If there's any team that can be disappointed in playing in a major BCS bowl game, it is Alabama. Considering the Crimson Tide has won three of the last four BCS Championship games ... They kinda have a right to feel like anything less than a championship is a failed season.
And as far as the NFL draft is concerned, Alabama is the team to watch. It's a virtual certainty that Alabama could see three prospects drafted in the 1st round, with the possibility that they could see even more sneak into the first.
Leading the way for the Crimson Tide prospects are: linebacker CJ Mosley, tackle Cyrus Kouandijo, safety Hasean (Ha-Ha) Clinton-Dix. They'll likely be followed by guard Anthony Steen and quarterback AJ McCarron.
Of the (almost) sure-fire first-rounders, CJ Mosley might be the most interesting to the Giants. Mosley is in the conversation for best linebacker in this draft class. He is a very smart and instinctive linebacker who is the heart and coach on the field for the Alabama defense. Mosley has good size to play weak side linebacker (WILL), and adequate size to play in space as a 4-3 middle linebacker (MIKE). He is an athletic, fluid athlete who is at home playing in space. Despite lacking the bulk that run-stopping MIKE's usually carry, Mosley's instincts, athleticism, and fluidity allow him to work through traffic and be stout against the run.
The biggest knock on Mosley is what he lacks as a pass-rusher. He hasn't rushed the passer much for Alabama, and the NFL always has reservations about linebackers that don't rush the passer.
Next up is offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandijo. Kouandijo (Cyrus, for now on) is also in the conversation for top prospect at his position. He is athletic, with a long, lean frame. Okay, "lean" is a bit of a relative term when talking about offensive linemen, but Cyrus does carry his 310 pounds exceptionally well. He is quick and agile, able to consistently beat defenders to a spot. He is solid in pass protection and able to create seals in the run game, as well as get out and pull.
Cyrus isn't a mauler, somewhat lacking in strength, though that should change with an NFL conditioning program. He also can slip into some sloppy technique at times, though that will improve as well with more experience.
Finally among the sure-fire first rounders is Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix. At this point, Ha-Ha is considered the best at his position (though this can certainly change as the draft process goes on). Clinton-Dix has the prototypical build for a NFL safety, at 6-foot-1, 208 pounds. He is a very rangy, fluid safety with great instincts and hands for playing the ball. He's an explosive closer, either breaking on the ball or attacking downhill in the run game. Ha-Ha is a talent, its almost too bad that the Giants have one of the, if not the, best groups of safeties in the NFL.
Not only does Alabama have blue chip prospects, but they also have a number of mid-round prospects worth watching
The first of these is the most decorated quarterback in college football, AJ McCarron. McCarron is an unspectacular QB prospect, but he he has undoubtedly been effective for Alabama. McCarron is slightly undersized at 6-3, 214 pounds, with average arm strength and less than electrifying athleticism.
What McCarron does have is a sky-high football IQ, good judgement & decision making, terrific accuracy. Oh, and quite frankly, he just does not know how to lose; bringing a 36-3 record into his final game.
Whether or not he gets the chance to compete for a starting job at the next level remains to be seen. McCarron's lack of measurables are a red flag to NFL scouts, however his intangibles are through the roof.
Next up is cornerback Deion Belue. Belue took over as Alabama's top corner when Dee Milliner was selected by the Jets in the 2013 draft. Belue is a bit undersized at 5-11, 183 pounds. However, he is an aggressive corner, who constantly tries to win through body positioning. He has quick feet and reasonably fluid hips to maintain position or recover if beat. Belue has solid long speed and is willing in run support. His tackling technique can get sloppy, which is surprising given the quality of Alabama's coaching.
Another mid-rounder worth watching is defensive end Ed Stinson. Stinson is a stout 5-tech who strong against the run while still having some ability as a pass rusher. As a 3-4 defensive end, Stinson doesn't hold much interest for the Giants, however he does have some ability to play inside as a 3-technique in a 4-3 front. That might not be his best spot as he doesn't have appear to have the quickness you'd like to see from a pass-rushing 3-tech.
Finally, wide receiver Kevin Norwood could be a mid-late round sleeper. Norwood is a steady receiver with solid hands and the body control to make some impressive catches. He has okay size and speed, but the quick feet and toughness that you'd want to see out of a slot receiver.
One last Alabama prospect that I want to make a point of touching on won't be playing in the Sugar Bowl, and that is Anthony Steen.
Guard Anthony Steen is considered a 2nd rounder at the moment, however he could have been Alabama's fourth 1st rounder had he needed shoulder surgery at the end of the 2013 season. When healthy Steen is a quick, tough, and mean offensive lineman. He has the feet to mirror in pass protection, get out and pull, and the strength to move (most) defensive tackles in run game.
Other than his injury, if there is a knock on Steen, it's that he might be a tad shorter than ideal, however he also has the potential to slide to center.
Now, the Sugar Bowl isn't entirely about Alabama (though from a draft prospective it seems that way). Oklahoma is playing too, and they have a few prospects that deserve mention.
First is cornerback Aaron Colvin. Colvin is a tough, physical corner with all the tools to succeed in the NFL. He has solid size at 6-feet, 195 pounds to go with solid speed. Colvin's best attribute is also his biggest flaw, and that is his aggressiveness. Colvin is a tough tackler and finished 5th on his team in tackles despite battling injuries. However, his aggressiveness can get him (and his team) in trouble, with a tendency to get grabby and draw pass interference penalties or bite hard on play-fakes. If he can harness his tools, Colvin could be a mid-round find.
Oklahoma's next prospect to watch is Jalen Saunders. Saunders is a prospect that needs to go to the correct team. At 5-9, 157 pounds, Saunders is downright tiny for a professional football player. Even for a kicker. However, Saunders is a feisty player who leads Oklahoma in receptions, yards, and touchdowns (tied). He's a quick, sharp route runner who is surprisingly physical for his size. Saunders' size is absolutely concerning, but if he were to go to the right OC, it isn't unheard of for a receiver his size to make contributions.
Finally, Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard should be of interest to the Giants. Not only is Ikard is a smart, strong, and athletic center, but he is versatile lineman who has spent time at guard as well as center. Ikard has a nice burst off the ball and the athleticism to get out and block in space, and enough strength to seal running lanes. He doesn't have the size and strength to be considered a mauler, and is probably best suited to a zone blocking system.
Teams: Oklahoma vs. Alabama
Game Time: 8:30 p.m. ET