Bowl games are one small part of an extensive evaluation process, but great performances in the postseason can nudge draft prospects up the board.
For some players, they solidified a season’s worth of encouraging work. For others, though, they showed a little bit of the promise that didn’t always appear during the regular season — and did it on a national stage.
Thought it may seem obvious, only draft-eligible players were considered. The list does not include first- or second-year players who seem likely to have an NFL future.
Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
Perhaps the most divisive prospect in the 2018 class, Josh Allen capped his Wyoming tenure on an encouraging note. He certainly wasn’t perfect in the 37-14 triumph over Central Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, but Allen flashed all the NFL-caliber traits in his arsenal.
The junior stepped up in the pocket and whipped a 23-yard laser to put Wyoming on the board first (watch here). Allen impressively snapped an 11-yard score off the wrong foot and perfectly launched a 45-yard strike for his third touchdown. After a frustrating season, Allen could hardly have asked for a better finish.
Keke Coutee, WR, Texas Tech
Texas Tech fell to South Florida in the Birmingham Bowl, but Keke Coutee put on a show. The junior wide receiver hauled in 11 passes for 187 yards and one touchdown. He added 62 yards on two kick returns, finishing with a career-best 251 all-purpose yards. Coutee showed explosiveness at the line of scrimmage, and his ability to create after the catch will be highly valued in quick-passing NFL schemes. The speedster capitalized on the excellent day and declared for the draft shortly after the bowl.
Michael Dickson, P, Texas
Punters are draft picks, too. The rare specialist to skip his senior season, Michael Dickson showed during the Texas Bowl exactly why he’s leaving the Longhorns for the NFL. He averaged a season-worst 41.1 yards per punt, but this is a case study in box-score scouting. Dickson dropped 10 kicks inside the 15-yard line. Seven of those ended at or inside the 10-yard line, and four finished within five yards of the end zone. And he kicked zero touchbacks. Dickson put on an absolute clinic, allowing Texas to dominate field position and defeat Missouri 33-16.
Quinton Flowers, QB, South Florida
The debate of whether Quinton Flowers is a quarterback or something else is only getting started. But for all his flaws, Flowers continues to make plays through the air. In the Birmingham Bowl win, the senior passed for 311 yards and four touchdowns — including a pair of go-ahead scores in the closing five minutes of the fourth quarter. Flowers also scampered for 106 yards for his sixth 100-yard game of the campaign. His NFL future may follow the path of someone like Joe Webb, but Flowers keeps showing he deserves a shot as a dynamic quarterback.
Travin Howard, LB, TCU
Thanks to a 10-stop showing in the Alamo Bowl, Travin Howard eclipsed the 100-tackle mark for the third straight year. The senior made six of his 10 stops within two yards of the line of scrimmage, also contributing two pass breakups and one quarterback hurry. Howard earned Defensive MVP honors in the 39-37 win over Stanford. Interestingly, he received the same honor at the Alamo Bowl during the 2015 season. Scouting departments may disagree on whether he’s a linebacker or safety at the next level, but Howard reaffirmed his NFL ability opposite a respected Stanford program.
Lowell Lotulelei, DT, Utah
If you think Josh Allen tumbled down the rankings this year, Lowell Lotulelei endured an all-out free-fall. After collecting 8.5 stops for loss in 2016, he entered bowl season with 12 total tackles. But during the final game of his college career, Lotulelei snapped his extended funk. He registered four tackles with 2.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks, helping Utah hold West Virginia to 153 yards of total offense and 14 points. Lotulelei may have stabilized himself as a Day 2 pick.
Anthony Mahoungou, WR, Purdue
Anthony Mahoungou opened and closed the Foster Farms Bowl with a touchdown for Purdue. He shook a tackler and glided down the sideline for a 31-yard score in the first quarter and snared a game-winning 38-yarder with less than two minutes remaining in the game. Mahoungou ended with six receptions for 118 yards, helping the Boilermakers earn the program’s first bowl victory since 2011. The 6-foot-3 wideout, who caught eight touchdowns this season, could join a very short list of French-born NFL players.
Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State
This guy keeps getting more impressive. During the Armed Forces Bowl, Rashaad Penny racked up an absurd 15.8 yards per carry and gathered 221 total yards, recording his fifth consecutive 200-yard output. The senior scored four times, running in touchdowns of 81, 32, 49 and four yards. Penny chipped in 62 yards on a pair of kick returns. His vision, patience, ability to make the first tackler miss and breakaway speed were on full display. Penny should be a Day 2 selection in the draft.
Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
At his best, Mason Rudolph is a first-round prospect. The Camping World Bowl featured plenty of those moments for the Oklahoma State legend. Rudolph, who will likely end 2017 as the nation’s top quarterback in passing yards per game, completed 21-of-32 passes for 351 yards and two touchdowns against Virginia Tech. In the third quarter, he accurately placed a downfield ball to James Washington for a 65-yard score that proved to be the difference in the outcome. Rudolph’s pro day and combine performance will be critical in solidifying a Day 1 spot.
Deadrin Senat, DT, South Florida
He’s definitely not a household name, but Deadrin Senat is a Day 3 prospect whose Birmingham Bowl outburst has him creeping toward Round 3. The defensive tackle posted a career-high three sacks, tallying five total stops in the 38-34 win. Senat, a two-time All-American Athletic Conference player, constantly disrupted the interior and played a key role in USF limiting Texas Tech to 3.8 yards per rush attempt. While offseason workouts will be more important in lifting Senat’s stock, NFL teams are certain to pay more attention now.
Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
Another underclassman, Leighton Vander Esch wrapped up his college days on a high note. In a dominant upset of Oregon, the linebacker gathered 12 total tackles with three stops behind the line of scrimmage and one sack. Vander Esch forced a fumble that led to a touchdown in the first quarter. Considering the caliber of the opponent, the Las Vegas Bowl might’ve been the best performance of his career. That must’ve provided even more incentive for Vander Esch to officially pursue the NFL.
Cedrick Wilson, WR, Boise State
Vander Esch ruled the defensive side, and Cedrick Wilson torched Oregon on offense. The senior amassed 10 catches for a career-high 221 yards and one touchdown. Along with that score, seven of his receptions resulted in a first down. Wilson twice burned the Ducks for 40-yard completions on vertical routes, including a game-sealing 41-yarder late in the fourth quarter. Given his ability to contribute an inside or outside receiver, Wilson should hold high value as a draft prospect. Showing off that versatility against a Pac-12 defense only supports that.