As the NFL season enters its crucial stretch just weeks before the playoffs start, the curtain officially begins closing for the college football season, with the 42-game bowl slate set to kick off Friday.
For the 12-1 Eagles, they have a potential top-five draft pick depending on how the New Orleans Saints finish their season because the Birds own their first-round selection. The top team in the league could have its pick of the litter near the top of the draft.
Bowl game opt-outs are part of the 2023 draft process, but there are a handful of prospects playing in New Year’s Six and College Football Playoff games who should be high on the Eagles’ radar.
Here are five players worth keeping tabs on during this bowl season:
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A former teammate of Eagles 2022 first-round pick Jordan Davis, the massive 6-foot-3, 300-pound defensive tackle has been one of the most disruptive forces in college football this season. Despite having just seven tackles for losses and three sacks this season, Carter has a unique blend of speed and power to disengage blockers and knife through the offensive line, flushing quarterbacks out of the pocket or forcing running backs to bounce the ball outside the box.
Playing on New Year’s Eve against Ohio State, which has one of the more talented offensive lines on Georgia’s schedule this season, Carter can continue to solidify himself as a potential top pick in this draft class and add to his impressive 25 quarterback hurries this season.
Opponent: vs. No. 4 Ohio State in College Football Playoff, Peach Bowl (Atlanta), New Year’s Eve.
The Eagles have a heavy stable of pass rushers already, but with Brandon Graham and newly acquired defensive end Robert Quinn potentially hitting free agency, infusing youth at a premium position may not be a bad option. Enter Ohio State senior defensive end Zach Harrison, said to have 35-inch arms, who has an explosive first step and violent hands to get past offensive tackles.
After his most productive season in 2021 (eight tackles for losses, four sacks) Harrison has accumulated 6½ tackles for losses and three sacks this season, including a dominant performance against Maryland when he took over the game late. Harrison’s ability to utilize powerful hands and bend the corner on rushes makes him an intriguing prospect the Eagles could consider toward the end of the first round.
Opponent: vs. No. 1 Georgia in College Football Playoff, Peach Bowl (Atlanta), New Year’s Eve.
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Another defensive tackle on this list is no coincidence, with the expected departure of Fletcher Cox sooner than later. While Carter brings a blend of natural athleticism combined with brute strength, Clemson defensive tackle Bryan Bresee has a deadly swim move and refined hand usage to quickly win at the line of scrimmage against offensive linemen coupled with lateral quickness to work across an entire defensive line.
Injuries have caused the former No. 1 high school recruit to miss 12 games over the last two seasons, but when he’s on the field, Bresee is as dominant of force as there is, with 4½ tackles for losses and 2½ sacks this season. While he hasn’t made a formal decision on whether he will play in the Orange Bowl next month, Bresee is a potential target assuming Carter is already off the board by the Eagles’ first pick.
Opponent: vs. No. 6 Tennessee in the Orange Bowl (Miami Gardens, Fla.), Dec. 30.
The investment in the Eagles’ secondary is well documented, but there’s no guarantee everyone will be back next season, so getting younger at a premium position such as defensive back is important for the longevity of a winning organization. A player who has caught scouts’ eyes in the draft process is Illinois defensive back Devon Witherspoon, the engine to one of the best defenses in the Big Ten this season.
Possessing a wiry frame, Witherspoon is an aggressive corner who is physical at the catch point, but fluid in man coverage to get underneath routes and make breaks on the football. Factoring in his ball production (three interceptions, 14 pass breakups) this season, Witherspoon could be a great complement across from Darius Slay. Defensive back isn’t a top need for the Eagles, but Witherspoon has great potential to be a topflight defensive back down the road.
Opponent: vs. Mississippi State in ReliaQuest Bowl (Tampa, Fla.), Jan. 2.
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Miles Sanders may very well re-sign with the Eagles in the offseason, but in the chance he doesn’t, this draft class has plenty of Day 1 starters at running back. Texas’ Bijan Robinson will likely be the first running back off the board, but with other pressing needs on the defensive side of the ball, it’s unlikely for the Eagles to use a potential top-five pick on a running back.
This is why Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs can be in play late in the first round. Drawing comparisons to the running style of Saints running back Alvin Kamara, Gibbs is a smooth operator with the football in his hands, gliding in between tackles with the ability to break away for long runs with his natural speed.
What stands out about his game is not just the running ability, but the receiving upside as well. With how creative the Eagles get on offense, bringing in a multifaceted running back like Gibbs creates an opportunity to be an early contributor.
Opponent: vs. No. 9 Kansas State in Sugar Bowl (New Orleans), New Year’s Eve.
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