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.

College Football in Coronavirus Quarantine: On this day in CFT history, including the price tag for Nebraska dumping Bo Pelini revealed

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The sports world, including college football, has essentially screeched to a halt as countries around the world battle the coronavirus pandemic. As such, there’s a dearth of college football news as spring practices have all but been canceled at every level of the sport. And there’s even some concern that the health issue could have an impact on the 2020 college football campaign.

In that vein, we thought it might be fun to go back through the CollegeFootballTalk archives that stretch back to 2009 and take a peek at what transpired in the sport on this date.

So, without further ado — ok, one further ado — here’s what happened in college football on June 3, by way of our team of CFT writers both past and present.

(P.S.: If any of our readers have ideas on posts they’d like to read during this college football hiatus, leave your suggestions in the comments section.  Mailbag, maybe?)

2019

THE HEADLINE: Via email, Clemson fans pitch athletics department officials on conspiracy to inject Tigers players with banned substance
THE SYNOPSIS: College football fans, y’all!

2017

THE HEADLINE: Lane Kiffin invites Kim Kardashian, Kanye West to FAU game
THE SYNOPSIS: Because, Lane Kiffin of course.  Kiffin left FAU two years later for the Ole Miss job.

2016

THE HEADLINE: Price tag for Nebraska dumping Bo Pelini, staff? Nearly $8.5 million
THE SYNOPSIS: Nebraska, in seven seasons under Pelini: 67-27 record.  At least nine wins in all seven seasons.  Nebraska, in five seasons since Pelini was fired: 28-34 record.  At least nine wins in one of five seasons.  Also, the first time since the early sixties the Cornhuskers finished below .500 in three consecutive seasons.  Nice move, NU.

2013

THE HEADLINE: Ruffin McNeill lands extension, raise from ECU
THE SYNOPSIS: From 2012-14, East Carolina won 26 games under McNeill.  That matched the best three-year stretch in program history.  Then, coming off a five-win 2015 campaign, ECU inexplicably fired the head coach.  In the four years since, the Pirates have won 13 games.  Combined.  Maybe the AAC school consulted Nebraska prior to firing McNeill?

2011

THE HEADLINE: Raise your glass: WVU allows beer sales at football games
THE SYNOPSIS: Couches all across the God’s Country peed themselves a little.

Georgia Tech DE Kelton Dawson makes his way into the transfer portal

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For at least the fifth time this year, Georgia Tech has seen a player enter the football transfer portal.

According to Rivals.com, Kelton Dawson has taken the first step in leaving the Georgia Tech football team by entering the NCAA transfer database.  A Georgia Tech football official subsequently confirmed the portal move.

The defensive end has thus far declined to address his impending departure on Twitter.

Now, for what’s seemingly becoming a daily disclaimer when it comes to transfers.

As we’ve stated myriad times in the past, a player can remove his name from the portal and remain at the same school. At this point, though, other programs are permitted to contact a player without receiving permission from his current football program.

NCAA bylaws also permit schools to pull a portal entrant’s scholarship at the end of the semester in which he entered it.

Dawson was a three-star member of the Georgia Tech football Class of 2017.  At this point, it’s unclear if he will be leaving the Yellow Jackets as a graduate transfer.  Should he follow through, of course.

The lineman took a redshirt as a true freshman.  Dawson then appeared in one game in 2018, recording his first career tackle.  A season ago, he started seven of 11 games.  In that action, he was credited with 26 tackles, three tackles for loss and a forced fumble.

As for the other four Tech football player who entered the portal in 2020?

Johnson, incidentally, transferred to San Diego State last month.

Clemson assistant football coach accused of using the N-word years ago issues statement

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Clemson football was the subject throughout Tuesday of an incident a couple of years in the making.  And, not surprisingly, they have addressed it.  But first, the back story.

On Twitter this morning, former Clemson walk-on football player Kanyton Tuttle laid a damning claim on Dabo Swinney.  Specifically, that the Clemson head football coach had allowed one of his assistants “to call a player the N-word during practice with no repercussions.”

In a subsequent interview with The State, former Clemson tight end D.J. Greenlee acknowledged that the assistant, who he identified as current special teams coordinator and tight ends coach Danny Pearman (pictured), had indeed used the N-word.  However, Greenlee, who played for the Tigers from 2013-17, explained that Pearman did not call any player the N-word.  Instead…

“It was just a heated argument during practice, basically,” Greenlee told the newspaper. “Me and the coach got into it and I was speaking with one of my teammates. He heard me use the n-word basically, and basically tried to correct me by saying the n-word back.

“He wasn’t saying that I was a n-word. It was, using the tone, in a word like, ‘OK … I was talking to my teammate and you came over here.'”

In the end, Clemson football did the expected.  And released a statement attributed to Pearman.

Three years ago on the practice field, I made a grave mistake involving D.J. Greenlee. I repeated a racial slur I overheard when trying to stop the word from being used on the practice field. What I overheard, I had no right to repeat.

While I did not direct the term at any player, I know there is no excuse for me using the language in any circumstance. I never should have repeated the phrase. It was wrong when I said it, and it is wrong today.

I apologized to D.J. at the conclusion of practice, who then appropriately raised his concern to Coach Swinney. Coach and I met to discuss the incident, and he reiterated that my language was unacceptable. I later apologized again as well as expressed my sincere regret to our position group the following day.

I love the young men who choose to come to our university, and I would never do anything to intentionally hurt them. I sincerely apologize to D.J., his family, our team and our staff.

Stanford transfer Dylan Powell granted a sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA at Indiana

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It was a banner day on the eligibility front for one Indiana football player.

Dylan Powell announced on Twitter Monday that he has been granted a sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA.  The Indiana football player already had a fifth season that he could use in 2020.  The additional year will allow the offensive lineman to take the field in 2021 as well.

“I just got word that the NCAA approved my request for another year of eligibility,” Powell wrote. “All the glory to God! I can’t wait to spend these next two seasons playing with my brothers and striving to take Indiana football to another level! LEO”

Powell actually began his collegiate career at Stanford.  A three-star 2016 signee, the Missouri native was the No. 14 player regardless of position in the Show Me State.

As a true freshman, Powell took a redshirt.  In 2017 and 2018, he combined to appear in 19 games.  In 2018, he started three games at guard and center.  That same season, he earned second-team All-Academic Pac-12 honors.

Scheduled to a be a starting guard for the Cardinal, Powell instead missed the entire 2019 campaign because of a torn labrum.  That, plus the redshirt season, earned him another season of eligibility.

Earlier this offseason, Powell enrolled in classes at Indiana and participated in spring football practice.

Powell is actually the second former Stanford player added to the Indiana football roster.  In mid-April, the Hoosiers confirmed the addition of cardinal defensive lineman Jovan Swann.  Both transfers will project as starters for the Big Ten school.