Syracuse QB Ryan Nassi leads the Orange against West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl this week. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
By Matt Feminis
Special to Stlouisrams.com
With the bowl season reaching its fever pitch, here’s several players worth keeping an eye on in games the next few days. We’ll return early next week with a look at players featured in January bowl games.
Russell Athletic Bowl: Rutgers vs. Virginia Tech at Florida Citrus Bowl (Orlando, FL), Friday 4:30 p.m. ESPN
CB Logan Ryan*, Rutgers — Ryan looks the part — very good size (6-0, 190) with a lean, athletic frame and long limbs. He also has terrific production, including 28 pass breakups and seven interceptions the last two seasons, as well as 87 tackles in 2012. A scheme-versatile talent, Ryan is light on his feet and can stride with receivers downfield, but shows awareness in zone and supports the run aggressively — fights to get off blocks and is a physical tackler. Ryan, who struggled with Arkansas' Cobi Hamilton, could stand to improve his press technique, but he has mass appeal given his starter-caliber length, speed, movement, ball skills and versatility.
OLB Khaseem Greene, Rutgers — The Big East Defensive Player of the Year, Greene is an athletic, highly productive converted safety whose stats — 125 tackles, 10 1/2 for loss and 5 1/2 sacks with five pass breakups, two interceptions and six forced fumbles — are more impressive than his tape. Is agile and flexible to slip blocks and has speed to close, but can be overpowered when offensive linemen get on top of him. Small-framed, run-around, weak-side linebacker who will have to be protected and freed up to chase and hit. Might bring most value as a nickel ’backer and special-teams player.
WR Corey Fuller, Virginia Tech — Ran track at Kansas for two years before transferring to VT. Sat out 2010 per NCAA rules and was a backup in 2011 before opening eyes this season by averaging nearly 19 yards per catch. Long strider with intriguing size (6-2, 196) and speed who shows surprising quickness. Also comes from a football family — brother, Vincent, was a seven-year NFL defensive back; brother, Kyle, is a cornerback for the Hokies; and brother, Kendall, is a highly recruited cornerback set to join the Hokies next year.
Others to watch: Rutgers: MLB Steve Beauharnais, WR Mark Harrison, D Scott Vallone, TE D.C. Jefferson, ORT R.J. Dill; VA Tech: QB Logan Thomas*, WR Marcus Davis, OLB James Gayle*, OT Nick Beckton, MLB Bruce Taylor
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: West Virginia vs. Syracuse at Yankee Stadium (Bronx, N.Y.), Saturday 2:15 p.m. ESPN
WR Stedman Bailey*, West Virginia — A Biletnikoff Award finalist who has already announced he’s entering the draft, Bailey, who has a child, paced the nation’s receivers in touchdowns by piling up 106 receptions for 1,501 yards (14.2-yard average) and 23 scores. Bailey teamed with QB Geno Smith and WR Tavon Austin to fuel a prolific pass offense. While Bailey (5-10, 188) lacks ideal height and top-end speed, his skill set could play as a flanker or in the slot — he understands how to create separation, tracks throws well and has good hands to make contested grabs. He also makes people miss and picks up yards after the catch.
SS Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse — A Virginia Beach, Va. native, Thomas is motivated by the loss of his parents and the responsibility for five younger siblings. He has a compact, muscular build and is an aggressive, physical, intense strong safety with appealing speed and tackling ability. At his best attacking the line of scrimmage and closing on ballcarriers. Has upside and is likely to boost his stock at the Combine. Durability could be an issue given his size and playing style.
Others to watch: West Virginia: QB Geno Smith, WR/RS Stedman Bailey, OLB Terence Garvin; Syracuse: QB Ryan Nassib, OT Justin Pugh, WR Marcus Sales
Valero Alamo Bowl: Texas vs. Oregon State at Alamodome (San Antonio, TX), Saturday 5:45 p.m. ESPN
WR Markus Wheaton, Oregon State —A playmaking receiver with lean musculature, Wheaton (6-1, 188) doesn’t have the size and physicality of a No. 1 receiver, but he possesses a good blend of “X” receiver vertical speed (10.58 100 meters) and flanker quickness. His receiving totals have increased the last three years, culminating with 88 receptions for 1,207 yards (13.7-yard average) and 11 touchdowns this season. He’s light on his feet and quick off the line to threaten cushion, and has suddenness and fluidity to be a solid route runner with continued refinement. He also has short-area burst after the catch and has traits to be tried as a returner. Will be a 22-year-old rookie.
CB Jordan Poyer, Oregon State — Poyer (6-0, 190) has terrific length and athletic ability (former baseball player), and he’s been productive, having defended 30 passes the last two seasons, including 11 interceptions. The versatile Poyer has special-teams experience, including as a returner, and is deployed as a nickel back to take advantage of his instincts and playmaking ability.
Others to watch: Texas: S Kenny Vaccaro, DE Alex Okafor, CB Carrington Byndom*; Oregon State: DE Scott Crichton*
Hyundai Sun Bowl: USC vs. Georgia Tech at Sun Bowl (El Paso, TX), Monday 5:45 ESPN
WR Robert Woods*, USC — Production fell off from 111-1,292-15 (11.6) in 2011 to 73-813-11 (11.1) in 2012, in part because of the monster season by teammate Marquise Lee, but Woods is still a dangerous weapon in his own right. Woods is fluid and field-fast, as he accelerates instantly and has terrific quickness to get in/out of cuts smoothly and shake man coverage. His versatility and creative run-after-catch skills enable him to line up in multiple spots, as well as return kicks. Woods bears a resemblance to Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin and should draw early second-round interest.
Others to watch: USC: S T.J. McDonald, C Khaled Holmes, DE Wes Horton, DE Morgan Breslin*, RB Silas Redd*; Georgia Tech: OG Omoregie Uzzi, OLB Jeremiah Attoachu*, CB Rod Sweeting