Monday, January 9, 2012

LSU. Alabama. Who to Watch For

The National Championship game is tonight, and I am shocked that #1 LSU is the underdog. I've always had a soft spot for the Tigers, and I'll also be rooting for them because of the ruckus that would ensue if Alabama wins and gains the title of "National Champions" despite the fact that both teams will have defeated each other once. Nonetheless, 'Bama IS a loaded team that is very much LSU's equal, and this game will feature a bundle of pro prospects to watch for. I'm picking LSU because they always seem to weather the storm before coming back even stronger with a counter punch because they have so much depth and playmaking ability, headed by sophomore defensive back Tyrann Mathieu. The Honey Badger takes what it wants, and Mathieu always finds a way to make an impact in games whether it be an interception, forced fumble, punt return, or a simple pass break up. He's not draft eligible yet, but he is definitely a player you want to watch tonight.
Will Randle be able to break loose tonight?

My favorite matchup to keep an eye on will be LSU receiver Rueben Randle against Alabama corner Dre Kirkpatrick. Besides both having awesome names, these juniors were two of the top high school recruits of the 2009 class, which happens to be my class, so I have followed their careers with great interest. I won't go as far to say that the winner of this battle will win the game, but it will definitely be the most exciting to watch.

Without further ado, here are 5 players each from both teams tonight that will be high draft picks:

#2 Rueben Randle, WR. 6'4, 208. A big, smooth athlete who is a threat both down the field and after the catch on short throws. Inconsistent quarterback play has hurt his numbers, but he has still found ways to be productive. One of the runningbacks or quarterbacks will probably be the game MVP, but I like Randle as a sleeper.
#17 Morris Claiborne, CB. 6'1, 185. Following in the footsteps of former teammate Patrick Peterson, Claiborne is a likely top 10 pick in his own right. He's not quite the athletic freak Peterson is, but he might be a better pure cover corner. With his size, speed, and ball skills, Claiborne with few weaknesses.
#99 Sam Montgomery, DE. 6'4, 245. A big, explosive lineman who is likely to be a first rounder for his disruptiveness.
#90 Michael Brockers, DT. 6'6, 306. Another first rounder among this defensive front, Brockers is a huge force in the middle who will be key in stopping Alabama's rushing attack.
#10 Russell Shepard, WR. 6'1, 185. Runningback Michael Ford or safety Eric Reid (who both had huge games in the first meeting) would probably claim this top spot if they weren't just sophomores, but the receiver opposite Randle is yet another player skilled playmaker. Shepard is an interesting player because he played QB in high school and went to LSU because other schools wanted him to convert to receiver. Then he arrived on campus and decided he wanted to play right away and switched to wideout anyway. Watch for how many ways he is used tonight to make use of his speed.

#3 Trent Richardson, RB. 5'11, 224. The best runningback prospect of the past few years is another member of the class of '09 who watched closely as a freshman when he had a huge game against Texas in the 2010 National Championship. He has it all: vision, speed, size, burst after contact. If Alabama wins, Richardson will likely be the game MVP thanks to their zone blocking schemes.
#21 Dre Kirkpatrick, CB. 6'3, 192. A big, rangy corner who could probably be moved to safety down the line if needed, Kirkpatrick brings a lot to the table. With the big receivers in the NFL today, teams are going to place a premium on bigger corners, and Kirkpatrick has the chance to be the second one off the board if things go in his favor.
#4 Mark Barron, S. 6'2, 218. Possibly the best safety in this draft, Barron is almost a lock for the first round thanks to his combination of range and physicality. He's probably best at strong safety due to a lack of pure top-end speed, but his ball skills can play at free safety if needed. His help in run support tonight will be key against LSU's various running options.
#41 Courtney Upshaw, OLB/DE. 6-2, 265. Pass rushers are always at a premium, and Upshaw comes with the benefit of already playing in a 3-4 defense, so he won't have to go through a position conversion. He especially sets the edge well against the run and is a very well-rounded player who will go at some point in the first round.
#30 Dont'a Hightower, ILB. 6-4, 260. A big, run-stuffing 'backer in the middle, Hightower is a great downhill player. However, he's not a sideline to sideline defender due to a lack of lateral quickness that makes him a liability in coverage. If Hightower can come up big against LSU's speed option play, then he will likely secure his second round spot and prove the doubters wrong with regards to questions about his speed.

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