NFL draft: Two QBs headline our early bowl-game winners and losers

The first pack of bowl games is in the books, and we reviewed the tape and talked to our trusted sources to see which players helped and hurt their NFL draft stocks the most.

We’ll be reviewing the remaining games in groups similar to this, and be sure to check out our list of key prospects from all the bowl games before they kick off.

Here are the early winners and losers from the first nine bowl games we’ve watched:

WINNERS

Utah State QB Jordan Love — It wasn’t a brilliant performance by Love against Kent State, but it was strong enough to give Love some momentum heading into the offseason. There are still plenty of questions to be answered about his disappointing season (and his recent marijuana citation), but finishing on a high note against a poor defense was a great step in the right direction.

What he flashed in this game was a slew of high-end throws, many of them off platform, and there are enough QB-needy teams, we suspect, who will fall for Love’s high-end traits. He’s far from a finished product and has not sealed up a first-round landing spot. But there’s enough in his body of work to suggest that Love will have his share of suitors.

Look at Drew Lock, who slid to the 42nd pick in April but has handled himself quite well through his first four starts as a rookie. That could be the template for how Love can be integrated into an NFL starting lineup in 2020 if he lands in the right spot. 

Washington QB Jacob Eason — His performance in Las Vegas against a one-loss Boise State team was highly impressive, littered with the high-end throws that make Eason a possible first-round pick.

Washington Huskies quarterback Jacob Eason (10) looks to throw the ball during the Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl against the Boise State Broncos on Dec. 21, 2019, at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas. (Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This game, of course, did not lock that up. We don’t even know what Eason’s 2020 plans are — he could return to school with the modified Huskies coaching staff for one more year. If he chooses to come out, he’d be ending on a high note with his strong performance that exceeded his modest stats: 22-of-32 passing (68.8 percent) for 210 yards, one TD and no picks. Those numbers included two dropped passes and two throwaways, per Pro Football Focus.

There are still big questions about Eason’s ability to stare down pressure and be a creative passer when things break down. There was a string of meltdown games in November (Utah, Oregon State and Colorado) that mar his scouting profile. Those questions must be addressed, but Eason at least got the arrow pointed back upward. He’s blessed with elite physical tools and enough high-quality tape to entice an NFL team somewhere in the first 40 or so picks this April if he does come out.

SMU S Rodney Clemons — We first highlighted Clemons after his eye-opening performance against Houston back in late October, and we’ve come to fully appreciate the 6-foot, 200-pound DB’s versatile skills. 

In the Mustangs’ loss to FAU, he was one of the clear standouts on defense, collecting eight tackles and two passes defended. He worked as a slot corner, deep safety and box safety, and handled his assignments nicely. He also played every defensive snap in the game and was not on the field this season on defense for a mere 11 snaps. 

If Clemons can test relatively well, we envision him as a box safety or slot defender in the NFL. For a comp, Clemson reminds us a bit of Indianapolis Colts 2019 fourth-rounder Khari Willis, who has been a nice addition and rookie contributor.

LOSERS

Boise State EDGE Curtis Weaver — We’re still ambivalent about his draft projection to a degree, and his relatively quiet performance against Washington — one tackle in each half — is part of the reason why. Zero QB hits, pressures or sacks on 35 dropbacks.

Playing against a Huskies offensive line that made wholesale personnel changes (LT Trey Adams sitting out, RT Jared Hilbers switching to the left side, sophomore Henry Bainivalu starting at right guard and senior Henry Roberts making his second career start at right tackle), we expected more. 

Washington QB Jacob Eason (10) passes around Boise State's Curtis Weaver (99), completing a touchdown pass in the Las Vegas Bowl. (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Weaver still has heavy and skilled hands and often outworks his opponents to make impact plays. But he’s just not a first-round caliber prospect. We’d rather see him land in the Day 2 range to better reflect his talent and reasonable expectations.

Central Michigan RB Jonathan Ward — In a deep class of running backs, Ward is already swimming upstream. His final two games of the season also have stunted any momentum he built up in an 1,102-yard, 15-TD rushing season.

Ward was contained to the tune of nine rushes for 26 yards (long run of 6) and one 7-yard catch. Granted, San Diego State blew this game open in the middle of the third quarter in what would end up a 48-11 final score, effectively taking Ward out of the game plan a little more than halfway through.

Ward reads like a Day 3 pick, despite his great season-long production. He has some ball-security issues (six fumbles this season) and lacks great size (201 pounds) to project as a workhorse. His career ended on a down note, and so it’s onto the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, where Ward will hope to give his draft stock another boost.

Georgia Southern CB Monquavion Brinson — The late-round/priority free-agent prospect is probably the second-best corner on his own team (Kindle Vildor, a Senior Bowl invite, is above him), and it looked that way in the bowl loss to Liberty. The Flames went after Brinson repeatedly and he was beat for a touchdown in the game.

Brinson had an eye-opening performance against Clemson in 2018, holding his own against some of the nation’s best receivers there, and he had a five-INT season as a sophomore in 2017. We love his willingness to come up and support the run as a tackler, despite his lack of great size at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds. There’s a spot for him on an NFL roster next offseason.

But this game — and frankly, much of his 2019 season — was lackluster. Tough games against LSU and Minnesota, two teams with NFL-caliber receivers, show his deficiencies in coverage, which include a tendency to be over-aggressive and get out of phase. The Eagles’ lack of pass rush hurt both Vildor and Brinson this season, but that was only part of the story.

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