With many opt outs in the Bowl Games, it has become increasingly difficult to assess NFL Draft value for the 2023 draft utilizing these games. Either the players playing and doing well are going back to school for 2024, or draftable prospects are skipping out. There are exceptions of course, but especially early in Bowl Season, my focus is on late round or undrafted players who helped their stock now or in the future.
Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
It was a surprise when Young and teammate Will Anderson decided to play in the Sugar Bowl, but it ultimately ended up improving his draft stock. After a rough first quarter, Young took the game over with Alabama down two scores. He threw 4 TDs in consecutive drives on four very different passes. Utilizing the pocket to buy more time and throwing absolute dimes into coverage was simply outstanding. It was the looks of a #1 overall pick at QB. After this performance, it may be hard pressed for the Texans to take anyone else at the top of the draft. The last hurdle for Young will be a medical check and his weigh in. Could his height and weight be an issue? Or will the ice in his veins play push him to the top QB of the class?
CJ Stroud, QB, Ohio State
The other top QB also showed out this week with Stroud taking it to the Georgia Bulldogs for most of the game in the college football playoff. Despite not having his top RB, top WR, and then losing his top TE and other top WR, Stroud still found a way to navigate collapsing pockets, use his legs as needed, and make sharp throws all over the field. The debate for the top QB should be fierce over the next few months, but it is between Young and Stroud. Stroud has the arm talent and ball placement to be a Top 5 pick in the NFL Draft, even if the Buckeye helmet may give some pause.
The Alabama Defense
Not only was Young a star in the Sugar Bowl, but almost all the draft eligible defenders improved their stock. Safety Jordan Battle, who will be headed to the Senior Bowl, had an early interception and was solid in coverage during the game. He has had a rough season, but ultimately could rehab his stock coming up. DB Brian Branch also came up with a big interception in the second half and has pushed him self into Round 1 consideration.
The best defender in the draft in Will Anderson also came away with a nice performance in his final game. His pressure caused the Branch interception and he was a terror off the edge (as always). We could see Alabama players go back-to-back at the top of the draft with Young and him.
Jared Verse, EDGE, Florida State
As of writing this, Verse has yet to officially declare for the draft, but he had another great game in the Cheez-It Bowl against Oklahoma. The former Albany TE wrecked an Oklahoma OL that was down four of its starters. He gave QB Dillon Gabriel fits with pressures, including 1.5 sacks in the game. I wrote about him back after Week 1 and all he has done is continued to raise his stock. If Verse does declare, the first round is a real possibility.
Jaxson Kirkland, OT, Washington
With much of the Huskies offense returning to school, Kirkland led the way for players headed to the draft. He had a very good game against Texas in the Alamo Bowl with great push in the run game and good tenacity in pass protection. Setting the edge numerous times for big screen plays was key, and Kirkland could do that in the NFL. A borderline Day 2 player, Kirkland won’t fit every NFL team, but he can at least be a solid reserve.
Tyjae Spears, RB, Tulane
With the likely #1 overall pick in the 2024 draft on the other side, Tulane was going to have to keep up offensively to win the Cotton Bowl. Spears was the leader in keeping the game close with some incredible burst and vision dicing up the Southern Cal defense. He kept the Tulane team in the game to get the victory ultimately. Spears could flirt with Day 2 of the NFL Draft, but is likely a Day 3 pick who can contribute.