2014 NFL Draft Bowl Preview: Sugar Bowl – Alabama vs. Oklahoma

AJ McCarronThe Sooners last game was a comeback win at Bedlam, while Alabama lost their SEC title and BCS title hopes in the Iron Bowl. Many have made mention of Alabama potentially not being motivated by referencing their 2009 Sugar Bowl loss to Utah; however, that line of thinking doesn’t make much sense considering Alabama’s statement victory in a similar situation during the 2011 Capital One Bowl versus Michigan State. Nick Saban will have the Crimsons Tide ready to play.

The bigger question in my opinion will be how Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops prepares his team. Last year, the Sooners suffered an embarrassing loss to the Texas A&M Aggies in the Cotton Bowl. So while I’m not sure which crimson-colored team wins, I do know there are multiple NFL prospects you should know in this one.

A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama, #10
A two-time BCS National championship winner and offensive MVP in both games, A.J. McCarron is one of the most highly decorated passer in college football. As a prospect, McCarron operates with sound throwing mechanics and will work through progressions when forced to do so. He’s not overly willing to test tight windows and can be overly quick to check the football down, leading to comparisons to Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan. Where McCarron wins as a prospect may very well be his underrated athleticism and ability to avoid sacks. Scouts should understand his limited ceiling due to inaccuracies vertically, but NFL coaches will love the way he takes care of the football.

Kevin Norwood, WR, Alabama, #83
Norwood emerged in his junior year as a chains mover for the Bama offense, but put it all together as a senior by showcasing the ability to run the entire route tree and avoid injuries. He does a solid job of lowering surface area through his speed release by dipping his shoulder and accelerating upfield, and more importantly displays a polished skill set with the way he stacks before positioning for the reception. Considering his ability to defeat press coverage, size and speed element, and athletic ability, Norwood is a good bet to go on the second day of the 2014 NFL Draft.

(JR) Christion Jones, WR, Alabama, #22
Jones isn’t expected to declare for the draft, yet he’s been arguably Alabama’s biggest x-factor in 2013. Excelling in the return department (both kicks and punts) and creating matchup issues in the slot, Christon Jones is a twitchy, well-built receiver that looks and runs like a tailback. I’d like to see him make a more concerted effort to pluck the football but he’s a big play waiting to happen, as he can turn short screens and quick hitters into first downs or more.

(JR) Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama, #71
As Alabama’s left tackle starter, Cyrus Kounadjio impresses the most with his ability to transition upfield and laterally as a run blocker. Able to seal outside zone runs or climb to the second level on inside zone plays, Kouandjio is a dominant run blocker that secures and controls his opponents with heavy hands. Even when blocking from the backside of zone runs, you see plus effort in staying on track to cut down the backside linebacker or defensive end. Versus a defense that likes to send their corners on blitzes and bring in a few undersized pass rushing linebackers on obvious passing downs, Kouandjio needs to continue to improve his pass set in terms of base width and kick step balance. He’s not a real fluid pass protector, but he understands blocking schemes and generally diagnoses delay blitz concepts right away.

Ed Stinson, DE, Alabama, #49
Stinson specializes in stopping the run, controlling blockers with dominating hand use and using his long arms to create separation at the point of attack. In Alabama’s scheme, Stinson knows his role and plays with discipline, holding gap integrity at all costs. Recruited as a 3-4, pass rushing linebacker, Stinson filled out his frame over the course of his stay in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and developed into a prototypical 5-technique prospect.

Jeoffrey Pagan, DT, Alabama, #8
More of a pass rusher than his teammate Stinson, Jeoffrey Pagan is a more versatile prospect, in that he could project as a 1-technique or 3-technique on four man fronts and can also play the 5-technique role in 3-4 schemes. Pagan has a good burst off the line and uses his hands well to remain disengaged while transitioning to the quarterback.

C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama, #32
Mosley is the leader of this defense and is an exceptional linebacker prospect capable of playing as a Mike or Will at the NFL level. He’s struggled with dropped interceptions as a senior, but is loose in the hips and a fluid hook-to-curl zone defender. Excelling at locating the football and running to flow, C.J. Mosley is always around the football and possesses very good closing speed to finish plays along the sideline. Watch for Mosley to mirror Oklahoma’s mobile quarterbacks and operate as a spy defender.

Trey Depriest, ILB, Alabama, #33
Depriest, though athletic in his own right, is more of a downhill thumper than his teammate C.J. Mosley. Very explosive and powerful at the point of attack, Depriest will stack and shed lead blockers with violence. He’s a far more capable cover defender than most give him credit for but I anticipate him returning for one more season.

HaHa Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama, #6
Clinton-Dix is the best safety eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft, due to his elite level range as a single high safety to click, close and make impact plays. He’s ironing out pursuit angle issues but has made dramatic improvements in run support this season. HaHa projects as a day one starter at free safety and has even shown the ability to win in man coverage over slot receivers.

Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma, #14
Despite his long, lean body type, Colvin will play physical and support the run, as evidenced by his sound tackling technique on the perimeter. When targeted in off-man coverage with in-breaking routes, I came away impressed not only with Colvin’s quick twitch transition steps and redirect, but also liked the angles he takes out of the break to close on the ball carrier. Regardless of who he’s tasked with covering, Colvin has his work cut out for him against a talented Bama receiving corps.

Jalen Saunders, WR, Oklahoma, #8
With the ball in his hands, Jalen can immediately click into full speed, only to decelerate entirely and change directions to elude would-be tacklers. He’s fun to watch as a returner and slot dynamo, and his continued development as a route runner has only solidified his standing as a top 5 senior wide receiver in the upcoming draft class.

Gabe Ikard, OC, Oklahoma, #
Ikard possesses only adequate strength on contact but is an excellent athlete at the center position. His adjustments and footwork help compensate for his lack of power. I like his approach to the game and blocking fundamentals, as well as his move skills to pull and locate on the outside. Although he looks the part of a starting center in a zone system and could garner looks at the guard position due to his experience there, he’ll have to get stronger for the next level.

Others to watch:
Anthony Steen, OG, Alabama #61 (OUT –labrum shoulder surgery)
(JR) Arie Kouandjio, OG, Alabama, #77
Kenny Bell, WR, Alabama, #7
(JR) DeAndrew White, WR, Alabama, #2
(JR) Brandon Ivory, DT, Alabama, #99
Deion Belue, CB, Alabama, #13

Brennan Clay, RB, Oklahoma, #24
Roy Finch, RB, Oklahoma, #22
Lacoltan Bester, WR, Oklahoma #11
Jaz Reynolds, WR, Oklahoma #16
Bronson Irwin, OG, Oklahoma, #68
Gabe Lynn, CB, Oklahoma, #9