By Tony Pauline
January 09, 2012

After almost three weeks of non-stop bowl games, the college football season culminates in an SEC rematch on Monday to crown a national champion. Fans around the nation have been anticipating this contest, and so to are NFL decision-makers. Close to eight first-round choices will be found on the field in the BCS National Championship Game, with another half-dozen players who presently grade as top-90 picks. As the ball is teed up to decide the winner, here are the players NFL scouts will key on.

Trent Richardson, RB (No. 3)* -- A complete running back who offers better pro potential than former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, a first-round selection last April, Richardson combines the strength to pound opponents on the inside, the agility to turn the corner and the instincts to avoid defenders anywhere on the field. The junior (who is expected to enter the draft) is also a terrific receiver out of the backfield and has the potential to be an outstanding featured back in the NFL. 1st Round

Dre Kirkpatrick, CB (No. 21)* -- More than a half-dozen defensive backs have been drafted from Alabama since 2006, and Kirkpatrick is shaping up to be one of the best. He has NFL size, athleticism and terrific ball skills. Kirkpatrick comes with a lot of upside and will only improve as he polishes his game. 1st Round

Mark Barron, S (No. 4) -- Barron ranks as the top safety in the nation after rebounding from a junior campaign littered by poor decision-making on the field. He possesses outstanding size, ball skills and the ability to make plays sideline-to-sideline. He has a complete game and Barron will fit a variety of defensive schemes in the NFL. 1st Round

Courtney Upshaw, DE-OLB (No. 41) -- The Tide's top pass-rusher is a playmaking machine who has NFL scouts excited. He's a powerful defender who lines up in a three-point stance or stands up over tackle. Upshaw defeats blocks to make plays behind the line of scrimmage and effectively defends the run. He projects as a one-gap defensive end in a four-man line or as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment. 1st Round

Don'ta Hightower, ILB (No. 30)* -- Hightower is a forceful linebacker who dominates the action. He abuses blockers on his way to the ball-carrier and shows a nose for making plays behind the line of scrimmage. He's more of a run defender, but Hightower also displays ability covering the pass in the box. He doesn't always play at full speed, which is a concern, but at the top of his game Hightower offers immediate starting potential in the NFL. 1st Round

Robert Lester, S (No. 37)* -- Lester does not garner the same attention as many of his headlining teammates, but is one of the better cover safeties in the nation. He's a fierce hitter who can line up over the slot receiver or effectively handle responsibilities in zone coverage. 2nd Round

Chance Warmack, G (No. 65)* -- The junior lineman opens holes for the running game, while also showing the ability to take out linebackers blocking in motion. He has an NFL style and the skills necessary to start at the next level. 2nd/3rd Round

D.J. Fluker, T (No. 76)* -- Fluker moved into the stating lineup as a freshman and has shown steady progress ever since. He's a fundamentally sound lineman who opens up the running lanes on the right side while also protecting his passer. He has a nice degree of upside and scouts are excited about the red-shirt sophomore. 3rd Round

Morris Claiborne, CB (No. 17)* -- LSU has not missed a beat in the secondary this season despite the departure of Patrick Peterson to the NFL. That's because Claiborne is a first-round prospect with NFL starting potential. Many around the league feel Claiborne's game is more polished than his former teammates. Expect Claiborne to announce he's entering the draft soon after the title game. 1st Round

Sam Montgomery, DE-OLB (No. 99)* -- Montgomery rebounded well from a knee injury that limited him to just five games last season. He's a dominant front seven player who displays a great combination of quickness and speed as well as the ability to makes plays in every direction on the field. Listed at 245 pounds, Montgomery works hard rushing the passer and defending the run. The red-shirt sophomore is likely to return to LSU for another season. 1st Round

Rueben Randle, WR (No. 2)* -- Circumstances gave Randle the chance to be the Tigers' main pass-catching threat this season, and he immediately grabbed hold of the opportunity. He's a tall, sure-handed receiver who stands out in the red zone or on third-down passing situations. Randle also displays deceptive speed and the ability to beat defenders downfield. His play improved weekly this season, and Randle has the skill to develop into a No. 1 wideout in the NFL. 1st/2nd Round

Alex Hurst, T (No. 72)* -- Hurst has been starting at right tackle the past two seasons, slowly moving up draft boards in 2011. He's fundamentally sound and possesses the strength to control defenders and open running lanes. Hurst also plays smart football and rarely makes mental errors. 2nd/3rd Round

Russell Shepard, WR (No.10)* -- Shepard entered the year as the Tigers' big-play threat, but a three-game NCAA suspension at the start of the year dampened his campaign. Shepard is a tremendous athlete with the speed to pull away from defenders and stretch the field. He's yet to get back to the form he showed in 2010, but Shepard is a home run threat who can score from any point on the field. 2nd/3rd Round

Brandon Taylor, S (No. 18) -- Taylor turned in a career season in 2011 and showed vast improvement in all areas of his game. He's an instinctive defender that positions himself to make plays against the run or pass. Taylor lacks classic size/speed numbers for an NFL safety yet gets the most from his ability, making up for physical shortcomings with smart play. 4th/5th Round

Karnell Hatcher, S (No. 37) -- Hatcher is a college linebacker who projects to strong safety at the next level. He's a tough run defender who takes good angles to the action and works hard to make plays on the ball. Hatcher's one of those prospects who will be a steal in the late rounds of the draft. 6th Round

Ryan Baker, LB (No. 22) -- Baker is another Tiger defender who relies on hustle and smarts to make plays on the ball. He does not pass the eyeball test, as Baker is small and stopwatch slow. But the senior has great instincts and a sixth sense on the field, which will secure a roster spot for him in the NFL. 7th Round Prospect

You May Like

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)