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Move The Sticks: Garoppolo, McCarron potential trade targets

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  • By Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks NFL.com
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Editor's note: NFL.com analysts and former NFL scouts Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks of the Move The Sticks Podcast share some of their college-scouting notes heading into Championship Weekend of the college football season, including:

» A DE who has cemented himself as a top-50 prospect
» Jeremiah's take on an up-and-down season for Christian McCaffrey
» Two must-see matchups for scouts on Championship Weekend.

But first, we kick off this week's notebook with Jeremiah's look at why Jimmy Garoppolo and AJ McCarron will be two QBs to watch in draft season.

The deadline for underclassmen to apply for early eligibility into the 2017 NFL Draft is six weeks away, and I don't anticipate that this draft class will be a strong one for quarterbacks. There are more than a handful of teams still in need of a long-term solution at the position, though. This has the potential create a strong market for two backup quarterbacks sitting behind established starters: AJ McCarron (Bengals) and Jimmy Garoppolo (Patriots).

Both QBs have performed well in limited NFL opportunities, and both guys would represent an upgrade for several QB-needy teams. Many expected the Bengals to part with McCarron last spring, but they decided he was too valuable to trade away. As a perennial playoff team in search of a Super Bowl title, it made sense at the time to hold onto a quality backup quarterback. However, the Bengals haven't enjoyed a successful 2016 campaign, and you could make a case that they need a mini-rebuild to return to the postseason.

McCarron is a valuable trade chip. Would he return a first-round pick from a team like the Cleveland Browns? Hue Jackson is familiar with his skill set and McCarron already knows Jackson's offensive system (Jackson was Cincinnati's offense coordinator during McCarron's first two seasons in the league). He would be an upgrade over any quarterback on the Browns' roster, and Cleveland is loaded with 2017 draft picks. One potential hang-up in this scenario would be the fact that both teams play in the same division. If that's a major issue, the Browns could look to Garappolo.

The Patriots are still very much in their championship window and Tom Brady's performance doesn't appear to be declining. I can't envision a scenario where New England re-signs Garappolo once his deal expires following the 2017 campaign. It would make a lot sense for them to capitalize on his value and recoup a high draft pick or a proven veteran player at a position of need this offseason. A team like the Chicago Bears would make a perfect trade partner. They appear ready to move on from Jay Cutler, and Garappolo would give them a talented young signal-caller to build around.

There will surely be one or two quarterbacks that emerge as coveted prospects in the upcoming draft class, but I still believe these two young veterans will be more attractive options for several teams in need of a QB. With Tony Romo potentially becoming available as well, there could be a very active market for veteran QBs this offseason. -- Daniel Jeremiah

* * *

There is always a spot in the NFL for a hard-working pass rusher with a knack for making plays from multiple spots. That's why I believe Florida State DE DeMarcus Walker could shoot up the charts when coaches and scouts start digging into the tape.

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The 6-foot-2, 273-pound senior has racked up 15 sacks and three forced fumbles this season while flashing outstanding strength, power, instincts and hustle. Walker wears out opponents with his relentless energy and his strong technical game makes him nearly impossible to contain. After studying the all-22 coaches' tape, I was impressed with his ability to take over games from multiple spots. He dominates right tackles with an assortment of power-based maneuvers (bull rush, butt-and-jerk and power swipe), yet he flashes enough short-area quickness to occasionally win with finesse.

Walker's skills showed up in splendid fashion last week against Florida in a five-tackle, two-sack effort that cemented his status as a top-50 prospect. Most impressively, he flashed the kind of rugged pass-rushing skills that could make him an intriguing option as an inside rusher at the next level. Considering how well former Seminole Mario Edwards, Jr., transitioned to defensive tackle with the Oakland Raiders, Walker's powerful game and non-stop motor could prompt others to view the Florida State standout as an intriguing 'tweener on draft day. -- Bucky Brooks

* * *

"Where are all of the offensive linemen?"

That's the first question a veteran NFL scout posed to me when I bumped into him a few weeks ago at a college game. While the question was clearly a rhetorical one, he did express some concern about the lack of elite offensive line prospects that could be available in the 2017 class. He told me that Alabama's Cam Robinson is viewed as the top prospect in the group, but the mammoth edge blocker hasn't brought his A game consistently this season. Although he doesn't think scouts will severely downgrade Robinson for his efforts, he does believe the Crimson Tide junior's rugged game might lead to some questions about his ability to develop into an elite left tackle as a pro.

When I pressed the veteran evaluator about first-round candidates to consider, he couldn't come up with a name that could creep into Day 1 range. I've heard buzz regarding Wisconsin's Ryan Ramczyk and Florida State's Roderick Johnson -- both juniors -- as possible candidates, but it's clear from speaking to the veteran evaluator that teams in need of a franchise offensive tackle might be forced to venture into the free agent market for a quick fix. -- Bucky Brooks

* * *

The Stanford football program has enjoyed tremendous success over the last few years, and the expectations for the program have changed. They just finished a 9-3 regular season and people talk about it like it was a total failure. That's a pretty remarkable change in perception for the Cardinal. Coming into the season, many had Christian McCaffrey at the top of their Heisman Trophy candidate list. Unfortunately, he was dinged up earlier this season and didn't produce at the same historic level as last season. However, like the team itself, his year wasn't all that bad. In fact, he's been outstanding over the last five weeks. He's rushed for more than 100 yards in those five contests, including back-to-back 200-plus-yard efforts in his final two regular season games. He ranks seventh in the nation in rushing yards (1,603) and he's also been effective as a receiver, hauling in 37 balls for 310 yards and 3 touchdowns. I love his versatility, toughness and playmaking skills. He deserves more attention than he's been getting on the national level. -- Daniel Jeremiah

* * *

Two must-see matchups for scouts on Championship Weekend

Washington WR John Ross vs. Colorado DBs Chidobe Awuzie and Tedric Thompson: I can't wait to see Ross take on a talented Colorado secondary that features a pair of studs in Awuzie and Thompson in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The veteran defenders play critical roles on a defense that suffocates passing games with sticky coverage and punishing hits. Awuzie, in particular, is a standout cover corner with the athleticism, technical skill and feistiness to challenge Ross on the perimeter. With Thompson providing insurance as an "over-the-top" defender with impressive instincts and ball skills, the Buffaloes might have the recipe to keep the ultra-explosive pass-catcher under wraps in a primetime game. -- Bucky Brooks

Alabama WRs Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart vs. Florida CBs Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson: On paper, the SEC title game looks lopsided in Alabama's favor. Florida is beat up and coming off a 8-3 regular season, while Alabama is undefeated, healthy and loaded with talent across the board. There are some intriguing individual matchups for NFL evaluators to follow in this game, though. My favorite: Ridley and Stewart lining up against Wilson and Tabor.

Ridley is a dynamic vertical threat and Stewart is a physical, do-it-all pass-catcher. Wilson and Tabor both have good size and excellent instincts. I'll give the slight edge to the Florida cornerbacks in this matchup, and I can't wait to see it. -- Daniel Jeremiah

Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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