22 Dec 2021 NFL Draft Watch: Boca Raton Bowl
As a part of Expand The Boxscore’s NFL Draft coverage, we will be highlighting the draft prospects from each school for every bowl game. The players featured below will also be included in our Draft Guide, which is set to release shortly after the combine. In today’s column, we will be taking a look at the Boca Raton Bowl, featuring the UCF Knights and BYU Cougars.
UCF vs #16 BYU
In recent years, UCF has thrust itself into the national spotlight with a 41-7 record since 2017, including an undefeated and “National Championship” season in 2017. As a result, they have had seven players drafted into the NFL during that timeframe, and this year’s class will add to that figure.
Safety Richie Grant is the biggest name to keep an eye on for UCF. As a late second to early third-round prospect, Grant has the range to play the single-high safety spot to go along with the change of direction skills and aggressiveness to cover slot receivers at the next level. Shoring up some spotty mental errors and inconsistent tackling issues could catapult him into the first-round discussion.
At cornerback, Aaron Robinson has some quick feet and an impressive ability to click and close on receivers to limit their yards after the catch. Tight hips will make it hard for him to be effective in man coverage at the next level, suggesting a position change to safety may be in order. Robinson will likely hear his name called towards the end of the NFL Draft in the sixth or seventh round.
Offensively, the Knights have a legitimate deep threat in Tre Nixon. The wideout has the speed to win on vertical routes and a wide array of releases to beat press coverage, which is a rare combination for speed receivers at the college level. However, his hands and ability to play through contact are holding him back as a Day Three prospect.
Nixon’s running mate Marlon Williams is another late-round pick who is looking to make a name for himself. Williams excels in contested catch situations and has the physicality and toughness to get extra yards after the catch. However, he struggles to create separation on his own, and that is what is holding his NFL Draft stock back.
Guard Parker Boudreaux has the ideal mobility and aggressiveness to be an effective puller in a gap-heavy scheme in the NFL. However, he has issues with his punch timing in pass protection, compromising his leverage against better defensive tackles. The Notre Dame transfer currently projects as a mid-to-late Day 3 pick.
As for BYU, it’s been a near-perfect season as their only slip up came against undefeated Coastal Carolina in a game that was not officially scheduled until a few days before it was played. The Cougars have steamrolled the majority of their opponents, due in large part to their outstanding quarterback Zach Wilson.
Wilson has taken the College Football world by storm this year and is now in consideration to be the second quarterback off the board come April. Among many other positive attributes, he navigates the pocket well with impressive athletic ability to keep plays alive and can make just about any throw you ask him to.
He does tend to try and do too much by playing “hero ball”, but any NFL offensive coordinator would be more than happy to work with his physical tools and aggressive mindset.
One of Wilson’s top targets is tight end Matt Bushman. His combination of zone run-blocking skills and rare hands make him one of the better prospects at the position and a potential mid-second to early third-round prospect. The problem is he struggles to beat press coverage and is already 25-years-old, both of which could make NFL GMs weary of spending a top-100 pick on Bushman.
Upfront for the Cougars is Chandon Herring, a versatile mauler who can move defensive linemen out of the way in the ground game. Herring does have some limitations athletically though, which cause him to lose in pass protection against shifty pass rushers. With that, he will likely hear his name called in the fourth- or fifth-round during the NFL Draft.
Next to Herring is offensive tackle Brady Christensen, a late Day 2 or early Day 3 prospect. Christensen is almost the exact opposite of his partner in crime, as he is much more of a positional blocker than a people mover as a run blocker, and he has the feet the secure the edge in pass pro. He does struggle against inside counter moves and needs to start playing with better pad level, however.
Center James Empey is another big man of note for BYU. Empey will likely be a seventh-rounder and fits best in a zone-heavy rushing attack in the NFL, as he is effective on combo blocks and working to the second level, but lacks the nastiness to finish blocks with defenders on the ground. When pass blocking he picks up and passes off stunts well, but there are questions about how well his anchor will hold up on Sundays.
Finally, there is the lone defensive prospect for the Cougars Khyiris Tonga. The defensive tackle has the size – 6’4″ and 322 pounds – and a quick first step to displace offensive linemen at the point of attack, which helps free up linebackers against the run. However, Tonga lacks the agility to defeat reach blocks against zone run plays and will likely be a fifth- or sixth-round selection.
- A Bay Area native who has a dysfunctional relationship with the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders.
- Matt played college football and was a recruiting assistant at Division 3 Willamette University, where he received his BA and MBA.
- He has worked in the industry as a journalist, film analyst for PFF, and graduated from the Scouting Academy.