The Cotton Bowl matchup between Texas A&M and Oklahoma featured plenty of notable NFL prospects, and based on what I saw on television it was a good day for many of them.
A trio of Aggies who headlined the game could all be first-round picks, and right tackle Jake Matthews (Grade: 87) is the most intriguing of the three.
Matthews (6-foot-5, 305 pounds) is a junior and has not yet declared for the 2013 draft, but some scouts believe Matthews is an even better pro prospect than Aggies LT Luke Joeckel (96).
Matthews has made 26 starts the last two seasons and is likely playing on the right side only because Joeckel is on the left. Matthews was very strong at the top of his pass set against the Sooners, showing a good punch and the ability to shuffle his feet and mirror pass-rushers.
He also displayed good inline power as a run blocker and took good angles to the second level to hit moving targets. Matthews could play on the right or left side at the next level, and if he is part of the 2013 class he could very well get into the first-round mix (potentially early-first) before all is said and done.
As for Joeckel (6-foot-6, 306 pounds), who announced his decision to enter the draft on Tuesday, he's a durable three-year starter with plenty of experience against top competition, and his footwork and awareness are excellent. He's a smooth mover and adjusts well in space, and though he could get stronger overall in terms of his anchor, he's solidly in the top half of the draft's first round at this point.
If Matthews enters the draft, he will add to what is shaping up as an intriguing offensive tackle class. I've talked recently about the incredible physical tools of Oregon's Kyle Long (who could get into the first-round mix). Michigan's Taylor Lewan (94) showed well against South Carolina DE Jadaveon Clowney recently, and Central Michigan's Eric Fisher (92) is an under-the-radar prospect who also has the look of a first-rounder.
Overall, there are nine offensive tackles -- including Virginia's Oday Aboushi (86), Tennessee's Dallas Thomas (85) and Alabama's D.J. Fluker (84) -- who currently carry at least a second-round grade, and Long isn't even in that group because he doesn't yet have a full evaluation.
Teams looking for help along the offensive front could have plenty of quality players to choose from when April rolls around.
Moore, other Aggies shine
Aggies DE Damontre Moore (96) didn't dominate against Oklahoma, but with his lone tackle for loss, he showed the skills that currently have him rated as the No. 2 overall prospect on our board.
Moore (6-foot-4, 248 pounds) was quick off the ball, used his hands to disengage and was able to redirect to get into the backfield to bring down the ball carrier. That's what we've seen from him all season as he piled up 12.5 sacks and 21 tackles for loss. He plays with power, can reduce inside and rush from the interior, and his ability to get after the quarterback will likely make him a top-10 overall pick.
RB Christine Michael (59): Injuries have slowed Michael throughout his career, and there have been reports that he's not meshed well with coach Kevin Sumlin this season. Michael's frustration boiled over some when he was ejected from the game against Sam Houston State, and he did not get a carry in the Cotton Bowl. On tape, Michael (5-foot-11, 200 pounds) runs hard and with balance and shows the ability to fall forward and churn out some hidden yards. He's headed to the East-West Shrine game next week and has a chance there to prove his skill set and improve his current mid-round grade.
WR Ryan Swope (49): The Cotton Bowl was a nice ending to a solid season for Swope, who caught 8 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown against the Sooners. I like the instincts and savvy he shows as a route-runner, and his hands and focus in traffic are impressive. Swope has decent size (6-foot, 205 pounds) and could offer good value in the early part of Day 3.
OLB Sean Porter (48): His production dropped this season and Porter (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) is a little undersized for a 3-4 outside linebacker, but he could fit in the NFL as a strongside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. He flashes some quickness and the ability to generate pressure with speed-to-power moves, but Porter looked a little tight in space and needs to get stronger taking on blocks. He'll need some polish and is in the fourth-to-fifth-round range at this point.
Jones leads OU prospects
The 2012 season was not a great one for Oklahoma QB Landry Jones (80), who was productive but continues to be a tough evaluation.
On one hand, when Jones (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) has a clean pocket he is a marksman with impressive arm talent. Against the Aggies he showed the ability to drive the ball accurately on intermediate and deep throws when given time. And while he'll never be elite in terms of buying time with his legs, Jones did look a little better this season in terms of pocket mobility and ability to get outside to make throws.
On the other hand, Jones often struggles in the face of pressure and doesn't always make good decisions when under duress. That's something NFL scouts will focus on, because most throws at the next level are made under pressure. You'd also like to see a little more fire from Jones as a leader.
I haven't yet closed the book on Jones because of his natural passing skills, and if he gets with a good coaching staff behind a strong offensive line he has starting potential. The ability to work off play-action would help him in the NFL, and if everything falls right, Jones could intrigue enough scouts to come off the board in the second round.
S Tony Jefferson (82): His production has been excellent this season, and Jefferson's ability to fill downhill in run support and move down to play man coverage against slot receivers had him in our top 32 at one point this season. He has fluid hips and takes good angles as a tackler, though Jefferson (5-foot-11, 210 pounds) will have trouble with some quicker slot receivers in coverage. He is solidly in the Day 2 range.
WR Kenny Stills (73): He did have a drop on a back-shoulder fade he usually brings in, but overall Stills (6-foot, 190 pounds) displayed the body control that is one of his calling cards. He also runs savvy routes, is tough in traffic and is a good run-blocker. However, concerns remain about his deep speed and burst out of cuts, but overall Stills could have value late on Day 2 or early on Day 3.
CB Demontre Hurst (55): He's undersized (5-foot-10, 185 pounds), and the lack of speed Hurst showed while being beaten twice for touchdowns makes that even more of a concern. He did not show a second gear to recover, and even Hurst's improved instincts this season won't overcome his issues. Hurst carries a mid-Day 3 grade right now but looks like a late-rounder or a priority free agent.
S Javon Harris (40): He had nine tackles, an interception, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup against A&M, a game that reflects Harris' increased production all season long. He showed the ability to deliver blows in run support, though he won't drop down in coverage like Jefferson and was exposed a bit in coverage by the Aggies. Harris (5-foot-11, 205 pounds) has improved his instincts, though he's still a gambler at times and fits in the Day 3 range right now.
DE David King (32): I saw King live at West Virginia earlier this season, and his frame (6-foot-5, 270 pounds) is intriguing. With his strength and power, he could be a possible late-round flyer for a 3-4 team looking for an end who can hold up against the run.
WR Justin Brown (no grade): A transfer from Penn State, Brown is a big (6-foot-3, 214 pounds), imposing receiver who also has value as a punt returner. He didn't show much in terms of burst or ability to separate, but Brown has the size to win downfield battles. His hands can be inconsistent, though, and he has the look of a late-rounder.