Most Impressive Defensive Player Of Bowl Season: Jordan Zumwalt, ILB, UCLA
By Bill Lund
Watching the 2013 Sun Bowl was a fine way to kill some time before the marquee bowl matchups began. I figured I would get a good look at first-rounder Anthony Barr. But as the game progressed, I kept asking myself, “Who is this Zumwalt guy?"
Jordan Zumwalt, at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, has the great size that scouts love in a linebacker and may have been the most impressive defensive player I saw during this bowl season. He kept making plays all over Sun Bowl Stadium, then with a thunderous hit on Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas, he seemingly announced to the Hokies, "I am here all day. Cross the line of scrimmage, if you dare." At that moment, I became intrigued.
The Sun Bowl Co-MVP dominated the game for the Bruins. Barr was solid, but he did not take over the game like Zumwalt did. The physicality with which Zumwalt played would’ve made Ray Nitschke proud.
Projected to be a Day 3 pick by most analysts, I believe that teams have a reason to refocus their evaluation and examine Zumwalt more deeply. He played with great instincts throughout the game. At times, he got hung up on blocks, but his effort to escape was obvious. It’s that effort that was most intriguing. He has the strength, power and speed to punch, squeeze and shed blockers, and he still is developing his technique in that aspect. The uncommon effort he displayed in getting to the ball is something that not every player shows.
Zumwalt played the Sun Bowl at a level that outshined Barr. He played better than his current draft position indicates. That doesn’t mean he will be selected in the first two days of the draft. But whomever does pick Zumwalt will get a player that is a diamond in the rough, with the skill set to develop into an NFL starter.
Only time will tell. Remember -- Nitschke didn't become a full-time starter until four years after he was drafted, and that turned out pretty well.