2015 NFL draft: Prospects galore in Ohio State-Oregon title game
Once the dust settles on Monday night, with either Ohio State or Oregon crowned the national champion, draft season will be upon us.
OK, sure, there's still that small matter of deciding the Super Bowl champion. For all the college players hoping to make the professional leap, though, there will be nothing left between them and the draft but the grueling pre-draft process: All-Star games, pro days, the combine, individual workouts, etc.
Several Buckeyes and Ducks are going to be put through that wringer. The best draft prospects for each team:
1. Michael Bennett, DT (6-2, 288): Almost certain to be the first Buckeye off the board come April, Bennett is cut from the Henry Melton mold as an athletic three-technique tackle who does his best work in pass-rush situations. He is tied for second on the team with six sacks (well off the 14-sack pace of Joey Bosa, whose draft time could come as soon as 2016), and he was red hot to close the regular season -- five of those sacks came during the Buckeyes' final five games.
2. Jeff Heuerman, TE (6-5, 255): The decision by Minnesota's Maxx Williams to turn pro instantly moved him to the top of the 2015 tight end board. Heuerman has a case for the No. 2 spot as a versatile talent in a slightly underwhelming class.
Ohio State relies on Heuerman far more as a blocker than a pass-catcher, hence his 17 receptions this season and 52 for his career. Heuerman has, however, flashed the ability to trouble defenses downfield, plus will stand out above some of his positional counterparts for the work he does in the run game.
3. Devin Smith, WR (6-1, 197): "His stock is soaring right now," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said of Smith during the title game's media day. "It's because he catches the ball, but that's No. 2, because he's one of the best gunners in college football."
That special-teams punch can be overlooked in general draft discussions, but it should serve Smith well. He is effective as a gunner in large part because of his speed, which is also what will put him on the radar at receiver. Smith is lethal deep -- he's carrying a ridiculous 27.7 yards-per-catch average -- and doesn't mind fighting for the football.
4. Doran Grant, CB (5-11, 193): Despite being one of the most reliable playmakers on a team now playing for the title, Grant has stayed a bit under the radar this season. He won't stay there, not with a Senior Bowl trip forthcoming and five INTs to his credit in 2014. Something else to track: Smith said last week, per NFL.com, that he can run a 4.32 40.
"I possibly could be the fastest guy on this team," Smith said.
5. Curtis Grant, LB (6-3, 240): The hype always has outweighed the performance for Grant, once the No. 2 prospect in the recruiting rankings. Ohio State still would not be where it is without him. The latest proof of that came in Grant's 10-tackle showing vs. Alabama. While he's likely to be either a late-rounder or UDFA, Grant's experience alone will land him an opportunity somewhere.
Others to watch: OT Taylor Decker, WR Evan Spencer
Decker is definitely a name to remember. He's said he plans to return for his senior year in Columbus, and Meyer confirmed the same, but the left tackle has been outstanding for Ohio State this season. Should he change his mind and head to the pros, Decker would be at least in the Day 2 conversation.
1. Marcus Mariota, QB (6-4, 215): Mariota has not yet declared for the 2015 draft, though it seems a foregone conclusion at this point. The Oregon quarterback is on track to be a viable option at No. 1 overall for Tampa Bay, even as questions about his ability to transition from Oregon's offense into an NFL scheme persist.
Perhaps Mariota will not thrive from Day 1 in the league, but his athleticism and the upside he's shown as a passer combine to form a high ceiling.
2. Jake Fisher, OT (6-6, 299): The linchpin of Oregon's offensive line. The Ducks learned the hard way just how valuable Fisher is for them when their front struggled badly in his absence due to injury earlier this season. Fisher has generated positive momentum ever since returning, up to and including a dominant showing vs. Florida State in the Rose Bowl.
Some of the more talked-about offensive tackles in the 2015 class (Brandon Scherff, Cedric Ogbuehi, T.J. Clemmings) will have to convince NFL folks they can play on the left side. Fisher has shown that he can do so, giving him a boost headed into April.
3. Hroniss Grasu, C (6-3, 297): Oregon had to navigate several games sans Grasu, as well. He injured his leg in early November and did not return to the lineup until New Year's Day.
Florida State's Cameron Erving has shifted the draft outlook at the center position some since successfully completing his move to that position. If nothing else, Grasu is in the mix as the No. 2 center prospect behind Erving, and he might be tops on the list if teams would rather Erving kick back outside. Grasu will not clobber defenders off the snap all that often, but he moves well and has thrived in Oregon's unique offense.
4. Arik Armstead, DE (6-7, 296): Yahoo's Rand Getlin reported last month that Armstead, a junior, is "leaning toward" entering the draft. "Can see him go very, very high," an AFC West GM told Armstead's family, according to documents obtained by Getlin.
The NFL Network's Albert Breer relayed similar chatter from one of the league's GMs: "He has first-round talent, no doubt. The more he shows us in the playoff game, the better chance he has. But he's a 6-foot-8, 290-pound freak."
There is no doubt that Armstead has an NFL future. The problem, as of right now, is that he's a raw talent, one who will require patience and solid coaching at the next level. So, will he actually be a Round 1 pick if he heads to the 2015 draft or is this an all-too-familiar example of a talented prospect being oversold on his own future?
In other words, would Armstead be better off returning to Oregon for his senior season? He'll have to make that decision soon. No matter the answer, he will be an extremely intriguing player to track.
5. Tony Washington, DE/OLB (6-3, 250): The Ducks have employed Washington in a variety of ways this season. He has done his best work as an edge-rusher (11 tackles for loss, six sacks), and that's where he projects at the next level, probably in a 3-4 scheme. This is a deep class for players of that ilk, so Washington may have to wait a bit to hear his name called.
Others to watch: S Erick Dargan, DE/OLB DeForest Buckner, LB Derrick Malone, CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB Troy Hill
Buckner has delayed an announcement on his future. There are some who will prefer Buckner to Armstead, should he head to the NFL, and he has been the more productive player this season (13 tackles for loss and foursacks to 5.5 and 2.5, respectively, for Armstead).
Dargan, with seven INTs and 13 passes defensed, has emerged as a legitimate prospect at a premium position. A trip to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl later this week, alongside Hill, will give him a bit more exposure.
Ekpre-Olomu will not play Monday, less than a month removed from tearing his ACL. Prior to that injury, he was among the top cornerback prospects this year, after opting to pass on the 2014 draft. He could be ready in time for the start of the 2015 season, however, so plan on him landing in the Round 3-4 range despite the injury.