NFL Draft prospects in the 2018 Outback Bowl

The 2018 Outback Bowl will be the first played of the new year. Michigan and South Carolina will have a very defensive football game. There are some good players worth watching that can play in the NFL. Here are the top NFL Draft prospects in the 2018 Outback Bowl:

Michigan Wolverines

Maurice Hurst, DT

NFL Draft prospects in the 2018 Outback Bowl

Maurice Hurst (Photo by detroitnews.com)

Hurst has been good the last few seasons for Michigan, but has stepped it up this season. He has 58 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Not only has he shown good run-stopping abilities, but he also gets good pressure on the quarterback from the interior.

Size will be an issue for Hurst, as he is 6’2″ and 280 pounds. This means he will only fit into a 4-3 defense as a defensive tackle, which limits the amount of teams that will draft him. He still should be drafted in the early rounds.

Projected draft range: 1st round-3rd round

Mason Cole, C

Cole has experience all over the offensive line for Michigan, but will most likely fit in at center in the NFL. Left tackle and center have been his primary positions in college. This season he earned All-Big Ten second team honors and has picked up a lot of recognition during his time as a Wolverine.

He is 6’5″ and 305 pounds which will be good size for a center. Cole has an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl, which will give him another chance to showcase his talents.

Projected draft range: 3rd round-5th round

Mike McCray, LB

McCray has gotten a lot of playing time his last two seasons for the Wolverines. In his career he has 145 total tackles, 26.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks. He was the lone returning starter on defense for Michigan and has stepped up to be the leader of the unit.

At 6’4″ and 242 pounds, McCray has great size for a linebacker. He will likely get drafted in the later rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft.

Projected draft range: 4th round-6th round

Other notable Michigan prospects: OT Grant Newsome (4th round-6th round)

South Carolina Gamecocks

Hayden Hurst, TE

Hurst has produced a lot for the Gamecocks in the last two seasons and is one of the best tight ends in the draft class. He has 1,240 receiving yards and three touchdown catches in his career. That is pretty good production for a college tight end. Hurst is just a junior and could return to school for another season.

He is 6’5″ and 250 pounds, which is good enough for the NFL. Hurst is a good receiver, but needs to prove he can block at the NFL level.

Projected draft range: 1st round-3rd round

Skai Moore, LB

NFL Draft prospects in the 2018 Outback Bowl

Skai Moore (Photo by thestate.com)

It seems like Moore has been at South Carolina forever, which means he made a big impact. He has 346 total tackles, 20 tackles for loss, five sacks and 14 interceptions in his career. Moore did miss a season with a torn ACL, but has, in large part, been on the field for most of his college career.

He is tall enough at 6’2″, but needs to add a little bit of weight to his 218 pound frame. Moore does a little bit of everything well, which will get him drafted in the mid-rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft.

Projected draft range: 3rd round-5th round

 

2018 Outback Bowl preview

Familiar foes will meet again in the 2017 Outback Bowl. South Carolina and Michigan played each other at the conclusion of the 2012 season in the same setting. While the players have changed, the passion is still running high. Here is the 2018 Outback Bowl preview:

Michigan Wolverines (8-4)

2017 Outback Bowl preview

Chase Winovich (Photo by michigandaily.com)

Michigan had high hopes for the season, but ended up losing in every big game they played. The Wolverines had plenty of opportunities, but lost to Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin. They beat one bowl eligible team this year in Purdue.

Their offense has been anemic and averages 25.8 points per game. They run the ball decently well at 186.3 yards per game. Karan Higdon is the leading rusher with 929 yards and 11 touchdowns. Chris Evans and Ty Isaac have also produced this season with both having over 500 yards rushing.

The passing game hasn’t been as nice. Michigan’s starter was Wilton Speight, but he injured his back. John O’Korn was put in, but wasn’t the answer. Brandon Peters looked solid, but then suffered a concussion. He is probable to play in this game. He has 486 passing yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions this season. Four receivers have over 200 yards for the Wolverines with Grant Perry leading the way at 309 receiving yards.

Michigan’s defense has won them some games and allows 18.3 points per game. They rank 20th against the run and first against the pass. Defensive lineman Chase Winovich and linebacker Khaleke Hudson have combined to put a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Winovich has eight sacks, while Hudson has seven.

South Carolina Gamecocks (8-4)

2017 Outback Bowl preview

Skai Moore (Photo by thestate.com)

The Gamecocks had a successful, eight win season under Will Muschamp. South Carolina was able to beat three bowl eligible teams, including N.C. State and Missouri. They only lost to bowl eligible teams this season.

Offensively, South Carolina has struggled this season and only scores 24.1 points per game. The running game averages 127.3 rushing yards per game. A.J. Turner and Ty’Son Williams split carries for the Gamecocks. Turner has 517 rushing yards and three touchdowns, while Williams has 460 rushing yards and one touchdown.

Jake Bentley has been leading the Gamecocks’ offense this year, but it hasn’t been pretty. He has 2,555 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions on 62.4% completion. His top two targets are Bryan Edwards and Hayden Hurst. Edwards has 705 receiving yards and four touchdowns, with Hurst chipping in 518 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

The defense has been the key to South Carolina’s success this season, allowing 20.9 points per game. They rank 44th against the run and 69th against the pass. Linebacker Skai Moore is the leader of the team. He has 88 total tackles, eight tackles for loss, two sacks and three interceptions.

Prediction

With both offenses being bad, it should be a low scoring game. Skai Moore will make a big play for South Carolina’s defense and will help hold Michigan. Jake Bentley will do just enough to get the win.

South Carolina Gamecocks 19 Michigan Wolverines 14

 

 

Best 2018 NFL Draft Prospects: Linebackers

Linebacker is a position that is often overlooked, but very important nonetheless. In the 2017 NFL Draft there were plenty of talented linebackers selected. There are a lot of linebackers in this class that have potential, but will have to play well to justify a high draft pick. Here are the top prospects heading into the 2017 college football season:

Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech

Tremaine Edmunds NFL

Tremaine Edmunds (Photo by: zimbio.com)

Edmunds is one of three brothers that have played for Virginia Tech and will look to have a big junior year. He has the most draft potential and has great size at 6’5″ and 236 pounds.

Last year Edmunds finished with 94 tackles. He has a great all around game with 16.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, an interception and three passes defended. If he can improve his coverage skills this season and keep consistent production, he will be a highly sought after prospect.

The Hokies play West Virginia, Clemson, North Carolina, Miami and Pittsburgh. Edmunds will need to step up in the game against Clemson for his team to win and if he does, his draft stock will be improved.

Malik Jefferson, Texas

One of the more highly touted linebackers coming out of high school, Jefferson has played early and often for the Longhorns. With solid size at 6’3″ and 238 pounds, he has all the tools to be the first linebacker selected in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Jefferson has 121 total tackles in his two seasons at Texas. He has great athleticism that makes him a well-rounded linebacker. With 16 tackles for loss, nine sacks, five passes defended and a touchdown scored he makes a lot of plays. Coverage and ball skills are things he will need to work on this season, but what he has already accomplished has made him a top prospect.

Texas has some big matchups this year that will require Jefferson’s best. They play USC, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia. If he can help slow down the USC and Oklahoma offenses, he could be the first linebacker taken in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Kendall Joseph, Clemson

Joseph may have been overlooked because of all the talent on Clemson’s roster last year, but he will need to be the one making headlines this season. He is a little undersized at 6’0″ and 230 pounds, but makes plays.

Last year was his first season getting a lot of playing time and he broke out. He finished the season with 106 total tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. If he can have a solid campaign to follow up his breakout season, NFL teams will move him up on their boards.

Clemson plays Auburn, Louisville, Virginia Tech and Florida State, which should give Joseph a lot of opportunities to prove what he can do. He needs to produce against these good offenses this season to hold his ranking.

Skai Moore, South Carolina

Skai Moore NFL

Skai Moore (Photo by: cbssports.com)

Moore is a good prospect, but did miss all of the 2016 season with a neck injury. Staying healthy will be key to preserve and enhance Moore’s draft stock. He has average size at 6’2″ and 220 pounds.

In 2015, the last season he played, Moore finished with 110 total tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss. He is a good run stopper and coverage linebacker, with 11 career interceptions, but could improve his blitzing ability. If his neck checks out and he has a productive year he will be one of the first linebackers taken.

The Gamecocks have Texas A&M, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and Clemson all on the schedule. Moore will be called upon to be at his best this season for South Carolina and will reap the rewards if he answers that call.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

South Carolina Gamecock Spring Ball

This next football season will be South Carolina’s first season without legendary Coach Steve Spurrier. But after seeing what I saw at their spring game, I think Coach Will Muschamp will have the Gamecocks ready for the season opener at Vanderbilt. Here’s some of the good and the not so good I saw from the spring game.

Courtesy of thestate.com

Courtesy of thestate.com

Good: The play of true freshman quarterback Brandon McIllwain. The faithful here in Columbia, South Carolina have been looking for an answer at quarterback and I think they found their golden arm. McIllwain started the game with the starters and had a really good outing. He went 19 of 26, threw 2 touchdown passes, and also carried the ball into the endzone one time for the score.

I expect Coach Muschamp to drag the quarterback battle well into the summer camp, but I really think he should end it early and name a starter so the team can be in rhythm with one quarterback. And I think that quarterback starter is McIllwain. He is pretty far ahead of the pack, if you factor in that he should still be in high school and that he is also playing baseball for the Gamecocks this spring.

He is also working on his timing with fellow freshmen Bryan Edwards. Edwards was on the receiving end of both of McIllwain’s two touchdown passes. McIllwain throwing to 6’3″ Edwards might be one of the favorite combos for Gamecock faithful next year.

The play of redshirt freshman wide receiver Javon Charleston should help the passing attack of the Gamecocks next season. The receiving corp has a whole new look. For the most part all of the receivers are big for the Gamecocks.

Joe Robbins/ Getty Images

Joe Robbins/ Getty Images

Questionable: I don’t want to use the word “bad” because it is only April, so everything is relatively fixable. The Gamecock’s secondary still looks shaky. The linebackers will be lead by T.J. Holloman and Skai Moore and should be fine. I can’t really judge the pass rush since in a spring game there really is no pass rush. As a whole the secondary looked weak and far from ready. Yes, I am mostly talking about the second string defense, but some of those guys will have to play some minutes this year.  There were breakdowns throughout the game. Connor Mitch and Brandon McIllwain threw for 3 TD and over 300 yards.

The run game of the Gamecocks was inconsistent and it seems like one running back separated from the pack. Junior, Jamari Smith, had some really good plays in the slot and the backfield, but he will probably not be the starting the running back for the Gamecocks.

The longest run of the game was by Deebo Samuels, a wide receiver. Junior, Rod Talley, had a game high 34 rushing yards. The offensive line and the running backs need to be able to have some run game to protect their quarterback next year. Hopefully the holes will start to get wider for David Williams and the other running backs.