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NFL Draft watch notes for Saturday's bowl games


Armed Forces Bowl, 11:45 a.m. (ET), ESPN

Rice vs. Air Force

Neither of these teams are known for producing NFL talent, but Rice has had players drafted in the past two years. That should continue in 2013 with tight end/wide receiver Vance McDonald. A Senior Bowl invite, McDonald has tight end size at 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, but often gets split out off the line. Rice cornerback Phillip Gaines is a player to keep a tab on. He's tied for the national lead in pass breakups with 18.

Pinstripe Bowl, 3:15 p.m. (ET), ESPN

West Virginia vs. Syracuse

Of the non-BCS bowls, the Pinstripe Bowl is among the best for NFL prospects. Both starting quarterbacks, Geno Smith of West Virginia and Ryan Nassib of Syracuse, will get drafted in April. Smith is assuredly a first-round pick while Nassib has the arm strength to be an intriguing player who could possibly be a top 100 pick. Neither quarterback has officially been announced for an offseason all-star game.

Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, West Virginia's top two wide receivers, should be be taken in the first 50 picks of the draft. Austin is a big play threat who can line up in a number of positions and be a weapon. Bailey is probably the more the natural of the two as a wide receiver. He's a terrific route runner who can cut on a dime to get open. Syracuse has a pair of draftable wide receivers as well in Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales. Although he doesn't have top speed and has injury issues, Lemon is a productive talent with good hands. Sales profile as a fourth wide receiver with average size and ability.

The Orange may end up having more players drafted this year than West Virginia. In addition to the skill players on offense, Syracuse left tackle could be a top 64 selection. He's Syracuse's best player, when healthy, and profiles a solid starting left tackle in the NFL. Safety Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse's leading tackler, is a Shrine Game invitee who could be a solid mid-round pick.

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, 4 p.m. (ET), ESPN2

Navy vs. Arizona State

Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton is obviously undersized for the NFL at 6-foot-1 and about 270 pounds. But Sutton is an incredibly active interior pass rusher and enters the game with 20 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks on the year. While Sutton may not have a defined NFL position, he's such a high motor player that he'll find a fit somewhere. Linebacker Brandon Magee could be playing on Sunday's at this time next year. The senior is headed to the Shrine Game after leading the Sun Devils in tackles.

Alamo Bowl, 6:45 p.m. (ET), ESPN)

Texas vs. Oregon State

This year's Alamo Bowl features several very good prospects on the defensive side. Texas senior Kenny Vaccaro is one of the best safeties in the class this year and can handle the run and the pass. Vaccaro has nice size and athleticism and could come off the board early in the second round.

Longhorns end Alex Okafor could also get picked somewhere in the second. Okafor isn't the most athletic or quick-twitch pass rusher, but he plays with good technique and is consistent. Much like Vaccaro, Okafor is a Senior Bowl invite.

Oregon State has its own Senior Bowl player on defense in cornerback Jordan Poyer. There's little Poyer can't do as a cornerback. He has good hands and can make a play on the ball. With seven interceptions this season, Poyer is among the nation's best at picking off the ball. There are some questions about Poyer's athleticism and speed, but he matches up well against bigger receivers.

Beavers wide receiver Markus Wheaton will also be at the Senior Bowl. He quietly put together a big season with 88 receptions for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns. Wheaton isn't the most physically impressive receiver, but he gets off the line smoothly and has good hands. Look for Vaccaro to be put in help coverage over the top against Wheaton.

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, 10:15 p.m. (ET), ESPN

TCU vs. Michigan State

Expected to enter the 2013 NFL Draft, this could be the final college game for Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell. He faces one of the nation's top run defenses and could go out on a high note. He's certainly on a hot streak, rushing for 587 yards in his past three games. Purely as a prospect, Bell's running style is a little suspect. He runs upright and has build up speed. There's not a lot of immediacy to his game, but he has obvious natural talent and size. Junior tight end Dion Sims is one of the top players at his position in the nation. He's a big tight end who can block, but has surprising athleticism and soft hands. He's not going to be a superstar in the NFL, but he projects as a dependable tight end who can help in the pass and run games.

Because of their pedestrian 6-6 record, most forget that the Spartans have one of the most talent-rich defenses in college football. The team has three draftable linebackers – Denicos Allen, Max Bullough and Chris Norman – but only Norman is a senior. There is a lot of potential in end William Gholston, who profiles nicely as a 3-4 end. He didn't have the break out season many expected, but he still comes into the game with 12 tackles for loss on the year. Cornerback Johnny Adams also hasn't had the year many expected, but he should make for a solid nickel corner in the NFL.

TCU doesn't have the prospects of years past. Arguably the Horned Frogs' best prospect is cornerback Jason Verrett. The junior has six interceptions and 14 pass breakups this season. Senior guard Blaize Foltz should get late round consideration.