BBD Staff Writer: Joe Marino
Both teams in the Cotton Bowl are coming off disappointing losses that cost them opportunities to play in a BCS bowl game. Missouri fell, 59-42, to Auburn in the SEC Championship Game, while Oklahoma State lost, 33-24, to in-state rival Oklahoma in its final game of the regular season
The game’s talent pool is headlined by two potential first-round pick cornerbacks in Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert and Missouri’s EJ Gaines. Gilbert will be matched up against the tall, physical receiving corps of Missouri, which should be make for a competitive matchup.
Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State, Sr. (6’, 200 lbs)
Gilbert is a proven performer as a cornerback and a special teams contributor who can come in and help a team instantly in both areas.
The first thing I notice about Gilbert is his tremendous footwork. He has extremely quick feet and the smoothest backpedal of any of the senior cornerbacks. His overall athleticism is very good and he combines that with good length. These traits allow him to mirror his opponents and make plays on the ball. He has good ball skills, as evidenced by his 11 career interceptions and 29 passes defended.
Gilbert is a great kickoff returner who has the most kickoff return touchdowns in Big 12 history with six. He also excels as a gunner in punt coverage and is consistently the first man to get to the opposing punt returner.
Gilbert brings a lot to the table as a prospect. His combination of special teams ability, length and athleticism have him looking like a potential first-round selection.
E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri, Sr. (5’11’’, 195 lbs)
Gaines is a three-year starter and four-year contributor for the Missouri defense, but he has come into his own during his senior season with four interceptions.
Gaines plays the game with good physicality and an aggressive demeanor. Whether he is defending a screen or run play, Gaines contributes nicely as a tackler. He is fluid in his motions and has solid quickness and long speed.
The Missouri defense plays a good mix of man and zone coverages, and Gaines excels in both schemes. He has good awareness and instincts in zone, while he can mirror and play tight coverage in man. This scheme diversity will help elevate his draft stock.
Gaines had a particularly impressive day against Texas A&M superstar wide receiver Mike Evans. He held him to four receptions for just eight yards.
Gaines is ascending at the right time during his senior season. A good athlete with a lot of experience, he is a likely top-50 selection.
Calvin Barnett, DT, Oklahoma State, Sr. (6’2’’, 300 lbs)
Barnett has been a first team All Big-12 selection in both of his seasons as a Cowboy since transferring in from the junior college ranks. As a pro, Barnett projects as a one-technique nose tackle in a 4-3 alignment.
Barnett has excellent initial quickness off the ball and plays with powerful, violent hand usage. He easily controls his blocker and maintains his gap. Barnett plays with good leverage and is stout as a run defender.
Barnett does not have eye-popping statistics, but he has value as a pass rusher. He has the ability to collapse the pocket with a strong bull rush. The penetration he creates makes things difficult for the quarterback feeling comfortable in the pocket.
With Barnett’s quickness and strength, he looks like a potential starter in a 4-3 defense and is worth a third- to fourth-round selection.
Michael Sam, DE, Missouri, Sr. (6’2’’, 255 lbs)
Sam became a full-time starter for Missouri this season as a senior, and he has made the most of his opportunity, with 10.5 sacks among 18 total tackles for loss.
Sam has an aggressive demeanor. He is not overly quick off the ball, but he physically attacks his opponents. While Sam does not have great length, he is very strong and plays with good leverage and technique.
Sam is a good dip-and-rip rusher who is relentless in his pursuit of the quarterback. He has a decent counter move and utilizes a spin move at times.
Sam is not a great run defender, but he does a good job of keeping his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and maintaining his gaps.
Sam really blossomed into a solid player for the Tigers in his senior year, and is someone who might continue to ascend up the rankings.
Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri, Jr. (6’5’’, 275 lbs)
Kony Ealy and Michael Sam form what is arguably the best pair of defensive ends in the nation. Ealy is having a good season as a fourth-year junior with 12.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception.
Ealy has the versatility to play defensive end in both 4-3 and 3-4 schemes. He has terrific length, but does not use it consistently to create separation from his blocker to execute moves. He does not have great bend or closing burst, but can win with power. He shows solid upside as a run defender, with the ability to anchor the edge of line of scrimmage.
Justin Britt, OT, Missouri, Sr. (6’6’’, 315 lbs.)
Britt, a three-year starter for the Tigers and second-team all-SEC selection this season, is playing his best football as a senior. His best fit in the NFL might be guard, but he has anchored a Missouri offensive line that surprisingly won the SEC East division.
Britt has good power and ability to drive his opponent off the ball. His hands are strong and his punch is violent. He has good footwork, but his foot speed is slow, which might ultimately leave him playing inside in the NFL. He handles power rushers much better than speed rushers.
Britt is a mid-round selection with starting upside as he develops as a guard.
L’Damian Washington, WR, Missouri, Sr. (6’4’’, 205 lbs)
Washington has emerged as a big-play threat for the Tigers offense in his senior season, with 10 touchdowns and an average of 18.1 yards per reception.
Washington has proven ability to make plays down the field, particularly on coming down with difficult catches after beating cornerbacks to match up with safeties. He is not afraid of taking a hit after catching the ball. He plays with a good physical demeanor overall and can contribute as a blocker. Washington has a good frame and enough athletic ability to project as an outside receiver at the next level.
Shamiel Gary, SS, Oklahoma State, Sr. (6′, 210 lbs)
Daytawion Lowe, FS, Oklahoma State, Sr. (5’11″, 207 lbs)
Both Oklahoma State safeties have a chance to be late-round picks or priority free-agent signings.
Marcus Lucas, WR, Missouri, Sr. (6’5″, 220 lbs)
Don’t sleep on Lucas. He is another large target who makes plays in the passing game for quarterback James Franklin. He doesn’t have the athleticism of a top-flight NFL receiver, but his size could make him a solid fourth or fifth receiving option.
Tags: Bowl Games, Bowl Previews, Calvin Barnett, Cotton Bowl, Daytawion Lowe, E.J. Gaines, Game Previews, Justin Britt, Justin Gilbert, Kony Ealy, L'Damian Washington, Marcus Lucas, Micahel Sam, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Prospect Previews, Shamiel Gary