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2024 NFL Draft Watch: Players to watch on New Year’s Day bowl games

Who should Giants fans watch in the ReliaQuest Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Citrus Bowl, Rose Bowl, and Sugar Bowl?

NCAA Football: Alamo Bowl-Texas at Washington Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Biggest day of the 2023-2024 College Football Bowl Season is here.

This is also the first step in the 2024 NFL Draft process, as some of the top players in the upcoming draft will be on the field. The New York Giants will have a top-10 pick, and they could (should) be looking closely at some of the players on the field today. We should expect GM Joe Schoen to attend at least one of these games, and he could even pull a double-header.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at the games and which players Giants fans should be watching.

ReliaQuest Bowl - (13) LSU vs. Wisconsin

ESPN 2 - noon

Brian Thomas Jr. (WR, LSU)

WR Malik Nabers is obviously the top prospect in the game and the one everyone will be watching — particularly with QB Jayden Daniels opting out. The Giants could target Nabers at the top of the 2024 NFL Draft, depending on how the remainder of the season and the top of the draft shake out.

That said, Brian Thomas Jr. is a very good receiver in his own right and would be among the top receivers in a less-stacked draft class. He has great length at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds and an uncommon blend of quickness and explosiveness for his frame. That shouldn’t be particularly surprising, as Thomas was a star basketball player as well as football player in high school. He needs to get more consistent in his route running, but Thomas has good ball skills, high competitive toughness, and the ability to be a threat at all areas of the field.

The duo of Nabers and Thomas could follow in the footsteps of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, and Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson. And while the Giants might not be able to get the “number one” of the duo if their first round priorities lie elsewhere, Thomas could could certainly make them happy if he slips to the second day of the draft.

Vrbo Fiesta Bowl - (8) Oregon vs. (23) Liberty

ESPN - 1 p.m.

Bo Nix (QB, Oregon)

There really isn’t any question regarding who we should be watching on the Oregon side of things. Nix could have opted out of the game to get ready for the NFL draft, but committed to playing one last game at Oregon. Assuming he plays up to the standards he set for himself over the last two seasons, teams will likely look favorably on the decision. It’s absolutely understandable for players to opt out of bowl games, limit their risk of injury, and prepare for the draft. But there’s also something to be said for players who look for every opportunity to compete — and do so at a high level.

Nix has always had high-level physical traits with great athleticism, a strong arm, and low interception and sack rates. He hasn’t always been consistent, and teams might worry about his play on the big stage. And while Nix will have RB Bucky Irving at his disposal, top receiver Troy Franklin has opted out of the game.

A good game in a bowl season that’s seen quarterbacks Caleb Wilson, Drake Maye, Jayden Daniels, and Michael Pratt all opt out of their respective games could be the start of a productive draft process for Nix.

Cheez-It Citrus Bowl - (21) Tennessee vs. (17) Iowa

ABC - 1 p.m.

Connor Colby (OL, Iowa)

Iowa offensive lineman Connor Colby might wind up being something of a “tweener” as far as the NFL is concerned. That could wind up being a good thing or a bad thing for his NFL stock.

Colby looks like an NFL tackle, standing 6-foot-6, 310 pounds and possessing what appear to be pretty long arms. However, he’s spent most of his time at Iowa on the interior, playing both left and right guard. Colby is quick and agile for a guard, but has issues with leverage due to his height. He will likely be viewed as a utility offensive lineman at the next level, with the potential to provide depth across the offensive line. That said, his athleticism could give him starting upside, assuming the team that drafts Colby has a plan in place for his development.

Teams could view him as a reserve lineman to start his career, with the potential to grow into a starting player somewhere on their line, particularly for a zone blocking team. Or they could view him as an awkward fit at all five positions and a likely UDFA.

This is going to come out harsher than I intend, but if you’re going to skip one of these early games, this should probably be it. At least from a scouting perspective.

Both of these teams have been hit hard by injuries, with players like Iowa’s CB Cooper DeJean, TE Erick All and TE Luke Lachey*, or Tennessee CB Kamal Hadden, OT Gerald Mincey*, and WR Bru McCoy* all suffering season-ending injuries.

Likewise, Tennessee QB Joe Milton III and RB Jaylen Wright have opted out of the game after declaring for the draft.

(Note: Lachey, McCoy, and Mincey are returning to Iowa and Tennessee, respectively.)

Rose Bowl Game - (1) Michigan vs. (4) Alabama

ESPN - 5 p.m. (College Football Playoffs Semifinal)

J.J. McCarthy (QB, Michigan)

McCarthy hasn’t announced whether he will declare for the draft or if he’ll return to Michigan for his senior season (at least as of this writing). But as long as the possibility that he’ll be a 2024 draft prospect, we need to pay attention to him. And besides, watching McCarthy will likely lead us to RB Blake Corum and WR Roman Wilson.

McCarthy has a slight frame at 6-foot-3, 202 pounds, but he possesses a strong arm and quick-twitch athleticism, as well as a reputation for a sky-high football IQ. His ability to hurt defenses with his legs is routinely on display, but his passing stats don’t quite match up with his traits. He’s improved his accuracy and thrown for more yards per attempt and per game over the last two years, while keeping his sack and interception rates even. He’s capable of attacking tight windows in the short and intermediate area of the field or attacking down the field on vertical concepts. However, Michigan often took the ball out of his hands. For instance, he only dropped back 9 times against Penn State, completing 7 of 8 with a DPI for 60 yards. Teams will need to figure out whether that’s due to a lack of confidence in McCarthy or simply an artifact of the type of offense Michigan wants to play.

McCarthy will get a golden opportunity to prove his mettle against Alabama. A good passing performance in the spotlight could go a long way toward answering those questions. And, as mentioned before, keep an eye on Roman Wilson and Blake Corum. We should see plenty of Corum throughout the game, and Wilson has electric speed down the field.

Jermaine Burton (WR, Alabama)

Offensive tackle JC Latham, edge defender Dallas Turner and CB Kool-Aid McKinstry are the top prospects in this game. But instead I want to take a look at Jalen Milroe’s top target in Jermaine Burton.

Burton is yet another product of the transfer portal, though he didn’t come from a small school to prove himself on the big stage. No, Burton started his career at Georgia, who have all but owned college football for the last three years before losing to Alabama in this year’s SEC Championship. Burton has unremarkable size at 6-foot, 200 pounds but is one of the nation’s premier deep threats. He has “easy speed” and is averaging 22.2 yards per catch this year and has 6 touchdowns in the last 7 games. Burton has had to wait a while to be a top receiving target, and will likely need continued coaching to hone his craft as a receiver to the point where he can consistently win in the NFL. However, his athletic ability and home run potential are enticing to say the least.

He’s a fiery competitor on the field, and while that can lead to big plays, teams will want to know if he’s coachable off the field. More importantly, he hit a Tennessee fan (a young woman) after Alabama’s loss to Tennessee last year. Burton’s draft stock will likely depend heavily on his interviews and teams’ investigations into his character.

The Giants could also be interested in edge defender Chris Braswell. Braswell is reportedly undecided on his future, but he’s a powerful and explosive linear athlete. His first step and raw power allow him to disrupt behind the line of scrimmage and he has the strength to hold up in the run game.

AllState Sugar Bowl - (2) Washington vs. (3) Texas

ESPN - 8:30 p.m. (College Football Playoffs Semifinal)

Rome Odunze (WR, Washington)

Marvin Harrison Jr. will almost certainly be the first wide receiver taken in the 2024 NFL Draft, but who will be the second? Right now, the battle for WR2 seems to be between LSU’s Malik Nabers and Washington’s Rome Odunze, so this is the easy pick for Washington player to watch.

Odunze has a prototypical build for an “X” receiver at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, with the kind of explosiveness, agility, and long speed you want to see from a WR1. He’s gotten better every year, and really blossomed with the arrival of QB Michael Penix Jr. in 2022. Odunze has topped 1,000 yards for the second straight season, eclipsing 100 yards in 9 of 13 games this year (81 receptions, 17.6 per catch), and notching 13 touchdowns.

He will likely be playing with a chip on his shoulder as well this game. These two teams played in the Alamo Bowl last year. And while Washington came away with the win, Odunze had a quiet game with just 5 catches for 57 yards (no touchdowns).

It still remains to be seen whether Odunze or Nabers will be WR 2, but todays’ games could go a long way in that assessment.

Penix Jr. is obviously worth watching as well. However the biggest questions for him won’t be answered on the field, but rather in the doctor’s office. Penix has shown that he can shred defenses, but after season-ending injuries to both shoulders and two torn ACLs the same knee, his long-term prognosis and dependability are the biggest questions.

T’Vondre Sweat (DT, Texas)

The Longhorns have a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball, with players like WRs Adonai Mitchell and Xavier Worthy (who’s dealing with an ankle injury), or QB Quinn Ewers. But I want to focus in on a player who might be the top defensive tackle in the country and who might have “GIANTS” written all over him. Between Linval Joseph, Marvin Harrison, Johnathan Hankins, B.J. Hill, Damon Harrison, and Dexter Lawrence, it’s clear that the Giants’ have a “type” at defensive tackle. Regardless of the GM, the Giants prefer big, powerful dancing elephant DTs who combine impressive size with uncommon athleticism.

Sweat would fit right in. He’s an absolutely massive nose tackle, standing 6-foot-4, 362 pounds. But despite his gargantuan stature, Sweat has very good movement skills and pass rush upside. That’s due to the fact that before becoming a behemoth 2-gapping nose tackle, Sweat was a 6-foot-3, 245-pound EDGE recruit. He has the power to command and control double teams along the line of scrimmage while also remaining productive in every phase of the game. Sweat collected 42 tackles, 8.0 for a loss, 3 QB hits, 2.0 sacks (23 hurries), and 6 passes defensed this year.

Sweats’ best NFL comparison might just be Dexter Lawrence. Not only is Sweat a ginormous interior defender with uncommon athleticism for his size, he also has an infectious personality that’s big enough to match his physique. The Giants have had issues stopping the run and took steps to add big defensive tackles this past offseason. Pairing Lawrence with Sweat would give them north of 700 pounds of uncommonly athletic defensive tackle on the interior.

That’s at least worth considering.