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.

See page 2 for analysis of some of the game’s additional top prospects.

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Tags: Austin Wentworth, Bowl Games, Bowl Previews, Davante Adams, Derek Carr, Derron Smith, Devon Kennard, Fresno State, Game Previews, George Uko, Las Vegas Bowl, Marcel Jensen, Marqise Lee, Prospect Previews, USC

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