Bowl Game Prospect Viewing Guide: Celebration, New Mexico, and Cure Bowls

Joe Malfa with who to watch in the Celebration, New Mexico and Cure Bowl…

‘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 two small schools battle for an irrelevant trophy 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.

Celebration Bowl

Matchup: North Carolina A&T vs. Alcorn State

Time: 12:00 p.m.

Network: ABC

North Carolina A&T’s prospects:

1) RB Marquell Cartwright (5-foot-8, 205 pounds)

2018 Stats: 184 carries, 1044 yards, 7 TDs; 15 catches, 80 yards

Career: 569 carries, 2822 yards, 32 TDs; 29 catches, 250 yards, 2 TDs

Nothing really stands out about Cartwright, but the production is there and recency bias may help his cause. It seems as if we are seeing more and more late picks and undrafted free agents have success seemingly out of nowhere. Tarik Cohen was selected in the 4th round out of North Carolina A&T in 2017, and the scat back has helped take the Bears’ offense to the next level. There will be a GM out there who considers using a 7th round pick on Cartwright if he performs well throughout the draft process, and today’s nationally televised game gives him a chance to put himself on the map.

Projection: 7th round/Undrafted Free Agent

2) DE Darryl Johnson (6-foot-5, 232 pounds)

2018 Stats: 12 games, 18 TFLs, 10.5 sacks

Career: 36 games, 40 TFLs, 19 sacks

The MEAC Defensive Player of the Year has not faced the best competition, but break into double-digits in the sack column and you will draw some attention. That is the way things are in today’s NFL. Teams are starving for pass rushers, and Johnson is an intriguing prospect. He has a really quick first step which has not only helped him get after quarterbacks, but also blow up a number of runs in the backfield. His size and athleticism also allow him to be effective in coverage, but that slender athletic frame is also a flaw. He will not be able to beat NFL tackles at his current size. He does have a year of eligibility remaining and may be better off going back to school to hone his craft and add some muscle. If he does come out, he reminds me a bit of Hercules Mata’afa from last year’s class. The Washington State product was productive for the Cougars but went undrafted because of his size. Johnson will likely meet the same fate, but his athleticism and quickness could make him a good depth add for an NFL franchise.

Projection: 7th round/Undrafted Free Agent

Alcorn State’s prospects:

1) WR Raidarious Anderson (6-foot-5, 198 pounds)

2018 Stats: 32 catches, 502 yards, 3 TDs

Anderson enjoyed a breakout season for Alcorn State, getting over the 500-yard mark after combining for just 186 yards in his first two seasons. His arrow is pointing up for the Braves with a year of eligibility left. I expect he will stay in school because if he is able to improve upon his production once again, he may be able to convince a team to take a chance on him in the 7th round or as a priority undrafted free agent. If he were to come out after this game, a team might bring him into camp based on his size alone.

Projection: Undrafted Free Agent

2) DT Sterling Shippy (6-foot-1, 300 pounds)

2018 Stats: 13.5 TFLs, 8 sacks, 2 forced fumbles

Shippy has good quickness for his size and has produced at a high level for the Braves in his collegiate career. The recurring theme when discussing the top prospects in this game, however, is simply they have not played great competition and they are no more than dart throws to be good depth options.

Projection: Undrafted Free Agent

Cure Bowl

Matchup: Tulane vs. Louisiana Lafayette

Time: 1:30 p.m.

Network: CBS Sports Network

Tulanes’s prospect:

CB Donnie Lewis Jr. (6-feet, 200 pounds)

2018 Stats: 15 passes defended, 3 INTs, 54 tackles

Lewis is bidding to become the second member of the Tulane secondary to be drafted over the last two years, with CB Parry Nickerson going to the Jets in the 6th round last year. While Nickerson was more of a slot corner, Lewis is a press corner who works mostly on the outside. He has a lot of experience as a redshirt senior and as a result has put a lot of tape out there. That tape shows a corner that needs refining, but he has the tools to develop into a starter in the NFL. He has the size, speed, tackling ability and ball skills — it is just a matter of putting it all together and taking that next step. He will probably hear his name called around the same time Nickerson did.

Projection: 6th-7th round pick

Louisiana Lafayette’s prospect:

RB Trey Ragas (5-foot-11, 227 pounds)

2018 Stats: 197 carries, 1141 yards, 8 TDs; 24 catches, 214 yards, 2 TDs

Career: 339 carries, 1954 yards, 17 TDs; 33 catches, 246 yards, 2 TDs

Just a redshirt sophomore, Ragas is unlikely to declare so consider his listing here as more of an early warning for next year. Ragas enjoyed a productive freshman season for the Ragin’ Cajuns (filling the hole left by the Jets’ own Elijah McGuire) and he improved upon that performance as a sophomore. Ragas has all the tools you look for in an every-down back, and he has proven he is capable of shouldering the load. Again, it is very unlikely that he declares for the draft, but he certainly has the makeup of a Day 3 prospect capable of blossoming into a productive pro.

Projection: 6th-7th round pick

*BONUS NAMES*

Keep an eye on a handful of receivers in this game as well. It will take a combination of stellar pro days and strong Combine performances to get into the 6th or 7th rounds, but these guys will all receive looks as undrafted free agents and have opportunities to stick on a roster:

Darnell Mooney (Tulane)

Terren Encalade (Tulane)

Ryheem Malone (ULL)

Ja’Marcus Bradley (ULL)

New Mexico Bowl

Matchup: Utah State vs. North Texas

Time: 2:00 p.m.

Network: ESPN

Utah State’s prospects:

1) TE Dax Raymond (6-foot-5, 250 pounds)

2018 Stats: 25 catches, 335 yards, 2 TDs

Career: 70 catches, 863 yards, 3 TDs

There is no speculation surrounding this underclassmen, as Raymond wasted no time in declaring early for the NFL draft. I do, however, question why he was so eager to pull the trigger on declaring as early as he did considering his underwhelming level of production. Teams are always looking for big, athletic tight ends who can also block. Raymond utilizes that big frame of his well as a blocker, and he looks very comfortable as a pass catcher. Eric Tomlinson came to mind as a comparison for Raymond in the couple of times I have had the chance to watch him this season. He does not have the talent of a starting caliber tight end, but he certainly has what it takes to be a secondary option as a pass catcher who primarily chips in as a run-blocker.

Projection: 6th-7th round pick

2) RB Darwin Thompson (5-foot-8, 200 pounds)

2018 Stats: 132 carries, 951 yards, 14 TDs; 22 catches, 336 yards, 2 TDs 

Thompson had 56 yards from scrimmage on 13 total touches in the Aggies’ near upset of Michigan State in Week 1. He found the end zone twice and made a couple of really quick, shifty plays. I caught at least parts of three more Utah State games throughout the year, and every time I watched Thompson play my mind immediately went to Tarik Cohen. Thompson has that kind of speed and quickness. Cohen has been one of the X-factors that has helped take the Bears’ offense to the next level, and the NFL is a copycat league. Teams will be looking to get their hands on this type of playmaker. Thompson spent two years at the JUCO level before his coming out party in 2018 so he lacks experience and may decide to remain in school, but I believe he is an early Day 3 lock if he turns pro now.

Projection: 4th-5th round pick

North Texas’s prospects:

1) LB E.J. Ejiya (6-foot-2, 230 pounds)

2018 Stats: 12 games, 113 tackles, 9 sacks

Career: 39 games, 265 tackles, 16 sacks

It has been 14 years since North Texas has had a player drafted, but that drought is certain to end if Ejiya is healthy. He is a Mean Green tackling machine, with 222 total tackles in his two seasons as the starter. His speed is his best attribute. He can wreak havoc sideline to sideline and he has developed quite the presence as a pass rusher as well. The knock on Ejiya is his size and it has shown up on tape as he struggles to fight through traffic and shed bigger blockers. His speed, instincts, and overall production will probably earn him the right to hear his name called at some point early on the third day of the draft. He will be asked to fight through a big, blocking tight end to bring down a dangerous, shifty running back today, and both of those players will be playing on Sundays as well.

Projection: 5th-6th round pick

2) QB Mason Fine (5-foot-11, 185 pounds)

2018 Stats: 295/457, 3734 yards, 27 TDs, 5 INTs, 8.17 YPA

Career: 774/1229, 9358 yards, 64 TDs, 25 INTs, 7.61 YPA

When I was watching and writing about bowl games last year, I knew I would be writing about Mason Fine this year. Odds are I will be writing about him again next year because I believe he will stay in school, but he may decide to come out in this weak QB class. Fine is tough to project to the next level for two reasons. First, he has run a version of the Air Raid offense and that scares NFL teams away because that does not always translate to the pro game. Second, he is undersized (even though the success of guys like Baker Mayfield, Tua Tagovailoa, Kyler Murray, etc. is helping to eradicate that stigma). He gets rid of the ball quickly, is very accurate, and has the arm strength to make every throw. Fine has Day 3 talent and projects as a backup if he were to come out now, though I would guess he is very likely to return to school in the hopes of improving that draft stock.

Projection: 6th-7th round pick