Of the draft prospects on the field, Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith was the most impressive. Smith was flying around the field and stuffing the running backs of Alabama in the early going. Smith had one ugly play in the second quarter as he took some false steps following a receiver in motion and that got him out of position on a run up the middle. A blocker got to Smith to push him out of the play and spring Jalen Hurts for a big run.
Just after halftime, Smith came on a blitz up the middle and beat a block from Damien Harris to get a sack of the quarterback. Smith then made a great play in pass coverage to dodge a pick play, and then explode to the flat to make an open-field tackle on Bo Scarbrough that forced an Alabama punt. In the fourth quarter, Smith chased down running back Najee Harris downfield to make a touchdown-saving tackle. Smith had a tackle for a loss after that.
This tape will help Smith to be a first-round pick. He is a sideline-to-sideline missile with the ability to cover in the passing game. For the NFL, Smith would fit best as a Will (weakside) linebacker in a 4-3 defense and could go in the middle to late portion of the first round.
Alabama nose tackle Da'Ron Payne was one of the Crimson Tide heroes in semi-final and he continued his strong play in the National Championship. In the first quarter, he fired by the guard to get a pressure that forced an incompletion. Shortly later, Payne pushed his blocker straight into the backfield to rip down running back Sony Michel with a vicious tackle. Payne almost had a sack in the third quarter, but his hit on Jake Fromm helped create an interception for Alabama. Payne then had a huge third-down stop for no gain after getting off two blocks to stuff the back.
This tape will help Payne to be a first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft even though nose tackles get downgraded. Payne is too strong and physical at the point of attack while showing flashes to collapse the pocket in the pass rush. Payne has freakish speed and athleticism for a big tackle, and he could be a good value in the middle to late portion of the first round.
Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley was held in check for much of the National Championship. It wasn't the fault of Ridley, or great coverage from Georgia, but the inept quarterback play from Alabama held back what should have been a three-touchdown game for the star receiver.
In the first quarter, Ridley got separation and then had the cornerback fall down to get wide open running into the end zone for what should've been a 17-yard touchdown, but Jalen Hurts sailed a terrible pass out of the back of the end zone. Ridley then got open for a long touchdown running a deep post for a 56-yard score, but once again, the pass was overthrown. The frustrating night continued with more passes off the mark, including a low throw that Ridley tried to one-hand with the tipped ball being almost intercepted.
In the fourth quarter on a fourth-and-goal, Ridley got open crossing the end zone and an accurate pass tied the game at 20 with just under four minutes remaining. Ridley totaled four receptions for 32 yards and a touchdown. While that isn't a big stat line, Ridley showed evaluators the ability to get separation and stretch defenses vertically. Ridley is the favorite to be the first wide receiver selected in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Georgia running backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb were held in check by Alabama's tough defense. In the first quarter, Michel showed his excellent speed to turn the corner on a 26-yard run that set up the first score of the game, but that was really the only great highlight for Michel, as he totaled 98 yards on 14 carries. Chubb, meanwhile, was limited 25 yards on 18 carries. Both of them are excellent running back prospects who should be second-day picks in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Alabama senior cornerbacks Anthony Averett and Tony Brown both had mixed outings against Georgia. Averett had a sack in the first quarter coming unblocked on a cornerback blitz. Midway through the second quarter, Averett was beaten on a back-shoulder jump ball for a big first down for Georgia. Averett then had a pass go right through his hands in what could have been a pick-six if Averett made the catch. Later on the drive, Averett was beaten on another back-shoulder throw for a completion to the 3-yard line. Georgia got the better for Averett on a slant for a gain of 15 yards in the third quarter. Averett then blitzed off the edge to get an ankle tackle of Nick Chubb for an 8-yard loss. Aside from the blitzes, Averett struggled to play the ball in the air and allowed catches over him. That has been a typical refrain throughout his collegiate career, and it illustrates why he has gotten second-day grades.
Brown, meanwhile, was beaten for a big play downfield on the first drive of the game, but the ball was underthrown, and that allowed Brown to recover. He then outfought the wide receiver for an interception. In the second half, Brown had a speedster blow by him to get open for an 80-yard touchdown. Brown had a shot at making a tackle but couldn't push the receiver out of bounds. Brown is a big physical corner, and that is not a good matchup for him, as he struggles with deep speed. This game illustrated his limitations for the NFL. Brown projects as a day-three pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Alabama 24, Clemson 6
Even though the Tigers lost this game, Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell was one of the most impressive players on the field. The speed rusher was flying around the field all night. In the first quarter, Ferrell started a tackle for a loss on a first-and-goal by firing into the backfield to stop Bo Scarbrough and set up his teammates to finish the play. He also made a nice run tackle in the third quarter. Ferrell then used his speed to run by some blockers to get a sack of Jalen Hurts. Throughout the game, Ferrell was firing off the ball and pressuring Hurts consistently. If Ferrell enters the 2018 NFL Draft, he looks like a potential top-20 pick.
Alabama free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was around the ball as usual, showing his instincts. Fitzpatrick looped around the line early on to make a run tackle for no gain. In the second quarter, Fitzpatrick showed his instincts to snuff out a screen and start a tackle for a loss. Fitzpatrick then read bubble screen to make an open-field tackle for a loss. This tape will only serve to confirm Fitzpatrick as a top-20 pick.
Alabama nose tackle Da'Ron Payne is a freak athlete, and he showed it against Clemson. In the third quarter, Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant was hit as he threw, and Payne reacted quickly to catch the fluttering ball. Payne rumbled for a few yards to set up the Alabama offense. To end the ensuing Alabama possession, Payne caught a 1-yard touchdown pass after coming open to the flat after lining up as a tight end.
Throughout the game, Payne was a force at the point off attack, eating up blockers and double teams. He was excellent at controlling his gap and preventing interior rush lanes to open up. This tape will help Payne to be a first-round pick next April.
Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans could be a late first-round or second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, and he had an active game for the Crimson Tide. Evans broke up an early pass intended for Hunter Renfrow. Evans then used a nice spin move to beat the right tackle and get a third-down pressure that forced an incompletion on third down. Evans made a few tackles in the run game and was physical at the point of attack. This tape will help his draft grade.
Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley is the consensus top receiver prospect for the 2018 NFL Draft, and his talent is so impressive he is able to stand out even though he plays with a quarterback who struggles to throw the ball. In the first quarter, Ridley got wide open in the end zone when Hurts scrambled for a 12-yard touchdown. Ridley got open running free downfield on a flee-flicker, but Hurts threw the pass late and it was underthrown to let a defender slap it away. It should have been a long touchdown, as Ridley was open and torched the Clemson secondary. In the third quarter, he set up Alabama for another touchdown with a reception of 13 yards to the front of the end zone. Ridley ran a nice route and almost slipped into the end zone. Ridley totaled four catches for 39 yards and a score. Even though that isn't a big stat line, this tape will help his draft grade.
Clemson left tackle Mitch Hyatt has gotten some media hype, but I know scouts who have graded him on Day 3 of the draft. That low grade was given further justification against Alabama, as Hyatt was pushed around all night. He was beaten for a sack and could have given up a handful more. Hyatt was unable to sustain blocks, and Alabama defenders were able to consistently slap his hands off of them or rock him backward with power. Hyatt should return for his senior year and get stronger rather than turning pro.
Georgia 54, Oklahoma 48
Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield turned himself into an early-round quarterback prospect this year, and this tape illustrates that Mayfield is a playmaker but also needs some grooming for the NFL.
Mayfield threw some precision passes on the opening drive, including a 13-yard strike to a receiver in the back of the end zone for six. He continued to throw accurately and make good decisions, tossing a lot of short passes to move the ball in the first half. Oklahoma ran the ball well with Georgia's defense looking very preoccupied with defending Mayfield. At the end of the first half, Oklahoma used a trick play with a sweep and a handoff with Mayfield leaking into the end zone to get wide open for a short touchdown reception. Mayfield was 13-of-18 for 200 yards and a touchdown throwing and one receiving at intermission.
The Georgia defense got after Mayfield in the third quarter. They frustrated him by keeping him in the pocket and sending some blitzes up the middle direction. Mayfield started getting happy feet in the pocket and was struggling to throw into tight windows.
Early in the fourth quarter with the game tied at 31, Mayfield forced a pass to his tight end Mark Andrew,s who was well covered by two defenders. Mayfield overthrew the ball, and it was picked off by Georgia safety Dominick Sanders with a return inside the Oklahoma 5-yard line to set up Georgia to take the lead.
Mayfield responded by throwing a well-placed, accurate pass to a receiver on the sideline for a 36-yard gain. Mayfield then took off on a designed run for gain of about 20 yards on the next play. To finish the drive, Mayfield scrambled and found fullback Dimitri Flowers open in the back of the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown reception.
Mayfield finished completing 23-of-35 for 287 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He had only 87 yards passing in the second half and two overtime possessions.
Mayfield is a gritty gunslinger quarterback who has an "it" factor to his game. Mayfield doesn't have a strong arm, but it is good enough to make the throws required in the NFL. One of Mayfield's most impressive strengths as a passer is being able to locate the ball well and throw receivers open. He is very good with his timing and trajectory on passes to hit receivers on the run and set them up for lots of yards after the catch. Mayfield is very skilled to loft in touch passes downfield and throws a very catchable ball. He can be an accurate passer with superb ball placement.
Mayfield has excellent mobility to dodge sacks, escape pressure, extend plays with his feet and throw well on the run. He also can pick up critical yards on the ground and adds the value of being a dangerous threat on third-and-short or third-and-manageable.
One big area for improvement for Mayfield is his footwork, as he gets happy feet in the pocket. One college scouting director told me that Mayfield's feet are terrible. He has some problems throwing into tight windows and hesitates to attempt those passes at times. In the NFL, that hesitation could be very problematic, and Mayfield has some issues reading defenses. Mayfield also has operated out of the shotgun, has his plays predetermined, and plays in a system that works off of sideline boards. Thus, Mayfield will need a lot of development for the NFL.
Overall, this tape will probably be neutral for Mayfield's draft grade. It will reinforce the positive feelings for those who like him, and confirm the concerns of the skeptics.
Georgia running back Sony Michel has enjoyed an impressive senior year and that impressive play continued against Oklahoma with a phenomenal performance.
In the first quarter, Michel helped lead the Bulldogs into the end zone with a nice run for a double-digit gain and then a reception in the flat before darting into the end zone for a touchdown. When Georgia needed an answer after falling behind 21-7, Michel came through with a huge play, breaking off a 75-yard touchdown run. Michel exploded up the middle and went untouched down the field. It was a busted gap scheme by the Oklahoma middle linebacker as he followed a receiver in motion out of the play to leave the field wide open for Michel.
In the third quarter, Michel ran off the right side to race down the field for a 38-yard touchdown. Michel used his speed to score, but Oklahoma had horrible gap integrity as Michel was untouched on the play.
Michel was dominating until midway through the fourth quarter when he fumbled the ball away while getting hit on a routine tackle. Sooners safety Steven Parker scooped up the fumble and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown to give Oklahoma a 45-38 lead.
Michel responded with a nice run and then had a superb play to make some good blocks in pass protection, but then peel off to get open for a good gain for his scrambling quarterback. That was a key gain on Georgia's drive to tie the game late in the fourth quarter.
In overtime, Michel made up for his fumble taking off around the left side and darting into the end zone from 27-yards out for the game winning touchdown.
Michel totaled 154 yards on 10 carries with two rushing touchdowns and caught four passes for 41 yards and a touchdown. This tape will definitely help Michel's draft grade, despite the fumble. His speed dominated the Oklahoma defense. He showed explosiveness, decisiveness and shifty running. Michel also was impressive as a receiver and blocker. This tape will help Michel be a second-round pick.
Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith has been one of the best defenders in college football this season, and this was the first performance of the season were Smith had some struggles.
In the first quarter, Smith surprisingly missed a tackle as he was stiff-armed by Rodney Anderson, and Smith couldn't get him to the ground or push him out of bounds before getting the help of a teammate. He then missed a tackle on Anderson in the hole on a long run for the Sooner. Smith look confused and was making some uncharacteristic mistakes frequently in the first half. At the end of the second quarter, Smith showed his speed running across the field to dish out a hard hit and deliver a perfect form tackle a few yards in front of the end zone.
Smith had a good blitz up the middle to help initiate a sack of Baker Mayfield with teammate Lorenzo Carter helping to clean the play up in the third quarter. Smith then made a very impressive run fill, getting off two blocks to make a tackle with an offensive lineman draped all over him.
Smith later had man coverage on fullback Dimitri Flowers running into the end zone. Smith had him covered well, but when Mayfield scrambled, Flowers cut across the end zone and got a step on Smith to get open for an 11-yard touchdown that tied the game at 38.
In overtime, Smith made a clutch open field in the flat for a loss of a couple of yards. It was a big tackle because there was space behind Smith for a serious gain.
Overall, this tape won't have a big impact on Smith's draft grade even though he had some lowlights to go with some good plays. I texted with a NFL general manager watching the game during overtime and that general manager said he thought Smith was a late first-rounder.
Georgia running back Nick Chubb is a likely second-day pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, and he was impressive against Oklahoma. In the first half, Chubb didn't get a big workload, but he ran well on his carries. Chubb took a run up the middle with a good cut back to the left to get downfield for a gain of 45 yards in the second quarter. Chubb then took a zone run to the right and broke three tackles in the first 10 yards and then exploded down the field for a 50-yard touchdown. In the fourth quarter, Chubb took a Wildcat snap and showed nice patience to let an opening get created to plunge into the end zone from a few yards out and tie the game at 45.
Chubb totaled 145 yards on 14 carries with two touchdowns. This tape will help him to be a second-round pick.
Oklahoma left tackle Orlando Brown has gotten some first-round hype by some in the media, but some team sources have told me they've graded him on the second day of the draft. Brown is a force as a run blocker who can overpower defenders and plant them in the turf. However, he also is very tall at 6-foot-8, and playing high gets him into trouble in pass protection, as speed rushers can dip underneath him and round him.
That was illustrated some against Georgia. In the third quarter, Brown was beaten for a coverage sack by Jonahthan Ledbetter. Brown was holding the end and standing up too high. Eventually Ledbetter got off the block of Brown and snuffed out Mayfield as he climbed up in the pocket.
Brown looks like a right tackle for the NFL, but he could have problems handling speed rushers off the edge and smaller edge rushers who can run by or underneath him.
Notre Dame 21, LSU 17
Notre Dame has the top two offensive linemen for the 2018 NFL Draft in left guard Quenton Nelson and left tackle Mike McGlinchey. Unfortunately, LSU defensive end Arden Key was sitting this game out, as it would have been a phenomenal matchup for NFL evaluators to see McGlinchey and Key go head-to-head. Even without Key, LSU has defensive line talent with speed and athleticism at the point of attack.
Throughout the game, Nelson was winning his blocks and dominating at the point of attack. He was getting a push in the ground game, and he was also rock solid in pass protection. McGlinchey was having a quiet game, winning his blocks for the most part. Late in the second quarter, McGlinchey had Nelson pass off a blocker to him, and McGlinchey allowed the defender to cut to the inside and almost get a sack. McGlinchey was solid other than that. He and Nelson opened up a big hole for a counter run that put the Irish in Tiger territory in the fourth quarter.
McGlinchey ended his senior season having allowed three sacks for the year, and Nelson didn't surrender a sack the entire season in more 800 snaps. This tape will help both of them to be first-rounders, and they could easily both be off the board in the top 20.
This was the final collegiate game for LSU running back Derrius Guice, and he used the opportunity to help his cause, showing impressive receiving ability against Notre Dame. Considering Guice has dealt with a knee injury throughout the 2017 season, it was somewhat surprising that Guice didn't sit out the meaningless bowl game to protect his draft stock like many other prospects have done recently. Guice went the opposite route, and he could end up being rewarded next April.
Midway through the first quarter, Guice had an impressive run behind the right side where he stiff-armed two defenders into the turf and accelerating for more yardage on a gain of 31. Guice later scored the first touchdown of the game, catching a checkdown in the middle of the field and darting downfield before delivering some shots to defenders while crossing the goal line. Guice continued to move the ball for LSU and scored again on a short touchdown catch running an out route to get open for his quarterback.
Guice finished with 98 yards on 21 carries on the ground and three catches for 24 yards. His third reception was nearly a touchdown as well. This tape will help Guice, as he ran hard, was violent with tacklers, and showed good route-running, hands and instincts. He should be a second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
LSU cornerback Donte Jackson could be a first-round pick next April. He impressed against Notre Dame. Midway through the second quarter, Jackson showed how his great speed translates to recoverability. He was challenged on a go route deep down the field, and Jackson stumbled. That caused him to fall a step behind the wideout, but Jackson closed in an instant to erase the separation and force an incompletion downfield. Jackson then gave up a completion of 18 yards, and Jackson stumbled again, cutting on an out route. Jackson was getting attention from the trainers after the play as he cramped up.
Jackson (5-10, 175) had a nice open-field tackle on the quarterback in the fourth quarter, and a few plays later, Jackson read a trick play on a throwback wide receiver screen to get a tackle for a loss. Jackson followed that up with a touchdown-saving tackle on a running back downfield after a long run.
Jackson, however, had blanket coverage on wide receiver Miles Boykin (6-4, 220) along the sideline, but the big wideout made a leaping grab over the short Jackson for a catch. The safety bumped Jackson off on a tackle attempt, and Boykin ran down the sideline for a 55-yard touchdown.
This tape probably won't help or hurt Jackson to be a first-round pick. He showed his world-class speed to run with receivers and prevent separation, while also illustrating his size limitations that hurt him to go against big receivers in the NFL. Jackson is a smaller cover corner in the mold of Janoris Jenkins, and Jackson should be a combine superstar to further aide his draft grade. Jackson should be a first- or second-round selection.
Central Florida 34, Auburn 27
Central Florida cornerback Mike Hughes was probably playing in his final collegiate game, and this was a strong performance from Hughes. Late in the second quarter, Hughes was challenged deep down the field, but Hughes had blanket coverage to slap the pass away in the end zone for an incompletion. Auburn targeted the other UCF cornerbacks and safeties throughout the afternoon while staying away from the dangerous Hughes. Hughes had a few good returns on special teams, including a fourth-quarter kick return of about 45 yards.
Hughes isn't the biggest of cornerbacks, but he is fast and adept at running the route to prevent separation. He should work out well for the combine, and team sources say the think Hughes could go late in the first round and is safe to get selected in Round 2 if he make it to Friday night of the draft.
Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson was phenomenal in the second half of the year to lead the Tigers to wins over Alabama and Georgia. A shoulder injury really slowed him down in the rematch loss to Georgia, but he came back to play in Auburn's bowl game rather than protect his draft stock by sitting out.
Central Florida sold out to stop Johnson, and they did a good job of containing him as he totaled 71 yards on 22 carries with a touchdown. In the third quarter, Johnson started to get more yardage on his carries, and he helped lead a touchdown drive that ended with Johnson darting up the middle for a 4-yard score.
Johnson has a nice mix of running and receiving ability for the NFL. He should be a three-down starter and could be a real difference-maker for his pro offense. He's worthy of being a second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Central Florida linebacker Shaquem Griffin is well known, as he has overcome the disadvantage of playing with one hand to be a force on the field. Griffin is a tremendous college football player who is always around the ball. He had an excellent performance against Auburn, totaling 12 tackles with 1.5 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for a loss. Team sources have said they've graded Griffin as a late-rounder, and he could easily get selected on day three of the 2018 NFLD Draft.
Unfortunately, Auburn cornerback Carlton Davis was out of the Peach Bowl because of an illness. The Central Florida spread and misdirection offense would have been a good test for Davis to show eye discipline. Davis is expected to enter the 2018 NFL Draft.
Penn State 35, Washington 28
Penn State Saquon Barkley was playing in his final collegiate game, in all likelihood, and he put on a show for NFL evaluators. He illustrated that he is a rare and special talent in a tremendous performance while getting limited touches to protect him from injury.
On the initial third down of the game, Barkley ran a crossing route to get open and then turned upfield to convert a third-and-long. He added a few nice runs before scoring from a couple yards out to give Penn State a two-score lead.
Barkley showed why he is such a special player in the second quarter when he exploded for a 92-yard touchdown. Barkley ran a standard inside zone run up middle before bouncing the run to the left sideline and darting down the field. A safety had an angle on him, but Barkley's speed took the angle away, and he raced to the end zone.
Barkley followed that up with some impressive runs through the Washington defense and a few more receptions. Barkley totaled 137 rushing yards on 18 carries with two touchdowns to go along with seven catches for 38 receiving yards.
This was a tape that illustrates why Barkley is worthy of being a top-five pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Barkley has devastating quickness to hit the hole and accelerate downfield. Along with great speed, Barkley has tremendous balance, vision, cutting ability, elusiveness and power. He also is a receiving threat who presents mismatch problems for a defense in the passing attack. Barkley is an elite running back prospect in the same mold of Leonard Fournette, Todd Gurley, and better than Ezekiel Elliott. Unless Barkley has an injury or off-the-field issue, he's a lock to be a top-10 pick next April. In this draft analyst's opinion, Barkley is the best player in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Like Barkley, Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea is a physical freak. At 6-foot-5, 350-pounds, Vea is a powerful monster with a crazy amount of speed and athleticism for such a big body. He is a force at the point of attack and was impressive against Penn State.
He had number of good run fills and had a couple tackles on Barkley for short gains throughout the game. In the fourth quarter, Vea showed his tremendous athleticism and speed, making a tackle on a punt returner in the open field. It was a freaky play that very few defensive linemen are capable of. After that, he bull rushed the center a few yards back and then peeled off to chase the scrambling quarterback for a tackle of no gain.
This tape will help Vea's draft grade. Vea has a serious combination of size, length, strength and quickness at the point of attack. He is a heavy nose tackle who is a rock against the run and can occasionally collapse the pocket in the pass rush. Vea is very reminiscent of Danny Shelton at Washington, but unlike Shelton, Vea is taller and longer so he could play some five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 defense. In that sense, he is very similar to Haloti Ngata. Shelton ended up going as a top-20 draft pick, and Vea is worthy of going in the first round.
Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki had a good game, catching six passes for 62 yards. Gesicki converted a third down in the early going on a crossing route for a gain of 17 yards in zone coverage, and that turned out to be a critical play to helping the Nittany Lions build up their lead. Gesicki did a nice job of running routes to uncover and was adept at finding soft spots in zone coverage. This tape will help Gesicki to be a mid-round pick.
Mississippi State 31, Louisville 27
Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson could have been playing in his final collegiate game, and if this was his last contest for Louisville, it was a letdown. Jackson typically lights up defenses, but Mississippi State was very advantageous to take the ball away from Jackson and the Cardinals.
In the first quarter, Jackson threw a short touchdown pass hitting his tight end on the run to let him dart into the end zone. Jackson then had another highlight-reel run for a 13-yard score as he juked a defender out of his jock in the open field and then darted between a few tacklers with speed to tiptoe into the end zone.
However, on the next possession, Jackson had an overthrow in the middle of the field and it flew into the breadbasket of a safety. That interception broke a streak of 114 passes without an interception. He later threw another interception. This time, the ball was well behind his wide receiver and floated to a cornerback in zone coverage. It was a poor throw by Jackson.
Jackson responded by taking off on a 75-yard run. It was a designed quarterback draw with Jackson scrambling up the middle before exploding down the field for a huge gain. The very next play, Jackson stepped up in the pocket to dodge a blitzer off the edge and then shovel passed the ball to a receiver wide open for an 11-yard touchdown.
In the third quarter, Jackson threw a perfect fastball into a tight window for a touchdown but his receiver dropped the pass. That has been a common theme all year, with his receivers struggling to get open and consistently dropping well thrown passes every game.
The dropped passes continued to plague Louisville and Jackson on the next possession. He threw a pass to a receiver that bounced off the hands and right into the hands of a defensive back for his third interception. It was a routine throw and catch that turned into a Bulldogs turnover.
Jackson had his fourth interception late in the game, and this one was his fault. He poorly located the pass to the inside of a receiver when the cornerback had inside leverage. It was an easy pick for Mississippi State. Jackson got one more chance and he took two bad sacks before converting a fourth-and-21, but a Hail Mary was knocked away for an incompletion. Jackson completed 13-of-31 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns with four interceptions. He ran for 158 yards on 24 carries and a score.
There clearly is room for improvement for Jackson as a passer for the NFL. The main issue is accuracy. Jackson can miss too high or make overthrows, and his footwork fundamentals can get out of whack leading to inconsistent accuracy. His overthrows in the middle of the field are often a result of poor footwork where he gets too much weight on his front foot, with his back foot off the ground and the ball still in his hand. A good quarterback coach in the NFL like the Rams' Greg Olson could help to fix that.
Jackson can make some perfect throws with excellent ball placement and then miss wildly on his next throw. More than anything, Jackson needs work on his accuracy. Gaining weight to get thicker in his frame is another important task for him.
That being said, there is no doubt that Jackson has a starting skill set for the NFL, and that could be seen in this game. He has elite arm strength with a powerful gun that can make devastating throws. Jackson's arm is so strong he can make throws off platform that other quarterbacks have to have their feet set to make. With just a flick of the wrist, the ball explodes out of Jackson's hands, and he can beat good coverage with perfect throws. When Jackson's in the NFL next year, his arm will be one of the strongest in the league in the same ballpark as Matthew Stafford or Joe Flacco.
On top of elite arm strength, Jackson is a great athlete with incredible mobility, speed and moves to rip up defenses with his feet. From a skill set perspective, Jackson is very similar to Michael Vick. With his physical talent, I think Jackson will rise throughout the lead up to the draft and end up being a first-round pick. In the NFL, he could have success if the offense is built around him and his skill set, similar to what the Texans did with Deshaun Watson earlier this season. Scouts from teams across the league tell me that Jackson is being undervalued and unfairly critiqued. That could send Jackson lower in his draft class, but he could end up being a steal for some team.
Unfortunately, a number of NFL prospects missed this game. Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was out, but Fitzgerald is returning to school.
Louisville cornerback Jaire Alexander sat out this game, as he prepares for the NFL. Alexander is a first-round cover corner who will probably slip to the second round because of injuries this past season and the fact that he's undersized. The NFL Draft Advisory gave Alexander a second-round estimation.
Louisville edge rusher James Hearns is a potential mid-round pick who was held out with an injury.
Ohio State 24, USC 7
All eyes were on USC quarterback Sam Darnold as he was going against a defensive line loaded with future NFL talent. Unlike Baker Mayfield, Darnold struggled against Ohio State and this tape further illustrates Darnold as a player. He is an accurate passer who delivers some money throws downfield. However, ball security and turnovers are a big point of improvement for him.
Darnold fired a slant on the money on the initial third down of the game to hit Deontay Burnett on the run, but Burnett fumbled the ball away and that set the tone for the night. On the next third down, Darnold scrambled to buy time and then lofted in a conversion to Barnett. It was an impressive creative play by Darnold.
Darnold executed a play-action in the second quarter and took his eyes off the coverage. He tried to throw a quick slant, but safety Damon Webb didn't buy the fake, and he jumped the slant to get a pick-six for Ohio State. Burnett gave a bad effort on the play, but it still was a mistake by Darnold to not see Webb sitting on the route.
Darnold came back to move the ball using his arm and legs to pick up a series of double-digit gainers. However, on a third down in Ohio State territory, Darnold was gang sacked by a few defenders and defensive end Tyquan Lewis knocked the ball out of Darnold's hands for a turnover. Darnold was too loose with the ball with the pocket collapsing around him. That has been a trend in 2017, as fumbles have been an issue for him all year. He came back to make a beautifully accurate throw to Michael Pittman for 32 yards and fired another excellent pass to set up a short touchdown run.
Darnold was 12-of-22 for 170 yards with painful turnovers in one interception and one fumble at halftime. However, he also made some phenomenal throws. The USC receivers and offensive line weren't playing well to make Darnold's job a lot harder.
Darnold looked rattled by the Ohio State pass rush in the third quarter. He had Burnett wide open downfield for a big gain, but completely missed him with an overthrow. After a few passes off the mark, Darnold made a great play, avoiding a sacker, shuffling to his left while keeping his eyes downfield, and hitting Burnett on the run for a conversion of a third-and-long. Later on the drive, Darnold threw an accurate pass downfield for a potential 34-yard touchdown, but Ohio State got away with a pass interference for an incompletion. In the fourth quarter, Darnold was hit from behind by Jalyn Holmes, causing another fumble. Darnold finished completing 26-of-45 passes for 356 yards with zero touchdowns and one interception.
This wasn't an impressive tape from Darnold, but it wasn't as bad as many people made it out to be. Darnold threw some incredible passes with superb accuracy. He bought time in the pocket, kept his eyes downfield, and threw well off platform. He has some natural timing, anticipation and feel. The big issue for Darnold is ball security. Fixing the fumbles and interceptions is the biggest issue for him to improve whether he goes back to school, or declares for the 2018 NFL Draft.
Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard has a first-round skill set, but hasn't consistently produced up to it in his collegiate career. Hubbard put an entire game together against USC, as he harassed Darnold all night. In the second quarter, Hubbard joined Jerome Baker on a sack after Hubbard was left unblocked. Hubbard later darted to the inside of a tight end to get a tackle for a loss. He then looped to the inside and exploded down the pocket to sack Darnold. Late in the fourth quarter, Hubbard pushed off the right tackle to cut to the inside and get another sack of Darnold.
This was an excellent tape for Hubbard, as he showed his speed, power, athleticism and explosion at the point of attack. This tape will help Hubbard to be a first-round pick.
Ohio State linebacker Jerome Baker was coming off an excellent performance against Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship, and he continued his quality play to close out the season. Baker had a big-time presence for the Buckeyes in the opening half. He got his night started with a tackle for a loss, firing into the backfield on a stretch run. He came up with two sacks with one of them helping to produce a fumble from Darnold. Baker came close to another sack on an interior blitz in the fourth quarter. He was flying around the field and causing a lot of problems for the Trojans with his speed attacking the ball. This tape will help Baker's draft grade.
While this tape won't help Darnold, it was the same story for Deontay Burnett, who had some painful mistakes. His fumble in the first quarter set his team behind, and that momentum was never broken. Burnett made a bad effort not to cross safety Damon Webb on his pick-six and fight for the slant pass. He also got open on a number of passes to total 139 yards on 12 receptions. If Burnett enters the 2018 NFL Draft, he has second-day potential, but he probably should return to USC and get stronger before going to the NFL.
USC edge rusher Uchenna Nwosu played hard and made some impressive plays in his final collegiate contest. In the first quarter, Nwosu rushed up the middle and past Billy Price to get a sack of J.T. Barrett. Nwosu later had another sack where he looped around to the inside on a stunt and chased down Barrett. Nwosu was able to hold onto the quarterback and trip him to the ground to finish the sack. Nwosu is undersized for the NFL, but he is a dangerous edge rusher who gives great effort. He could be a nice mid-round pick who contributes as a designated pass-rusher. His best fit would come rushing off the edge in a 3-4 defense.
Northwestern 24, Kentucky 23
Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen was seeing a future NFL quarterback in Northwestern's Clayton Thorson and a tough rushing attack led by Wildcats running back Justin Jackson. Allen had issues in run defense late in the season especially in the loss to Georgia, so he could help himself by looking better versus the ground game of Northwestern.
Overall, Allen was better against the run than he was in some other games. In the second quarter, Allen broke down in space to get a running back on the ground. It was an impressive one-on-one tackle by Allen. Allen then flew to the perimeter to put the running back down hard in the ground. Allen showed sideline-to-sideline speed on the play. He also had some nice pass rushes.
In speaking with some sources, they felt that Allen had late first-round and second-round potential for the 2018 NFL Draft. In some ways, he is similar to Zach Cunningham, the Texans' second-round pick who was excellent at Vanderbilt, as an inside linebacker who has sideline-to-sideline speed. However, Allen also is a dangerous pass-rusher who could put heat on the quarterback rushing off the edge in the NFL. He could stand to get stronger, but if he enters the draft, he should go in the top 60 selections.
WalterFootball.com was first to report that Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson was going to return to school in 2018. Other draft analysts and sites had said Thorson had one foot out the door and was likely to enter the draft. It turns out Thorson made the right decision because his draft stock would have taken a huge dive from this bowl game. Though it wasn't any fault of his own; in fact Thorson was playing well.
In the second quarter, Thorson caught a pass on a wide receiver throwback, but his knee buckled the wrong direction while being tackled on the 24-yard gain. It looked like Thorson suffered a devastating knee injury. He had to be carted off the field and was in a lot of pain. Hopefully Thorson has a quick and easy recovery to maintain his projection as an early-round talent for the 2019 NFL Draft.
Northwestern running back Justin Jackson finished his collegiate career in impressive fashion with 157 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries. He ran hard, breaking tackles and picking up yards after contact. He has been an excellent college player, but may not have the speed to stick in the NFL. Still he could be a day-three pick that makes a team as a backup running back and special teams contributor.
Wake Forest 55, Texas A&M 52
Texas A&M wide receiver Christian Kirk was probably playing in his final collegiate game, and he made the most of it, as he was very impressive against Wake Forest. Kirk was phenomenal and single-handedly kept the Aggies in a game where their defense struggled.
Early in the first quarter, Kirk burned man coverage on a deep post route to haul in a 42-yard pass. That set up a short touchdown run for the Aggies. Kirk then ran a go route down the seam and got wide open for a 52-yard touchdown, as Wake Forest had busted coverage. Kirk scored again right before halftime. He lined up in the backfield as a running back and ran an angle route down the seam for a 10-yard touchdown with defenders closing in on him. It was a good hands catch, as the ball got on him quickly after he looked back.
Kirk caught a wide receiver screen in the third quarter and danced around a few defenders with a strong stiff arm to scoot into the end zone with a 9-yard touchdown. On the next drive, he made a great hands catch on a fast ball thrown way behind him. He adjusted well with strong hands to snatch that pass. He continued to hurt Wake Forest with yards on wide receiver screens and helped set up more points for the Aggies.
Kirk totaled 189 yards on 13 receptions with three touchdowns. This was an excellent tape from Kirk. He ran good routes, used speed to get separation, was sudden in and out of his breaks, was dynamic with the ball in his hands getting yards after the catch, and showed excellent hands to make difficult catches. If Kirk enters the 2018 NFL Draft, he'll be an early-rounder, and this tape could help him to be a late first-round pick.
Wake Forest defensive end Duke Ejiofor is an early-round pick for the 2018 NFL Draft, and he showed why against Texas A&M. In the first quarter, Ejiofor came fast off the edge to snuff out a screen pass for a loss of eight yards. Ejiofor showed closing speed and nice recognition on the play.
Ejiofor came close to sacks on back to back plays in the second quarter. The first rush saw him cut to the inside of the left tackle, bounce off the guard, and get to the quarterback just after the left end took him down for a sack. On the next play, Ejiofor used a speed rush around the left tackle to almost get a safety, but he forced a third down throwaway. Ejiofor had an excellent play in run defense to dodge and slap away the right tackle and make a tackle for no gain late in the opening half.
Ejiofor swam over the left guard to get a tackle for a loss in the fourth quarter. He then came up with two great pressures to help clinch the win. On the second one, he was a hair away from a sack. He rocked the left tackle backward with power and then cut to the inside with speed to hit the quarterback. It was a very impressive rush.
Ejiofor has an excellent skill set with size, speed, athleticism and strength. He could end up being a second-round pick. Sources feel he could have the potential to go higher but wasn't always consistent in college. Ejiofor could help himself with a strong Senior Bowl.
Texas A&M safety Armani Watts was held out of this game with an injury. With Watts out, the Aggies were more vulnerable to Wake Forest tight end Cam Serigne. He had an excellent game against a defense that has struggled to defend tight ends this season. Late in the second quarter, Serigne got open running down the seam and made two defenders miss to bolt into the end zone with a 37-yard touchdown. This was a good tape from Serigne showing his ability to contribute as a receiver with nine receptions for 112 yards and a touchdown. This will help Serigne to be a day-three pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Hopefully Watts will be healthy enough to participate in the Senior Bowl.
TCU 39, Stanford 37
The top-rated prospect in this game was Stanford running back Bryce Love. Love had an electric start to the 2017 season before an ankle injury took away some of his speed and explosiveness late in the season. He was limping around the field in the Pac-12 Championship, and while he wasn't 100 percent against TCU, he still ran well, totaling 145 yards on 26 carries with two touchdowns.
Love had a 15-yard touchdown in the first quarter where he ran up the middle and burst to the second level. He was stuffed a yard short but kept his legs churning, and his teammates helped push him over the goal line for the score. Shortly later, Love had another impressive 21-yard run with burst up the middle with moves in the open field to weave around defenders.
Love got good blocking on a run up the middle in the third quarter. He darted to the second level and then cut to his left to break into the open field. Love had enough speed on his injured ankle to out race the TCU defense for a 69-yard touchdown. He was almost caught by a defensive back, and if he was 100 percent, it wouldn't have been close, but he had enough burst to finish the run for a score. Shortly later, Love showed great balance on a run using a hand to keep him from falling to the ground and then regaining his feet to pick up more yards. Love later had to go into the injury tent, and it looked like he had a cut on his hand.
If this was Love's final collegiate game, it was an impressive outing showing his ability to play injured and be productive. Love has been very tough and durable this season even though he is an undersized back. Sources have told me that they have Love graded as a potential late first-rounder, and they think he is a dynamic speed back for the NFL. They say he is a threat to score any time he touches the ball, and if the other players do their job, he can break off a long gain on any carry. They feel that Love is better than other running back prospects that have gone late in the first round in recent years like Javhid Best, David Wilson and Doug Martin. If Love enters the draft, he should be a late first-round or early second-round pick.
TCU junior defensive end Ben Banogu has had a strong season rushing the passer, as he entered this game with 8.5 sacks. Banogu was active on the edge against Stanford. In the first quarter, Banogu had a run tackle after going unblocked. Banogu stayed home on a cut back run where he was unblocked and he chased down Love for a tackle for a loss at the end of the second quarter. He later came close to a sack with a speed rush around the right tackle. That forced the quarterback to step up into the pocket and into a sack. Banogu has good speed around the corner with a burst off the snap.
However, there were plenty of running plays where Banogu was pushed back and unable to get off his blocks. Clearly, downhill runs give him trouble, and he needs to get stronger while improving his technique to be able to defend the run against NFL offensive linemen.
Scouting sources have told me that Banogu is talented, but inconsistent and lacks technique. He is soft against the run and needs to develop more technique with hands and pass-rushing moves. He should return for his senior year and improve before going to the NFL. If Banogu enters the 2018 NFL Draft, he could be a third- or fourth-round pick.
Stanford safety Justin Reid was impressive against TCU. On the initial third down of the game for the Stanford defense, Reid break a pass up on a slant out of the slot. Reid then made a good open-field tackle. Reid followed that up by delivering a big hit on a wide receiver to separate the ball from the wideout for an incompletion. However, not long after this hit, Reid left the game with an injury and did not return. Stanford really missed Reid after he went out.
Hopefully, Reid doesn't have a serious injury. While he doesn't have elite speed or size, he does everything well and is very polished. Reid is able to contribute in man coverage and is able to cover downfield. He also is a solid tackler and run defender. Sources say they could see Reid being a late first-round or early second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Oklahoma State 30, Virginia Tech 21
Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph has beaten up on some weak Big 12 defenses during his collegiate career, but in his final college contest, he was taking on a quality Virginia Tech defense. He was seeing some future NFL competitors in the Hokie secondary led by cornerback Adonis Alexander, a potential second-day pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. However, Virginia Tech was without excellent safety Terrell Edmunds, another day-two talent. While they were undermanned without Edmunds, Virginia Tech did a good job of limiting Rudolph in the first half.
In the early going, Rudolph was off the mark on a few passes, including one where he had his No. 1 receiver James Washington wide open on a deep post. Rudolph made a poor read, throwing way behind Washington on the play. Rudolph later set up the Cowboys for a touchdown with 50-yard pass to Marcell Ateman that brought the ball down to the 1-yard line.
Early in the third quarter, Rudolph had a nice drive throwing some passes to open receivers, and he took off on a run of about 20 yards. To end the drive, he bought time and rolled to his right before tossing in a 17-yard touchdown pass to an open receiver in the front of the end zone.
Rudolph found Washington for a 65-yard touchdown on the next drive. It was a well-placed deep pass, but Rudolph showed poor anticipation on the play, as the ball should have been thrown sooner. Rudolph had Washington running open into the end zone on a post route for a 40-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, but Rudolph overthrew the pass incomplete. Rudolph completed 21-of-32 passes for 351 yards with two touchdowns.
I'm of the opinion that Rudolph is a day three prospect. I would grade him as a fourth- or fifth-rounder, and I know some teams that graded him there as well. Rudolph has some limitations. His arm strength is average. He is not very athletic and isn't a running threat at the pro level with faster defenders. His accuracy is shaky, and needs improvement, while his anticipation is terrible. Routinely, Rudolph doesn't pull the trigger on a throw until his receiver has long since gotten wide open rather anticipating the play to get the ball out faster. The length of time he holds the ball in the pocket is going to be a problem in the NFL, but in the Big 12 and against other college teams, he could get away with it.
Rudolph is also inconsistent with his field vision, as he can work off his first read, but other times, he stares down targets. This season, there were a few games with examples of Rudolph struggling to throw into tight windows. While I think Rudolph should go on the third day of the draft, I think he probably will go on day two as the team that likes him enough to draft him will probably have him graded on Friday night, and there are plenty of quarterback needy teams around the NFL.
Washington struggled in the early going against Virginia Tech. Washington ran a deep post route in the opening quarter, but couldn't get separation from Virginia Tech cornerback Brandon Facyson, a day-three prospect. He had only one reception for zero yards by halftime.
Midway through the third quarter, Washington got open on a deep post route for a 65-yard touchdown. He ran right by the cornerback and got wide open with no safety help over the top. After that, he added a few more completions and was open for a 40-yard touchdown, but Rudolph missed the throw. Washington finished with five receptions for 126 yards with a touchdown.
Washington (6-0, 205) has a running back build with an ability to stretch defenses vertically. While Washington can push teams downfield, he has build-up speed rather than instant explosiveness. That could be seen on his 65-yard touchdown, but having some issues getting separation on short routes underneath. Some team sources told me they graded Washington as a late fourth-rounder, and I think this tape will help him to go in the third or fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
While the media has Washington higher rated, I know some teams that have higher grades on Oklahoma State wide receiver Marcell Ateman. They view the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Ateman as a size mismatch problem for NFL cornerbacks.
Ateman got his night going with a nice slant route to get a reception that moved the chains. However, on the next play, he had a ball sail through his hands downfield while trying to make a contested catch. He came back to make a clutch grab on a dig route to get a third-down conversion on the drive.
Ateman showed a good burst on a comeback route to get open for his quarterback for an 11-yard gain late in the first half. Ateman got a step on Adonis Alexander running a go route down the sideline to haul in a 50-yard reception to the 1-yard line. That set up a short touchdown run to give Oklahoma State a 13-7 lead at halftime. Ateman ended up totaling five receptions for 107 yards.
Ateman could be a nice NFL possession receiver that also is a valuable red zone threat. I think Ateman could also go in the third or fourth round.
Alexander has some fans in the scouting community. He played well overall against Oklahoma State with the exception of the 50-yard reception that Ateman got the better of him. That play illustrated Alexander's issues with deep speed downfield.
Alexander is a big press-man cover corner for the NFL. Movement, stutter, option choice routes, and short-area twitchy receivers are problems for him. His straight line speed isn't great, but above-average running downfield. Alexander does have good hands and some ball skills. He could be a nice mid-rounder and potential day-two pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds is an early-round talent that was seeing a more dangerous offense than he has typically faced this season. Edmunds had a solid game with some good plays. He made an excellent open field tackle on a draw where he read the play well and broke down in space to get the back on the ground. Edmunds showed some nice versatility, contributing in zone coverage and getting pressures on blitzes. He takes on blocks well and doesn't run around them.
Edmunds is a little stiff and doesn't have elite speed. His best fit could come as a heavy inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. If Edmunds enters the 2018 NFL Draft, I think he could end up being a second-day pick.
Iowa 27, Boston College 20
One director of college scouting told me that Iowa cornerback Joshua Jackson is his top-rated player at the position for the 2018 NFL Draft. Jackson entered this game with seven interceptions and has been a ballhawk this season. Even though Boston College avoided throwing his direction, Jackson still made some plays to help his team get a bowl victory.
Jackson contributed a few tackles in the early going. One saw him fly over on a wide receiver screen to make a tackle in space. He also came up to make a tackle on the Boston College quarterback inside the 10-yard line to help force a field goal attempt.
Jackson was very sound playing off man coverage all evening. Boston College tried to challenge him on a stop-and-go route for a big play downfield, but Jackson showed good eye disciple to not bite on the fake. Jackson also was good in zone coverage ,and that was illustrated with a clutch play.
Late in the fourth quarter, Jackson clinched the win for Iowa with his eight interception of the season. Jackson was in cover-2 zone coverage a little bit behind a receiver that was in the area of a linebacker. The ball was deflected, and Jackson reacted quickly to chase down the pass and make a nice hands catch that was about waist high. It illustrated Jackson's ball skills and put a cap on his superb season.
Jackson has good size, speed and athleticism to cover NFL receivers. With his ball skills, skill set, and production, Jackson could be a No. 1 corner for his pro defense. He should be a top-25 pick if he enters the 2018 NFL Draft, and this tape will help him to go high.
Boston College has a salty defensive front seven, and they did a nice job of defending Iowa standout running back Akrum Wadley in the first half. Wadley could be a second-day pick in the 2018 NFL Draft and before too long he showed his ability to contribute in a variety of ways.
Wadley returned a kickoff 72 yards at the end of the first quarter to set up Iowa inside the Boston College red zone. He added another kick return just short of midfield to start the second half. On that drive, Wadley had some nice runs up the middle of the Boston College defense, including a short touchdown run to tie the game at 17. That set the tone, as Wadley ran well in the second half.
Wadley had a clutch 27-yard run in the fourth quarter where he showed a burst to get to the second level. He broke a tackle from a safety and then carried two defenders for extra yardage before they could get him to the ground. That run helped set up the game-winning touchdown for Iowa.
Wadley totaled 88 yards on 22 carries with his score. He had two receptions for 24 yards, and five kickoff returns for 171 yards. Aside from providing good yardage on offense and special teams, Wadley had some nice blocks in the backfield. In the first half, he had got enough of a block in a one-on-one against Boston College defensive end Zach Allen to give his quarterback time to get the ball out. Allen is a big, powerful end who is a potential first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Wadley didn't hesitate to engage and stick his shoulder into the chest of Allen. It was an impressive effort and willingness to take on a defensive lineman that has almost 100 pounds on Wadley.
For the NFL, Wadley will fit well as a slashing back in a passing offense. He has good receiving ability and could develop into an asset as a pass protector. Wadley won't be a power runner in the NFL, but he has the quickness to hit the hole and can hurt defenses when he gets in space. He also will be able to contribute on special teams as a returner. Wadley looks worthy of a second-day pick in the third round, and could be a really nice value if he slips to the mid-rounds.
Boston College has two cornerback prospects for the NFL in Kamrin Moore and Isaac Yiadom, but they were unable to really impress in this game, as Iowa only attempted 15 passes. Moore (5-11, 200) and Yiadom (6-1, 190) will get the opportunity to impress at the Senior Bowl.
Boston College has two future NFL defensive ends in Zach Allen and Harold Landry. Landry missed this game with an ankle injury that also caused him to miss the final month of the regular season. Sources have said they graded Landry as a late first- or early second-round pick. Allen has announced he will return to Boston College next season, but he impressed against Iowa, showing power and quickness at the point of attack. He got to the quarterback and looks like a perfect fit as a five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 defense.