2013 Hawaii Bowl Prospect Preview: Oregon State vs. Boise State

This year’s Biletnikoff Award recipient, Oregon State junior wide receiver Brandin Cooks should be an early selection if he declares for the 2014 draft. (Photo: Jamie Valdez — USA Today Sports)

Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State, Jr. (5’10”, 186 lbs)

College football is a funny game. Somehow, one of the NCAA’s most dominating, dynamic and explosive playmakers is also one of the most unrecognized. If Brandin Cooks were an Oregon Duck, USC Trojan, or Ohio State Buckeye, draftniks would be talking about him as a top-10 pick in this upcoming draft. But because Cooks is an Oregon State Beaver, he has flown largely under the radar.

Despite being the Beavers’ only offensive weapon in 2013, Cooks has posted monstrous numbers, recording 120 receptions, 1,650 receiving yards and 15 receiving touchdowns. One of the fastest players in the country, Cooks has also added 188 yards and two touchdowns in the running game, yet somehow, many outside of the Pac-12 are not even talking about this kid.

Though he lacks the size to be a physically dominant receiver in the NFL, Cooks combines world-class speed with the ability (and agility) to stop, start and cut on a dime. He has consistent hands, great route running ability and a toughness rarely seen in athletes his size.

While his physical gifts should wow at the combine, it’s that toughness that may impress scouts the most. Cooks shows a willingness to block in the run game and a lack of fear when going over the middle or going up to make a play in the air.

Cooks has yet to make a decision on whether or not to go pro after this season, but if he does, he figures to be a top-50 pick. His lack of size will likely put him a bit behind elite prospects like USC’s Marquise Lee, Clemson’s Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, but his leadership and unique gifts could easily make him a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft.

Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State, Jr. (6’5’’, 220 lbs)

Oregon State quarterbacks have a reputation of developing gradually, and junior quarterback Sean Mannion certainly fits that bill, showing significant improvement in each of his three years as the Beavers’ starting signal caller. It is this continued progression that lead many to believe that Mannion will return for his senior season, but with many of the draft’s top QB prospects returning to school, Mannion may see his stock rise too high to not capitalize on the opportunity.

Though a bit thin, Mannion has a prototypical pocket quarterback build with the top-end arm strength to match. Quarterbacking one of the NCAA’s worst rushing offenses, Mannion has frequently been asked to sling the ball throughout games and as a result, he ranks third nationally with 4,403 yards and 36 touchdowns.

While he has a great arm and NFL size, Mannion doesn’t look to be a franchise quarterback just yet. Should the Hawaii Bowl be his last game as a collegian, questions will be asked about Mannion’s decision-making, as he is also tied for fifth in the NCAA in interceptions this season. His draft stock might also be affected by the NFL’s shift toward more mobile QBs. While he shows solid footwork in the pocket, Mannion is not overly mobile, ranking somewhere between below-averagely athletic and statuesque.

Depending on the QB market, Mannion projects somewhere between a second- and fourth-round draft pick. Like Cooks, he has yet to formally make a decision on his 2014 status, but the physical gifts that he has shown in throwing the football should attract plenty of attention from NFL scouts.

The Boise State offensive line could have their hands full in pass protection against Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton. (Photo: Scott Olmos — USA Today Sports)

Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State, Jr. (6’3’’, 265 lbs)

Outside of Cooks, Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton is the Beavers’ most eligible prospect to leave early for the NFL. Like his diminutive teammate, Crichton could explode up 2014 NFL draft boards if he declares himself eligible.

Statistically, Crichton has only posted moderate numbers as a junior with 43 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks, but that only tells part of the story. Crichton introduced himself to the Pac-10 Conference as a redshirt freshman with 74 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and six sacks, and almost instantly became the player on the Oregon State defense that teams schemed around.

There is nothing that Crichton doesn’t do well, and it’s difficult to even pinpoint what his best attribute is. Showing a non-stop motor and great effort in pursuit, tremendous hand-fighting skills, excellent explosion and use of leverage, Crichton is a dangerous pass rusher. His intelligence, great balance, ability to read and react and stoutness at the point of attack also make him a terrific run defender. The biggest knock on Crichton might be a lack of elite athleticism, though he would have a chance to dispel that notion at the NFL Scouting Combine if he declares a year early.

Crichton projects as an ideal defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, but he is also good enough to stand up as a 3-4 outside linebacker.

Matchup to Watch: Leno vs. Crichton

This should be a fun one to watch. With Boise State starting quarterback Joe Southwick reportedly suspended for the Hawaii Bowl, the Beavers will want to pressure Broncos backup Grant Hedwick. Responsibility for protecting Hedwick’s blindside will be Leno’s as he tries to stymie Oregon State’s star defensive end.

Leno has great feet and Crichton is a relentless worker with a bevy of pass rush moves. The winner of this chess match could go a long way in determining the outcome of the Hawaii Bowl.

Keep an Eye On: Rashaad Reynolds, CB, Oregon State, Sr. (5’11″, 187 lbs)

Rashaad Reynolds is the closest thing Oregon State has to a shutdown corner. With great instincts and natural ball skills to go along with prototypical size and length for an NFL defensive back, Reynolds is the leader of the Beavers’ young secondary and is consistently asked to cover the opposing team’s go-to receiver.

Reynolds lacks the top-end athleticism to be a lockdown corner at the next level, but he is physical at the line of scrimmage, a willing tackler and solid in both man and zone coverage. Reynolds could also project as a free safety where his ball skills and instincts could shine.

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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Boise State, Bowl Games, Brandin Cooks, Charles Leno Jr., Demarcus Lawrence, Hawaii Bowl, Matt Miller, Oregon State, Prospect Previews, Rashaad Reynolds, Scott Crichton, Sean Mannion

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