NFL Draft prospects with most to prove heading into bowl games

For some, college football — and especially bowl season — is the end-all be-all. For others, even in the midst of college football in December, there’s a grander goal at play: The NFL.

The number of college players who actually have a legitimate chance of making it to the NFL is extremely low. The number that have a chance to actually be successful and have a long, productive, multi-contract NFL career?

Even lower.

That’s why it’s so important to make a big impression as a college player in hopes of getting drafted high, thus making more money. Not everybody can be a first or even a second round draft pick. But for those players “on the bubble” of the higher rounds and higher paydays, a huge performance in a bowl game can sometimes make all the difference.

The five players in this article have all done some great things on the college football field, but they have one more act and one more chance to prove themselves to NFL scouts. They need to size the opportunity.

 Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina

Mitch Trubisky

It seems likely that Trubisky will end up being a first round pick. He’ll certainly be one of the top quarterbacks taken in the 2017 NFL Draft, if not the top quarterback. Heck, there are some mock drafts that put him at No. 1 overall to Cleveland.

Trubisky was a revelation this season for the Tar Heels — especially after losing Marquise Williams to graduation. At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds with the ability to pass and run, he has all the makings of a potential star NFL quarterback.

His stats alone speak volumes about his potential. Trubisky threw for 3,468 yards and 28 touchdowns with UNC this season, compared to just four interceptions. He also added some firepower on the ground for the Tar Heels, rushing for 270 yards and five touchdowns (3.4 yards per carry).

Matt Miller (Bleacher Report) has Trubisky as the draft’s top quarterback, as does CBS Sports. It’s worth noting that trusted draft source Walter Football favors Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer over Trubisky, though, as does NFL Draft Geek and Sports Illustrated.

The point here is that Trubisky isn’t the clear-cut top quarterback in this draft. But with a huge game against No. 18 Stanford in the Sun Bowl he could end up setting himself apart.

Stanford hasn’t lived up to expectations this season, but a win over the Cardinal is still a big deal, especially if Trubisky can continue to show NFL scouts just why so many people are high on him as a top overall pick.

Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

Injuries have hindered Leonard Fournette’s college career, but even still, he was undoubtedly one of the top running backs in the nation during his time in Baton Rouge. And he’s very likely the top running back in the 2017 draft class.

The question of where he goes in the draft and how high he goes is still a mystery, though. The answer to these questions will be determined by his health.

Leonard Fournette

There’s some wisdom in Fournette sitting out No. 20 LSU’s bowl game against No. 13 Louisville (Citrus Bowl), because that would allow him more time to heal in an effort to be at 100-percent for the NFL Scouting Combine and looking a bit further ahead, for OTA’s.

With that said, scouts and NFL general managers still care about in-game ability the most, so the best thing Fournette can do for his draft stock is go out and tear things up against Louisville.

The Cardinals have given up just 110 yards per game this season on the ground, so it’s going to be tough. If Fournette is anywhere near 100-percent though, going out against Louisville and putting up some big numbers could be the big-time statement he needs to solidify himself as an NFL Draft superstar.

Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan

Corey Davis

If you haven’t heard of Corey Davis or aren’t up to date on just how good Western Michigan has been this season, you likely aren’t alone. As a MAC school, the No. 15 Broncos went 13-0 and catapulted themselves into a New Year’s Six Bowl game — the Cotton Bowl.

If you weren’t closely paying attention you may not have even noticed, though. Outside of one stint on ESPN’s College Gameday, it’s not like Western Michigan was getting Alabama levels of press.

And that what makes this bowl game huge for Davis. He’s had a tremendous year so far, leading Western in receiving with 1,427 yards and 18 touchdowns. Now he has a chance to show the nation how great he is on one of college football’s biggest stages.

It’s not that NFL scouts care about the hype behind the game. What will be more important to them is seeing if Davis can compete against a big-time opponent (No. 8 Wisconsin) and not shrivel under the bright lights of the Cotton Bowl.

Desmond King, CB, Iowa

Iowa’s Desmond King has the talent to be the best cornerback in this draft class when all is said and done. But he’s competing with a few big names — mainly Marlon Humphrey, Jalen “Teez” Tabor from Florida, Washington’s Sidney Jones and another Gator in Quincy Wilson.

Corey ClementPer usual, the cornerback position is stacked. So a big game from King against No. 17 Florida in the Outback Bowl could really help raise his profile when it really matters.

Keep this in mind; Tabor and Wilson will be on the other sideline. So if King has a great day against the Gators — and perhaps Iowa’s offense breaks a few on Florida’s defense — the Outback bowl could be huge for the Hawkeye senior’s draft stock.

Throw in the fact that he can also help as a special-teamer right away, and it wouldn’t be surprising if King’s draft stock shoots up even higher with a good game down in Florida.

Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee

Derek Barnett

When talking about defensive ends or edge rushers, Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett is going to get most of the publicity. He’s a freak athlete who very well could be the NFL’s next Von Miller, so it’s not as if he doesn’t deserve it. Alabama’s Jonathan Allen is another NFL-ready superstar who could thrive in the league in either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme. He’s a huge part of the Crimson Tide’s dominance on defense and he very well could help lead the Tide to yet another national championship.

Those are the two main edge names in this draft, though Tennessee’s Derek Barnett is right up there as well.

Barnett is a 6-foot-3, 265 pound athlete who can turn the corner with the best of them. He’s also big enough to hold his own at the line of scrimmage and be a beast against the run game.  He finished the year on a hot streak, with a sack in each of the Vols’ last three games. He also put up three multiple-sack games, including a three-sack performance in a loss to South Carolina.

Tennessee’s disappointing season may have ruined some of the shine on Barnett’s draft stock, but he’ll have a chance against Nebraska in the Music City Bowl to prove that he truly does indeed belong in the conversation with the Garretts and Allens of the 2017 NFL Draft.

He really is that good.