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DE Hunt ready to ascend the board

1/3/2013

Louisville true sophomore QB Teddy Bridgewater orchestrated an upset win in the Sugar Bowl against a Florida defense that features four prospects who could be taken in the first three rounds of the draft.

That makes Bridgewater the headliner of the bowl season so far, but NFL teams have to wait at least one more year to get a shot to draft him.

Plenty of other draft-eligible prospects have shined, though.

Here are three in particular who have stood out to me and how their performances could affect their stock. Included are a raw-but-talented defensive lineman and a pair of big-name skill players.

SMU DE Margus Hunt (Grade: 60)

Film study of the Fresno State offensive line leading into the Mustangs' date with Fresno State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl led me to believe Hunt (6-foot-8⅛, 272 pounds) was poised for a big game, and he didn't disappoint.

Hunt had two sacks and harassed Bulldogs QB Derek Carr throughout SMU's 43-10 win, showing good versatility in the process. His initial quickness isn't elite, but on his two sacks, Hunt showed the ability to rip under the offensive tackle, bend back inside and deliver the big hit on the passer.

Once he established the edge, Hunt used an outside-in move to force a fumble in the backfield on a delayed run. There's also a lot to like about his pad level and hand use when he rushes between the tackles. Finally, Hunt showed above-average effort and upper-body strength fighting through multiple blocks to affect Carr.

Hunt, who hails from Estonia and is a former world junior gold medalist in the shot put and discus, could see his midround grade improve after a strong senior season, and that momentum could snowball if he tests as well as expected in pre-draft workouts.

NFL comparison: San Francisco 49ers DE Justin Smith

Georgia QB Aaron Murray* (Grade: 54)

Murray shook off a disappointing performance in the SEC title game to throw for 427 yards and five scores in a 45-31 Capital One Bowl victory against a stingy Nebraska defense.

He showed the ability to hit receivers in stride underneath, put good touch on deeper throws and created with his feet against the Cornhuskers. Still, as impressive as Murray (6-1, 212) was, his bowl showing won't help him as much as other players on this list.

His touch and accuracy are inconsistent, and Murray was bailed out by his receivers while completing just over 50 percent of his passes against Nebraska.

He is also inconsistent as a decision-maker, and the pick he threw on an early screen pass is a prime example. Finally, Murray's height hinders his ability to see the field from within the pocket, and he's not going to get any taller. He remains a midround prospect.

NFL comparison: New Orleans Saints QB Chase Daniel

Florida State RB/FB Lonnie Pryor (No grade)

Pryor benefited from his offensive linemen overwhelming an undersized Northern Illinois defensive front. He is a hybrid back who doesn't have the top-end speed to run away from pursuit at the next level like he did in the 31-10 win over the Huskies in the Discover Orange Bowl.

However, Pryor (6-0, 229) showed his versatility by making the most of his blocks as a runner, getting into position as a lead blocker and catching three passes out of the backfield. Pryor has just 99 career carries, so there isn't a lot of wear on his tires.

The way he maximized those touches shouldn't be overlooked either. He has averaged 4.8 yards per carry, rushed for 16 touchdowns with those 99 carries and found the end zone five times in his 32 career catches.

Pryor becomes an even more intriguing Day 3 sleeper when you consider his intangibles led to him being elected a team captain this season.

NFL comparison: Pittsburgh Steelers RB Jonathan Dwyer