NFL Draft prospect tracker: Analysis on how the top players perform in bowl games
How did the players projected to be drafted in April perform in their bowl games? Follow here
The flashiest bowl games of the year are still more than a week away but the first slate of games featured performances from several highly regarded NFL draft prospects. Don't have the time to watch every game? NFLDraftScout.com has you covered, keeping track here of the impactful performances that will be shaking up the prospect rankings and mock drafts.
Jamaal Williams , RB, Brigham Young Cougars
- Projected draft position: Round 5
With far too much of the chatter regarding bowl games this week swirling around players opting not to compete, it was refreshing to see a grinder like Williams cap his college career in style, earning Offensive MVP honors with 210 rushing yards and the game-clinching touchdown in a rain-soaked 24-21 win over Wyoming Cowboys .
It was the third 200-plus yard rushing game of Williams' mostly brilliant career, giving him a BYU record 3,901 yards, including 35 touchdowns. It was precisely the type of performance in poor weather that scouts were hoping to see out of the 6-foot-1, 220 pound runner, who will don the famous BYU helmet once last time next month at the Senior Bowl.
Williams currently ranks 30th among running backs on NFLDraftScout.com's board but this is a more of a reflection on his struggles with durability than his talent. Williams is a verifiable workhorse when healthy but he has shown a troubling tendency to get nicked up, missing at least one game due to injury each year since a breakout freshman season in 2012 in which he rushed for 775 yards and 12 touchdowns. This includes three games in 2016 with a leg injury (reportedly a high ankle sprain) as well as six games in 2014, including the final four after suffering a "serious" knee injury which required surgery (reportedly to repair a torn ACL) and led to his sitting out the entire 2015 season.
Williams is clearly an NFL talent, looking like a man among boys at times against an over-matched Wyoming defense. With his chiseled frame and wicked stiff-arm, he is an intimidating runner whose physicality can wear down a defense. Williams is far from just a brute as a runner, however, showing patience, vision and balance to slice to and through the hole. He makes strong, confident cuts to elude and accelerates fluidly, slashing his way through the defense. Williams holds the ball high and tight, switching it to his outside arm when he breaks into the open. While generally very reliable in this area (only two lost fumbles over his career), Williams did lose the ball in this mud fest, getting it poked out by an accurate punch from Dallas Cowboys ' freshman Cassh Maluia on just his third carry of the game.
The 2017 draft is expected to be loaded at running back, though the somewhat surprising decisions by talented underclassmen Royce Freeman ( Oregon Ducks ) and Nick Chubb ( Georgia Bulldogs ) has weakened the crop somewhat. Williams' flashy finale has his stock on the upswing. Scouts are eager to see how he handles the jump in speed he will face at the Senior Bowl and how he acquits himself to third down duties, including pass protection and catching passes out of the backfield. Williams did not record a catch against the Cowboys and had only seven receptions this season, hauling in fewer balls each of his four years as BYU's starting running back.
Boca Raton Bowl
Forrest Lamp , OL, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
- Projected draft position: Round 2-3
Given that there were 82 combined points scored in the Hilltoppers' 51-31 victory over Memphis Tigers in the Boca Raton Bowl, it might seem strange to highlight a blocker rather than a skill-position standout. As it turns out, Lamp played both roles in this contest, showing off a degree of raw athleticism on a touchdown catch and run that forced scouts to take notice.
Pardon the pun, but the light has been bright on Lamp for quite some time now. He was twice highlighted on NFLDraftScout.com earlier this season after an impressive early game against top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide and following WKU's win over Louisiana Tech Bulldogs in the Conference USA title game. The debate with Lamp is not whether he can play in the NFL but rather what position he projects best at, as he is shorter and stockier at 6-foot-4, 302 pounds than scouts would prefer at left tackle and may be asked to slide inside to guard at next month's Senior Bowl.
Given the quickness, body control and soft hands he showed with the trick play touchdown -- which pushed WKU its first lead of the game -- perhaps Lamp should be seeing time at tight end, as well.
Giving no indication of the tomfoolery about to begin, Lamp lined up his normal left tackle position with approximately 1:57 remaining in the first quarter. The Hilltoppers were facing a second-and-7 from the Memphis 9-yard line and Memphis, realizing that it needed to put pressure on junior quarterback Mike White , was threatening a blitz with five defenders at the line, including standup rushers on each edge.
The Hilltoppers set up the trick pass to their left tackle by sending its receiver (in motion) and running back both to the right as part of the fake, forcing the Memphis defense to drift. Lamp's patience also deserves credit for creating the illusion. Normally quite quick off the ball, he eased out of his stance, allowing the rusher (6-foot-3, 245 pound freshman linebacker Bryce Huff ) a clear lane to the quarterback. Lamp, in fact, helped Huff on his way, providing a strong slap on the back of the linebacker to clear space. He then quickly retreated, making sure that he was behind his quarterback so that the pass would be a legal lateral, which is why in the box score Lamp's touchdown catch actually was recorded as a run.
Whether Lamp retreated too far or White's pass was simply a bit inaccurate, the ball arrived far in front of the blocker. Showing off impressive balance and quickness, Lamp rushed forward, extended his arms and plucked the ball easily, all while accelerating towards the goal line.
To be clear, catching a trick touchdown certainly does not mean that Lamp can handle a speed rusher like Von Miller or Khalil Mack off the edge. Throughout his career at left tackle, however, Lamp has shown an exciting blend of initial quickness, patience and hand technique in pass protection. His score only served as an exclamation point on a fantastic career for the Hilltoppers and an example that of the athleticism that could send his stock soaring as the draft approaches.
Las Vegas Bowl
Donnel Pumphrey , RB, San Diego State Aztecs
- Projected draft position: Round 4-5
Pumphrey rushed into the record books during Saturday's 34-10 win over Houston Cougars in a Las Vegas Bowl win, overtaking former Heisman winner Ron Dayne to become the all-time leading rusher in FBS history with 6,405 yards.
The 115 yards gained in this contest also pushed Pumphrey, currently ranked second among senior running backs on NFLDraftScout.com's board, past Texas Longhorns junior D'Onta Foreman for the single season rushing lead at 2,133 yards, including 17 touchdowns.
Though often compared to former San Diego State stars Ronnie Hillman and even the great Marshall Thundering Herd Faulk, as his size implies, Humphrey is a different breed of back. In fact, with his narrow waist, hips and legs, the 5-foot-8, 180 pounder looks more like a slot receiver (and a thin one, at that) than a back capable of withstanding NFL punishment. Put the ball in his hands, however, and it is easy to see why scouts are excited about the diminutive speedster. Pumphrey is an absolutely electric runner, using explosive 90-degree cuts to either direction to elude and legitimate breakaway speed. Despite his frame, Pumphrey is a decisive and surprisingly physical runner, who attacks inside creases and isn't just reliant on outside runs.
With higher rated underclassmen like LSU Tigers 's Leonard Fournette and Stanford Cardinal 's Christian McCaffrey already announcing their intentions to enter the draft early, Pumphrey is likely destined for Day 3 of the draft. He could prove a steal there, however, projecting best as a change-of-pace back.
Nico Siragusa , OG, San Diego State
- Projected draft position: Round 4
Scouts watching the Las Vegas Bowl could "double down" with standout San Diego State guard Nico Siragusa, currently 7th at the position on NFLDraftScout.com's board.
With the same last name as the former Baltimore Ravens ' portly run-stuffer (and popular sideline reporter), it would be easy to stereotype the Aztecs' star left guard as simply a powerful run blocker, especially given the success of Pumphrey. Siragusa, however, lacks the big belly of his apparently unrelated namesake, impressing with his initial quickness, long arms and balance in pass protection, as well as the surge he creates in the running game.
Siragusa is quick off the ball, but was challenged by Houston phenomenal freshman Ed Oliver , who if eligible would qualify for a first-round selection in the 2017 draft. With all due respect to the victorious Aztecs, Oliver was the best player on the field, frequently disrupting the interior with his initial quickness and power. Oliver recorded five tackles Saturday, including 3.5 for loss.
New Orleans Bowl
Ito Smith , RB, Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
- Projected draft position: Round 6
Scouts likely thought they were seeing a repeat of Pumphrey's record-breaking performance Saturday night with Southern Miss junior running back Ito Smith showing a similar degree of burst and elusiveness to push the Golden Philadelphia Eagles to a 28-21 win over Louisiana Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl.
The New Orleans Bowl was billed as a showdown between two of the better running backs in the south with Smith facing the Ragin' Cajuns' star senior Elijah McGuire , a 5-foot-10, 208 pounder currently projected as a fifth round prospect.
Smith stole the spotlight, however, dazzling with a darting running style and ultimately scoring three touchdowns, including two on the ground. He ran for 138 yards in all, showing the jitter-bug quickness to shake would-be tacklers in the hole as well as toughness, eclipsing the 20 carry mark for the seventh time this season. Smith finished his junior campaign with 1,459 yards and 17 touchdowns. He is also an accomplished receiver out of the backfield, snaring one touchdown in this contest and finishing the year with 43 grabs for 459 yards and two scores.
Elijah McGuire, Louisiana-Lafayette
- Projected draft position: Round 5
Though he was unable to cap his ULL career in the same dominant fashion, McGuire showed NFL-caliber vision, patience and toughness in rumbling for 99 yards (on 17 carries) in the loss. McGuire has been the picture of reliability for the Ragin' Cajuns over his career, eclipsing the 1,000 yard mark for the third consecutive season. Scouts question whether he possesses the straight-line speed to be a true bell-cow in the NFL but he is the type of no-nonsense back that "surprises" as a Day 3 pick. Like Pumphrey, McGuire will get one final opportunity to show off his natural running skills in a post-season all-star game, accepting an invitation to play in the East-West Shrine Game in January.
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