<
>

The players skipping bowl games for the NFL draft

play
Kiper: This year's draft is 'all defense' (1:25)

Mel Kiper explains why he has only three offensive skill players on his Big Board and whether anyone can challenge Nick Bosa for the top pick. (1:25)

The list of players skipping their college football bowl games to start preparing for the NFL draft is growing by the day. Here's a look at who already have their sights set on the next level:

Yodny Cajuste, OT, West Virginia
Bowl game: Camping World Bowl
Draft outlook: Second- or third-round selection
Hampered by toe and knee injuries early in his career, Cajuste recovered and was named Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year as a senior. A former two-star recruit, he spent this past season protecting Mountaineers quarterback Will Grier's blind side as left tackle.

They said it: "I have decided to not play in the bowl game this year in order to go prepare for the next chapter in my life, thank you to my coaches and all of mountaineer nation. Forever grateful." -- Cajuste in a statement on Twitter.

Next guy up: Kelby Wickline, son of Mountaineers offensive line coach Joe Wickline, assumed the left tackle spot when Cajuste was ejected from the Texas game on Nov. 3.

Noah Fant, TE, Iowa
Bowl game: Outback Bowl
NFL draft outlook: Mel Kiper's No. 1 tight end
Fant caught 39 passes for 519 yards and seven touchdowns this season, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors from league coaches. A year ago, Fant set an Iowa tight end record with 11 touchdown catches, leading the FBS at the position.

They said it: "We are disappointed Noah will not be finishing the season with his teammates," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said in a statement. "He is a tremendous athlete and we wish him the best as he pursues his goal of playing in the NFL."

Next guy up:
Fant was not the only talented TE Iowa had on their roster. Redshirt Sophomore T.J. Hockenson actually leads the Hawkeyes this season in receptions and receiving yards. He'll fill the void, but Big Ten Tight End of the Year recipient Hockenson has a decision of his own to make after Iowa's bowl game concerning the upcoming NFL draft. If he also leaves, Iowa will lose its top two pass catchers from this season. In the event both do depart early, look for talented 6-foot-6 incoming freshman commit Logan Lee to get an opportunity to quickly contribute. He his nice blend of size and athleticism as well as good hands and a physical nature as a blocker. -- Craig Haubert

Rashan Gary, DT, Michigan
Bowl game: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
Draft outlook: Kiper's No. 9 player; Todd McShay's No. 5 player
The former No. 1 overall recruit in the country totaled 10.5 career sacks as a focal point for one of the country's best defenses during what always seemed destined to be a three-year stay in Ann Arbor. Kiper has raised concerns about Gary's consistency and he played in only nine games this past season because of a shoulder injury.

They said it: "I would like to thank my higher power, my family, the University of Michigan, the students and the fans, but I will be forgoing my senior season to make a dream come true to declare for the draft," Gary said in a statement.

Next guy up: The Wolverines got a taste of life without Gary this season when he missed three games because of injury, but his replacement, Kwity Paye, gave reason for optimism. A four-star signee in the 2017 class, Paye has good athleticism and has quickly made strides in physical development. Now with two seasons of growth and experience under his belt, he is in a good position to help replace Gary on a full-time basis. -- Haubert

Donnell Greene, OT, Minnesota
Bowl: QuickLane Bowl
Draft outlook: Not ranked
Green signed with an agent after recently undergoing surgery to repair meniscus in his knee. The JUCO transfer started 10 games this past season and has prototypical size for a tackle at 6-foot-7, 320 pounds. He was named All-Big Ten honorable mention by the league's coaches and media.

They said it: "I think the sky is the limit for him. He's very athletic and very talented. Donnell Greene can be as good as Donnell Greene wants to be. What we have to get Donnell to do is he's got to - just like everybody, but probably one of the most - he's got to mature." -- Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck earlier this season.

Next guy up: Sophomore Sam Schlueter started at left tackle in Greene's absence against Indiana and Illinois. He has also been used as a blocking tight end, after starting the final six games at tackle in 2017.,/p>

Will Grier, QB, West Virginia
Bowl: Camping World Bowl
Draft outlook: No. 3 quarterback by Kiper
Grier had 3,864 passing yards and 37 touchdowns for the Mountaineers, who went 8-3 and finished third in the Big 12. He was a finalist for the Maxwell Award, the Manning Award, Walter Camp Football Foundation Player of the Year Award, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and the Senior CLASS Award.

They said it: "Will and I spoke at length about the bowl game, and I am fully supportive of his decision to begin his draft preparations. While we will miss him in Orlando, Will's commitment and service to WVU Football over the last three years will be talked about for many years to come. He led us with class, hard work and a willingness to learn, and set a high standard for his teammates." -- Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen

Next guy up: Jack Allison, a transfer from Miami, likely will start in Grier's place against Syracuse on Dec. 28. Allison is 6 of 10 for 75 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Kelvin Harmon, WR, NC State
Bowl game: TaxSlayer Gator Bowl
Draft outlook: Considered a potential first- or second-round choice Harmon caught 177 passes for 2,665 yards in his career, and his 1,186 yards receiving this year marked the fourth-best single-season total in program history. He joined Torry Holt (1997-98) and Jerricho Cotchery (2002-03) as the only receivers in school history with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.

They said it: "I have prayed and discussed the path forward with my family and we have decided that it is time for me to proceed to the next chapter in my football life," Harmon said in a statement.

Next man up: Emeka Emezie recorded 47 catches as a sophomore behind Harmon and junior Jakobi Meyers, who combined for 170 on the season. Emezie has breakout potential and may have to fill a huge void if Myers departs early as well. He's a tall, athletic pass catcher who can stretch the field and create big plays when contested. We expect him to emerge as the go-to target in 2019. -- Tom Luginbill

N'Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State
Bowl game: Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl
Draft outlook: Kiper's No. 2 WR; McShay's No. 31 overall player
Harry had 73 catches for 1,088 yards and 9 touchdowns this past season, and NFL scouts love his elite size (6-foot-4, 221 pounds) and strong hands. He is ranked third in ASU history in career receptions (213) and receiving yards (2,889) and fifth in career touchdown catches (22).

They said it: "N'Keal is N'Keal. He's one of those guys who you have to find ways to get him the ball," ASU coach Herm Edwards said. "I felt like [offensive coordinator] Rob Likens did a great job of moving him around, whether it was moving him inside or outside. In the big moments, he came up with big plays. You need a play and he makes one that ignites the team. He catches it in moments of big games and when the momentum needed to be switched, he made those plays. That's the kind of guy he is."

Next guy up: Expect Brandon Aiyuk to step up and fill Harry's production with a breakout year in 2019. He progressed throughout this season into a reliable playmaker, and while he may lack Harry's size Aiyuk still has a big frame and perhaps better deep speed. ASU was able to get creative in how they used him down the stretch as a big-play weapon, and that production should increase as the new No. 1 WR next fall. -- Luginbill

Justice Hill, RB, Oklahoma State
Bowl game: AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Draft outlook: Not ranked
One of the faster running backs in the FBS, Hill was named All-Big 12 after running for 930 yards with nine touchdowns, despite battling injuries late in the season. Because of concerns about his size (5-10, 190 pounds) and durability, he's considered a potential second- or third-round selection.

They said it: "I'm concerned about him toting the rock 30 times a game," Pokes coach Mike Gundy said earlier this year. "It's a lot of wear and tear on him. Those guys take more direct shots than any other position."

Next guy up: Chuba Hubbard was supposed to be the speed complement to Hill but proved he could carry the load in a feature role as well. Versus West Virginia, Hubbard had 26 carries for 134 yards in the Cowboys upset win over the Mountaineers. Hailing from Canada, Hubbard was a prep track star who emerged late on the gridiron. He won't catch Big 12 defensive coordinators by surprise next year with his every-down skill set. -- Luginbill

Ed Oliver, DT, Houston
Bowl game: Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
Draft outlook: Kiper's No. 8 player; McShay's No. 2 player
Once considered the potential No. 1 pick in April's draft, Oliver has slipped a bit because of an injury-riddled junior season. During his three years with the Cougars, Oliver registered 193 total tackles, including 54 for loss and 13.5 sacks, in 33 career games. He also defended 14 passes, forced six fumbles, recovered a fumbled and blocked a kick.

They said it: "It really gets to me," Oliver said. "There's only one thing that really motivates me more than anything about football, [and] that's being number one. ... So that's the only thing that really just drives me, is you say somebody is better than me, I know, in my heart, I don't think anybody is better than me. So that will really drive me until I convince you that I'm the best; that's really what drives me."

Next guy up: One might file this under impossible tasks. Oliver was a rare breed, a five-star prospect that spurned major offers and signed with a Group of Five program. Expecting one player to step in and replace him is a tall order, and it will likely take several contributors to do so. Aymiel Fleming had a handful of starts this season and displayed a promising skill set. He will need to continue to step up, as will fellow DLs Payton Turner, a healthy Isaiah Chambers and Logan Hall, who saw action in each of the Cougars last four games as a true freshman and showed flashes. -- Haubert

Germaine Pratt, LB, NC State
Bowl: TaxSlayer Gator Bowl
Draft outlook: Not ranked
In his first season as a starter, Pratt led the Wolfpack with 104 tackles, 10 1/2 tackles for loss and six sacks this past season. He also had two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and three pass breakups. He ranked second in the ACC with 9.45 tackles per game and was named All-ACC.

Next guy up: Third-year sophomore Brock Miller started in Pratt's absence in the regular-season finale against North Carolina and had six tackles. Miller finished the regular season with 16 tackles, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one pass breakup.

Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina
Bowl game: Belk Bowl
Draft outlook: Potential second- or third-round pick Samuel led the Gamecocks with 62 catches for 882 yards and 11 touchdowns this season after his 2017 season was cut short due to a season-ending broken leg in the third game. He finishes his career with a school-record four kickoff returns for touchdowns, which also is tied for the SEC record.

They said it: "As much as I would love to suit up one last time for the Gamecocks, having those extra weeks to better prepare for the NFL will be crucial," Samuel wrote on Instagram.

Greedy Williams, CB, LSU
Bowl game: PlayStation Fiesta Bowl
Draft outlook: Kiper's No. 5 player; McShay's No. 3 player
Kiper calls the third-year sophomore the "best lockdown corner in this class." He is LSU's active career leader in interceptions (eight) and pass breakups (20) and a finalist for the Thorpe Award, given to the best defensive back in the FBS.

They said it: LSU coach Ed Orgeron seemed surprised by Williams' announcement. "If that's what he wants to do, we wish him and his family the best," Orgeron said. "I didn't know it was posted yet. We did have a meeting. We were going to have a final meeting, but if that's what him and his family want. ... He's a tremendous young man, him and his family."

Next guy up: Kristian Fulton has the upside to be an elite cover corner and take over the role as LSU's top lockdown defender next year. While Williams may have garnered all the attention, Fulton displayed the feet, hips and sudden burst to hold up on an island versus elite SEC receivers. He's the next great one in Baton Rouge. -- Luginbill

Larry Williams, G, Oklahoma State
Bowl game: AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Draft outlook: Not ranked
Williams, who started his career at East Carolina and spent time at a junior college, was hampered by injuries in his first two seasons with the Cowboys. He was given a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA to return this season and started 12 games.

Next guy up: The Cowboys will have Deionte Noel to replace Williams for their bowl game, but the redshirt senior won't be around fill the need next season. Spring ball and the offseason will shed more light on who is next up at this spot, but 2018 signees Bryce Bray and Tyrese Williams could be candidates. The Cowboys also already have several O-line commits in their 2019 class. -- Haubert