Orange Bowl 2015: Bowl season is the perfect time to scout prospects for your favorite NFL team in the upcoming draft, and the 2015 Orange Bowl will provide an opportunity to look at a number of top talents. Both the Clemson Tigers and the Oklahoma Sooners will be sending top prospects to the pros, and Thursday’s bowl game will showcase their talents with some high-profile matchups.
With the College Football Playoff just days away, here’s a look at some of the top prospects who will be taking the field in the Orange Bowl and how they can influence the game and improve their draft stocks in the process.
Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson is an elite NFL prospect who affects the game in many ways.
According to Pro Football Focus, Lawson earned a plus-20.6 grade this season as a pass-rusher and a plus-16.7 grade against the run, making him one of the most well-rounded defensive linemen in the nation.
Against Oklahoma, Lawson can make the biggest impact by getting to Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield. However, pressuring Mayfield may not be enough. Lawson will need to finish off those pressures with sacks in order to disrupt the Sooners signal-caller.
Per PFF, Mayfield earned a plus-6.5 grade when facing pressure this season, which was among the best marks in the nation. With a strong showing against the Sooners, Lawson could help Clemson advance to the title game and solidify his status as a first-round prospect.
Mackensie Alexander vs. Sterling Shepard
Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander has already established himself as one of the elite cornerback prospects in this year’s draft class and a likely first-round pick. Though he’s only a redshirt sophomore, NFL Network’s Rand Getlin reported that Alexander is leaning toward turning pro.
In terms of NFL draft stocks, this matchup means more for Oklahoma receiver Sterling Shepard, who will have the opportunity to showcase his skills against one of the nation’s elite cornerbacks.
Playing in the Big 12, Shepard has not been tested against a secondary with the type of future pros that Clemson’s unit boasts. As a result, scouts will likely put more stock in his performance against the Tigers than many of his impressive performances earlier in the season.
According to NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks, Shepard has “displayed precise route-running skills to get open against one-on-one coverage on the outside.”
If Shepard can use those skills to create separation against Alexander, the Sooners passing game should be able to find success against the Clemson defense. If he struggles, however, Oklahoma’s offense may sputter, and Shepard’s draft stock would take a hit.
At 6’0″ and 222 pounds, linebacker Eric Striker is undersized by NFL standards. But what Striker lacks in size he makes up for with his explosiveness and his ability to anticipate the offense’s movement and put himself in position to make plays.
While Striker is effective as a pass-rusher, he will be valuable in this matchup if he can fight his way into the backfield to disrupt the Clemson rushing attack.
Striker has racked up 31.5 tackles for loss over the past two seasons. Opposing defenses have rarely made those types of negative plays against Clemson, especially with starting running back Wayne Gallman carrying the football.
If Striker can make plays against Gallman, he may stall some Clemson drives and boost his draft stock in the process.
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