Well, it was a pretty lackluster college football season, ATC. Still, as an NFL fan, I'm more than pleased with the talent coming out for this draft. We've got months to get deeper into the prospects as we lead up to the 3-day spectacle, but for tonight, let's enjoy the upcoming defensive battle and see if there's anyone the Rams might be interested in who will be factors.
Citi BCS Championship (Jan. 7th - Pasadena, CA), 8:00pm EST, ABC
Texas offense v. Bama defense
Sure, if you were a betting man, you'd put your money on the Tide's D, but to ignore the talent in burnt orange would be foolish. Unless you're from Zimbabwe (and if you are, why do you have internet access?), you've heard of Colt McCoy (Scouting reports: Mocking The Draft, ESPN, WalterFootball). Reading his scouting reports, you might wonder why he's not rated a top 10 pick. Outside of his throwing angle (which varies, to be fair), he doesn't really have an outstanding flaw. The real issue is that he's been in an offense that historically doesn't help QBs transition to the NFL (think, as WalterFootball mentions, Alex Smith, or my comparison, Rex Grossman). It's going to take a lot of on-the-job education for Colt ot be effective IMO, and that's just not something you can take on with a 1st (or even 2nd round, in this draft) QB. I'd be surprised if he goes past the 3rd.
Colt will certainly be looking to leading receiver and fellow senior Jordan Shipley (SR: ESPN) often. Shipley runs solid routes and has nice hands, but is under 6' tall and lacks impressive speed. At 24 years old, he doesn't have alot of growth in his physical traits, so you pretty much know what you're getting. Still, the NFL has made productive WRs in his mold before, so he could be a solid pick in the middle rounds. Beyond Shipley, the only receiver that impresses me at the NFL level is sophomore Malcolm Williams. Some might point to Dan Buckner's size, but I'm yet to see him use it as effectively as say a Jonathan Baldwin at Pitt. Williams, however, has shown flashes of brilliance late in the season, including a small, but impressive, 3 for 52 game against Nebraska. He's my X factor for the UT offense, but more relevant to Rams fans, a prospect-to-be whos future stock could well explode tonight.
Sticking with Texas, don't expect much from the ground game. Tre Newton, son of former Dallas Cowboy OL Nate Newton, had some impressive spurts in his freshman season at RB, but with a defense this stout, I doubt he'll be able to do much. He has shared time with junior Vondress McGee, sophomore Cody Johnson and sophomore Foswhitt Whittaker so his season stats certainly don't stand out. Tellingly, against Nebraska he went for just 36 yards in 19 attempts. You can't put that on Newton's broad shoulders alone; the Longhorns O-line has been pretty disappointing this year in their run blocking (though above average in pass blocking, save for the Big XII championship when they were outright lousy-licious), and that starts with OT Adam Ulatoski (SR: ESPN). Ula was highly regarded coming into this year, but his play this year has been beyond disappointing. He's gone from a 1st/2nd round prospect to a fringe 4th rounder. Equally disappointing has been the play of center Chris Hall. They could do themselves a world of good by playing well against Alabama's beastly front line.
That's a great place to start for the Alabama D - right up front. With the Tide's top 3-4, Alabama throws out three seniors who have a combined weight of 954 lbs. Of course, the average is weighed down (pun intended, fool!) by Terrence Cody, who eats two cows and a barrel of batter for breakfast every morning. At 6'3" (believable) and 375 lbs. (not so much), Cody (SR: MTD, ESPN, WF, DraftCountdown) is as mythical and, uh, girthical of a NT you will ever see. The issue is stamina. He doesn't play every down, but when he does, as Tennessee fans will attest to, he makes a huge difference (again, purpose pun). I could see him going in the 1st if a team feels that desparate for a spot NT, but were I a GM, I wouldn't take him untli the early 2nd. On each side of Cody are capable senior 3-4 DEs, Brandon Deaderick and Loren Washington, who could go at the end of the draft.
Alabama's LB corps is anchored by award-winning (and sure-fire 1st rounder) MLB Rolando McClain (SR: ESPN, WF). He has probably surpassed Florida's Brandon Spikes as the top MLB prospect this season in many minds, because he's so well rounded. Alabama could do worse than their two senior OLBs: Cory Reamer and Brandon Fanney. Like Bama's DEs, both OLBs have a shot at making the cut going into the 1st week of the 2010 NFL season.
The most underrated aspect, IMO, of Alabama's deadly D, which allows just 11 points per game, is their secondary, led by CB Javier Arenas (SR: MTD, ESPN, WF). His height, or lack thereof, is his most obvious flaw, but more pressing is his technique. In a word, it's sloppy. Still, he has good quickness and speed with elite agility. With a good combine, he would be a solid grab in the mid to late 2nd. Marquis Johnson is a solid college corner, but don't expect him to get past the practice squad before opening day unless there's an injury (or two) to open up a spot for him. Justin Woodall filled in admirably for Rashad Johnson this year. He'll need to be noticeable tonight to creep above fringe draft status.
Overall, you're looking at about a dozen players who will be in the NFL next year and a half dozen whos names you'll hear around the league. Most interesting facet of the game to me.
Bama offense v. Texas defense
A sophomore Heisman winner not named Tim Tebow? Impressive, despite the Heisman's declining importance. Mark Ingram was better than advertised, and you have to wonder not just what he'll do on the biggest stage of his young career, but what the future holds for him. Greg McElroy was pretty pedestrian at QB this year. Given the kinds of weapons at his disposal, you could have expected a bit more statistically, although the gameplan certainly didn't give him much help in terms of gaudy stats.
Where I was concerned about Bama going into this year was on their O-line. They lost OT Andre Smith and C Antoine Caldwell to the 2009 draft, but have gotten great play out of a more athletic line than the one they had last year. I can't really suggest any of their standouts, like OGs (and also offensive guards...hehe...) Mike Johnson and Drew Davis, are draft prospects, but I could see them making a roster next year.
Alabama's sexiest draft prospects are at WR, and it starts with Julio Jones. Veteran TSTers know I've been yakking up Jones since he got to Tuscaloosa last year. He's got a chance to show why tonight. And whlie apologists could say he's just a sophomore, the best football players in college show up as sophomores...like Mark Ingram. Marquis Maze, another sophomore WR, had a great second year. He certainly isn't near the top tier of WRs in his class, but he showed the kind of athleticism necessary for a 5'10" 180 lb. receiver to produce. He's got to show more next year to start attracting any draft buzz being as small as he is, but he's got time, especially if Jones bolts to the NFL after next year. Keep an eye out for TE Colin Peek as well (SR: DC). He's got great size for a TE, and is more agile than his frame suggests. I could see him going on the 3rd day to someone whos got an aging veteran TE, like Atlanta or even our Rams. He'll have to block effectively to help Ingram and his O-line, because Texas has a stout run defense.
It starts up front with DT Lamarr Houston. He'll get drafted, but not up front. Still, a solid performance and an impressive combine could push him into the top 4 rounds. Sam Acho, Texas' junior DE, has impressed, but not enough to warrant coming out for this draft. He could play himself into the top tier next year once Sergio Kindle is in the NFL. Speaking of Kindle, the Texan type not the Amazon type, he's a 1st round lock as well (SR: MTD, ESPN, WF), but many are still confused by him. Where wlil he play in an NFL 3-4 - DE or OLB? Right now, people are leaning OLB, but with visions of Vernon Gholston and Aaron Maybin still toying with draftniks, the answer might be neither yet. Those visions might be re-Kindled (I'm on fire!) at the combine; Sergio has the kind of freakish athleticism that tests well in the pre-draft process.
A player for Rams fans to keep a keen eye on is the young man who snagged the photo spot my last bowl preview, Rod Muckelroy (SR: ESPN). Muckleroy is techincal where Kindle is natural, all over the field where Sergio goes point-to-point. Were the draft today, I'd look for him in the 3rd round, but the stage is set tonight for Muck to lead the team in taclkes. If it does, he could be the Longhorn with the "field performer" tag, the guy who gets it done on the field, but won't turn heads in the weight room despite filling out at 6'2" and about 230 lbs.
Of course, the big name in the back of Texas' D is Earl Thomas who continues the tradition of Longhorn safety excellence in the footsteps of Michael Griffin and Michael Huff. Right now, Thomas is the 3rd and final safety in his position's top tier for the 2010 draft; don't be surprised if he surpasses Taylor Mays to be the 2nd safety taken after Eric Berry in a couple months. Thomas plays bigger than his frame and has a feel for the ball, a la OJ Atogwe and Jairus Byrd. Not bad comparisons.
Special teams? I'll let you guys slide, but both teams have great kickers, and I'll leave it at that.
Enjoy the game, and learn some names. You'll be seeing them again soon.