College football fans hoping for another entertaining Independence Bowl can also check out a few 2017 NFL Draft prospects on Monday, Dec. 26.
The folks in Shreveport, La., saw South Carolina narrowly edge Miami (FL), 24-21, in 2014 before watching Virginia Tech hold off Tulsa, 55-52, in Frank Beamer's final game last December. And though this year's matchup between North Carolina State and Vanderbilt isn't as loaded with storylines, there are plenty of reasons to watch, including the final in-game evaluations of future NFL players.
Here are the best 2017 NFL Draft prospects in the Independence Bowl, led by Vanderbilt's All-American linebacker Zach Cunningham:
|2||Matthew Dayes||RB||North Carolina State|
|3||Jack Tocho||CB||North Carolina State|
Zach Cunningham is easily the biggest name NFL teams will be watching in the Independence Bowl. He's also the only Vanderbilt player likely to be selected.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound All-SEC and All-American linebacker can plug the middle, rush the passer from inside or the edge and chase down receivers. He needs some work against quicker tight ends — as most college linebackers do — but remains an elite linebacker prospect who should be selected in the first round.
North Carolina State is aiming to have multiple players selected in two straight seasons (three taken in 2016). And they'll likely do so with running back Matthew Dayes, a potential late second- or early third-day pick.
The 5-foot-9, 200-pounder isn't physically imposing and rarely runs over defenders but he can do everything else, including pass-blocking and receiving out of the backfield — 97 catches for 920 yards and six touchdowns in his career.
As for Tocho, he'll need a terrific bowl performance followed by good pre-draft workouts to guarantee a spot in the late rounds.
A team captain and four-year starter, Tocho had 32 tackles, two interceptions and two tackles for loss for a defense that yielded just 16 passing touchdowns on the season. He recorded seven tackles and one tackle for loss in the Wolfpack's near upset of Clemson.
Tocho is big enough (5-foot-11, 200 pounds), can run with almost anyone and isn't afraid to throw his body around.