The opportunity to watch LSU and Alabama battle in the BCS Championship Game was an evaluator's dream. Both squads are loaded with future NFL prospects, and the competitive environment gave me an opportunity to see them at their finest.
Here are the prospects who stood out in my mind:
(Denotes underclassmen who have not declared their intention to apply for entry into the 2012 NFL Draft)*
Alabama's Trent Richardson* will be a star at the next level.
He's got all the tools you look for in a pro running back, and his experience playing in a pro-style offense will help him acclimate quickly. He displayed outstanding skills against an LSU defense comparable to an NFL squad. He runs with power between the tackles, bounces off would-be tacklers in the hole and aggressively drops his shoulder into defenders. He is one of the best finishers I've seen in college football, and those skills will serve him well as a designated runner in short-yardage or goal-line situations.
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Richardson didn't get many touches on the perimeter, but his agility is evident when he slithers through traffic. His ability to elude the big hit allows him to handle a heavy workload without wearing down. With fewer runners entering the NFL capable of handling 20-plus carries, Richardson's crafty skills will certainly pique the interest of coaches.
Teams should take a close look at Alabama's two LBs
Alabama's Courtney Upshaw was all over the field from his outside linebacker spot. He routinely chased down runners from the backside and his constant harassment of Jordan Jefferson forced the quarterback to routinely flee the pocket. Against runs directed to his side, he displayed excellent strength at the point of attack. His ability to set the edge limited the space available for Jefferson and others attempting to get outside.
Dont'a Hightower* didn't have a significant statistical impact on the game, but he still displayed outstanding pro potential. He controlled the middle of the field from his inside linebacker position and discouraged runs up the gut with his imposing presence in the hole. Although he would appear to have some coverage issues related to his size (6-foot-4, 260 pounds), those deficiencies weren't exposed in this matchup.
Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick* deserves consideration as top CB in college football
This game didn't provide him with the forum to showcase his coverage skills, but watching him blanket LSU's wide receivers leads me to believe he has all of the tools to be an exceptional pro. At 6-foot-3, 192 pounds, he can match up with tall receivers on the perimeter and neutralize them with forceful jams at the line, without surrendering the quickness to maintain hip-pocket position down the field. His ability to excel in press coverage makes him a valued commodity in a league that is shifting to a pass-first premise.
Although Kirkpatrick's impressive physical dimensions will make some teams see him as a press corner, he displays exceptional awareness in zone coverage. He plays with outstanding vision on the quarterback and shows the instincts to anticipate throws in his area. His quick breaks resulted in a few "bang-bang" shots on receivers catching passes in the flat, and coaches will fall in love with his physicality on the edge.
Kirkpatrick routinely harassed Tyrann Mathieu* in the kicking game as the gunner on the Crimson Tide punt team. He defeated his man with his speed and quickness, but remained under control prior to making contact with the returner. With more teams willing to use starters on their kicking units, Kirkpatrick's ability to shine in football's third phase will enhance his value in the minds of evaluators.
LSU's Morris Claiborne* and Mathieu* have pro-ready games.
It's not often one squad has a pair of NFL-ready corners, but LSU has a wealth of riches at the position. Mathieu and Claiborne have the skills to suffocate receivers on the edge, and their aggressive games are built to play on Sundays.
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Claiborne is a skilled technician with the ability to thrive in any scheme. He has the size, length and athleticism to excel in press coverage. He stones receivers at the line with strong jams and displays the movement to stay in their hip pocket up the field. Those skills are complemented by his superior instincts and awareness in zone, where he reads routes well and has a knack for anticipating throws. His exceptional overall coverage led to few balls thrown in his direction, a sign of respect.
Mathieu is far more aggressive. He attacks receivers at the line and displays tremendous quickness shadowing them down the field. Although he allowed a few receptions, Mathieu's position was on point, and he plays the run, too. His ability to drill runners despite his diminutive size reveals his toughness. While his size will always rate as a significant concern for coaches and scouts, his ability to contribute as a dual-threat playmaker will make him a hot commodity whenever he decides to apply for entry into the draft.
Asterisks () denote players who aren't seniors.*