NEPD Staff Writer: Dan Hope
The fullest day of the bowl season — New Year’s Day — is finally upon us, and the action all begins with the Heart of Dallas Bowl at noon, featuring the Purdue Boilermakers versus the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
While this game does not have the overall strength of draft prospects that many of the later games in the day, there are a few players participating in their final collegiate game who the New England Patriots should be keeping a close eye on Tuesday.
Kawann Short, DT, Purdue (#9 Defensive Tackle)
The best draft prospect on either team playing in this game is Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short. Short is a massive and disruptive defensive tackle with the versatility to fit any scheme, and the ability to be a difference-maker on an NFL interior line.
Short isn’t quite as explosive as the top defensive tackle prospects in the draft class, but he still has great quickness for a 315-pound tackle. He is a stout run-stopper but can also bring pressure up the middle on passing downs, and could play as either a nose or under tackle in a four-man defensive front.
One of the smartest moves for the Patriots early in the 2013 NFL draft would be to select a defensive tackle who can be an upgrade over Brandon Deaderick and Kyle Love at the under tackle spot next to nose tackle Vince Wilfork.
In a deep class of defensive tackles, Short could still be available when the Patriots are on the clock late in the second round, and he would be terrific value at that point as a productive, disruptive defensive lineman who could be the missing piece on the Patriots’ front four.
Short is the Patriots second round choice in James Christensen’s latest 2013 NFL Mock Draft.
Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State (Jr.)
Justin Gilbert probably shouldn’t declare early for the 2013 NFL draft, but he is still a prospect well worth watching in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Gilbert is an inconsistent cover corner who needs to continue developing both in coverage and as a tackler, but he is a playmaker with an intriguing combination of length and athleticism.
Gilbert has great speed and ball skills, and is a hard hitter but needs to take better angles in run defense. He would benefit from another year of development at the collegiate level.
In addition to his potential as a cornerback, Gilbert is also a tremendous kickoff returner. For the Patriots, who need depth at cornerback and do not have a true kick return specialist on their roster, Gilbert would be a potential target if he were to enter the draft.
Brodrick Brown, CB, Oklahoma State
The Oklahoma State Cowboys could still have a cornerback drafted even if Gilbert does not declare, with the starter opposite him, senior Brodrick Brown, being a solid Day 3 draft prospect. At only 5’8” and 185 pounds, a lack of size will keep Brown from being a top prospect, but he is an athletic cover corner with good ball skills.
His statistical production certainly went way down from his junior to senior season: after being second nationally with 20 passes defended as a junior, he had only two as a senior. This was in part due to less impressive play, but he was also targeted less in his senior season.
Brown struggles in run defense, and his lack of size will keep him from being an outside cornerback at the next level. But given his ability to break up passes and his athletic ability, he has potential as a nickel/dime cornerback and should be selected at some point on the draft’s third day.
Josh Johnson, CB, Purdue
For a team like the Patriots in need of cornerbacks, they will want to keep on both secondaries in this game. Kawann Short is the only sure bet to be drafted from the Purdue Boilermakers, but Josh Johnson is a potential late-round choice as well.
Johnson is a consistent cover corner with good ball skills — as evidenced by his 19 passes defended in his senior season — but he does not have great size or athleticism, and is not a great tackler. Nonetheless, his production and playmaking ability gives him a shot at being a late-round draft choice, and the Patriots could take a strong look at him with their seventh-round draft pick for cornerback depth and the ability to contribute on special teams.
Other Prospects to Watch:
Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State (Jr.) – Grade: 3rd-4th Round
Quinn Sharp, P, Oklahoma State – Grade: 7th Round-Undrafted