CFT Previews: Top NFL prospects playing in the National Championship Game

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As the excitement builds for the first national championship decided by a playoff system, NFL scouts will be even more giddy about the available talent on the rosters of the Oregon Ducks and the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Both squads are loaded with players that will eventually make the transition from student-athlete to the professional ranks.

Two potential No. 1 overall picks could play in the contest with Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota facing off against Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa. However, Bosa is only a true sophomore, therefore he is not eligible for the 2015 NFL draft class.

Here are the Top 10 draft-eligible talents in the contest as they project to the NFL:

1. Marcus Mariota, quarterback, Oregon
The National Championship Game will be Mariota’s next opportunity to make his case to be selected No. 1 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in April’s NFL draft.

The Oregon quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner has all the physical tools a team searches for in a franchise quarterback. He stands 6-4 and weighs 219 pounds. His arm is above average. And Oregon coaches claim the quarterback is one of the fastest players on the team with a 4.4-second 40-yard dash.

But the most impressive aspect of Mariota’s play is his decision-making. Questions will continue about Oregon’s system and the type of throws Mariota is usually asked to make. However, the quarterback owns an astounding touchdown-to-interception ratio over his career. Entering Monday’s contest, Mariota has thrown 101 touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions. It’s an amazing number that isn’t dependent purely on system.

The National Championship Game should be the proper platform to highlight the skills of the best player in college football and arguably the top talent preparing to enter the NFL.

2. Michael Bennett, defensive tackle, Ohio State
The Buckeyes’ late season surge was helped by the resurgence of its veteran leader along the defensive line. Bennett didn’t perform to expectations during the first half of the season even though the defensive tackle was considered a first-round talent.

Ohio State’s coaching staff then decided to only play Bennett as the team’s 3-technique (defensive tackle that lines up on the outside shoulder of the guard). The senior admitted an increased comfort level, and his play reflected as such.

Bennett is an explosive up-field disruptive force that is nearly as adept at taking on double-teams and properly splitting those blocks. The defensive lineman absolutely dominated the Wisconsin Badgers’ offensive line in the Big Ten Championship Game, and he turned up the heat on Alabama quarterback Blake Sims during the second half of the Sugar Bowl.

Due to Bennett’s strong second-half performance, he will once again be considered a top talent as the draft nears.

3. Arik Armstead, defensive end, Oregon
California v OregonVery few players on the field will present Armstead’s combination of raw talent and athleticism.

The 6-8, 290-pound junior chose Oregon, because the Ducks allowed him to play both football and basketball. Armstead wasn’t great on the hardwood, but he can be very difficult to block when he’s on the gridiron.

Due to Armstead’s size and strength in his hands, he projects as a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme — it’s an easy projection since the Ducks employ a three-man front. The concerns this year, though, were from a lack of production and nagging injuries that slowed the talented defensive lineman.

4. DeForest Buckner, defensive end, Oregon
These Oregon defensive ends could easily be flipped based on system fit. Buckner is better at penetrating and making plays in the backfield than Armstead, who is more stout at the point of attack.

The 6-7, 290-pound junior led the Ducks with 13 tackles for loss. He also finished fourth on the team with four sacks.

As a tall and angular defensive lineman, though, Buckner’s ability to play with leverage is inconsistent, and he can be driven off the ball by more physical offensive linemen.

5. Hroniss Grasu, center, Oregon
Grasu is arguably the best center in college football. However, he is yet another system fit. Teams that employ a heavy zone-blocking scheme will value Grasu more highly than traditional power blocking systems. His lateral movement is as good as any interior blocker in the nation. As such, Grasu’s value will range from the early to mid rounds.

The Los Angles native already proved to be an iron man in the middle of the Ducks offensive line. He started 40 straight games before finally getting dinged as a senior. Still, Grasu maintained his status as one of the team’s leaders and his toughness was never questioned.

The center’s ability to prevent penetration against Ohio State’s talented defensive front will be a major indicator as to how well the Ducks perform on offense.

6. Jeff Heuerman, tight end, Ohio State

Jeff Heuerman, Antonio Allen
Jeff Heuerman, Antonio Allen

A quick peek at the tight end’s stats doesn’t indicate a top pro prospect. Yet, Heuerman could easily be one of the first players off the board at his position.

Heuerman only caught 17 passes for 207 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Despite the poor production, the senior presents two key qualities. First, Heuerman is a very good athlete, and he can serve as a vertical threat in any passing game. He may not be used often in Urban Meyer‘s offense, but his potential as a receiver is readily apparent. Also, the tight end is a competent blocker.

As the age of the receiving tight end continues, a prospect that can do well in both areas is extremely valuable.

7. Devin Smith, wide receiver, Ohio State
The best deep threat in college football resides in Columbus, Ohio. Smith leads the NCAA with an average of 27.7 yards per catch. The senior receiver hauled in a catch of over 30 yards in all but two games this season. Smith’s overall route running may be limited, but his ability to take the top off a defense at any time is rare.

8. Taylor Decker, left tackle, Ohio State
The Buckeyes’ rock along their offensive line has a decision to make after this season. The junior may be leaning toward entering the NFL draft, but his value may not be as high as he suspects. After moving to left tackle in 2014, Decker proved he was a competent collegiate blind-side protector. However, he may be better suited at right tackle.

9. Doran Grant, cornerback, Ohio State
The senior cornerback proved to be a physical presence on the edge as Ohio State’s sixth-leading tackler as well as one of the team’s top ball hawks. Grant finished second on the team with five interceptions. When he was challenged by quarterbacks, he continually displayed good ball skills. The cornerback deflected a team high 14 passes, too.

10. Cardale Jones, quarterback, Ohio State
Cardale JonesThe wildcard in both Monday’s game and the NFL draft is Ohio State’s third-string quarterback.

Jones, a redshirt sophomore, is eligible to declare for the draft. It will be an extremely difficult decision after only three career starts, but Jones has played lights out in the biggest games so far. No quarterback in this year’s draft class presents the same size (6-5, 250) nor the arm strength as Jones.

Both teams possesses even more talent, particularly among the underclassmen. Ohio State is absolutely littered with freshmen and sophomores that will one day be in the NFL. One of Oregon’s top players, cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, won’t even play in the contest due to a knee injury.

These two programs aren’t simply built for one title run. Both will be legitimate contenders in the foreseeable future due to the NFL-caliber talent found on each roster.

Duke LB Koby Quansah out indefinitely after thumb surgery

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With exactly a week until the 2019 season kicks off, Duke’s depth in its linebacking corps has taken a bit of a hit.

The football program announced Friday evening that Koby Quansah underwent surgery earlier in the day to stabilize a fractured right thumb.  The senior linebacker suffered the injury during practice Thursday.

No timeline for a return has been given as Quansah is officially listed as out indefinitely.

During his time at Duke, Quansah has appeared in 35 games.  In 10 appearances (two starts) during a 2018 season that included a broken foot, Quansah, whose official bio states he’s “[l]isted as the starting middle linebacker,” was credited with 38 tackles.

Earlier this summer camp, Quansah was named as one of the Blue Devils’ team captains.

Temple WR Sean Ryan immediately eligible at West Virginia

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In his first season in Morgantown, Neal Brown will have a new offensive toy with which to play as West Virginia heads into the 2019 season.

Early on in the offseason, Sean Ryan opted to transfer from Temple and continue his collegiate playing career elsewhere.  In April, the wide receiver settled on WVU as his next elsewhere, announcing on Twitter that he would be transferring to the Mountaineers.

With the start of a new campaign eight days away, it’s being reported that Ryan has been granted an immediate-eligibility waiver that will allow him to see the field in 2019 for the Big 12 school.

https://mobile.twitter.com/GAllanTaylor/status/1164998952040783884

The granting of the waiver is very likely due to the fact that Temple went through some significant coaching upheaval following the end of the 2018 season.

As a true freshman this past season, Ryan played in 10 games.  In that extended action, the 6-4, 195-pound receiver from Brooklyn, NY, caught 12 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown for the Owls.

Illinois beats out Florida, Nebraska, Texas for Miami transfer Derrick Smith

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Some will say that this could be one of the Fighting Illini’s only Power Five wins in 2019, but you won’t hear that from us.

Aug.13, Derrick Smith tweeted that, “effective today, I would like to inform [Miami Nation], I am no longer on the University of Miami football team.” Over the weekend, Smith took to Twitter again to reveal that four schools are under consideration as a potential landing spot — Florida, Illinois, Nebraska and Texas. In the same tweet, the third-year junior defensive back indicated that a new school will be picked at some point this week.

Friday evening, Smith revealed that he will continue his collegiate playing career for Lovie Smith and the Illini.

It’s believed Smith will be ineligible to play immediately for his new team.  He would, though, have two years of eligibility he can use beginning with the 2020 season.

The Orange Park, Fla., native came to The U as a three-star member of the football program’s 2017 recruiting class. The past two seasons, Smith saw action in 25 of the Hurricanes’ 26 games and was credited with 24 tackles, 1½ of which were for a loss.

Prior to his decision to leave, Smith was expected to play an expanded role in the Hurricanes’ secondary this coming season.

Boise State down a few more freshmen as QB Kaiden Bennett and RB Keegan Duncan leave team

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Boise State’s once impressive Class of 2019 is dwindling much quicker than head coach Bryan Harsin would like just as the season arrives on the blue turf.

As per the Idaho Statesman, freshman quarterback Kaiden Bennett and tailback Keegan Duncan have both left the team. In addition to those names, as many as three other members from the most recent recruiting class could fail to suit up for the program this fall.

Bennett was one of several quarterbacks battling for the starting job to succeed Brett Rypien at Boise State so his likely transfer out seems like a clear indication that one of Chase Cord, Jaylon Henderson or even freshman Hank Bachmeier will be the starter when the team opens against Florida State in Jacksonville. While the three-star recruit from Folsom, California was considered a long shot in the race, his departure may just be the first of several after Harsin names a starter.

The loss of Duncan can’t be overlook either as he was considered to be one of the best recruits in the state of Idaho during his senior season and could have provided depth in a fairly young tailback room this season.

Fellow freshman D.K. Blaylock also left the team this month and two junior college transfers have not made it to campus yet according to the Statesman.

Boise State had signed the top class in the Mountain West in February according to 247Sports and a top 50 group nationally but it appears that highly touted group won’t be making quite the impact many expected after these most recent defections.