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The Top NFL Draft Prospects to Watch in the New Year’s Six Bowl Games

The biggest event of the NFL offseason may still be months away, but scouting season is here. From Joe Burrow to Chase Young to guys who could shoot up draft boards, here are the names to pay attention to during this week’s slate of games.

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College football bowl season has arrived, and it’s here to help herald in the new year and start the countdown to the NFL draft. We’re still four months away from the biggest event of the NFL offseason, but the six biggest college bowl games—the Cotton Bowl, Peach Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, Rose Bowl, and Sugar Bowl—should provide the perfect opportunity for fans and teams to get ahead in scouting. Those games feature a bevy of potential first-rounders and, likely, a few top-10 picks. So for those of you looking to familiarize yourself with the top talent headed for the 2020 NFL draft, here’s a quick primer on some of the biggest draft-eligible names to watch in the New Year’s Six.

Cotton Bowl Classic

No. 17 Memphis Tigers (12-1) vs. no. 10 Penn State Nittany Lions (10-2): December 28, 12 p.m. ET

In the Spotlight

Edge Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn State: Gross-Matos is one of a handful of underclassmen who’ve already declared for the draft. The dynamic 6-foot-5, 265-pound defender has posted 8.0 sacks in each of the past two seasons and tallied 33.5 tackles for a loss in that 23-game stretch. Boasting prototypical size and top-tier athleticism, the 21-year-old junior offers a scintillating skill set as both a pass rusher and run defender. Gross-Matos has a good shot at hearing his name called in the first round—and he’s just scratching the surface of his potential.

WR KJ Hamler, Penn State: Hamler, who’s a redshirt sophomore, has yet to announce whether he’ll declare for the draft, but the playmaking pass catcher is certainly on NFL teams’ radars after reeling in 54 passes for 858 yards and eight touchdowns this season. The 5-foot-9, 176-pound speedster is a dynamic threat as a receiver and has home run talent as a kickoff and punt-return man. You can’t teach speed, and Hamler has it in spades; he has top-50 potential should he declare.

Peach Bowl

No. 1 LSU Tigers (13-0) vs. no. 4 Oklahoma Sooners (12-1): December 28, 4 p.m. ET

In the Spotlight

QB Joe Burrow, LSU: Burrow is perhaps the biggest name from a smorgasbord of potential stars headlining the New Year’s Six. The Heisman Trophy–winning All-American quarterback is the odds-on favorite to become the first pick of the 2020 draft—and with good reason. The Tigers signal-caller completed 77.9 percent of his passes for 4,715 yards, 48 touchdowns, and just six picks this season, rising from QB afterthought in 2018 to legit star in LSU’s new-look spread offense. Burrow’s an aggressive, accurate passer who’s capable of threading the needle downfield and making defenses pay with his legs.

QB Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma: Hurts has been the ultimate dual-threat quarterback for Oklahoma this year. He finished as a Heisman finalist after throwing for 3,643 yards and 32 touchdowns while adding 1,255 yards and 18 scores on the ground. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Alabama transfer showcased accuracy and touch on downfield passes, and while some early projections have Hurts as a day-two or even a day-three pick, he’s got a chance to create some first-round hype with a strong finish.

WR CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma: Lamb won first-team AP All-American honors after finishing the season with 58 catches for 1,208 yards and 14 touchdowns—tied for fourth among all FBS receivers. The 6-foot-2, 189-pound pass catcher projects as a possible top-10 pick, bringing size, strong hands, and rare run-after-the-catch talent. His five catches of 60-plus yards were tied for the most in college football, and he averaged a ridiculous 20.8 yards per reception on the year. He’s a big play waiting to happen.

WR Justin Jefferson, LSU: Jefferson caught 88 passes (sixth nationwide) for 1,207 yards this season and matched Lamb’s touchdown output. The 6-foot-3, 192-pound junior didn’t quite reach the production level of sophomore teammate Ja’Marr Chase (who went for 1,498 yards and a national-best 18 touchdowns), but he was a menace on crossing routes and should hear his name called sometime in the first two days of April’s draft.

CB Kristian Fulton, LSU: Freshman corner Derek Stingley has upstaged Fulton a bit this year, but Fulton still has a chance to be the next in an increasingly long line of LSU defensive backs to be chosen in the early rounds of the draft. He boasts excellent size (6-foot, 200 pounds) and top-tier athleticism, broke up 12 passes this year (tied for 16th among all defenders), and notched one pick and 31 tackles in 13 games.

SS Grant Delpit, LSU: Delpit, this season’s Jim Thorpe Award winner (given to the nation’s best defensive back) and a second-team AP All-American, joins Fulton as a potential day-one pick. The 6-foot-3, 203-pound junior has excellent range and playmaking instincts, and has netted seven picks, 15 passes defensed, six sacks, and 130 tackles in the past two seasons. Tackling was an issue for the Tiger defender this year, so teams will be zeroed in on that aspect of his game in the Peach Bowl.

LB Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma: Murray brings sideline-to-sideline speed to the middle of the Oklahoma defense. In the past two seasons, the prototypical modern linebacker has racked up 250 tackles—28.5 of them for a loss—to go with 8.5 sacks.

Keep an Eye On

The Peach Bowl won’t have any shortage of high-caliber pro prospects. LSU pass rusher K’Lavon Chaisson is a much-watch player in this game. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound redshirt sophomore missed most of the 2018 season with a torn ACL but notched 11.5 TFLs and 4.5 sacks this season. He brings an explosive first step and the versatility to drop back into coverage, and because of that he has a shot at being a first-round pick. The Tigers offense has a handful of intriguing potential draft risers, too, including center Lloyd Cushenberry III and running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Edwards-Helaire is questionable for the game with an injured hamstring, but after rushing for 1,290 yards and 16 touchdowns this season, the workmanlike back has put himself into the day-two conversation.

For Oklahoma, center Creed Humphrey has a shot at sneaking into the first round after winning second-team AP All-American honors. So too does Sooner defensive tackle Neville Gallimore—an absurdly athletic big man who made Bruce Feldman’s preseason Freaks List after reportedly bench-pressing 500 pounds, squatting 800 pounds, power-cleaning 405 pounds, and clocking a 40-yard dash time of 4.76 seconds. The 6-foot-2, 302-pound defensive lineman should go somewhere in the top 50.

Fiesta Bowl

No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes (13-0) vs. no. 3 Clemson Tigers (13-0): December 28, 8 p.m. ET

In the Spotlight

Edge Chase Young, Ohio State: Young is easily the top nonquarterback prospect in the 2020 class, and while the talented junior and Heisman finalist has yet to officially declare, he’d be a lock to be a top-five pick should he leave Ohio State. Young posted a Buckeyes record 16.5 sacks in just 11 games this season, and he added 21 TFLs, three pass deflections, and seven forced fumbles for good measure. Young is an elite athlete with prototypical size, explosiveness, and power. Put another way, he may be better than both Nick and Joey Bosa.

CB Jeffrey Okudah, Ohio State: The first-team All-American brings a Marshon Lattimore–type skill set to Ohio State’s secondary. He’s an athletic, technically sound cover corner with excellent size (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) and playmaking instincts. Okudah picked off three passes and broke up another seven this season, adding 29 tackles and a forced fumble. The junior defensive back has the potential to be a top-10 pick.

WR Tee Higgins, Clemson: Higgins is a big-play specialist who averaged 20.8 yards per reception this season, good for eighth among FBS players. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound junior caught 52 passes for 1,082 yards and 13 touchdowns, eclipsing his 936-yard, 12-touchdown line from 2018. Higgins uses his massive catch radius and top-tier body control to bring down passes in traffic, and he’s got the field-stretching speed to get behind defenses.

LB/SS Isaiah Simmons, Clemson: The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Simmons is a hybrid between a safety and linebacker, packing the size and power to play downhill and the sideline-to-sideline speed to drop back and cover. The junior playmaker did a little bit of everything for Clemson this season, racking up seven sacks, 14.5 TFLs, two picks, six pass deflections, two forced fumbles, and 93 tackles. He’s a lock for the first round.

RB Travis Etienne, Clemson: Ettiene’s an explosive playmaker who rushed for 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns this season, all while maintaining a college-football-best 8.2 yards per carry average. The second-team AP All-American brings elite elusiveness and tackle-breaking prowess to the Clemson offense.

RB J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State: Dobbins joins Etienne on the AP All-American second team this season after racking up 1,829 rushing yards (third in the FBS) and 20 touchdowns. The 5-foot-9 219-pounder is a rugged and explosive runner, and he should get plenty of action against Clemson.

Keep an Eye On

Okudah is the biggest name from the Buckeyes cornerbacks group, but the team’s entire starting unit comes with pro potential. Shaun Wade―who left the Big Ten championship game against Michigan with an undisclosed injury―should be set to go against Clemson. Wade is a versatile slot defender who has size, physicality, and coverage chops. He could be an early-round pick. And senior corner Damon Arnette will man the outside opposite Okudah, where he’s bound to get tested by Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

On the other side of the ball, Ohio State receiver K.J. Hill has a chance to make a big impact and boost his draft stock. The 6-foot, 194-pound senior―who’s caught a pass in every Buckeyes game since 2016―finished the team’s regular-season schedule with 51 catches for 569 yards and 10 touchdowns.

For Clemson, don’t forget to watch the team’s second-team All-American guard, John Simpson, and cornerback A.J. Terrell, who brings speed, size, and ball skills to the Tiger defense. Terrell’s picked off six passes and broken up 11 more in three seasons with Clemson.

Orange Bowl

No. 9 Florida Gators (10-2) vs. no. 24 Virginia Cavaliers (9-4): December 30, 8 p.m. ET

In the Spotlight

Edge Jonathan Greenard, Florida: Greenard missed the 2018 season with a wrist injury, but the Louisville transfer notched 9.0 sacks, 15 TFLs in 10 games, three pass deflections, and a fumble recovery this season. At 6-foot-3, 265 pounds, Greenard boasts versatility as a run and pass defender and should fit into any scheme at the pro level.

Keep an Eye On

Joe Reed, Virginia’s receiver slash electric return man, is another one to watch in this game. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound playmaker hauled in 70 catches for 627 yards and six touchdowns in 2019 while adding 764 yards and two scores on kickoff returns. Cavaliers linebacker Jordan Mack also has a shot to get drafted in the middle rounds, so look for the 6-foot-2 230-pounder in the middle.

On the Florida side, running back Lamical Perine should get plenty of action. The senior showcased a complete skill set as a runner, pass catcher, and blocker: He rushed for 539 yards and four TDs this year while adding 35 catches for 219 yards and four more scores through the air. Edge rusher Jabari Zuniga, who missed seven games this season with an ankle injury, is healthy again and should be a factor for the Gators. The senior has recorded 18.5 sacks and 33 tackles for a loss in his career in Gainesville.

Rose Bowl

No. 6 Oregon Ducks (11-2) vs. no. 8 Wisconsin Badgers (10-3): January 1, 5 p.m. ET

In the Spotlight

QB Justin Herbert, Oregon: Herbert’s currently a tier below both Burrow and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa in the 2020 quarterback draft class, but he could rise up draft boards with strong performances in both the Rose Bowl and in the predraft circuit. The senior has shown remarkable adaptability playing in three different schemes under three different staffs in his career at Oregon (including Mark Helfrich’s offense, Willie Taggart’s Gulf Coast offense, and Mario Cristobal’s pistol offense), and he has the kinds of tools pro teams look for at the quarterback position, like prototypical size (6-foot-6, 238 pounds) and a strong arm. Herbert’s lack of consistency is what could hurt his draft stock: He’ll launch a perfectly placed tight-window throw on one play, then miss an easy one on the next. This game gives him a chance to finish his college career on the right note.

RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin: Taylor ran roughshod over pretty much every opponent he faced this year, racking up 1,909 rushing yards (second in the FBS) and 21 touchdowns (third). The first-team AP All-American improved as a pass catcher this season, too, hauling in 24 receptions for 209 yards and five scores. Taylor’s been Wisconsin’s bell-cow producer for the past three years, showcasing speed, durability, elusiveness, and incredible power; he’s got a shot at being the first running back off the board.

Keep an Eye On

The Oregon defense has a bevy of potential draft standouts to monitor, including cornerbacks Thomas Graham Jr. and Deommodore Lenoir, linebacker Troy Dye, and defensive linemen Austin Faoliu and Jordon Scott. Offensively, second-team AP All-American guard Shane Lemieux will be tasked with keeping Herbert upright.

For Wisconsin, look out for first team AP All-American center and Rimington Trophy winner (awarded to the top center in college football) Tyler Biadasz, who could hear his name called during the first two days of the draft. Linebacker Zack Baun, a second-team AP All-American who racked up 12.5 sacks in 2019, is another one to watch, and don’t forget about outside linebacker Chris Orr, who collected 11.5 sacks this season.

Sugar Bowl

No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs (11-2) vs. No. 7 Baylor Bears (11-2): January 1, 8:45 p.m. ET

In the Spotlight

QB Jake Fromm, Georgia: At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Fromm doesn’t have prototypical height for a QB or top-tier arm strength, but he throws with accuracy and touch at all three levels of the field. Fromm struggled in the team’s 37-10 loss to LSU in the SEC championship game, completing just 20 of 42 passes for 225 yards, one touchdown, and two picks. But the junior, who’s known for his strong leadership and football IQ, will be looking to get some momentum back on his side in this one. Fromm’s projected draft stock runs the gamut from potential first-rounder to day-three pick, which might explain why he’s still undecided about whether he’ll declare for the draft or return for his senior year at Georgia.

RB D’Andre Swift, Georgia: Swift is battling a shoulder injury, so his status for the Sugar Bowl remains up in the air―much like his plans for next year. But if he plays, the elusive, versatile back will look to showcase his chops as both a runner and pass catcher. Swift rushed for 1,216 yards and seven touchdowns this season while adding 24 catches for 216 yards and a score through the air. The 5-foot-9, 215-pound back has the talent to push both Clemson’s Etienne and Wisconsin’s Taylor as the draft’s top running back.

DL James Lynch, Baylor: Lynch won first-team AP All-American honors and the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award this season after posting 12.5 sacks and 18.5 TFLs in 13 games. The 6-foot-5, 295-pound junior brings size, power, and versatility to the Bears’ defensive line.

Keep an Eye On

For Georgia, don’t forget about safety J.R. Reed, who was named first-team AP All-American after tallying one pick, seven pass deflections, a half-sack, and a forced fumble this season. The senior defensive back and team captain was a finalist for both the Thorpe Award and the Nagurski Trophy (given to the nation’s top defensive player). On the Baylor side, keep tabs on defensive tackle Bravvion Roy and wide receiver Denzel Mims. Mims notched 61 catches for 945 yards and 11 touchdowns this season.