In this new era of star players sitting out of bowl games to avoid potential future-damaging injury, some still have a lot to gain from the classic postseason affair. In fact, some have seen their draft stock rise sharply after dominant bowl performances.
NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah tackled the topic in his weekly “Ask 5” column, polling five current NFL personnel executives on who they think has the most to gain from playing in their respective team’s bowl game. Two Trojans made the list — and both have eligibility remaining for 2018, if they want to use it.
First up, USC running back Ronald Jones:
“He’s been a more complete runner this year and helped to carry them vs. Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship,” an anonymous executive told Jeremiah. “If he can do that vs. Ohio State, it could certainly help propel him into the spring.”
This executive is completely accurate with his or her short assessment. Jones has displayed top-level speed and is among USC’s top 5 all-time rushers statistically, but continues to fly under the radar while quarterback Sam Darnold draws most of the attention. Jones is a running back who I believe will make whichever NFL team drafts him very happy, and will likely be seen as a bargain after being the 5th or 6th back selected.
Speaking of Darnold, Jeremiah believes he’s one of 2 Pac-12 quarterbacks who could gain plenty from a memorable bowl performance (much like his Rose Bowl play launched him into the spotlight in early 2017). Jeremiah also included UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen in that group:
The two players I would add to the list of players with the most to gain from playing in a bowl are UCLA QB Josh Rosen and USC QB Sam Darnold. Both are jostling to be considered the top QB prospect in the country and a big bowl game will build momentum for the spring (should they enter the draft) or next fall (should they elect to return to school).
Neither Darnold nor Rosen has made their decisions, or at least haven’t made them publicly. Rosen is considered the more polished and pro-ready quarterback, while Darnold is touted for his tantalizing upside, often referred to as having the higher ceiling. I’m of the opinion that Rosen should be the first quarterback taken in the 2018 NFL Draft, while Darnold should return to USC for another year of college experience that would do him a lot of good.
He can change that opinion with another scintillating performance against a Big Ten power — this time, against traditional rival Ohio State — in the Cotton Bowl Classic on Dec. 29.
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