While Jim Caldwell was in no mood to discuss his future with the Detroit Lions this week, Calvin Johnson made his feelings clear. Megatron wants his coach to stay. The Lions visit the Chicago Bears in a game that will determine last place in the NFC North, and just might be the end for a coach who one year ago led this franchise to a rare playoff appearance.
One game does not a draft stock make. But a final impression in college football can be meaningful to NFL talent evaluators. They are taking one last look at hundreds of players in their respective teams’ bowl games, and a strong (or weak) performance can change the way a player is viewed prior to April’s draft. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the 10 players who helped their draft stock the most and the 10 who hurt themselves the most during the pre-December 31 bowl games. For this story, we spoke with three NFL talent evaluators — and we’ll call them Scout A, Scout B and Scout C for the purpose of this story. TEN UP Appalachian State DE Ronald Blair — The Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year finished off his career in fine style, forcing and recovering a fumble against Ohio in the Camelia Bowl. The 6-4, 270-pound Blair is a candidate to move up with a strong showing at the East-West Shrine Game. “I like [No.] 49 — quick, good motor, good pursuit, flattens down the line well. He showed up against Clemson [in September],” Scout B said. Arizona LB Scooby Wright — Scouts might have hoped Wright would have stayed in school another year for a variety of reasons, but he chose to declare and did so after putting some quality tape up in the Wildcats’ 45-37 win over New Mexico. Wright logged 15 tackles (four for losses) and showed great anticipation and instincts in the game. He was set back by injury this season, and Wright isn’t universally beloved in the scouting community, but he has scheme versatility, a great football mind and temperament even with some physical limitations in pass defense. BYU DE Bronson Kaufusi — The Cougars lost to Utah, but don’t blame Kaufusi, who has cranked it up down the stretch this season, capping the year with one of his finest games — nine tackles (three for losses) and a pass defended against the Utes. He projects as a strong-side end in a four-man front and could be a quality mid-round prospect. Scout A: “They played him up [on his feet] early in the season; it’s just not what he does. He wins win his hand on the ground. I’ve seen him a few times now, and the last four, five games he’s been an animal. He’s a little like [2014 Detroit Lions fourth-rounder] Devin Taylor to me.” Cal QB Jared Goff — “He can be a bit frustrating to watch at times,” Scout A said, “but this was what you want. He was in command. I didn’t think he was that great in the middle of the season, but this was what you’re looking for.” Once Air Force safety Weston Steelhammer was ejected for targeting, Goff was just toying with them. “Child’s play,” Scout A said. Goff is expected to be a top-five pick, and his final college game was nearly flawless. LSU CB-S Jalen Mills — His senior season was derailed by a broken fibula, which sidelined him until late October. Mills stayed mentally sharp, allowing him to reenter the lineup seamlessly. But the 6-foot-1, 194-pound Mills showed in the shortened season — and in the bowl win over Texas Tech — his NFL value as a safety, corner or nickel DB. The four-year starter heads to the Senior Bowl in January with some good momentum again. Louisiana Tech QB Jeff Driskel — No one is going to forget his Florida career, which was disappointing to say the least considering the high-school hype with which he came in. Physical skills never have been a problem for the 6-4, 235-pound Driskel, but he has reinvented himself in Ruston, La., capping a huge senior season with 457 passing yards and three touchdown passes the New Orleans Bowl victory over Arkansas State. The arrow had been pointing up, and it earned him an invitation to the Senior Bowl in what appears to be a solid but unspectacular QB crop there. “He can help himself there,” Scout B said, noting how out of the way Ruston is, limiting some scouts’ visits to the school. “I want to see those bullets live.” Minnesota CB Eric Murray — Tough, boundary corner who does nothing truly special but everything well, Murray is the kind of player who can get overlooked unfairly in the draft spin cycle. He capped off his career in fine style with a strong performance against Central Michigan. “He can cover,” Scout C said. “Runs OK, turns and can flip [his hips]. You can win with him.”
While the Chicago Bears should have stability at the top of their coaching staff, Jim Caldwell’s status with the Detroit Lions appears a little murkier heading into the season finale. The Lions will seek to wrap up their losing campaign on a positive note by matching their longest win streak against their NFC North rivals on Sunday at Soldier Field. Detroit has already switched team presidents with Rod Wood taking over for a fired Tom Lewand in November and the franchise is seeking a new general manager to replace Martin Mayhew.
By the time this season ends, the stats will look pretty solid for Matthew Stafford. When the Lions lost seven of their first eight games, it looked like a major overhaul was coming. The team fired its president, general manager and offensive coordinator during the season, and the biggest remaining questions were about Stafford, Johnson and coach Jim Caldwell.