The inaugural College Football Playoff championship takes place tonight, up in Arlington at NRG North as we like to call it here in Houston. It pits the #2 ranked Oregon Ducks against the surprising #4 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.
These two have met recently, in the 2010 Rose Bowl when Terrelle Pryor led the Buckeyes to a win over Chip Kelly's Ducks 26-17. Well, Pryor and Kelly are in the NFL and there will be a number of players in this game making that leap soon enough. Perhaps there's a future Texan on either side like Eddie Pleasant (Oregon) or John Simon, Ryan Pickett or even a future coach like Mike Vrabel (Ohio State).
With that said, here are the top seniors to watch in tonight's game with NFL futures.
When Oregon has the ball
LT No. 75 Jake Fisher (6'6", 300 lb.)
Missed two games this season and the Ducks only loss came in one of those...moved to LT this year...a ton of upheaval in Oregon's line this year and Fisher was the one constant…moves well...would like to see him bend his knees and play in lower stance...heavy feet...excellent pass protection technique...gets separation with his pass pro punch...not an overwhelming run blocker...reminds me a bit of Texan T Will Yeatman
C No. 55 Hroniss Grasu (6'3", 297 lb.)
Four year starter...3x 1st Team All-Pac 12 honoree...leader of the team's offensive line...nasty disposition...willing to streetfight, if necessary...decent feet...size is a concern...big, strong nose tackles in odd fronts could give him an issue...that said, he's powerful and plays with leverage often...when he doesn't, he gets knocked back into the backfield...seemingly handles all line protections/calls for the Ducks OL
LG No. 54 Hamani Stevens (6'3", 307 lb.)
Two year starter...strong and stout at the point of attack...saw a few times this season where understanding of blitz pick ups wasn't great...easily shed in pass protection...sits strong but feet often stop...Honorable Mention All-Pac 12 in 2014
Ohio State defense
DT No. 53 Michael Bennett (6'2", 288 lb.)
One of the top defensive linemen in this draft class...a true under tackle, 3-technique in even fronts...could excel as a 4/5 technique in odd fronts...that versatility will do wonders for him come April/May in the 2015 NFL Draft...not as productive early in the year...solid athlete
DE No. 88 Steve Miller (6'3", 255 lb.)
Pick six in the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama...dropped on a fire zone into coverage, snatched the pick and sprinted for the house...first time he truly popped off the page this season when I watched Ohio State...that play though showed the athleticism to play either 4-3 DE or 3-4 OLB.
CB No. 12 Doran Grant (5'11", 193 lb.)
Multi-year starter for the Buckeyes secondary...finished the season with five interceptions, nine in his career...1st Team All-B1G (coaches)...2nd Team All-B1G (media)...long arms and prototype next level CB size...invitation to the 2015 Senior Bowl
When Ohio State has the ball
Ohio State offense
WR No. 9 Devin Smith (6'1", 199 lb.)
When I unveiled my spring top 375 draft eligible prospects, I labeled him the Human 9 route...averages nearly 28 yards per catch...truly the biggest home run hitter in this game...outstanding downfield ability...needs work inside the numbers on the complete NFL route tree.
WR No. 6 Evan Spencer (6'2", 208 lb.)
Didn't have a tremendous season catching the football...only 15 receptions in 14 games...size and pedigree to be a next level receiver...found a way to impact the Sugar Bowl, throwing a pass to Michael Thomas for a TD...doesn't have the blazing speed Smith has...will need to contribute on special teams early in his NFL career to find a home
TE No. 5 Jeff Heuerman (6'5", 255 lb.)
Not utilized to his talent level, IMO...could be a better player at the next level than in college...not an offensive scheme that features the Y/Joker position much...physical at the point of attack within the confines of the offense...been banged up a bunch but will play tonight
OLB No. 91 Tony Washington (6'3", 250 lb.)
Athletic...needs to be more violent with his hands...that's a must playing at the next level...crazy long arms...just needs to learn how to adequately use them...must disengage when locked up with a run blocker...consummate OLB size and length.
ILB No. 22 Derrick Malone Jr. (6'2", 220 lb.)
Forced a huge, game turning fumble against FSU in the 2015 Rose Bowl...didn't have near the type of year in 2014 as he did in 2013...didn't do a good job this season of reading keys and deciphering plays from the middle...often caught in the wash...thought he was much more consistent in 2013
S No. 4 Erick Dargan (5'11", 210 lb.)
Only started one year...made the most of the opportunity...earned 2nd Team All-Pac 12 honors...seven interceptions in 2014, 13 for his career...one of my favorite players in the safety class or in this draft class as a whole...smart, instinctive player who is always around the ball...good range...plays split level safety in cover two/four/seven...also plays near the box in single safety looks at times...leader on the defense...special teams demon
CB No. 13 Troy Hill (5'11", 175 lb.)
Loquacious...extremely confident...backed it up for the most part during the season...early in 2014, teams picked on him to avoid throwing at All-American Ifo Ekpre-Olomu...19 passes defensed...will not back down...adequate height, but needs to add a few lbs to stand up to the rigors of the NFL...redirects back to the flat in cover two situations...like the pop in his hips when he breaks on the ball...one tough dude.
CB No. 14 Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (5'10", 195 lb.)**
INJURED HIS KNEE PRIOR TO ROSE BOWL...out for the season...one of the top cornerback prospects in the nation that would've had a tremendous test facing the Buckeyes pass catching trio...didn't have as good a year in 2014 as he did in 2013...still love his all-around game.
Keep an eye on these top-level draft eligible players as well, including, arguably, the top QB prospect in the draft. No player in this mix has declared for the 2015 NFL Draft but could possibly do so prior to the January 15, 2015 deadline.*
QB No. 8 Marcus Mariota (RS Jr. 6'4", 219 lb.)
WR/RB No. 9 Byron Marshall (Jr. 5'11", 205 lb.)
DE No. 9 Arik Armstead (Jr. 6'8", 290 lb.)
DE No. 44 DeForest Buckner (Jr. 6'7", 290 lb.)
Oregon's ball carrying trio of Marshall and two youngsters - true freshman No. 21 Royce Freeman and sophomore No. 24 Thomas Tyner - worth watching as well. Of course, for fun purposes and nothing else at this point.
LB No. 37 Joshua Perry (Jr. 6'4", 252 lb.)
QB No. 12 Cardale Jones (RS Soph. 6'5" 250 lb.)
Jones is a true wild card but capitalization on late season success to declare for the Draft is definitely not a new phenomenon. Not to mention, nothing is promised at Ohio State with the presumed returns of the last two 1st Team All-B1G QB - Braxton Miller and J.T Barrett. Also, Ohio State's 2013 recruiting class, draft eligible in 2016, is LOADED with future pros, including RB No. 15 Ezekiel Elliott, S No. 11 Vonn Bell and the player everyone at the next level wants to see DE No. 97 Joey Bosa.