NFL Draft Watch Gator Bowl

2021 NFL Draft Watch: TaxSlayer Gator 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 NFL Draft Guide, which is set to release shortly after the combine. In today’s column, we will be taking a look at the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl featuring the North Carolina State Wolf Pack and Kentucky Wild Cats.

#23 North Carolina State vs Kentucky

N.C. State has quietly put together a solid program in the ACC. In the last 10 seasons, they have made eight bowl games and have had 12 Day One or Two picks. This year the Wolf Pack is slightly under the radar again, as they sit at 8-3 and several more NFL Draft prospects.

Wide receiver Emeke Emezie is big and physical at 6’3 and 210 pounds. He can create separation with strength and attacks the ball with a tenacious mentality in contested catch situations. However, Emezie is not very explosive and needs to work on his hands if he is going to get drafted and find himself out of the priority free agent category.

On the inside is a mid to late Day 3 guy in tight end Cary Angeline. As a 6’7″ receiving tight end, Angeline is an enticing option for a team that is looking for a large red zone threat. He does need to improve as a blocker and show more physicality at the point of attack, though.

Defensively, there is defensive tackle Alim McNeil, who might be the biggest name to watch for N.C. State. Against the run, McNeil is a penetrating lineman who can get in the offense’s backfield quickly, but he needs to work on his body control to stay on his feet more consistently. He struggles to get on an edge in pass rush, but McNeil’s raw traits are good enough to make him an effective interior rusher.

As for Kentucky, at 4-6 with wins against teams that have a combined record of 8-31, they are benefiting from the NCAA’s lax bowl eligibility rules for this season. Regardless, the Wildcats are suiting up and so are all three of their NFL Draft prospects.

In recent years, the Wildcats have sent quite a few quality pass rushers to the NFL in Bud Dupree, Josh Allen, and Za’Darius Smith. Potential late Day 3 pick Jamar Watson has a good chance to be the next name on that list. Watson has a quick get-off and is good at turning speed to power as a counter move, but he lacks the power and strength to hold up against the run.

On the other side of the trenches is center Drake Jackson, who has the lower body strength and hand placement to knock defensive tackles off the ball and be effective in a gap-heavy running scheme. However, he has short arms that allow longer defensive linemen to get into his chest, limiting his effectiveness on zone run blocks and hindering his ability to drop the anchor in pass protection.

Landon Young is another Kentucky offensive lineman to keep an eye on. At 6’7” and 321 pounds, the tackle has NFL-level size with good zone instincts and strong grip strength, but he bends more at the waist than at the knee, throwing off his balance. Cleaning up that technical flaw will be key for his draft stock as he currently projects as a sixth- or seventh-rounder.