol offense. Look for Jefferson to have a big night against Arizona. Right now Jefferson is being talked about as a fifth-round prospect, but he could vault in status with a big game.

As the leader of the Wolf Pack defense, Williams is a hard-hitting strong safety, who is capable of playing in the box as an extra run defender or going stride-for-stride with a receiver in the pass-happy Mountain West Conference. Second on the team in tackles, Williams has eight pass break-ups this season to go along with three forced fumbles. Williams has a fourth-round grade; scouts love his instincts and the fact he is not afraid to mix it up at the line of scrimmage.

Arizona (Ka’Deem Carey, RB): Carey finished the season as the FBS rushing-yards leader with 1757 yards on only 275 carries, an impressive 6.4 YPC. As a true sophomore, Carey is not draft eligible, but he is on scouts’ radars, showcasing an impressive skill set with great vision and acceleration, which allows Carey to hit the right hole and get up field.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Utah State (Will Davis, DB): Selected to the first-team all-WAC conference team, Will Davis ranks first in the nation in passes defended with 16—an average of 1.8 a game—to go along with five INT this season. The former junior college standout, he has been a shutdown corner these past two seasons for the Aggies. He has the speed to handle the quick twitch wideouts at the next level. He will need to add some size, as he only weighs 186 lbs, and he will need to show scouts he is capable of playing the press cover corner technique. With quick hips, Davis is showing scouts he can play as a nickel corner his first year.

Toledo (Bernard Reedy, WR): Junior wideout Bernard Reedy does not look to be coming out this year but will be someone who teams will be watching, going head-to-head with Utah State’s standout corner, Will Davis. The speedy receiver is a home run threat every time he touches the ball. With 82 receptions for 1051 yards, Reedy, running shorter, quicker routes, has been able to take advantage of his acceleration off the line of scrimmage to gain separation against slower defensive backs. He is a good route-runner, who is able to accelerate coming out of his breaks and is always looking to get up field after making the catch.