National championship game field will be littered with NFL talent
Former LSU linebacker Patrick Queen is a good example of how a huge performance in a national championship game can help a player boost his NFL draft stock.
Queen was a rising prospect throughout last season, and he capped it by being the defensive MVP of the College Football Playoff championship victory over Clemson. About 3½ months later, Queen was selected in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens at No. 28 overall.
No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Ohio State head into the national title game Monday with a slew of future NFL players. The matchups not only will determine who wins a championship, but also could influence where some of their stars are drafted.
“You do want to look into a player’s ability to play in the clutch and in the big moments, because obviously when you’re putting together a football team, an NFL roster, your goal is to be playing in the playoffs,” said Jim Nagy, Senior Bowl executive director and a former NFL scout. “You want to look at the consequential games, the games that really matter.”
Alabama center Landon Dickerson, who is out with a knee injury, and guard Deonte Brown already have accepted invitations to the Senior Bowl on Jan. 30, Nagy said. Heisman Trophy-winning receiver DeVonta Smith, running back Najee Harris and tackle Alex Leatherwood also have been invited.
For Ohio State, center Josh Myers, running back Trey Sermon, linebackers Tuf Borland and Baron Browning, and defensive end Jonathon Cooper plan to take part in the Senior Bowl, Nagy said. Invitations also have been extended to defensive tackle Haskell Garrett and linebacker Pete Werner.
There are perhaps 20 players who could potentially be drafted in April after playing for the Crimson Tide and Buckeyes.
Among them is Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, who threw six touchdown passes against Clemson while showing off accuracy and arm strength all over the field. He also displayed poise and toughness, playing most of the game after taking a nasty hit to his side.
That came after an inconsistent and truncated season that has called into question Fields’ status as the best available QB behind Trevor Lawrence of Clemson.
“There’s a lot of buzz around the league about (BYU’s) Zach Wilson being the No. 2 pick in the draft behind Lawrence," said Dane Brugler, a draft analyst for The Athletic. “Fields, with what he did, it changed that a little bit. He’s making teams kind of go back and reconsider.”
Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, meanwhile, is among the second tier of quarterbacks in the upcoming draft, which also includes Kyle Trask of Florida.
Jones has been superb, but he doesn't have athletic traits comparable with Fields and Lawrence. Jones is surrounded by top-end talent, and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has done well scheming receivers open and creating mismatches.
“He’s a very, very difficult evaluation, because how do you separate him from just an elite situation?” Brugler said of Jones.
Among defenders, OSU cornerback Shaun Wade made the All-America team, but that was a generous evaluation based on reputation and last year’s play when he was a nickel back and slot corner.
His move to the outside this season has been spotty at best and indicative of Ohio State’s cornerback play in general. Brugler said Wade’s future might lie at safety.
“At the same time, if he goes out there and performs at a high level against Smith, then all of a sudden that’s a different conversation,” Brugler said.