Oklahoma’s season was somewhat in question when dropping two of its first three games and then just inching past TCU and Texas (combined record of the two Texas schools: 11-14). The Sooners are currently riding a 10-game winning streak with convincing wins in its previous two games versus top 15 teams (combined score versus West Virginia & Oklahoma State: 94-48). With its two Heisman finalists highlighting the offense, Oklahoma will battle out the nation’s fifth-ranked scoring defense (15.6).
By: Christian Page
Auburn fans are shocked to find their team playing in New Orleans as the SEC’s second-best team especially after its poor offensive performances versus rivals Georgia and Alabama. Auburn is hopeful to have a healthy Kamryn Pettway running the football as the junior leads the SEC in rushing yards per game (124.7).
A few players with NFL implications in this game have already decided to stay in school for at least one more season. As for the rest, here is a list of the top draft-eligible prospects in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 in New Orleans.
No. 7 Oklahoma (10-2, 9-0)
Samaje Perine, RB, 5’10, 235, #32 (Jr.)
Perine is a bruising runner with a power described game as the undecided junior has totaled for 974 yards with 11 touchdowns on 179 carries. Perine doesn’t offer much outside of being a power runner as he displays just average elusiveness and agility to avoid oncoming tacklers. Boasting traits of patience and balance, Perine is an in-between the tackles runner than continues to get the grunt yards in the trenches. A running back doesn’t have to have a hefty amount of elusiveness to show a sense of solid change of direction. With Perine’s exceptional change of direction skills, superb vision, contact balance and power, he will fit just fine in a NFL offense.
Dede Westbrook, WR, 6’0, 175, #11
The Heisman Trophy finalist’s 2016 stat line is impressive with 74 receptions for 1,465 yards and 16 touchdowns. Westbrook’s quick-twitch ability provides for him to get open downfield and in the middle of the field. He shows excellent body control and balance as a route runner and adjusts well to poorly thrown balls from his quarterback. Westbrook’s top-notch speed will cause panic for an Auburn secondary that has been exposed by the long ball in the second half of the season.
Orlando Brown Jr., OT, 6’8, 340, #78 (Soph.)
Unofficial reports have called for Brown to stick around in Norman for at least one more season but with nothing official yet, his draft status is still up in the air. Brown’s biggest intrigue as a prospect comes with his run blocking ability. He is a mauling left tackle with a massive build that pummels opponents with strong hands and a powerful upper body. Brown isn’t sound in pass protection displaying sloppy footwork with a lack of quickness to stay on par with a quick jump off the snap for defenders. His foot quickness isn’t ideal for a starting left tackle in the league but a player with the caliber of his run blocking ability and if he can at least be serviceable in pass protection, he could be an early second round pick to be plugged in at right tackle. His dad, Orlando Sr., played in the league for over 10 seasons.
Jordan Evans, ILB, 6’2, 235, #26
The team’s leading tackler, Evans has racked up 89 total stops with nine for loss and 2.5 sacks. Evans is virtually in on every play for the Sooners as he refuses to stay initially blocked as he finds ways to break free and get out of potential blockers with adequate athleticism. The senior has controlled footwork and is smooth when changing direction but looks to have some hitch when having to quickly transition from a stationary position to pursuit. Evans doesn’t show great speed from the inside as he can lose outside containment but oddly enough does show the ability to quickly close on the football. Auburn doesn’t have the speedster spread players it normally produces, so Evans may get away with his lack of speed to reach the perimeter.
Ahmad Thomas, FS, 6’0, 215, #13
An explosive tackler, Thomas has the physique and physical demeanor to be a next-level safety (which safety position is what the real question will be later on). Thomas comes up as a solid penetrator in the run game from his deep safety position showing enough athleticism to shake off blockers and pursue the ball. His overall speed is suspect but he shows enough quickness in the open field to make up for any lack of speed he possesses. Auburn’s downhill running offense plays right into Thomas’ aggressive hard-hitting style of play.
Jordan Thomas, CB, 6’0, 192, #7 (Jr.)
Thomas’ off the field issues are of obvious concern, but his play on the field is above average. Thomas boasts his instincts as the ball is in the air showing off impressive anticipation skills that usually lead to interceptions. It’s rare to see a contested ball go the receiver’s way when battling with Thomas a the senior cornerback has tallied 16 pass breakups so far this season. His overall athleticism, instincts and length should call for him to be a sought after draft pick. Within the past 48 hours, Thomas is reported saying he will return to Oklahoma for his senior season.
Other Sooners to watch
-Jordan Wade, DT, 6’3, 310, #93
-Erick Wren, C, 6’2, 308, #58
Draft-eligible Sooners returning for another season (reported)
-Baker Mayfield, QB, 6’1, 210, #6 (Jr.)
-Joe Mixon, RB, 6’1, 226, #25 (Soph.)
-Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, LB, 6’2, 245, #31 (Jr.)
No. 14 Auburn (8-4, 4-4)
Robert Leff, RT, 6’6, 299, #70
Leff graded out highly by Pro Football Focus’ college metrics, especially as a run blocker. The senior right tackle is a brute in the run game controlling his matchup off the snap. His engagement skills are above average as his strong hands latch onto his opponent. Leff needs to do a better job at sticking with his matchup while also needing to play with better bend. He tends to reach for opponents and as he whiffs he loses balance and then the progression of the play is stopped in the backfield.
Alex Kozan, LG, 6’4, 310, #63
Kozan has been a staple for the Auburn run game the past few seasons and he is back into his old form after a sitting out with back complications. He does great work when pulling showing proper footwork and technique when establishing the point of attack. Kozan doesn’t exert above-average power or athleticism but shows consistency in the Tigers’ heavy run-oriented offense. When in pass protection, Kozan struggles with hand quickness and staying on par with the more flexible defensive tackles (who doesn’t?). Many times Kozan served as the seal blocker for Kamryn Pettway.
Carl Lawson, DE, 6’2, 255, #55 (Jr.)
Lawson finally completed a full season and he shined. He led the team in quarterbacks hurries (24), tackles for loss (12.5) and sacks (nine). Lawson has lined up in multiple ways for the Tigers and most of the time a positive result follows. Boasting great get-off quickness, upper body strength and flexibility, Lawson has all the traits to be a successful pass rusher at the next level. A skill that goes unnoticed for many defensive end is the ability to maintain outside leverage; Lawson consistently shows that. Lawson participated in Senior Day at Auburn but has yet to publicly announce his declaration.
Montravius Adams, DT, 6’4, 309, #1
On a personal note, I have been plotting for Adams since Week One as I believe he has the total package at defensive tackle. Adams brings athleticism to the position being able to show consistent flexibility paired with power and quickness. The 6-foot-4 defensive tackle brings a pass rushing presence from the interior complementing with field awareness and elite chase speed. Adams showcases the best get off of all the defensive tackles I have watched this season. His get-off speed joined with quick powerful hands and athleticism puts him in the mold of a first round talent.
Jonathan “Rudy” Ford, SS/NB, 6’0, 204, #15
Ford may be a tough evaluation when projecting his position for the NFL. The productive defensive player for the Tigers shows range in pass coverage but seems to fall short of ever making a play on the ball. His pass defense can be shaky from free safety, but Ford could be a solid nickelback in the NFL with the right development. Ford’s smooth change of direction skills and compact frame will suit well at the next-level as they have in the SEC. The senior defensive back is a stud run defender making multiple stops behind the line of scrimmage with enough maneuverability and athleticism to attack from his safety position.
Other Tigers to Watch
-Devaroe Lawrence, DT, 6’2, 302, #94
-Joshua Holsey, CB, 5’11, 195, #15
-Tony Stevens, WR, 6’4, 212, #8
-Maurice Swain, DT, 6’5, 314, #90
-Tre’ Williams, ILB, 6’2, 240, #30 (Jr.)
Draft-eligible Tigers returning for another season (reported)
-Daniel Carlson, K, 6’4, 216, #38, (Jr.)
-Kamryn Pettway, RB, 6’0, 240, #36 (Soph.)
-Braden Smith, RG, 6’6, 300, #71 (Jr.)