Good evening New York Giants fans, and welcome to the final college football game of the 2021 season.
The time has come to decide who the best team in college football was for the 2021 season. Perhaps predictably, one of those teams is Nick Saban’s University of Alabama Crimson Tide. This is the eighth College Football Playoff National Championship game, and Alabama has played in five of them — winning three.
Alabama will be facing off against Kirby Smart’s University of Georgia Bulldogs. This is Georgia’s second appearance in a CFP National Championship game, having faced off against — you guessed it — Alabama back in 2018. Alabama won that game 26 to 23, a victory which only added to Nick Saban’s incredible 25-1 record against his former assistants.
This is the second meeting this year between these two teams, and Georgia certainly has revenge on the mind. Alabama handed them the only loss of their season, a 41-24 beat-down in the SEC title game.
These are without a doubt, the two most talented teams in college football and tonight’s game is a scouting bonanza for those of us watching with an an eye towards the 2022 NFL Draft.
So with the groundwork for the game, let’s get to the details.
Time: 8pm ET
TV Channel: ESPN (ESPN.com/Watch)
For a minute there it looked as though the unthinkable could happen Alabama might actually miss this year’s playoffs. They dropped out of the Top 4 teams in the country following their upset loss to Texas A&M (Saban’s only loss to a former assistant), and Auburn had them on the ropes in the Iron Bowl.
But ultimately, the preponderance of the talent assembled at Alabama prevailed and the Crimson Tide were once again entered the Playoffs as the top-ranked team in the country. Nick Saban is one of the greatest football coaches, at any level, in history; but the incredible recruiting machine he’s built means that he will always have an advantage over just about any other program he goes up against.
This Alabama squad is packed to the rafters with future NFL players at just about every position. We can’t talk about Heisman Trophy winning QB Bryce Young as a draft prospect this year, yet he has been one of the biggest reasons why Alabama survived their tests this year.
My usual advice for scouting Alabama (and a couple other teams) during games is to just watch and take note of who leaps off the screen. This time, however, I need to go in-depth on a couple prospects who we’ll be hearing a lot about.
And it starts with offensive lineman Evan Neal. While Neal won’t be the biggest offensive lineman in the draft (that honor likely belongs to Minnesota’s Daniel Faalele), but Neal is pretty massive in his own right, listed at 6-foot-7, 350 pounds.
Neal has shown great positional versatility and started at three different positions over the last three seasons. He started every game of his freshman campaign (2019) at left guard, every game of his sophomore season (2020) at right tackle, and every game of his junior year (2021) at left tackle. Neal is as powerful as his frame suggests, and should fit well with any team interested in running a man-gap blocking scheme. The big thing to watch with him will be his quickness and lateral agility. There is some concern that he doesn’t have the athleticism to match faster pass rushers, which could be a liability at the NFL level.
Unfortunately for Alabama, WR James Metchie (96 catches, 1,142 yards, eight touchdowns) tore his ACL in the SEC title game. Fortunately for Alabama, they still have WR Jameson Williams who transferred from Ohio State. Williams is likely a Flanker or Big Slot at the NFL level, and has the tools to be a very good possession receiver. While Williams doesn’t have the raw athleticism that Metchie boasts, he is an excellent route runner who wins with quickness, technique, and body control. He has gone from being an afterthought in the Ohio State offense to dominating for Alabama, to the tune of 75 receptions for 1,507 yards and 15 touchdowns.
The 2022 wide receiver class doesn’t have a talent like Ja’Marr Chase as the clear top of the class. That could set the stage for the “WR1” to be determined by the needs of the first team to draft a receiver, and Williams has a good chance of being the first receiver off the board.
As with the offense, the defensive player we’ll probably wind up concentrating on isn’t going to be eligible for April’s draft. EDGE Will Anderson Jr. made a real run of breaking Elvis Dumervil’s collegiate sack record (20.0) this year with 17.5. That’s impressive for a sophomore who notched 7.0 sacks last year as a true freshman — and bodes well for what he might be able to do next year as a Junior.
We can, however, talk about the quartet of (iDL) Phidarian Mathis, (LB) Henry To’oTo’o, (LB) Christian Harris, and (S) Jordan Battle. Those four make for a disruptive and dynamic presence in the middle of Alabama’s defense that can get overshadowed by Anderson wreaking havoc off the edge.
Mathis is a big (6-foot-4, 317 pounds) and versatile interior defensive lineman who is both very stout in the run game and disruptive as an interior pass rusher (9.0 sacks, 10.5 tackles for a loss). His ability to play as a 1-gap 3-4 defensive end and as a defensive tackle in a 4-3 Under front makes him a great fit for the modern “multiple” NFL defense.
To’o o’o and Harris are both very athletic off-ball linebackers who could play the WILL or MIKE positions at the NFL level. To’oTo’o is probably a bit further along in his run defense than Harris, but both flash the ability to bring down ball carriers on the play-side as well as in pursuit. They’re both also very good at playing in space and fully capable of hanging in coverage with most running backs and tight ends. Likewise, both have good football IQ and are fully capable of quarterbacking the defense from the MIKE position.
Finally we come to safety Jordan Battle. Battle will almost certainly be a strong or box safety in the NFL. He even has the physicality where he could play a “Moneybacker” or “STAR” role for a defense which uses the position. Battle has good range for a bigger safety to go with great ball skills, and he can play deep zone coverages.
That said, he’s at his best when he’s using his frame (6-foot-2, 210 pounds), physicality, and great tackling to bring down ball carriers in space, make plays in the running game around the line of scrimmage, and roam the underneath area to exploit quarterbacking mistakes.
Prospects to watch
- Evan Neal (OT)
- Emil Ekiyor (iOL)
- Jameson Williams (WR)
- Brian Robinson Jr. (RB)
- Phidarian Mathis (iDL)
- D.J. Dale (iDL)
- Christian Harris (OBLB)
- Henry To’oTo’o (OBLB)
- Jordan Battle (S)
It was surprising to see Alabama beat Georgia so handily in the SEC title game. The Bulldogs are one of the few teams — maybe the only team — in the college ranks that can stand toe-to-toe with Alabama from a pure talent perspective.
Georgia isn’t as solid as Alabama is at the quarterback position, but they could potentially get a boost as wide receiver George Pickens returns from a torn ACL he suffered in the spring. This will be his second game back from injury, playing in Georgia’s dismantling of Michigan in the Orange Bowl. Pickens only had one catch for 9 yards in that game, but he also added an impressive block on a running play.
Pickens has good side for the outside, listed at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, and is a solid athlete and route runner. He has the long speed to make plays down the field to go with savvy route running, great hands, and excellent ball skills. Pickens was regarded as one of the top receivers in this draft class before his injury and a strong game against Alabama’s potent defense would go a long way toward repairing his draft stock.
Of course, Georgia is stacked pretty much everywhere else on the offense and defense as well.
iDL Jordan Davis is almost certainly Georgia’s best prospect and is regarded as one of the best, if not the best, interior defenders in the country. He is a hulking presence at 6-foot-6, 340 pounds, but moves like a much smaller player, allowing him to play any interior position in a 4 or 3-man front. He’s all but unblockable one-on-one and capable of disrupting as a one-gap player or being an immovable object as a 2-gap defender. It isn’t often that we see interior defenders with just 7 career sacks drafted highly, but we could see that from Davis.
Butkus Award winning linebacker Nakobe Dean has rocketed up draft boards thanks to his athleticism and football IQ. Dean is likely a WILL linebacker at the NFL level, and has true 3-down ability. He’s a good tackler who’s great at anticipating running plays, has plenty of athleticism to play the pass in coverage zones, and is a dangerous blitzer. He’s a bit smaller than ideal, which shows up when directly taking on blocks, but needing defensive linemen to hold their blocks is a minor complaint compared to all the things he does well.
Also keep your eye on EDGE Travon Walker. Walker will likely be a defensive lineman at the NFL level, thanks to his 6-foot-5, 270-pound frame. He’s used all over the Alabama defensive front, moving from outside linebacker to nose tackle to create and exploit matchups. He’s both explosive and powerful, as well as surprisingly fluid for a player his size.
Prospects to watch
- Jaramee Salyer (OL)
- George Pickens (WR)
- James Cook (RB)
- Jordan Davis (iDL)
- Devonte Wyatt (iDL)
- Trevon Walker (EDGE)
- Nakobe Dean (LB)
- Quay Walker (LB)
- Derion Kendrick (CB)
- Lewis Cine (S)
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