All Eyes On UCLA's Rosen, USC's Darnold, Louisville's Jackson, Heisman Winner Mayfield As Bowl Season Heats Up

By Steve Silverman
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There are a number of players who will be in the NFL in 2018 who are playing in bowl games during the next week. While many scouts have already gained an opinion on the top players, bowl game preparation is also seen as similar to playoff preparation in the NFL.

The extra time off prior to the postseason gives players a chance to concentrate more on their individual matchup than they do during the regular season, and that is obviously a key component towards playing well at the next level.

The upcoming draft is likely to be heavy on quarterbacks, so we will take a look at five that likely will be selected next spring. Though most will go in the first round, there’s one that could go much later but still find a way to be successful in the NFL.

Cactus Bowl, UCLA vs. Kansas State, Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

QB Josh Rosen, UCLA: Rosen has an excellent chance of being the first quarterback selected in this year’s draft.

He has excellent size for the position at 6-foot-4 and 217 pounds, the best mechanics, and a natural pocket presence. Rosen also throws a tight spiral that allows him to get the ball into tight spaces. He goes through his progressions like a veteran and has shown he can work under center as well as in the shotgun.

Josh Rosen

UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Rosen led the Bruins to one of the most remarkable come-from-behind victories in recent memory as he rallied UCLA from 34 points down to beat Texas A&M in the season opener, 45-44.

Rosen completed 282 of 451 passes for 3,717 yards with a 26-to-10 TD-interception ratio during the regular season.

Cotton Bowl, USC vs. Ohio State, Friday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

QB Sam Darnold, USC: Darnold was the highest-rated quarterback on the board at the start of the season, but he had a few difficulties out of the gate that allowed Rosen to supplant him.

Sam Darnold

Southern Cal quarterback Sam Darnold warms up before the game against Stanford at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sept. 9, 2017. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Darnold finished the regular season by completing 64 percent of his passes for 3,787 yards, with 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. While those numbers are impressive, they are not otherworldly and may indicate that he is still in need of some development.

He is at his best when he can stand in the pocket, survey and get a clean look at where his receivers are going. When it comes to flat-out throwing the ball with solid protection, he is a quite remarkable. However, when he is pressured, he’s prone to mistakes.

Darnold is going to need strong coaching in the NFL to break him out of some bad habits.

Taxslayer Bowl, Louisville vs. Mississippi State, Saturday, 12 noon ET, ESPN

QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville: After winning the Heisman Trophy in 2016, Jackson may have been even better this year.

Jackson stands in the pocket at 6-3 and 216 pounds, and he is every bit the scrambler that he is the precision passer. He threw for 3,489 yards with 25 touchdowns and six interceptions, and he also ran for 1,443 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2017.

The Louisville coaching staff basically had Jackson carry the team, but something similar is not going to happen in the NFL. Jackson has wonderful accuracy and plenty of heat on his fastball, and should be able to make the adjustment. While he can and should scramble when necessary, his durability at the next level may be predicated on him not running as much.

Rose Bowl, Oklahoma vs. Georgia, Monday, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN

QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma: There is no doubting Mayfield’s competitiveness or his ability to get the ball down the field accurately. However, he reportedly stands just 6-1 and may actually be even shorter.

Smaller quarterbacks can succeed in the NFL, but it’s not a regular occurrence. Mayfield is going to have to prove he can overcome that deficiency.

Okalhoma quarterback Baker Mayfield (Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy this year after putting up remarkable numbers. He completed 262 of 369 passes for 4,340 yards, with an amazing TD-INT ration of 41-5.

Mayfield does not have a rocket for an arm and he has some problems reading defenses. However, he is very accurate.

Camping World Bowl, Oklahoma State vs. Virginia Tech, Thursday, 5:15 p.m., ESPN

QB Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State: Rudolph is the quarterback who gets the most varied grades among scouts, but they are of the opinion that he has an excellent chance to be successful at the next level and should be a player that teams can count on fairly quickly.

Rudolph has the kind of size — 6-5 and 235 pounds — and strength in the pocket that should allow him to buy time against a strong pass rush and find open receivers.

While some scouts don’t like his footwork, Rudolph knows how to move around the pocket. He completed 65 percent of his passes for 4,553 yards with 35 touchdowns and nine interceptions during the regular season.

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