The Hula Bowl is a great opportunity for players who are not high on teams’ draft radar to improve their draft stock before the “Big 3” all-star games take place in the next few weeks. Most of these players will more then likely be competing for a 53-man roster spot, or a practice squad position by the time Training Camp ends in late August. For most of these players getting on a teams’ radar early may help them in this long pre-draft process. Players were split up into two teams (Team Aina and Team Kai), both teams were coached by some high-quality NFL coaches with over 200 years of coaching experience in the league. Team Kai was led by Super Bowl winning head coach Brian Billick, and Team Aina was led by former Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith. Both coaches expressed how hard each of their players worked and competed during the week of practice. Both coaches also stressed how they wanted each player to take advantage of this opportunity they have earned.
During the game each team had its ups and downs on offense. Both teams turned the ball the over, and both defenses made it hard to move the ball downfield. At the end, Team Kai defeated Team Aina 21-20. Although the game did not provide a lot of scoring, there were a few players on each team that I found impressing and should be on most teams radar during the late rounds of the draft.
Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated
- Levi Lewis QB, Louisiana (5-10, 184lbs) – Lewis had a solid day throwing the football. He flashed good accuracy skills, good pocket awareness, and made smart decisions when being pressured. Lewis also put his athleticism on display when he was forced out of the pocket. He converted a handful of first downs using his legs to move the chains. Although Lewis still has more improvement to make, he showed that he can learn an NFL offense and he can read through his progressions to make the right pass.
Any team that is thinking of drafting Lewis will need to understand that he has more room to develop his talent. As of now he is looked upon as a late round pick or college free agent. What teams should know about Lewis; He is a winner. In his last thirty-nine starts he went 34-5, while passing for over 8,000 yards, 65 touchdowns, and only 15 interceptions. Lewis could become a starter down the road with the right development.
- Liam Shanahan C, LSU (6-5, 304lbs) – Shanahan looked like a veteran NFL offensive lineman during the Hula Bowl. He was able to control the middle of the offensive line with a demanding presence. He did not let any pressure come up the middle, and he was able to create some running lanes for the running backs. As a run blocker he is a mauler that loves to finish his blocks. As a pass blocker, Shanahan has a strong first punch that allows him to stun defenders at the point of attack.
After transferring from Harvard University in 2020, he immediately became LSU’s starting center. He was in charge of making all line calls and protections. This shows how much he was trusted by players and coaches. Shanahan can possibly hear his name called early in the mid rounds.
- Tayler Hawkins CB, San Diego State (5-11, 198lbs) – Hawkins earned Team Kai’s Defensive Player of the Game award and it was clear to see why. During the Hula Bowl, he displayed his physicality, quick instincts, ability to cover man to man, and the ability to play zone when needed. He made the play of the day when he was able to pick off Team Aina’s quarterback Brandon Peters and returned the interception 44 yards for a touchdown. It was impressive to see Hawkins perform well after dealing with Covid-19 just two weeks before. I predict Hawkins to be draft in the late rounds of the draft.
- Kader Hohou DB, Texas A&M Comerce (5-10, 191lbs) – Hohou is a small school guy who saved his best performance for the Hula Bowl. He had one pass interference penalty called against him, after that he started to make numerous plays in pass coverage. Hohou had 3 pass deflections that made announcer Ron Jaworski say “This guy can cover and blanket wide receivers”. On tape Hohou jumps off the screen with his ability to cover, tackle in space, and his makeup speed. He also has a knack for being around the ball and causing turnovers. In his 3 years at Texas A&M Comerce, Hohou had 23 passes defended, 21 pass breakups, 5 interceptions, 5 forced fumbles, and 7 tackles for loss. He will be a late round gem for any team that selects him.
- Isaih Pacheco RB, Rutgers (5-10, 208lbs) – Pacheco is one of those backs with an old school mindset as a runner. He looks for contact rather than avoiding it. While being able to take on contact, he has the speed and quickness to run away from the defense. During the Hula Bowl, Pacheco was able to break a few runs and show he can catch the ball out of the backfield. A question that many scouts wanted to know the answer to.
Under Greg Schiano; Pacheco averaged 610 rushing yards a season, averaged 4.3 yards per carry, rushed for over 2,300 yards, and scored 18 touchdowns. He will play in the East-West Shrine Game at the beginning of February. If he can have another impressive showing, Pacheco can hear his name called in the mid-late rounds of the draft.
- Andrew Ogletree TE, Youngstown State (6-5, 256lbs) – During the week of practice, Ogletree displayed his athleticism and route running skills to scouts and made sure it transferred over to the game. He made some great contested catches during the Hula Bowl and caught a touchdown pass from Oregon quarterback Anthony Brown. Along with Ogletree’s athleticism and solid route running skills, his size and speed caught the attention of scouts. If he can get into an offense that fits his attributes and abilities, Ogletree can become a household name. He may end up being drafted in the late rounds, but he can be a steal if he goes to the right team.
- McKenzie Milton QB, Florida State (5-11, 189lbs) – The Hula Bowl was more like a homecoming for Milton as he returned to UCF to play on the field, he once called home. After suffering a career threatening injury in 2018, Milton was able to rehab and transfer to Florida State to continue his college career. He had a solid year of performance which landed him an opportunity to play in the Hula Bowl to show scouts that he still has something left in his arsenal. During the game, Milton showed good pocket awareness and solid accuracy. He made good decisions when throwing the ball and he knew when to get rid of the ball in the face of pressure.
Milton did throw an interception that sealed the game for Team Kai, but throughout the game he was able to move the offense down the field. Milton will now hope to get an invite to the NFL Combine, or prepare for Florida State’s pro day. If he does well, I can see him being selected in the late rounds of the draft or at least being signed as a college free agent. Milton can be a quality back up in the NFL
- Kier Thomas Edge, Florida State (6-1, 272lbs) – Thomas was another Florida State Seminole that had an impressive showing at the Hula Bowl. He was constantly generating pressure on the quarterback and disrupting the run game in the backfield. He recorded 1.5 sacks and at least 2 tackles for a loss. Thomas’ college career started at the University of South Carolina where he appeared in 47 games with 32 starts in five seasons. In five seasons he recorded 142 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, and eight quarterback hurries.
After five seasons with the Gamecocks, Thomas decided to transfer to Florida State. In just one year with the Seminoles, he recorded 42 tackles, 12 tackles for loss,6.5 sacks and 1 pass deflection. I feel he helped improve his draft stock with his performance at the Hula Bowl and could better his stock with a great performance at Florida State’s pro day.
- Stewert Reese G, Florida (6-4, 345lbs) – Comparing Stewert Reese to a brick wall during the Hula Bowl would be an accurate statement. During the game Reese refused to be moved off the line of scrimmage by any defender trying to get into the backfield. As a run blocker he demonstrated the toughness and power to create holes for running backs to run through. As a pass blocker he was good at getting into a good pass set and getting his hands on the defender right way to stonewall them. Reese has great awareness to help his teammates with blocks when he does not have anyone attacking him.
The graduate transfer from Mississippi State started every game this past season and was a staple for the Gators offensive line. With a good showing at Florida’s pro day may help Reese jump into the mid rounds of the draft.
- Julius Chestnut RB, Sacred Heart University (5-11, 224lbs) – Chestnut made history at the Hula Bowl this past weekend. He was the first player from Sacred Heart University to be selected to play in an All-Star game. With being from a small school Chestnut already had a chip on his shoulder to prove he belongs among college football’s best players. During the game he showed off his vision and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. As a runner he is physical at the point of attack and refuses to go down after the first hit.
During his time at Sacred Heart, Chestnut racked up 4,017 scrimmage yards and 35 touchdowns in 33 career games. He also was a finalist Walter Payton Award (FCS Player of the Year). Chestnut will participate in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl to further raise his draft stock.