Who are the top 2013 NFL Draft prospects to watch on New Year’s Eve in the 2012 Chick-fil-A-Bowl between the LSU Tigers and Clemson Tigers?  Let’s take a look at the top prospects to watch in the last college football bowl game of 2012.

Since 1968, the Chick-fil-A Bowl, also known as the Peach Bowl, has featured a battle between an ACC and SEC school in Atlanta at the Georgia Dome.  This year’s marquee matchup pits a pair of premier programs that could be playing in a BCS bowl if the system in place focused more on putting the best teams on the field.

This New Year’s Eve showdown is a classic battle between an unstoppable force vs. immovable object.

LSU once again was a serious contender thanks to its stellar defense, which made 18 interceptions this season.  The Tigers are ranked among the nation’s defensive leaders in terms of total yards (297.8), passing efficiency, points allowed (16.9) and against the run (103.1).

On the other side of the football, it was a different story.  The Tigers finally found some rhythm in November, but first-year starting signal-caller Zach Mettenberger struggled early and often this season.

As for Clemson, offensive production wasn’t a problem.  The Tigers set school records with a whopping 508 points and 6,220 yards this season.  Quarterback Tajh Boyd became the ACC Player of the Year, as he threw for 3,550 yards with 34 TDs to 13 INTs.  His top target DeAndre Hopkins had 1,214 yards and 16 scores.

Not to mention, as explosive as the passing attack became, the ground game has been just as potent.  Andre Ellington finished the season second in the conference with 1,031 yards and eight TDs and QB Tajh Boyd also added nine rushing TDs.  Then there’s of course a game named Sammy Watkins, who is one of the most dynamic all-around players in the country and can break the game open at any time.

Clemson Tigers

WR DeAndre Hopkins

Hopkins’ speed excites scouts and makes him a tough cat to catch in one-on-one coverage on the outside.  The 6-1, 200-pound junior receiver racked up 69 receptions for 1,214 yards and 16 TDs in 2012.  He’s currently ranked ninth in the nation in receiving yards per game.  Look for a team to select him sometime in the second round.

 

RB Andre Ellington

Ellington is expected to get selected between the second and third round of the 2013 NFL Draft.  He decided not to declare for the draft last year after his foot injury, though he was still able to tally over 1,100 yards in first full season as a starter.

Ellington after deciding not to declare for the NFL draft last season after his foot injury he was still able to tally up  over 1100 rushing yards in his first full year as a starter. He is very quick and racks up yardage in bursts, with a 5.3 yards per carry average last year being his career worst mark. By returning Ellington also rights to the title of the top running back in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Ellington is expected to get selected between the second and third round.

 

DE Malliciah Goodman

Goodman leads the ACC with four forced fumbles and has racked up four sacks to rank second on the team. Recently he was voted by the coaches for Honorable Mention All-Atlantic Coast Conference Team. Expect his stock to soar as the NFL scouts view more of his play since he knows how to irritate opposing QBs.  For now, he’s a fourth-round prospect.

 

Other Prospects Projected To Later Rounds Or Free Agents:

Rashard Hall, FS
Dalton Freeman, C
Brandon Ford, TE
Jonathon Meeks, SS
Xavier Brewer, CB
Jonathon Willard, OLB

 

LSU Tigers

DE Barkevious Mingo

With a dazzling display of speed off the edge for his massive size, Barkevious Mingo is one of the top playersat his position in this draft class.  Projected to go between the latter part of the first round to the early part of the second round, Mingo may have only made 4.0 sacks and 5.5 TKFL (tackles for loss) this season, but “he’s the fastest, most explosive defensive end in the 2013 class” in the words of ESPN’s Todd McShay.  This cat also was a major part of the driving force that led LSU to the national title game in 2011.

DE Sam Montgomery

Montgomery may come with some concerns with his work ethic, but he’s one of the premier pass-rushers in this draft class.  Montgomery made 9.0 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss last season and looks to get taken in the first round in April.

FS Eric Reid

Reid should be selected pretty early in the draft process and looks to be one of the top prospects at his position in this draft class, but he will not likely see any action on day one.  Expect this star safety to hear his name called in the second round as teams search for a smart play-maker in the backfield of the defense.  Nevertheless, Chad Reuter compares this safety to former 2011 seventh overall selection Mark Barron.  He possesses the size, athleticism, intelligence, and toughness to be an impact player and could surprise a team come draft day.

LB Kevin Minter

Minter had a breakout junior season, and his next move is the NFL draft. Leading the Tigers in tackles with 111 while ranks third in the Southeastern Conference in that category. Has been selected First Team All-Southeastern Conference (Media and Coaches) selection for the 2012 college football season. Minter will most likely get selected in the second round.

DB Tyrann Mathieu

Mathieu, a Heisman Trophy finalist, could fall as far as the sixth round or perhaps even further due to his off-the-field troubles and absence from the game for an entire season at LSU.  However, he possesses tremendous talent and could wind up somewhere in the second or third round.

 

Other Prospects Projected To Later Rounds Or Free Agents:

Russell Sheppard, WR
Josh Downs, DT
Alex Hurst, OT
Josh Dworaczyk, OG
P.J. Longergan, C
Chancey Aghayere, DE