8 NFL draft prospects to watch in bowl games Thursday

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8 NFL draft prospects to watch in bowl games Thursday

College football bowl season continues Thursday with four games on the docket

The Eagles will have a late first-round pick and no second- or third-rounders. But Howie Roseman isn't one to sit on his hands come draft day.

Here are eight prospects in action today that could help the Eagles next season.

Military Bowl (1:30 p.m./ESPN)

No. 3 - Quin Blanding, S, Virginia, senior (6-2/210)
Blanding has been a four-year starter for the Cavaliers and a very productive one at that. He's recorded at least 115 tackles in each one of his four seasons at Virginia. He's also hauled in 10 interceptions, including a career-high four picks this season. He's strong in the run game, which will be on display today against Navy. He's fairly instinctive, knows his assignments and rarely gets caught out of position. But his foot speed to recover can be a problem if a receiver or back gets by him. He'll likely be a mid-round pick because of his lack of athleticism.

No. 53 - Micah Kiser, LB, Virginia, senior (6-2/240)
Kiser has been a full-time starter the last three years at Virginia and he's been extremely disruptive. He's amassed at least 117 tackles in the last three seasons while piling up 33 1/2 tackles and 19 sacks in that span. He's also got a nose for the football, forcing eight fumbles in his career. His character is also off the charts. Kiser was the recipient of the William V. Campbell Trophy, otherwise known as the "academic Heisman." He's also suiting up today against Navy after having surgery on his right thumb earlier this month. If he slips to the middle rounds, the Eagles should be all over him. 

No. 22 Virginia Tech- No. 19 Oklahoma State
Camping World Bowl (5:15 p.m./ESPN)

No. 49 - Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech, junior (6-5/236)
Simply put, Edmunds is a beast. He's collected 206 tackles (33 for a loss) and 10 sacks the last two seasons combined. He has tremendous size, strength and instincts. He stuffs the run and looks smooth in coverage. He hasn't declared for the draft, but if he does, there's a strong possibility he'll be the first 'backer off the board. He's the most talented player that will take the field for any team Thursday. 

No. 28 - James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State, senior (6-1/205)
Washington was a player that would've been viewed highly if he had come out last season. He chose instead to come back and play one more season with senior quarterback Mason Rudolph. The duo was explosive yet again for the Cowboys. Washington was this year's recipient of the Biletnikoff Trophy as the nation's best receiver. He's also just 66 yards away from being Oklahoma State's all-time leading receiver. He's gone for at least 1,300 yards and 10 TDs in each of the last two seasons. He lacks the desired height for a No. 1 receiver, but he has strong hands and has quick feet.

No. 13 Stanford-No. 15 TCU
Valero Alamo Bowl (9 p.m./ESPN)

No. 20 - Bryce Love, RB, Stanford, junior (5-10/196)
What else is there to say about Love? He was the best running back in college football this season, a Heisman Trophy finalist and the Pac 12 Offensive Player of the Year. Love rushed for 1,973 yards with a ridiculous 8.3 yards per carry and 17 TDs. He's obviously undersized but he's too explosive not to have a spot in the NFL. The one odd thing about Love is, he hasn't done much in the passing game at Stanford (six catches this season). That'll be something to monitor during the pre-draft process.

No. 32 - Travin Howard, LB, TCU, senior (6-1/213)
Howard has been a leader on a very good Hornfrogs' defense. While playing mostly safety as a sophomore, Howard recorded 107 tackles, then amassed 130 last year while transitioning to linebacker. He's been banged up at times this season but should be a go for today's game. Howard is undersized at 213 pounds, but he's an intriguing fit in today's NFL. Players like the Rams' Mark Barron and the Cardinals Deone Bucannon have had success as hybrid players at the next level. He'd be an interesting piece in the Eagles' defense.

No. 18 Washington State-No. 16 Michigan State
Holiday Bowl (9 p.m./FS1)

No. 50 - Hercules Mata’afa, DE, Washington State, junior (6-2/252)
Aside from having easily the coolest name in college football, Mata’afa has also been a productive player for the Cougars. He's racked up 9 1/2 sacks and 21 1/2 tackles for a loss this season. Despite his size, he lined up mostly as a tackle this season thanks to his son of Zeus-like strength. He'd fit Jim Schwartz's scheme as a player that attacks the line of scrimmage with the versatility to take pass rush snaps inside.

No. 3 - LJ Scott, RB, Michigan State, junior (6-1/229)
Scott is as frustrating a back as there is in college football. Every so often he'll blow you away with a performance like his 25 for 194 game against Minnesota or his 29 for 147 outing against Maryland. But mixed in will be much more uninspired performances. So which Scott will we see tonight? Who knows? Watching the tape, you can see a big, bruising back with surprisingly nimble feet and great balance and vision. If that guy shows up tonight, expect a nice boost in Scott's stock.

By just being himself, Doug Pederson has had masterful year

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By just being himself, Doug Pederson has had masterful year

Bill Belichick didn’t win a playoff game until his fourth year as an NFL head coach and didn’t reach a conference title game until his seventh year.

Don Shula didn’t win a playoff game until his sixth year as a head coach.

It took Dick Vermeil four years to win a playoff game, Dan Reeves six years, Tom Landry eight.

Heck, Pete Carroll didn’t reach a conference title game until his third head coaching stop, and Marv Levy didn’t even get to the playoffs until his eighth year as a head coach.

Just a little context.

Pederson has been magnificent this year, and out of everybody we talk about who’s played a role in the Eagles' success — from Carson Wentz to Nick Foles, Howie Roseman to Joe Douglas, Fletcher Cox to Malcolm Jenkins, Jim Schwartz to John DiFillippo, Jason Kelce to Alshon Jeffery — Pederson is the common thread that’s tied all of it together.

We saw last year that Pederson had a rare ability to keep a team together when faced with adversity. Whether it was the whole Sam Bradford situation before the season, Lane Johnson’s suspension, a couple arrests, two players publicly speaking out about mental health, or just keeping the thing on the rails after three straight late-season ugly losses, Pederson won over his players by confronting each issue openly and professionally and treating his players like grown men.

By the time the team training camp ended this past summer, Pederson had earned the respect of the veterans by preaching discipline without being over the top about it and by constantly keeping the lines of communication open with his players. 

Here’s a young, inexperienced coach who had a long but undistinguished playing career and no real track record or resume as a head coach trying to convince a locker room of Super Bowl winners and all-pros that he knows what he’s doing.

But he did that. Just by being himself. Tough, smart, open, honest.

And once you get guys like Malcolm Jenkins, Jason Peters, LeGarrette Blount and Alshon Jeffery to buy in, the younger guys just fall in line. 

And that might be the biggest challenge any head coach faces. Getting guys to believe in his message. To believe in him.

But Pederson has tremendous instincts when dealing with people, a real natural, honest way of getting his point across, and it enabled him to seamlessly win over the locker room. 

Once that happened, this team was built to withstand whatever challenge it faced. To withstand whatever roadblocks stood in its way.

And as it turned out, there were plenty of them. 

We don't have to run down the littany of season-ending injuries the Eagles faced, but what this team has accomplished without its MVP quarterback, its Hall of Fame left tackle, its best linebacker, its all-pro returner and its top special teamer is nothing less than astonishing.

Nick Foles is their quarterback and they're in the NFC Championship Game.

Think about the last month.

They came from behind in Los Angeles to beat the Rams after Wentz got hurt. They beat the Giants on the road. They beat the Raiders to clinch No. 1 seed. They "upset" the Falcons in a conference semifinal playoff game. 

For this football team to be one home win away from the Super Bowl after all it has been through speaks volumes about Pederson. He's guided this franchise through adversity that would have crushed some locker rooms, and he's done it in his second year as a head coach above the high school level.

Pederson found a way to get 53 guys to believe in themselves even when very few other people did. And they returned the favor by consistently playing smart, physical, disciplined football for him no matter who the opponent, no matter what the score, no matter how long that Injured Reserve list grew.

This has been a masterful year for Pederson, and anybody who can't see that just isn't looking very hard.

Why lack of touches for Jay Ajayi after 1st quarter?

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Why lack of touches for Jay Ajayi after 1st quarter?

Jay Ajayi wasn't hurt Saturday night. So why did he barely play after a huge first quarter?

Ajayi dominated the first quarter of the Eagles' 15-10 playoff win over the Falcons at the Linc with seven carries for 49 yards. But after a one-yard carry a minute into the second quarter, he didn't touch the ball again until the third quarter.

After his hot start, he didn't even get on the field on the Eagles' last two drives of the first half.

LeGarrette Blount actually had more carries than Ajayi after the first quarter, but netted only 19 yards on nine attempts, although he did score the Eagles' only touchdown from a yard out in the second quarter.

Ajayi never got into a rhythm after his long layoff. He had eight carries for five yards after the first quarter and finished with 15 carries for 54 yards along with four catches for 44 yards, including a 32-yard catch and run that was the Eagles' longest offensive play of the game.

Head coach Doug Pederson said Monday he just wanted to get Blount some work. He also said he likes to go hurry-up after long plays and was unable to sub Ajayi while the offense was going with tempo. But there weren't any plays longer than 15 yards while Ajayi sat.

Pederson said the decision on which back to use rests with him and not running backs coach Duce Staley.

“I ultimately control the personnel," he said. "Duce doesn’t sub them. I’m the one calling the plays, so I call for those guys in particular situations, and a couple times when we broke off a long run or a pass particularly — it’s a good time to go a little tempo. So whoever the back is at the time on the field, I just kept him in there.

"And [Blount] was heating up a little bit and we wanted to get him going as well and it’s just the way it went."

Ajayi had 35 of the 86 net yards on the Eagles' only touchdown drive of the game.

After that second-quarter TD drive, the Eagles ran 15 times for 17 yards, not including three Nick Foles kneel-downs.  

Pederson said all the backs know all the plays, but he just prefers different backs depending on what the Eagles are doing offensively. 

Of the Eagles’ 67 offensive plays, Ajayi played 29, Blount 20, Corey Clement 16 and Kenjon Barner one (see Snap Counts).

"The way it is set up is by design, by scheme design, a particular back might be good at a certain run scheme so we put that back in for that particular play," he said.