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Draft prospects to watch on college football’s Championship Saturday

Five under-the radar players to go along with the top prospects

Wyoming v Boise State
George Holani of Boise State is a strong runner between the tackles
Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images

Mock drafts are already coming fast and furious for the Los Angeles Rams. Who should we root for to be the next L.A. star? On NCAA Championship Saturday, fans will get to see some of the top teams and prospects in action to help them decide.

Along with the top talent that pundits project onto draft boards and mocks, there are always those under-the-radar and sleeper prospects that fans seldom get to hear about. Yes, the Rams do indeed have their #1 pick this year and that’s going to be exciting, but they unofficially will have 10 total picks and seven of those will likely be between Round 5 and 7.

We can still root home the first three rounds, but history serves that late picks can offer value not just as backups and on special teams, but in the starting lineup. Keeping that in mind, here’s a few notes on prospects I’ll be watching for today.

Georgia vs. Alabama

Lots of big names in this one. The first decision to make is whether you like any of them in Rounds 1 and 2, because six could very easily go. For Georgia, tight end (TE) Brock Bowers, offensive tackle (OT) Amarius Mims are Day 1 picks, while cornerback Kamari Lassiter and safety (S) Javon Bullard are at the cusp. Center (C) Sedrick Van Pran and wide receiver (WR) Ladd McConkey could easily slip into Round 2. Quarterback (QB) Carson Beck has a much better skill set than last year’s Round 4 selection, Stetson Bennett. I guess it all depends when the run on backup QB’s starts.

As far as Alabama goes, OT JC Latham and edge (E) Dallas Turner are first round talent. Although E Christopher Braswell hasn’t been dominating on the field, he is blessed with tools and athleticism, making it likely some team will buy in by the middle of Round 3. When you think about it, many of the regular starters on both Georgia and Alabama are pretty solid late round picks. They are tough, well-coached and have made their bones on special teams.

Linebacker Smael Mondon

Came to Georgia as a safety and was a track star in high school. His forty time is 4.46, according to nfldraftbuzz.com. At 6’ 3” 230 lbs., he’s lean and long. It will be interesting to see how he tests, because he looks like a sideline to sideline player on tape. He appears comfortable blitzing as well as covering passes down field. Good in pass coverage, he backpedals well and gets into sticky man coverage when a receiver comes through his area or he’s hustling to their spot. Also good as a blitzer, particularly delayed when his burst is evident through gaps. A weak spot is defending the run if he’s not pursuing through a gap or from behind. He does not stack and shed very well and can get swallowed up in the melee around the line of scrimmage. He played special teams for his first two years.

Texas vs. Oklahoma State

Plenty of top-rated talent for the Longhorns. There was a mock draft this week sending QB Quinn Ewers as the Number 2 pick to the Arizona Cardinals. The wide receivers, Xavier Worthy and Adonai Mitchell, as well as TE Ja’Tavion Sanders are projected in the first two rounds. I think that defensive tackles T’Vondre Sweat and Byron Murphy are late third round talents but could easily go earlier. I want to look at three mid-round players for Texas.

Safety/slot Jadae Barron

Plays the “STAR” position for the Longhorns. CB DeCobie Durant was supposed to fill that role for the Rams, but it didn’t work out and S Quentin Lake stepped in. Barron is not a big CB, 5’11” 192 lbs., but plays with an aggressive, fiesty attitude. His college tape shows him to be a good wrap-up, form tackler, not just an ankle biter. His read/react time to break on passes or to support the run game are strong. He’s also got a resume of special teams work to add to his versatility. It’s early in the projection process, but I have him knocking on the door of beong a Top 5 safety in the class.

Wide receiver Jordan Whittington

Five-star recruit who never became a star, mostly due to a string of minor injuries. He came in as a 6’ 200 lb. running back and switched outside for the 2020 season. Why am I looking at a player who has 115 catches for 1468 yards over his five college seasons? His versatility. We’re talking about competing for the WR#5 or #6 role. Here’s a guy, not only with some game, but a long record of special teams work, both returns and coverage. The Rams special teams are in dire need of a serious injection of speed and athleticism, players like Whittington can add it. He also considered a team guy, willing blocker and has a strong football IQ.

Tackle Christian Jones

Big man, 6’ 6” 330 lbs., with long arms and huge hands (reportedly 35 18” and 10 5/8”). Did not play football until his senior year of high school, but now is on a 47 game start streak. On film, he’s not a ballerina, he does show however, good footwork on reach blocks and has enough athleticism and hustle to work downfield. He’s quite a good pass protector and is a flat out road grader on down blocks. I don’t want to jump the gun because I just started working on tackle projections and this article together. But I think i really like this player. As of now, I’m thinking late Round 3. Here’s a link to some really good work Jones did versus Alabama.

Florida State vs. Louisville

With QB Jordan Travis already out and the backup going back into the concussion protocol after one practice, the air is likely out of the Seminoles offense. The bad news is that wide outs Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson, as well as TE Jaheim Bell might not get much run. All three are expected to go in the first two rounds of the draft. The good news is that fans will get a full dose of RB Trey Benson, to see if he can bellcow an offense.

I think I’ll just compare edge play. We will get to see traditional edges in Jared Verse, 6’ 4” 260 lbs. and likely a Round 1 pick, along with his bookend, Patrick Payton, 6’ 5” 239 lbs. The two have combined for 21 sacks over the last two seasons. For Louisville, they have Ashton Guillotte, a hair-on-fire player who, at 6’ 3” 270 lbs., is more of a tweener. A 4-3 defensive end who lines up and down the Cardinal front.

Boise State vs. UNLV

Running back George Holani

5’ 11” 210 lb. three-down back with over 3382 yards rushing, 729 yards receiving and 32 career touchdowns, whose 2023 production was stunted by injuries. He fits the Rams current mold of north/south runners who work well inside the tackles, can catch the ball, and are willing blockers.

Holani has good vision and the stellar burst to get through holes. He’s not a power runner, but has good contact balance and finishes with a forward lean. While not a dancer, he makes short, deft cuts, particularly against the grain. He catches with his hands away from his body and is not limited to checkdowns. He doesn’t line up all over the formation, but does get some down field work on wheel routes.

Unless he really blows up the championship game, he’s likely to go very late in the draft, if at all. The easy argument against him is that at his stage of the draft, there are plenty of running backs to be had. Holani has an up because he fits the Rams.

There are always others

There are a few other games today and many more prospects. These are just a few that have caught my eye at this early point in the evaluation process. Let us here at Turf Show Times know who you like and why in the comment section.