NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein is constantly talking to NFL and college sources about players in the college game. In this space each week, Zierlein will share some of what NFL folks are discussing in their circles. This week, he shares what he's hearing about prospects playing in Monday's national championship game between Alabama and Clemson.
The scoop: "Really pretty looking when you watch him down on the field, but he's not there yet. I think he'll get there, but he's not there yet. I don't think he's going to run as fast as people think. When college players get up here and find out that cornerbacks are faster and more physical, there is an adjustment period. I think it will take him some time to figure things out, but I think he'll do it. He's going to be good. I just don't know if he's going to be a star." -- NFC personnel director on Clemson WR Mike Williams
The skinny: Williams might not have blazing speed, but ever since November, he's taken his game to another level. Scouts were anxious to see how he would bounce back after missing all but the first game of the 2015 season with a neck injury. Based on what I've heard from evaluators, they've seen all they need to from Williams, as he has fully rehabilitated his draft stock after showing that his toughness and ball skills haven't diminished a bit. With that said, draft stock will definitely be on the line when Williams is matched up against talented redshirt sophomore cornerback Marlon Humphrey on Monday night in the national championship game. Humphrey is big, physical and has good recovery speed if Williams gets by him.
* * *
The scoop: "Alabama recruited a shiny toy, but (Lane) Kiffin never really knew what to do with it. I don't worry about the talent at all. He could be an All-Pro. I just need to know if he loves football." -- NFC general manager on Alabama TE O.J. Howard
The skinny: With Lane Kiffin out as offensive coordinator at Alabama, it will be interesting to see how new OC Steve Sarkisian utilizes the talented senior in the national championship game. I'm sure Clemson remembers the 208 yards and two touchdowns that Howard put on them last season. NFL evaluators told me after last season that they believed Howard would have been a first-rounder on the strength of his traits and that performance alone. While this season has been a bit of a disappointment for Howard, I still expect to see him taken in the first round. Alabama QB Jalen Hurts had difficulty finding his rhythm against LSU and Washington this season. One of the best opportunities for him to find his groove might be if Sarkisian dials up throws to a big, athletic target like Howard more often.
* * *
The scoop: "A lot of backs do some pretty things with their footwork and it gets people excited and then you find out they aren't tough enough. Give me a guy who can bang like (Wayne) Gallman and let the coaches put him in position to succeed." -- AFC East area scout on the Clemson RB
The skinny: Toughness and Gallman go hand and hand, which is a good thing considering the defensive front he's about to run into. Make no mistake, Clemson can't just play smashmouth football and take it to Alabama in the title game on Monday with a "three yards and a cloud of dust" mentality. However, they will have to be prepared to match the physicality of Alabama and give it as good as they get it. Gallman has good size and is an aggressive finisher, which is important from a psychological standpoint in this one. Gallman has to be the runner who lets Alabama know that Clemson won't back down. Gallman ran for just 45 yards in last year's championship game. He'll have to be a bigger factor this time around for Clemson to win.