Bowl Game Prospect Viewing Guide: Independence Bowl

Joe Malfa with a viewing guide for the Independence Bowl, featuring Florida State and Southern Mississippi

‘Tis the season for over 40 college bowl games sponsored by some very obscure companies to celebrate the mediocrity of 6-6 teams. Surely there is an angry old man somewhere waving his fist screaming about how “everyone gets a trophy” and “the Millennials are ruining everything.” At TOJ, we love bowl season. Maybe not for the games because watching Western Kentucky against Georgia State is not very appealing, but it gives us a chance to watch some teams that we did not get a chance to watch this season and evaluate some prospects who may not have been regularly exposed to us.

Independence Bowl

Matchup: Southern Mississippi vs. Florida State

Time: 1:30 p.m.

Network: ESPN

Southern Mississippi’s prospect:

  • RB Ito Smith

2017 stats: 232 carries, 1,321 yards, 13 TDs; 36 catches, 370 yards, 2 TDs

Career stats: 804 carries, 4,444 yards, 42 TDs; 136 catches, 1,420 yards, 7 TDs

In four seasons at Southern Mississippi, Smith developed a reputation as one of the most elusive running backs in the country. The 5-foot-9, 195-pound back will be looked at as too small to be a bell-cow in the NFL, but he was just that for the Golden Eagles. Smith could be a nice find for a team on day two of the draft and carve out a role similar to Tarik Cohen’s for the Bears.

Florida State’s prospects:

1) S Derwin James

2017 stats: 12 games, 84 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 sack, 11 passes defended

Here is some in-depth analysis: James is really, really good at this whole football thing. For someone as talented and athletically gifted as James, he has really flown under the radar thanks to all of the talk about the quarterbacks, Saquon Barkley and the fact that he shares the safety spotlight with Minkah Fitzpatrick. James would have been the top safety taken last season ahead of Jamal Adams and Malik Hooker, and he should be a top-10 pick this season. He has the potential to be a perennial all-pro.

2) DL Derrick Nnadi

2017 stats: 51 tackles, 3.5 sacks

The 6-foot-1, 315-pound defensive tackle excels against the run. In 2016, he finished third in the nation in run stop percentage and continued his success this season. Every year we see a couple of defensive tackles who are slated for the second round but jump up into the back half of the first with a good draft process. Nnadi is in that situation this year. A strong combine and pro day could make him first round pick, though it is more likely he ends up in the second. Either way, he has the tools to be successful at the next level.

3) EDGE Josh Sweat

2017 stats: 56 tackles, 5.5 sacks

If you are noticing a pattern here, Florida St. had a lot of talent on defense this season and it is a shame Deondre Francois tore his ACL in the opener against Alabama otherwise the Seminoles would have been preparing for a playoff game. That is neither here nor there. What is here and there is the fact that Sweat has the talent and build of a first round defensive end. Unfortunately, he has a knee problem that may raise some red flags in pre-draft medical checks, causing him to slide into day two a la Myles Jack. As long as the knee holds up, Sweat has the potential to give a team first-round production for the price of a third round pick.

4) CB Tarvarus McFadden

2017 stats: 27 tackles, 8 passes defended

McFadden has the size (6-foot-2, 200-pounds), cover skills, ball skills and instincts teams look for in a top corner. It seems like every year we see a corner turn some heads at the combine. If he has a good draft process, he might be able to sneak into the last few picks of the first round. For now, he is a mid-second round prospect.

More Seminoles to watch:

  • DL Rick Leonard (2nd-4th round prospect)
  • WR Auden Tate (3rd-4th round prospect)
  • MLB Matthew Thomas (4th-5th round prospect)
  • DL DeMarcus Christmas (7th round prospect)