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.

Eastern Kentucky WR shot in bar dispute

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Eastern Kentucky wide receiver Cameron Catron was shot in the early morning hours of Sunday following a dispute outside a bar.

According to WKYT-TV, Catron and an unidentified man were fighting outside the Two Keys Tavern in Lexington, Ky., when the other man ran to his vehicle, returned with a gun and shot Catron. It is not known where he was shot.

The suspect, described as wearing a blue shirt with dreadlocked hair culminating in frosted tips, is still at large.

“He’s one of the biggest hearted guys I know. Whoever done that to him was just really in a bad place right now,” teammate Gunner Slone told the station.

A Belfry, Ky., native, Catron was a redshirt freshman in 2018; he appeared in two games on special teams.

Catron has already undergone two surgeries to remove the bullet and repair internal damage. A social media post by his mother indicated he is out of ICU and able to walk a short distance.

Former Ole Miss DB, Nebraska LB Breon Dixon headed to JuCo

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Breon Dixon has yet to really make a mark in college football, but his closet has become well stocked. A 4-star prospect out of Suwanee, Ga., Dixon signed with Ole Miss and enrolled in January of 2017, but left quickly thereafter.

Given a waiver to play immediately as part of the Hugh Freeze explosion, Dixon was enrolled at Nebraska within 365 days of originally enrolling at Ole Miss. He appeared in four games on special teams for the Huskers this season, but by this spring he was no longer a Cornhusker, either.

In May, the Omaha World-Herald contacted Iowa Western Community College head coach Scott Strohmeier, who said Dixon would become a Reiver. Now, Dixon has confirmed that himself.

He is expected to enroll in classes in July and compete for IWCC this fall, with the expectation he’ll look for another four-year university in the winter. Strohmeier told the World-Herald he didn’t expect Dixon to re-enroll at Nebraska, meaning the player could be looking for a fourth school in as many years come 2020.

Ex-Arizona State, Ohio State DE Darius Slade now enrolled at USF

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It appears Darius Slade has found himself yet another college football home.

In early February, it was confirmed that Slade had taken the first step in moving on from Arizona State by placing his name into the NCAA transfer database. A little over four months later, it’s now being reported that the defensive end is enrolled at South Florida.

For what it’s worth, a USF official declined to confirm Slade’s addition to the roster and the lineman isn’t yet listed on the football program’s online roster.

Slade, who originally began his collegiate career at Ohio State before transferring and landing at ASU prior to the start of the 2017 season, played in 10 games in 2018 after sitting out the previous year to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.

As a graduate transfer, Slade would be eligible to play for the Bulls immediately in 2019.

Louisville adds Marshall’s leading sacker as grad transfer

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On the same day we noted an addition to Marshall’s roster, there’s been a development regarding one of the football program’s personnel subtractions earlier this offseason.

Utilizing his personal Twitter account, Ty Tyler (pictured, No. 1) announced that he is “honored and overwhelmed to announce I am committed to [the] University of Louisville.” Earlier this offseason, the defensive lineman opted to enter his name into the NCAA transfer database after four years with the Thundering Herd.

As Tyler will be coming to the Cardinals as a graduate transfer, he’ll be eligible to play immediately for the school in 2019. The upcoming season will serve as the lineman’s final year of eligibility.

This past season, Tyler led the Thundering Herd with eight sacks and tied for second on the team with nine tackles for loss. He leaves Huntington having been credited with 15.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in 35 career games, 20 of which were starts.