With the College Football Playoff National Championship coming up on Monday, we’re breaking down things from an NFL perspective, with the help of a couple experienced NFL execs…
1. The top matchup here, from an NFL perspective, may be a matter of opinion. But it’ll probably involve one team’s receivers and the other’s defensive backs. “I think it’s Clemson’s corners and LSU’s receivers,” said one AFC college scouting director. ”Clemson’s got a pretty damn good corner prospect, a likely first-rounder in A.J. Terrell, so I want to see how that guy measures up with two of the best receivers in the country.”
One of those two—Justin Jefferson—is draft-eligible and likely a top-50 pick (we’ll get to the other one in a minute). And on the other side of the ledger, you’ll have two more guys who’ll be in first-round consideration: Clemson WR Tee Higgins and LSU CB Kristian Fulton.
2. As good as Higgins and Jefferson may be, there are two underclassmen who may be even more highly-regarded. Clemson true sophomore Justyn Ross introduced himself to the country during last year’s title-game blowout of Alabama, and LSU true sophomore JaMarr Chase is even better.
If you’re into defense, LSU has a true freshman corner in Derek Stingley Jr. (the grandson of former New England Patriot Daryl Singley) who the Tiger coaches have told scouts they see as perhaps the best player on their roster. Bottom line: If you like receivers and the guys who cover them, this is the game for you.
3. LSU passing-game coordinator Joe Brady, 30, has become one of the hottest names in the coaching industry this fall, and the road scouts who’ve been around him say that he’s worthy of the hype. One AFC exec: “He just does a good job of mixing it up, RPOs, play action, it’s a good, versatile offense. He knows how to flood zones and give his quarterback multiple layers to throw to. And he understands the passing game really well and knows how to marry the run game to it. He gives you a lot of looks, and gives the quarterback options.”
4. The game’s most interesting prospect, in my mind, is Clemson linebacker/safety Isaiah Simmons, a freak athlete whose biggest NFL question concerns his deployment.
“What’s he gonna be?” asked the AFC exec. “He’s a great athlete, has rare size for a safety, he’d be undersized for linebacker but is amazingly athletic at that spot. He’s more of a rover back there. Where Derwin [James] was a traditional safety, this guy is more a linebacker with occasional safety play.”
The AFC college director then opined, “It’s more what isn’t he? That’s my thought. It’s a good problem to have. He’s good at a lot of different things. It’s not like he’s mediocre at a lot of things, he’s really good at a lot of things. My question is whether he’ll mix it up. How physical is he? … LSU’s a physical team. We’ll see if he throws his face in there.”
5. Joe Burrow, of course, is really the one to watch, and beyond it just being that he’s a quarterback, and the best one in the class, it’s how atypical his ascension has been.
“You won’t find a person that said, ‘Yeah, I looked at him as a junior and he was a first round pick’—and if you do, they’re lying,” said our AFC exec. “The jump in production is astronomical. The offense has been great and, yeah, he throws to great wideouts. But so does Tua [Tagovailoa], so does [Justin] Fields, so does [Trevor] Lawrence. They’re all going in with same amount of talent around them.” Burrow’s arm is good-not-great, and he’s a good-not-great athlete, too. Where the scouts really love him is in his pocket movement, his decision-making, and the intangibles he brings with him.
6. Finally, since it’s coach-search season, isn’t it interesting that the two head coaches in this game were never coordinators? Dabo Swinney’s background is as a receivers coach, Ed Orgeron’s is as a defensive line coach. That goes to show you how small a piece of the puzzle calling plays is for a coach at that level.
“They’re both outstanding recruiters, both really good leaders, both have the personality to get in front of guys, demand competition and discipline, demand being a team player. Both really are very similar. Passionate, enthusiastic guys that love their players. It’s really a neat mix between the two guys, because they’re really similar guys in how they are with the players and recruiting, and leadership, and energy.”
And maybe there’s something NFL teams can take from that too.
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