Here are just a few of the many players to keep an eye on during the 2019 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl at Rose Bowl Stadium.
Left Tackle, University of Texas
After an admirable career at Rice, Anderson had his pick of the lot when he looked to move to a new program as a graduate transfer. The Longhorns were the beneficiary of the left tackle’s decision, as he held down the offensive line with his pass protection skills and was a menace in the run game, helping lead Texas to its Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia. Even with a young offense, Texas was consistently able to move the ball and protect its quarterback, and Anderson was a large reason why.
Wide Receiver, East Carolina University
Numerous wide receivers have posted big numbers at ECU, and Brown has stepped up to carry on that legacy. After breaking the 1,000-yard mark his junior year, he surpassed that once again in his senior campaign, including four straight games in which he recorded well over 100 yards. His finest performance came against Memphis, where he caught 10 balls for 193 yards and two scores, placing his blend of size, speed, and strength after the catch on full display.
Linebacker, North Texas
When 14 years go by without a player drafted into the NFL, it’s up to someone to end that streak. Ejiya has shouldered that weight and more, serving as the leader of the Mean Green defense. Not only can he rush the passer and wreak havoc in the backfield, but he is no slouch in coverage and chasing down opponents once they cross into his domain. His sideline-to-sideline speed and ferocity will be key assets as he makes the next jump.
Cornerback, Iowa State
Payne was Mr. Dependable for Iowa State, playing his part in the defense admirably and always there to break up a key pass on the back end, like he did twice in its victory against Oklahoma State. He also showed off his prowess in tracking passes in the Cyclones’ upset win over West Virginia, which saw him snag his sole interception of the season.
Fullback, University of Pittsburgh
Fullbacks usually defer the glory to the guys they block for, but Aston has stepped up and delivered in the spotlight more than a few times in his career. He played a key part in Pitt’s famous 2016 season, where the Panthers defeated not only in-state rivals Penn State but also eventual national champion Clemson. He caught two touchdown passes against the Tigers, yet Aston’s key contributions were in leading the way for Pitt’s oft-dominant run game throughout his career.
Linebacker, Middle Tennessee State
When a school’s mascot is the Blue Raiders, tenacity and strength have to be the calling cards of the defense. Harris exemplified that over his four-year career at Middle Tennessee State, logging career-highs nearly across the board in his senior season with 97 total tackles, five sacks, and broke up more than his fair share of passes.
Damion Jeanpiere Jr.
Wide Receiver, Nicholls State University
Jeanpiere flashed his blazing speed in the first week of his junior season and has never looked back. The senior wideout surpassed the 100-yard mark twice, and showed he was more than just a one-trick-pony by consistently making catches all over the field. Of course, he can still take the top off the field, too, and did just that in a playoff victory over San Diego when he caught seven passes for 143 yards and a touchdown.
Long Snapper, Columbia University
It takes a lot to get recognition as a long snapper, but when you do your job almost perfectly for your entire collegiate career, that deserves some praise. The special teams player was named to multiple All-America first teams as well as first team All-Ivy, and over his career, snapped the ball 389 times (Off the field, Eby’s touch is just as magical with a number of card tricks that will blow your mind).
– David Chough
NFLPA Collegiate Bowl Analyst