The expansive college bowl season kicks off Saturday with the New Mexico Bowl, pitting Nevada against Arizona. The Wildcats are 9.5 point favorites, in part because Nevada lost four of its last five thanks to one of the worst run defenses in the country. Even though he’s not draft-eligible, watch Arizona All American RB Ka’Deem Carey. He will sit at or near the top of every preseason draft watch list for next year.
Instead of breaking down the games, here at DetroitLionsDraft we are going to preview the bowl games through the prism of which players to watch that are potential draft fits for the Lions.
#4 Dan Buckner, WR, Arizona
At 6’4” and 215 pounds, the senior from Texas has great size and length. He started his college career at Texas before transferring to Arizona following an arrest for criminal trespassing and resisting arrest. In his two seasons at Arizona, Buckner saw increasing opportunities as a receiver. He has long arms and good strength to pull down throws in traffic, and he is good at high-pointing the ball. While not an explosive athlete, Buckner uses his strength well to create space and sharpened his route running. Buckner steadily improved at catching the ball with his hands and seizing the ball from the air. He projects to the NFL as a wide-bodied outside receiver that operates primarily on intermediate routes and in the red zone. With Matt Stafford’s propensity for throwing the ball high outside the hashes, Buckner makes for an intriguing 5th or 6th round fit. His departure from Texas raises a flag, however.
#5 Duke Williams, S, Nevada
Williams is an impressive athlete who is the bright spot for an otherwise underwhelming run defense. His forte is filling the hole in the box and snuffing out runners who hit the second level. Williams attacks the run but stays balanced and seldom overruns the play, which is a foreign concept to the current Lions safety corps. His range is decent and he demonstrates good instincts in coverage. Like Buckner, Williams will be at the Shrine Game with a real chance to bolster his draft stock. His size (6’1”, 200) and tackling prowess will draw attention as early as the 3rd round, though his lack of top-end speed and experience in coverage could cause him to fall to the 5th. If he’s there for the Lions, he would make an excellent value pick.
#75 Chris Barker, G, Nevada
The Wolfpack perennially rank near the top of the college ranks in rushing, and Barker has been a big part of that for the last four years. At 6’4” and 308 pounds, Barker is a four-year starter who packs a heavy hand punch and does a good job keeping his pads down. He is not afraid to mix it up, and he has decent agility to trap and pull to one gap away. Barker can be heavy-footed in pass protection and will lunge out over his pads when asked to slide back to help on outside rushers. Barker is a solid late-round prospect or priority free agent who could impress with his maturity, tenacity, and ability to sustain a gap opening in the run game.
#2 Marquise Flowers, LB/S, Arizona
In Rich Rodriguez’s 3-3-5 defensive scheme, Flowers has experience playing both safety and outside linebacker. He is a definite tweener in terms of size at 6’2” and 222 pounds, but his experience at safety and ranginess in coverage make him an ideal candidate to play the heavy nickel position in the way the Texans use Glover Quin. Flowers was fantastic against USC, picking off Matt Barkley twice and stripping the ball on another possession. He shows good spatial awareness and an excellent closing burst to the ball. Flowers runs a legit 4.45 40 and he is not stiff in the hips. He is only a junior and has given no indication he will declare early, but if he does he would make a very good fit in Detroit. His ability to cover tight ends and awareness with the ball in the air would allow him to see the field early and fill multiple roles in the defensive formation.
Others to watch:
Arizona QB Matt Scott, Arizona FB Taimi Tutogi, Nevada TE Zach Sudfield
Game Prediction: Arizona 33, Nevada 20