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Las Vegas Bowl Prospect Preview: Fresno State vs. USC
Derek Carr will be looking to prove himself as a first-round quarterback prospect in his final college football game. (Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel — USA Today Sports)
BBD Staff Writer: Joe Marino
The opening day of bowl season Saturday will include a matchup between two ranked teams when No. 20 Fresno State takes on No. 25 Southern California in the Las Vegas Bowl.
With several quarterback-needy teams projected to be picking in the top 10 of the 2014 NFL Draft, many will be focused in on Fresno State standout quarterback Derek Carr as he plays the final game of his college football career against a defense that ranks 16th nationally with 341.2 yards allowed per game.
Carr is just one of a number potential 2014 NFL draft selections playing in Saturday’s game, which is scheduled for a 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff in Las Vegas and will be televised on ABC.
Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State, Sr. (6’3’’, 218 lbs)
Carr has been college football’s most productive quarterback this season. Statistically, he has had 500 more passing yards and ten more passing touchdowns than the next-closest quarterback. Collegiate productivity, especially at the quarterback position, doesn’t mean NFL success, but Carr has shown this season he can make NFL throw after NFL throw while commanding his offense to perfection.
Carr has elite arm strength and can make every throw an NFL team needs him to make. He drives the ball beautifully down the field on deep outs with excellent accuracy. He works all areas of the field extremely well and throws a catchable football. He knows when to throw with touch and when to throw his fastball. His release is quick and effortless.
Carr trusts his wide receivers to make plays for him and throws them open with anticipation, giving them opportunities to go get the ball. He delivers the ball through tight throwing windows and understands where to go with the football based on the defense he is facing. He can manipulate the defense with his eyes and uses the pump fake well to set up big plays.
Carr hangs in the pocket well when facing pressure and keeps his eyes downfield. He properly protects the football when he has to take sacks and generally loses minimal yardage, but as a good and quick decision maker, he has only been sacked 11 times this season. He is calm and collected when facing pass-rushes, and shows the ability to scramble to pick up first downs.
Derek Carr is worthy of a top-five draft selection and has the makings of a franchise quarterback. That said, USC has a better defense from a talent perspective than any he has faced this season, making the Las Vegas Bowl a great opportunity for Carr to showcase his skills.
Derek Carr’s top receiver, Davante Adams, could join Carr as an early-round selection if he declares for the 2014 NFL draft. (Photo: Cary Edmondson — USA Today Sports)
Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State, R-So. (6’2’’, 216 lbs)
Adams has had video-game production over his two seasons at Fresno State. He leads the nation in both receptions and touchdown catches this season, and has a career total of 224 receptions for 2,957 yards and 37 touchdowns in just two seasons.
Carr’s go-to receiver, Adams has proven to be a reliable target. He is a consistent hands catcher who makes catches away from his body that display his excellent hand strength.
Adams separates well down the field and has good burst at the top of his routes that makes him a solid vertical deep threat.
Adams excels at positioning his body in one-on-one situations. He tracks the ball and catches it at its highest point, and regularly adjusts to the football in the air to make a tough grab.
Carr gives Adams plenty of opportunities to display his ability to create after the catch, and Adams does so, as he is physical with the ball in his hands and displays good up-field burst. With good quickness, speed, strength and vertical leaping ability, Adams checks out well athletically.
Fresno State’s pass-happy offense has given Adams the opportunity to showcase his playmaking skills, and Adams has thrived as its feature playmaker. With Carr headed to the NFL after the Las Vegas Bowl, it would not be a surprise to see Adams, who is draft-eligible thanks to a redshirt year, follow suit. In what looks to be a deep draft class of wide receivers, Adams is a solid DAy 2 prospect.
Derron Smith, S, Fresno State, Jr. (5’11’’, 200 lbs)
With 12 interceptions in the past two seasons, Smith has been a playmaking safety for the Bulldogs. In his junior season alone, Smith has 63 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks along with six interceptions.
Smith flies all over the football field looking to make plays and is consistently around the ball. He has no issues coming into the box to defend the run and is an excellent tackler. He is aggressive when pursuing the ball and has great instincts as a run defender. He sees the play in front of him and naturally reacts while positioning himself to make plays.
As a pass defender, Smith is best when he is able to roam the field and read the quarterback eyes. He can cover ground, break on the football and has good ball skills. Smith is also an experienced special teams player who has been good on punt and kick coverage for the Bulldogs. He will likely be used in that capacity in the NFL.
Athletically, Smith shows good strength and quickness. His burst in pursuit is excellent.
A fourth-year junior at Fresno State, Smith would be one of the higher-ranked safeties in the 2014 draft class should he declare. He may do just that after two solid years of production.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC, Jr. (6’, 195 lbs.)
After catching 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns in his spectacular sophomore season in 2012, Lee’s junior season has been a disappointment. In three less games this season, Lee has only 50 catches for 673 yards and two touchdowns. Dealing with nagging injuries and playing without quarterback Matt Barkley, who moved on to the NFL after last season, Lee’s production has suffered.
When Lee is “right,” he is one of the most dynamic players in the country. He is a special talent with the ball in his hands and a game-changing player.
Lee works all areas of the field well. He can take short routes and explode upfield to pick up yards after the catch, while he is also good at separating for downfield receptions. Defenders struggle to keep up and mirror him at all levels of the field. Lee is extremely quick in and out of his breaks and can adjust to the football downfield.
Lee’s biggest concern is his concentration. While Lee can catch the ball with his hands and away from his body, he has had too many drops this season.
Lee plans to make his decision on whether to declare for the 2014 draft about a week after the Las Vegas Bowl, according to Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times. With a new coaching staff going into USC next season, the time could be right for Lee to jump to the NFL.
George Uko will play an important role in USC’s efforts to put pressure on Derek Carr. (Photo: Robert Hanashiro — USA Today Sports)
George Uko, DT, USC, Jr. (6’3’’, 275 lbs)
Uko has been a solid starter at defensive tackle for the Trojans over the past two seasons. He has tallied 66 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and 10 sacks over that span, providing USC with a playmaking inside presence.
Getting pressure in the face of the quarterback goes a long way in having a sound defense, and Uko brings that to the table. Uko generates pass-rush with quickness off the snap and strong hand usage. He troubles guards with that combination.
Despite being only 275 pounds, Uko is able to occupy multiple blockers at the line of scrimmage and be a factor as a run defender with his ability to quickly shoot gaps.
Uko is a versatile player who could play 5-technique defensive end in odd fronts or 3-technique defensive tackle in even fronts, and be a factor in either role.
Uko needs to play with more consistently low pad level. He has a bad tendency to stand straight up after the snap and initially lose leverage battles.
A junior, Uko could use another year in college to refine his game and improve his draft stock. If he declared for the draft, he would most likely be a mid-round selection with upside.
Matchup to Watch: Austin Wentworth, LT, Fresno State, Sr. (6’5″, 306 lbs) vs. Devon Kennard, DE, USC, Sr. (6’3″, 255 lbs)
Wentworth and Kennard are both having terrific senior seasons. Wentworth, an all-Mountain West Conference selection each of the last two seasons, has been a steady three-year starter and the bright spot on an otherwise poor Fresno State offensive line. Lining up across from him, Kennard had a relatively quiet Trojans career until this year, in which he has 13 tackles for loss and nice sacks.
Getting pressure on Derek Carr will be vital if USC is going to win its first bowl game since 2009. The battle between Kennard and Wentworth will play a large role in whether the Trojans are able to apply that pressure.
Keep an Eye On: Marcel Jensen, TE, Fresno State, Sr. (6’6″, 270 lbs)
Jensen projected nicely to former Fresno State head coach Pat Hill’s pro-style offense. He did not emerge into a big role as a junior or senior under new Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter, who runs a spread offense.
A big, broad-shouldered tight end, Jensen has sleeper potential. He was a second team All-Conference selection despite catching only 24 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns.
Jensen has good athletic ability for his excellent frame. He has shown the ability to catch the football away from his body with his soft hands.
He will be a player to watch in the Las Vegas Bowl and the East/West Shrine Game in January.