It should be a fantastic game between two teams absolutely loaded with talent. Here’s what to look for relevant to the 2020 NFL Draft as well as beyond:
When LSU has the ball
Obviously, the quarterbacks will be front and center tonight as potentially the #1 overall picks for the next two NFL drafts. Up first is LSU QB Joe Burrow. He’s fantastic in managing the pocket and creating things on the move with an uncanny ability to improvise, but let’s be honest. LSU Passing Game Coordinator and Wide Receivers Coach Joe Brady has crafted a fantastic system for Burrow to operate in (and clearly much better than the one he dealt with in 2018).
Burrow also has top talents to work with downfield. WR Justin Jefferson, the younger brother of former LSU QB Jordan Jefferson and S Rickey Jefferson, could sneak into the first round this year, but WR Ja’Marr Chase is the gem here and could be a top 10 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. And NFL Hall of Famer WR Randy Moss’ son, TE Thaddeus Moss, is developing into a very interesting prospect himself.
Los Angeles Rams fans will likely be interested in the offensive line perhaps especially because this unit won the Joe Moore Award for the country’s best line this year. It’s more impressive then that there’s not a standout on the line NFL-wise, though C Lloyd Cushenberry III is a legitimate part of perhaps the best center class of my lifetime.
If there’s a defense that could slow down LSU’s record-breaking offense (and I’m not saying there is...), it’s probably Clemson’s. Isaiah Simmons was the second-best defender in the country after Ohio State EDGE Chase Young. But whereas Young’s position up front can at least be negated by working away from him, Simmons doesn’t have a position. Is he a safety? Is he a linebacker? Is he a cornerback? Yes, and whatever you call what he’s doing, he’s fantastic at it.
CB A.J. Terrell is a very good prospect who is going to require quite a bit of coaching. But for a team that’s (a) cornerback-needy and (b) confident in their secondary coaching tree, I could see him as a first-round prospect.
The rest of Clemson’s secondary will all head to the NFL in SS K’Von Wallace, FS Tanner Muse and hybrid Nolan Turner. Oh, and CB Derion Kendrick? He moved from wide receiver to cornerback this season and has looked extremely impressive. He’s a true sophomore, so he’ll be back for the 2020 season and perhaps put himself in Round 1 discussions for 2021.
If there’s a weak point, it’s the front seven. That’s to be expected since Clemson sent four defensive linemen through the 2019 NFL Draft, three of whom went in the top 17 picks. There’s plenty of talent there, but they’re all coming back next year so we’ll get more time to assess DT Tyler Davis who could be a top 10 pick down the line.
When LSU has the ball
QB Trevor Lawrence is the best quarterback prospect since QB Andrew Luck who was the best since QB John Elway. He probably shouldn’t even play next year to make sure he doesn’t incur any injuries, but not sure that’s something realistic to consider. In any case, you can just about lock him in as the #1 overall pick of the 2021 draft.
For Clemson’s offense, it’s just about speed. RB Travis Etienne and WR Tee Higgins could both land in round 1 because of it. WR Justyn Ross could do the same in 2021 because of it. Every target out there is blink-and-you-will-miss-him.
The line is a strong one, but less because of any top tier talent and more because of a lack of deficiency anywhere. All four lineman to the right of LT Jackson Carman will be in a training camp in six months...and Carman will be back at Clemson in 2020 to try to fight for a first-round selection as well.
As for LSU’s defense, this isn’t the LSU front we’re used to. EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson could test out as a fantastic athlete, but that might only raise more questions about his inconsistency in Baton Rouge. But between the interior defensive line and the inside linebackers, it’s clearly the weakest point talent-wise.
But part of why that’s so clear is the secondary. Whew. S Grant Delpit could be a top-ten pick. CB Kristian Fulton could be a top-ten pick. And CB Derek Stingley, Jr., could be...I suppose the #1 overall pick of the 2022 NFL Draft. For a true freshman at corner having to guard some of the wideouts he’s faced this year, he’s been absolutely incredible.
Could be a great game! Just for entertainment’s sake, I’m hoping LSU doesn’t boatrace Clemson. It was fun to see LSU just carve up Oklahoma in the first half of the semifinal, but I’d appreciate a closer game tonight that might give us a more functional second half to see how these guys do with so many (nearly all? (all?)) of them coming to the NFL in the coming years.