Last Saturday, Team Kai defeated Team Aina 24-17 in the 78th annual Hula Bowl in Orlando, FL. Led by Head Coach Brian Billick and MVPs Jack Plummer and Eli Neal, Team Kai got out to a 24-3 lead around the nine-minute mark in the third quarter and never looked back.
Here’s a list of 15+ players from Team Kai who improved their draft stocks with strong performances in the 2024 Hula Bowl.
Jalon Calhoun, WR, Duke
Calhoun only reeled in one reception for eight yards in the Hula Bowl, but he established himself as a top target for Team Kai throughout the practice week.
Calhoun appeared unguardable at times during the 1-on-1 and 7-on-7 portions of practice. Whether he lined up on the outside or in the slot, Calhoun used his high-level initial quickness, play speed, and stop-start ability to threaten all three levels of the defense. He can be utilized from multiple alignments across the field and has the route-running acumen, ball skills, and toughness to earn playing time early in his career at the next level.
Jeremy Flax, OT, Kentucky
At 6-foot-5, 356 pounds, Flax possesses fluid lower-body agility in his pass set, strong hands and punch location, and a sturdy lower half to strain and anchor against power rushers. He measured in with an 80-inch wingspan and showed an ability to play at both tackle spots in the practices leading up to the game. He will likely slide inside to the guard spot early at the next level but has the versatility to move back outside if necessary.
Jowon Briggs, DT, Cincinnati
Briggs’ name did not show up in the stat sheet, but the big IDL from Cincinnati continuously pushed the pocket with a violent power rush in 1-on-1 situations. He played with great effort when pursuing the ball from sideline to sideline and showed intriguing functional athleticism when dropping into coverage to protect the MOF.
Briggs was undoubtedly the most dominant defensive lineman in 1-on-1 drills during practice. He fires off the ball with good leverage and transfers power from his lower half through his hands to control the POA. He uses quick, concise hands to swipe away contact and protect his upper half.
Briggs received an invite to the East-West Shrine Bowl following his performance at the Hula Bowl, which will give him another chance to improve his draft stock in front of NFL scouts.
Elijah Jones, CB, Boston College
Coming off an All-ACC Honorable Mention season in 2023, Elijah Jones continued his upward momentum with an impressive week at the Hula Bowl. Jones served as a starter for Team Kai on Saturday and recorded a key tackle that led to a forced fumble on the first drive of the game. In coverage, Jones forced a PBU against John Jiles on a deep ball down the sideline to negate a first down. He did not allow a completion to his side of the field and exhibited willing tackling ability as a run defender.
Jones offers competitive height, weight, and length at the outside corner spot. His frame is a bit slight, but he plays larger than his size would indicate. He boasts flexible hips to turn and run in man coverage and solid play speed to keep a tight cushion downfield. Look for Jones to attract some attention in the later rounds of the NFL Draft.
Top 15 Draft Risers:
Judge Culpepper, DT, Toledo
Culpepper was active early and often on Saturday. He collected two tackles on his first two snaps of the game and maintained a moderate level of pressure in limited snaps.
Culpepper finished the day with 2.5 tackles and one QB hurry that led to an incompletion. He flashed a high motor when rushing the QB and anchored against double teams adequately in the run game. He would benefit from dropping his pad level and COG when engaged at the POA, but he operates with constant energy to create a push up-front.
Jack Plummer, QB, Louisville
Plummer didn’t start the game for Team Kai, but he sustained two long scoring drives that lasted over 12 minutes, combined. On the first drive of the second half, Plummer delivered a back-shoulder fade to Isaac Rex for his lone touchdown on the day. In total, Plummer completed 11/15 throws for 133 yards and 1 TD. He also gained 15 rushing yards on four carries.
Plummer displayed great short & intermediate accuracy and ample arm strength to complete three-quarter throws to the field. He moves in the pocket with capable mobility and willingly uses his legs to pick up yards on the ground.
Tyrone Tracy, RB, Purdue
Tracy carried a steady workload through four quarters and proved to be a versatile asset out of the backfield. He accumulated 40 yards and one touchdown on eight carries and added one reception for 17 yards on a crucial third-down conversion in the first quarter.
Tracy has been playing the running back position exclusively for two seasons. He flashes ample toughness to run the ball between the tackles and proficient burst/acceleration to beat defenders to the edge. His background as a receiver and return specialist lends to a valuable skill set. so there is certainly a place in the league for an athlete like Tracy.
Je’Quan Burton, WR, Florida Atlantic
After Team Kai fell victim to a series of late cuts to the roster three days before the game, the Hula Bowl directors added Je’Quan Burton to the roster just in time for game day. Despite only attending one practice before the game, Burton looked to create explosive plays whenever he touched the field. He rounded out the day with three receptions and 49 yards, which included a 36-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter.
Known for his play speed and instantaneous acceleration, Burton also presented reliable ball skills and hands-catching ability on all catchable balls thrown his way.
Hayden Hatten, WR, Idaho
Hatten made a name for himself as one of the most decorated wide receivers in Idaho and Big Sky history. A three-time All-Big Sky First Teamer, Hatten dominated FCS competition since his breakout season in 2020. Although Hatten played in his fair share of games against FBS competition during his time at Idaho, the Hula Bowl gave him a chance to showcase his talents against some of the best draft-eligible defensive backs in the nation across all levels.
After four solid days of practice, Hatten made an impact on the first play of the second quarter when he caught the first TD of the game. He exhibited strong hands through contact and maintained requisite spatial awareness by getting two feet down in the end zone. His second reception of the game came on a short drag route that he turned into a 28-yard gain. Overall, he finished the day with two receptions, 31 yards, and 1 TD.
Hatten will likely fly under the radar going into the NFL Draft but he could be a rotational piece for an organization that sees value in his football intelligence, route-running ability, and ball production.
Carter Bradley, QB, South Alabama
Bradley’s first-half performance helped set the tone for the Team Kai offense in the first half. In his three drives at the helm, he threw for 72 yards and one touchdown on 6/8 passing.
Bradley appeared in rhythm both under center and from the pistol. He executed his three and five-step drops cleanly with sharp foot mechanics. He stayed on time and placed the ball accurately to the short & intermediate ranges. His off-platform throws were delivered with acute placement. And above all else, he played mistake-free football and sustained two long scoring drives to take a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Storm Duck, CB, Louisville
Duck played sparingly in the first half but took advantage of extensive playing time in the third quarter. After allowing a completion to Maryland WR on a comeback pattern, Duck responded with a PBU on a go route against Holy Cross WR Jalen Coker. Two plays later, Duck laid a big hit on TCU RB Emani Bailey in the flat to force 4th and 1.
Duck offers ideal size (6-foot-1, 200 pounds, and 77-inch wingspan) and has the ability to play through the hands to force incompletions at the catch point. He is a strong tackler with notable toughness and contact courage. His well-built, durable frame will help him compete for early playing time at the NFL level, and he should garner buzz as an early Day 3 selection in April.
Austin Jones, RB, USC
Jones started the game as the third running back on the depth chart but wound up being Team Kai’s leading rusher by the end of the day. Despite not receiving a single touch in the first half, Jones ran 43 yards on six carries (7.1 YPC) and added two receptions for 14 yards out of the backfield.
Jones operates with a one-cut running style. He looks to run the ball between the tackles, and also has ample play speed to run outside the tackles. He exhibits significant twitch in the first level to gain extra yardage. As a pass catcher, Jones presents a quality target with the requisite burst/acceleration and long speed to turn short receptions into long gains.
Frank Crum, OT, Wyoming
Crum anchored the left side of the line for Wyoming in 2023 and earned All-Mountain West First Team honors for his performance on the season. Few offensive tackles can rival Crum’s size, length, and frame. At 6-foot-7, 313 pounds with 33 ⅞-inch arms and an 82.5-inch wingspan, Crum proved himself to be a difficult matchup for EDGE rushers. He can beat you to the spot and run the hoop or anchor against the power rush with a firm base. He maintains a low COG and pad level in his pass set. His hand placement and punch location could be developed further, but he has the prototypical build and pass-blocking skill set of an NFL Left Tackle.
Crum started the Hula Bowl at LT and kept his QBs upright on every dropback. Crum’s pass blocking was instrumental to the success of the Kai offense, so his performance was nothing short of impactful.
Omar Speights, LB, LSU
Speights was Team Kai’s most disruptive run defender, leading all players in tackles with 5.5. He made the first momentum-shifting play of the game when he dislodged the ball from UTSA WR Joshua Cephus, creating a turnover on Kai’s first defensive possession. His play speed, range, and burst to close helped him pursue the ball from sideline to sideline to limit explosive plays against the run.
Speights has been a productive tackler since his freshman season at Oregon State in 2019, so there is a strong chance that he will continue to be a productive defender against the run. As a four-time All-Pac-12 performer and SEC veteran, he is accustomed to being amongst the most prolific inside linebackers in his class.
Hale Motu’apuaka, DT, Utah State
Fresh off an All-Mountain West Honorable Mention season in 2023, Hale Motu’apuaka’s draft stock is as high as ever. With a standout performance in the Hula Bowl, Motu’apuaka had the opportunity to slide himself up IDL draft boards across the league. With three tackles, two tackles for loss, one fumble recovery, and one QB hurry, Motu’apuaka did just that.
Motu’apuaka lines up in the 1-tech on most snaps and fires off the ball with proficient initial quickness. He works to shoot gaps before guards and tackles can get their hands within his frame. He uses decent arm length (76.63 wingspan) and a massive lower half to hold the POA and anchor in the run game. His initial quickness extends to his hands, as he uses swift hands to execute various pass rush moves to penetrate the backfield. Motu’apuaka exhibits keen instincts and awareness when rushing the passer. He reroutes his track when adjusting to slip screens and retraces his steps to pursue the ball downfield. He operates with competitive energy and effort on every snap. It is no surprise how Motu’apuaka finished his career with the second-most games played in Utah State history (58). Motu’apuaka is a name worth monitoring in the sixth and seventh rounds of the NFL Draft,
Isaac Rex, TE, BYU
Isaac Rex displayed the best pass-catching ability of any tight end at the Hula Bowl – and it was not particularly close. In practice, Rex caught nearly everything in his vicinity. He presented ample length (31.5-inch arms and a 77-inch wingspan), prominent hands-catching ability, and the most secure ball skills of the group. Rex produced several highlight catches during his time in Orlando, but none were better than his one-handed TD catch against Florida State DB Akeem Dent in the third quarter.
While he has room to improve his overall blocking abilities, his pass-catching skill set will surely earn him a selection in the NFL Draft.
Eli Neal, LB, Marshall
Neal brought a physical play style and a mean streak that would manifest into a defensive MVP-level performance on Saturday. Whether he filled rushing lanes as a run defender or rushed the passer off the edge, Team Aina felt his energy constantly in all facets of the game. Neal’s strip-sack in the first quarter that led to Team Kai’s first touchdown was the most dramatic shift in the game, as Team Aina could never recover from the early deficit. Neal continued to be a game-wrecker for the Team Kai defense in all four quarters.
Though Neal might be undersized by NFL linebacker standards, his well-rounded skill set, aggressive play style, scrappy instincts, and considerable production compensate for any size concerns scouts might have. He can become a difference-maker at the WILL LB spot in the right system at the next level.
Casey Washington, WR, Illinois
Washington entered the week of the Hula Bowl as a second-thought prospect to most NFL scouts but started turning heads with a few impressive catches during the 1-on-1 periods of practice. He slowly began working his way up the Team Kai depth chart, and by Saturday, he was the team’s starting Z receiver and leading pass catcher.
Washington’s four-reception, 61-yard performance featured several explosive plays, including a 27-yard reception on an over route from Carter Bradley. He flashed great play speed and elusiveness with the ball in his hands to pick up YAC. His hands are undeniably strong and his competitiveness at the catch point makes him a legitimate deep ball and red zone threat. His route-running acumen is well-developed, he prioritizes blocking for his teammates in the run game, and he can separate to threaten all ranges of the defense.
Despite posting moderate production during his five-year college career, Washington’s best football days are still ahead of him. When you think of a diamond in the rough in the backend of the draft, think of Casey Washington.
Bryan Hudson, OC/OG, Louisville
No member of Team Kai’s offensive line group had a more dominant week in the trenches than Louisville IOL Bryan Hudson.
Hudson has experience playing every position on the offensive line, and his versatility & unique abilities shined throughout the week. He is a multi-time state champion in discus and shot put, a sign of high-level lower-body explosiveness and play strength. His initial quickness, hand placement, and physicality allow him to create a leverage advantage at the snap, where he can then dictate the POA to open up rushing lanes or nullify a pass rush against interior blitzes.
Centers are some of the most difficult prospects to hit on in the draft, so when you can find a center that can fire off the ball, block up to the second level, anchor against power rushers, and everything in between, you must covet one early. Hudson is one of those prospects, so expect teams to show interest in Hudson starting on Day 2 of the NFL Draft.