The 2014 Capital One Bowl between Wisconsin and South Carolina promises to be one of the most interesting bowl games to date (from a draft perspective), and perhaps one of the most interesting of the whole bowl season. Both schools not only have a number of draft-eligible players, but they also have a number of players that are almost sure to hear their names called over Draft Weekend. In fact, each school has a player that landed on the pre-season Freak List.
So, let's get to it.
Any look at the Wisconsin Badgers team has to start with one guy:
Chris Borland (LB, rSr)
Borland's is a name that has been floating around Big Blue View quite a bit lately. Physically; he is a short but not undersized middle linebacker who is listed at 5-foot-11, 245 pounds. There are three things that make Borland the headline prospect of this team.
First and foremost, his intelligence. He is a very smart linebacker with excellent instincts, both in coverage and in the run game. He is rarely fooled by misdirection or play fakes. He is a physical player who holds the Wisconsin record for forced fumbles, and averages well over 100 tackles a year. He also has 41.5 career tackles for a loss.
Next is his leadership. Borland is universally recognized as the heart and soul of not only the Wisconsin defense, but of their whole team.
Finally, despite his obvious physical "limitations" of a lack of height and arm length, Borland landed in the top-10 of the CBSsports annual college football "Freak List". What got him there is truly shocking lower-body explosiveness. Not only can he do standing back flips at will (which should make him a lock as a Giants draft pick), but he's also routinely lands them in full splits. More impressive, Borland has a 51" box jump. For reference, HERE is All-Pro defensive end JJ Watt landing a 55-inch box jump.
That being said, his build does put some athletic limitations on him. His height and arm length mean that he can have difficulty getting off good blocks at the line of scrimmage. Also, while his explosiveness means that he is quick to close, he doesn't have the top-end sideline-to-sideline speed that some other linebackers can boast.
Jared Abbrederis (WR, rSr)
The next Badger to watch for is Jared Abbrederis. Abbrederis is a former walk-on wide receiver who, despite lacking anything like elite athleticism or measurables still manages to be one of the most prolific receivers in team history. He combines size at 6-1, 190 pounds with average speed, and that is likely going to send him down draft boards.
However, Abbrederis should get drafted, and will stands a good chance of making whichever offensive coordinator and quarterback get him very happy. To offset his average measurables, Abbrederis is a very intelligent route runner who understands coverages, and how to exploit them. Also, he has very quick feet to make sharp cuts, double-moves, and can stop/start very suddenly to create separation.
He likely won't be anything like a No. 1 receiver at the next level, but he has the makings of a valuable possession receiver, who could find a home in the slot a la Steve Smith (Giants) or Wes Welker.
Ryan Groy (G, rSr)
Ryan Groy is probably the Badgers' best draft eligible offensive lineman. Wisconsin has a long history of churning out NFL ready linemen, and Groy has a lot of the tools. He is a big lineman, being listed at 6-5, 320 pounds. He will likely play guard at the next level, but he might have the ability to kick outside and be a right tackle in the right blocking scheme. Groy did briefly play left tackle for the Badgers, but moved back to his natural left guard position. Groy is a big, powerful blocker with decent movement skills for a guard, although his balance seems to be a bit lacking. He could also use some polishing with his hand usage, sometimes being late getting his hands on defenders. But, on the bright side, he seems to play with a nasty streak, always looking for somebody to block, even when the play is well away from him.
James White (RB, Sr)
White is a smaller running back prospect (5-10, 190 pounds), but he is a nice later-round prospect. Despite his size, White runs with power to break arm tackles. His best attribute is his agility though. White has quick feet to cut back and change direction on a dime, and a nice burst to reach top speed within a step or two. He also has solid vision to go with his feet, identifying clogged lanes and bouncing the run outside before running into the pile. Finally, he also has solid hands as a receiving option.
Jacob Pederson (TE, rSr)
Pederson is the last Wisconsin prospect that is very likely to be drafted in May. He is a smaller tight end at 6-4, 240 pounds, but he could find a home in the NFL as a receiving tight end or H-Back. He would need to improve as a blocker to be a complete tight end in the NFL, but he seems to have the frame to add some mass to improve his blocking ability. Pederson could be a sleeper prospect who rises come the draft.
South Carolina has a number of draftable prospects, but where to start?
Oh, I know:
Jadeveon Clowney (DE, Jr)
What is there to be said about Jadeveon (JD) Clowney? Well, not only is he South Carolina's best player, he is quite possibly the best prospect in the entire draft. His stock has been hurt this year, plummeting from the prohibitive first overall pick all the way to fifth overall, even sixth, in some mock drafts. This drop is due to a couple of factors. First, his production has dropped dramatically from his sophomore campaign, largely due to teams doubling or tripling him most every play, in addition to playing through injury and illness. Also, questions about his character and motivation have popped up.
Regardless, Clowney's extreme brand of freakishly athletic freakishness should be on display against Wisconsin. Clowney is one of the few players capable of legitimately taking over a game, or changing its course with a single play (as we saw a year ago against Michigan when the Legend of Clowney gained mythic status)
Kelcy Quarles (DT, Jr)
Clowney's partner in crime on the South Carolina defensive line is Kelcy Quarles. Quarles is something of a hybrid defensive tackle, who is capable of playing inside at 3-technique in a four-man front (as he does for the Gamecocks) as well as playing on the end as a 5-technique in a 3-man front.
Quarles uses a fast first step to knife through offensive lines, as well as power to anchor and control blocks or bull rush linemen into the backfield. Quarles, not Clowney, leads the Gamecocks in both sacks (9.5) and tackles for a loss (13.5). Though, at least a part of that production could be credited to Clowney commanding as much attention as he does. Quarles does need to work on his game awareness, being susceptible to play fakes, and he sometimes fails to get his hands up to bat down passes.
Victor Hampton (CB, rJr)
Hampton is another Gamecock with tremendous upside that still to be harnessed. He is a bit short for an outside cornerback at 5-10, but he has excellent girth at 200 pounds. Hampton is an athletically gifted and physical corner, who is not afraid to get his hands on receiver at the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately, that can sometimes extend to "anywhere on the field". He is quick and fluid in coverage, able to play off as well as in press. His technique is raw and despite his fluidity he sometimes plays too upright, making him inconsistent.
Bruce Ellington (WR, Jr)
Ellington is an interesting prospect. He still hasn't decided whether or not he is going to leave South Carolina and go pro. He also hasn't decided on which sport he is going to go pro in. Ellington is a two-sport athlete. Not only is he South Carolina's starting, and best, wide receiver... He is also the starting point guard on South Carolina's basketball team.
He is undersized for an NFL receiver at 5-9, 197 pounds, however he is an excellent athlete with good speed and very quick feet. Also, as befitting a basketball player he is very good at going up for the ball, and making sharp cuts.
He has put in a request for an assessment from the Draft Advisory Board, but won't open the envelope until after the Capital One Bowl, so as to avoid the distraction.
Rory Anderson (TE, Jr)
Anderson is definitely a sleeper prospect at tight end. He isn't used often in South Carolina's passing attack, but he does have the soft hands and quickness to be a capable receiver. He has decent size at 6-5, 245 pounds, though he could certainly stand to add some mass. He is an adequate run and pass blocker, which should improve with added size and NFL coaching.
Chaz Sutton (DE, rSr)
Sutton is South Carolina's "other" defensive end. He is a long, lean defensive end, who has a nice first step and surprising power. Playing across from Clowney it is difficult to see him for the athlete he is, but Sutton does play with a strong burst off the snap.
However due to inconsistent leverage, his power and explosiveness are often wasted. If he could learn to play with better pad level, he could be a much more dynamic player. He plays with a nice motor and is relentless in pursuit. Even if he gets stood up at the line of scrimmage, he can fight through blocks, even double-teams on effort alone. As well, he doesn't give up even when the play goes well away from him.
Surprisingly, Sutton doesn't look uncomfortable in coverage, so a move to outside linebacker in the correct 3-4 defense might not be out of the question.
Sutton is likely a day three pick at the moment, but he could develop into a strong rotational defensive end.
Finally, there are two Gamecocks I would be remiss to not mention: Connor Shaw and Mike Davis.
Connor Shaw is South Carolina's quarterback, and while the Giants don't really have a place for him, the incredible toughness he has played with in his time as the Gamecock's quarterback deserves recognition. Shaw is careful with the football, throwing 20 touchdowns to just one interception, and is an effective runner as well. If the game is close in the fourth quarter, look for Shaw to put on something of a magic show.
Mike Davis isn't a draft eligible player, but that still doesn't mean that he won't be worth paying attention to. Davis is a dynamic running back who has become one of the top backs in the SEC (or college football for that matter) beside Todd Gurley and Tre Mason. Davis manages to be tough, elusive, powerful, and quick.
Sophomore receiver Shaq Roland is definitely worth watching as well. He has come on strong in the last part of the season.
Time: Wed, Jan 1st. 1 p.m.
TV: ABC (WatchABC for live stream)