BBD Staff Writer: Eric Samulski
The players on the sideline are likely to be more highly touted than those that take the field in the Gator Bowl (12 p.m. ET, ESPN2). With Nebraska (8-4) missing four starters, including quarterback Taylor Martinez, and Georgia (8-4) down eight starters, including quarterback Aaron Murray, running back Keith Marshall and wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, the lineups for both teams will be very different from what they were expected to be coming into the season.
For both of these proud programs, the 2014 Gator Bowl will be a chance to build towards the future, allowing young players to get crucial snaps and hoping to prove to their fans there is little cause for concern.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska, Sr. (6’3″, 220 lbs)
Jean-Baptiste has impressive height and length for the cornerback position. A former wide receiver, he uses his long arms very effectively to rip free from blockers, and has strong hands to bat away passes as they arrive.
He demonstrates good hand-eye coordination and leaping ability that one might expect from a receiver. He has good ball skills, including the ability to extend and catch the ball away from his body. He has grown as a cornerback, showing he can get a strong initial jam to re-route receivers and showing surprisingly fluid hips for a guy of his size.
He can change directions to keep close to receivers, but he is not as physical, especially when tackling, as a cornerback of his size should be. He might be asked to move to safety in the NFL.
Arthur Lynch, TE, Georgia, Sr. (6’5″, 254 lbs)
More of a blocker than a receiver, Lynch is one of the nation’s strongest and smartest in-line blockers. He is quick off the snap, is able to latch onto defenders quickly and is incredibly competitive. He has proven to be adept at moving laterally on the line, chipping a lineman before picking up a linebacker at the second level or helping his teammate with a double-team.
As a receiver, Lynch has solid hands and a big frame, but he isn’t going to run away from or make many defenders miss in the open field. He’s a solid possession target and likely No. 2 tight end in the NFL.
Garrison Smith, DE/DT, Georgia, Sr. (6’3″, 299 lbs)
Athletic and intelligent, Smith shows the ability to locate the football and slide off blocks efficiently to make defensive stops near the line of scrimmage. He has a quick first step, which makes him tough to handle inside, but he does not possess the speed of an NFL edge rusher. He also has shown little in the way of polished pass-rush technique, relying on a bull rush most snaps. He is strong enough to hold the point of attack and be a solid run defender in the middle of the defensive line.
Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska, Jr. (5’9″, 190 lbs)
Abdullah does not have the ideal build to be a consistent inside runner in the NFL, but he can pick up large chunks of yardage with his good speed and active feet, which allow him to wiggle through traffic at the line of scrimmage. He has good lateral burst for jukes and change-of-direction runs, and he has has the vision to quickly find holes and get north-south.
He will also have added value as a return man despite some durability concerns. On the negative side, Abdullah can be manhandled as a blocker, although he doesn’t shy from throwing his body around.
Chris Burnette, RG, Georgia, Sr. (6’2″, 314 lbs)
Burnette’s frame suits him well as a strongside offensive lineman. He has a short, stocky build and possesses strong hands to drive defenders off the ball or contain them in pass protection. He is a bit plodding but can move well laterally to keep his opponent in front of him.
Burnette plays with physicality and doesn’t back down from a challenge. He has missed four games over the past two seasons due to shoulder and knee issues, however, which could be a concern.
Spencer Long, RG, Nebraska, Sr. (6’4″, 315 lbs)
Long is a mauler with aggressive hands who fights through the whistle and grinds on every snap. He possesses solid quickness off the snap and can get to the second level, but has stiff hips and lacks athleticism out in space. He’s not shy about engaging and getting feisty, but he needs to stay more balanced and control defenders more than just try to knock them over.
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia, Sr. (6’1″, 208 lbs)
With a quick set-up and delivery, Murray does many of the little things well. He throws a tight spiral and is creatively elusive in the pocket. He can throw deep passes with velocity and good trajectory, and can attack down the seam with excellent touch.
Although there are many positives, Murray doesn’t have preferred size for the quarterback position. But with the success of Russell Wilson and Drew Brees in recent years, Murray’s starring role in a pro-style offense for four seasons against elite competition might be enough for a quarterback-needy team to take a chance on him earlier than expected.
Taylor Martinez, Nebraska, QB, Sr. (6’1″, 210 lbs)
Martinez has shown little to make scouts believe he can play quarterback in the NFL. However, he has the speed and athleticism to give him a chance at the next level at a different position.
Tags: Aaron Murray, Ameer Abdullah, Arthur Lynch, Bowl Games, Bowl Previews, Chris Burnette, Game Previews, Garrison Smith, Gator Bowl, Georgia, Nebraska, Prospect Previews, Spencer Long, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Taylor Martinez