The Cotton Bowl between Oklahoma St. and Mizzou doesn't offer as much marquee name stars as some of the other Bowl games might, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't tune in. This game has a couple players who could wind up wearing Giants Blue in the 2014 season.
We'll start with Oklahoma St. , who's starting cornerback could be a target for the New York Giants at No. 12 overall in May.
That prospect would be senior Justin Gilbert.
Gilbert is arguably the best corner in the 2014 draft. Darqueze Dennard is a more polished cover corner, but Gilbert is certainly the more athletic of the two. Gilbert is a long, rangy athlete with blazing speed and a knack for making big plays.
While Gilbert's cover technique can be lacking at times, he makes up for it with fluidity, agility, and tremendous acceleration. Add that terrific hands, solid vision and instincts for the ball, and you have one of the most dangerous defenders in the draft.
What Gilbert lacks in polished technique, he makes up for with the ball in his hands. Not only is he a threat to score every time he makes a pick, he is an accomplished and dangerous returner, taking five (5) kick-offs to the house over his career. Gilbert is a "Reese" pick who could reinforce two areas with one pick. Definitely a guy to watch.
Next up is defensive tackle Calvin Barnett. Barnett was thought to be Oklahoma St's best prospect going into the 2013 season. However, Gilbert rebounded impressively from a disappointing 2012 season while Barnett failed to markedly improve on a promising one. Barnett has adequate size for a 3-technique at 6-foot-2, 300 pounds and the ability to play end in a three-man front as well.
Barnett has a nice first step and violent hands, and flashes some strength. However, he plays a little too angry and can lose control of his emotions at times and play out of control.
If he can focus and keep a clearer head, as well as hone his physical skills, Barnett could be a nice mid-round pickup.
Finally for Oklahoma St. is wide receiver Tracy Moore. Moore has been troubled by off-field issues and injury. But he is a thickly built receiver who has some nice tools. Not blazing speed, but he uses his body well and has a nice catch radius. He's a definite step down from Dez Bryant or Justin Blackmon, but Moore could be a late-round sleeper.
Pretty much nobody (except maybe Mizzou, though they might be lying to themselves) thought that Mizzou would be in the SEC title game with a legitimate chance to win. But, come the end of the season there they were.
They got to that title game riding on the back of a vicious defense lead by defensive end Michael Sam. Sam, however, isn't Mizzou's best prospect. That honor belongs to Sam's bookend, left defensive end Kony Ealy.
Ealy is probably the best defensive end in the draft not named "Jadeveon Clowney" (though Trent Murphy from Stanford makes a strong case as well). Ealy posses prototypical size for the position at 6-5, 275 pounds, a quick first step, some nice moves, and good closing speed. Ealy is a raw prospect, needing to work on his pad level, hand usage, and awareness. He might initially struggle at the next level when he can't simply overwhelm tackles with his strength, athleticism, and length. If he lands in the right situation, where he has the time and coaching to develop his natural abilities, Ealy has all the tools to succeed in the NFL.
Which brings us to Michael Sam. Sam is an undersized defensive end / outside linebacker tweener. He doesn't quite have the frame to consistently play with his hand in the dirt at 6-2, 250. However, he would be a project as a linebacker.
Sam has been very productive for Mizzou, leading the SEC in sacks (10.5) as well as tackles for a loss (18). He is a quick, agile speed rusher with a great first step. He can attack off the edge as well as shoot gaps.
Sam might have a future as a rotational pass rusher in a base 4-3 front, however he would probably best fit as a SAM (no pun intended) linebacker in either a 3-4 or hybrid defense. That way he can use his athleticism without having to contend with linemen in the trenches every down.
Mizzou's next defensive stand-out prospect is senior cornerback EJ Gaines. Gaines is a solid prospect who makes up for being slightly undersized (5-10) with long arms and fluid coverage skills. He appears to be equally at home in press and off coverage. He's a prolific tackler, ranking third on the team in tackles despite missing two games. The biggest knock on Gaines is that despite his tackle numbers, his technique is lacking, preferring to alternately hit or drag down offensive players. (That is, admittedly, and epidemic in modern football... But that's a rant for another time).
On the offensive side of the ball I would be remiss if I failed to mention Mizzou's receiving corps. They're a huge part of their success this year. Literally.
Justin Gilbert will likely be matched up on Mizzou's sophomore receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. As a true sophomore, Green-Beckham isn't draft eligible, but he should be exciting to watch. He's 6-6, 225 pounds, with excellent speed. If you're looking for a comparison, think AJ Green.
Among the draft-eligible prospects, the first to watch is red shirt senior La'Damien Washington at 6-4, 205. Washington is slender for his height, but he is a long strider with the impressive speed, hands, and body control to be a big-play threat in the NFL. He needs to work on his route running, tending to be lazy in his breaks. Also, he needs to be more of a "hands" catcher, letting the ball into his body too often.
Next is senior Marcus Lucas at 6-4, 220. Lucas has all the size an NFL team could ask for, and impressive long speed as well. His speed is more "build-up" than Washington's, so he might have some issues getting off the line against press coverage in the NFL. However, his thickness and strength should make up for that.
Also, senior Jaleel Clark (6-3, 220) could bear watching as well.
Teams: Missouri vs. Oklahoma State
Game Time: 7:30 p.m. ET