Scouting The Capital One Bowl
As part of Football.com's coverage of all 35 bowl games, we will provide a draft prospect-primer, so you know whom to watch during every postseason game.
If someone from the Capital One Bowl were to ask Jadeveon Clowney, "What's in your wallet?", he'd get a far different answer on Jan. 1st than he will on May 8th. Clowney is the best prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft, regardless of the subpar season he just struggled through. I suspect Clowney will open the new year with a strong final impression, though he'll have limited opportunity to rush the quarterback against a Wisconsin offense committed to running the football.
Still, a game being played down the road from Tomorrowland features more than its share of future NFL standouts.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE
I'll not belabor the point I've been making since May. I'll simply remind you that Clowney is the best defensive end prospect in a decade and refer you to my first Mock Draft of the year.
Kelcy Quarles, DT
Someone had to benefit from all the attention opposing offenses were devoting to stopping Clowney. They threw double-teams at him, with tackle-guard and tackle-tight end combos, chipped him with running backs, all of which left some one-on-one opportunities for his teammates. And Quarles made them pay, racking up 9.5 sacks (just a half-sack shy from tying the mark for second-best single season in school history) and 13.5 TFL -- team-best in both categories. But his production was not solely the result of being Clowney's second banana. Quarles showed some versatility as an interior pass rusher, demonstrating he could bull rush his way into the backfield as well as penetrate with a pretty decent first step. At 6-4, 298, he could be a 1 technique nose tackle or, more likely, a 3 technique tackle in a four-man line.
Victor Hampton, CB
An aggressive, physical corner who seems well-suited for a man-to-man scheme. He might give up a few inches to the NFL's biggest wideouts, but at 5-10, 202, he's comfortable asserting himself at the line before turning and running with the receiver. And that forceful approach extends to his run support, where he seems happy to contribute. Hampton has not had much chance to show his ball skills, but he did have three interceptions over the season.
Chaz Sutton, DE
Sutton didn't take advantage of protections sliding to Clowney nearly as much as Quarles did. Still, starting for the first time in his career, he did show an ability to make plays. He had a couple of sacks, 7.5 TFL and held the edge in the run game. He has prototype size and is the rare collegiate player who actually looks bigger than his measurables suggest (6-5, 263). He's a strong side end, who could still develop some pass rush potential over time.
Bruce Ellington, WR
South Carolina's leading receiver each of the last two seasons has one of the more interesting decisions to make. He's not just having to consider whether to come back to Columbia to play football next year; he has to decide whether he wants to return to campus after the bowl game and reclaim his spot as the starting point guard on South Carolina's basketball team. He's a speedy, solid 5-9, 196, and his skills as a kick returner will add to his draft interest. He'll be a versatile weapon whenever he decides to come out.
Jared Abbrederis, WR
He'll be more than the quintessential possession receiver at the next level. Abbrederis might not have the speed, the burst off the line or the elusiveness to gain separation, but he makes tough catches in traffic all the time. He wins contested balls, wins battles in jump ball situations, using every bit of his lanky frame (6-foot-2, 190 pounds). Essentially, he plays with the constant determination to prove himself -- which, as a former walk-on, he's had to do. In fact, he received the Burlsworth Trophy, awarded to the best player in college football who began his career as a walk-on. He also has gained more than 1,300 yards in kick and punt returns over his career, giving him another way to contribute in the NFL.
James White, RB
Melvin Gordon made the right choice, returning to Madison to become the Badgers' feature back. This year, he split time with -- and, many times, was overshadowed by -- James White. Together, they are on the brink of the best season ever enjoyed by teammates (they're a combined 202 yards shy of a shared 3,005-yard season, which would be a new rushing record for two teammates). Individually, there's a case to be made the White is the more complete back. If Gordon was considered a second-round pick, I can't see how White is anything lower than a third -- and that's factoring in the early round bias against drafting running backs. Despite never having been Wisconsin's primary back, White still has managed to rush for 3,908 yards and 45 touchdowns. He lacks the power that Gordon has, though he's able to slip through cracks at the point of attack and always seems to be moving forward. Plus, he's Wisconsin's all-time leading receiver among running backs (658 yards), making him a true any-down back at the next level.
Chris Borland, ILB
Watch Borland and you feel like his game film should be in grainy black-and-white. He's a throwback Mike backer, a hard-hitter who always seems to be in position to unload on a ballcarrier. He's the kind of prospect who will get overshadowed at the Combine, when his measurables (5-11, 246) and average speed don't compare with those of the superior athletes. Still, what he lacks in innate athleticism he more than compensates for in effort, instinct and a devotion to preparation. The concern with Borland is that he throws himself full-bore into his work. It's resulted in 14 forced fumbles (tied for most in Big Ten history), but those hits have taken their toll. He missed time in 2012, needed a medical redshirt in 2010, and sat out nearly two full games this season. The Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year leaves everything on the field; NFL coaches (and trainers) will be evaluating just how much of him remains left to give at the next level.
Ryan Groy, G
He's played virtually everywhere along Wisconsin's offensive line during the course of his career -- center, right tackle, and every game this year at left guard. He lacks the quickness and technique to play tackle in the pros, but teams will appreciate the act they could line him up anywhere along the interior. At 6-5, 320, he has prototype size, and he's strong enough to handle the bull rushes he'll face from defensive tackles. Groy will get to prove that against South Carolina's ferocious front line.
Jacob Pedersen, TE
He doesn't catch a ton of passes (an average of 31 per season over the last three years), but he makes the most of them when he does. Pedersen averages 13.3 yards per catch for his career, and his 17 career touchdowns are third-most among active tight ends. He has modest success as a blocker, but he's really a receiver first and foremost, tough enough to make catches in traffic and with hands good enough to pull down jump balls consistently.
Beau Allen, NT
At 6-3, 235, Allen is a classic space-eater. He didn't make a ton of tackles in 2013 (only 19, along with 2 TFL), but he wasn't asked to. In Wisconsin's 3-4 defensive front, he was asked to keep blockers off Borland. He'll add depth to someone's interior defensive line in 2014.