2016 NFL Draft: Conference Championship Scouting Previews


It’s championship weekend, which calls for great matchups with many games determining the College Football Playoff standings. Is Clemson still in if the surging Tar Heels upset them in Charlotte or do the Heels take its spot? Oklahoma is a lock but what about the underrated Iowa squad that has been slept on all season? Do they deserve the number two seed if they defeat the fifth ranked Spartans Saturday?

Only one day stands between these decisions and we are presented with a great stretch of games with plenty of players to keep an eye on for the 2016 NFL Draft season. Here are some draft-eligible players to watch in the Power Five conference championship games this weekend.

By: Christian Page

SEC Championship: No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 18 Florida // Saturday at 4 p.m. on CBS

A familiar matchup in Atlanta for the SEC crown, the two faceoff for the eighth time in just the 24th SEC Championship Game. After a grinding win over Auburn last week headlined by running back Derrick Henry the Tide is riding a nine-game win streak while Florida is still struggling to score points on offense.

Not being used too often in the passing game, tight end O.J. Howard (#88, Junior) has embraced the role of being a blocking tight end and excels in that area. Fundamentally sound, Howard uses his upper body strength to control the outside defenders serving as a great lead blocker for the Heisman frontrunner Henry. If Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin designed more plays designated to the tight end, Howard would be more of a flashy prospect but doing the dirty work in the trenches will suffice. As matchups go, Howard will be called upon to take on some of the top defenders in the conference with Antonio Morrison (#3, Senior) serving as the leader of the Florida defense. Morrison is known for his ability to get into the backfield and make plays before the play has a chance to develop. We will witness a war between these two throughout the game and both have a chance to raise eyebrows in just this matchup alone.

Pac-12 Championship: No. 7 Stanford vs. 20 USC // Saturday at 7:45 p.m. on ESPN
The distractions were real for USC, but the Trojans found a way to remove the obstacles to get to the Pac-12 Championship Game for the first time in program history. Stanford fought its way back from a tough opening loss at home to Northwestern and then a later loss to new rival Oregon, behind a Heisman caliber season by all-purpose king Christian McCaffrey.

Not having to do too much in the win versus in-state rival California, Kevin Hogan (#8, Senior) was called upon more in his team’s upset win over Notre Dame. Hogan made many big throws to keep the Irish defense on its toes with his favorite target Devon Cajuste (#89, Senior) making a significant impact. Arriving in Palo Alto as a tight end prospect, Cajuste is not a polished receiver and does not possess the desired speed to out run corners at the next level. Cajuste, though, is an excellent possession receiver for Hogan and can come down with any catch thrown his way as that was the case last week. Finding rhythm with Hogan and Cajuste will be key to Stanford’s offensive success attacking an inconsistent USC pass defense.

The Trojans have flown under the radar since starting the season off 3-3 with a couple of conference losses, so many draft prospects’ names have been hidden in that quietness. Tweener prospect Su’a Cravens (#21, Junior) has flirted with a lukewarm and hot season with scouts still struggling to find out what position suits him best at the next position between outside linebacker and safety. Cravens does a fine job in man coverage versus tight ends and running backs and can also stay stride for stride with receivers. Cravens’ speed will be tested versus the quick athlete McCaffrey when pursuing the electric playmaker, which is what Cravens more than often thrives in doing.

ACC Championship: No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 10 North Carolina // Saturday at 8 p.m. on ABC
No team may be hotter than the North Carolina Tar Heels at the moment playing top-tier defense and scoring at will. The Heels’ strength of schedule has been criticized, and rightly so, but that will be put to bed if Carolina can upset the unblemished Clemson Tigers Saturday night.

North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams (#12, Senior) was seen as just a fringe draft pick entering the season but after improving on many aspects of his game (pocket presence, decision making, intermediate passes) Williams is a rising prospect hoping for a combine invite next year. Williams’ receiving corps is arguably the best unit in the ACC and is highlighted by incredible size with Quinshad Davis (6’4” 210), Mack Hollins (6’4” 210) and Bug Howard (6’5” 210). Williams will have his toughest test yet throwing against a tough secondary with playmakers and potential first round picks Mackensie Alexander (#2, RS Sophomore) and safety Jayron Kearse (#20, Junior).

Now being mentioned in the same breath as Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves, Alexander is the definition of lockdown. Alexander is rarely tested on the outside and when targeted he creates his own version of “No Fly Zone” making a play on the ball showing good ball skills and closing ability if separation battle is lost, which is rare. Alexander is just 5’11” so seeing how he matches up against the long UNC receivers will be a good measuring stick (no pun intended) of how he will adjust to the bigger NFL receivers.


Big Ten Championship: No. 5 Michigan St vs. No. 4 Iowa // Saturday at 8:15 p.m.
Ohio State, Michigan or Wisconsin not having a shot at the Big Ten crown is almost unheard of. Iowa has cruised this season still not gaining much respect from the national eye but with a win over the hot Michigan State team they will have no choice but to beg for your respect.

Iowa’s defense does manage to give up yards through the air but buckles down in the redzone and is prone to keep the quarterback out of the endzone giving up just 14 passing touchdowns all season and forcing 17 interceptions. Mentioning the Iowa secondary without brining Desmond King (#14, Junior) in the conversation is a sin. King has been a dominant playmaker in the great secondary showing excellent ball skills and closing speed from his cornerback position. King is now gaining first round consideration and a notable game versus Spartans’ quarterback Connor Cook would help that statement out significantly.

The Iowa offensive line will have its work cut out for them battling against two of the more dominant defensive linemen in the Big Ten: Shlique Calhoun (#89, Senior) and Malik McDowell (Sophomore, notable 2017 prospect). Calhoun has flirted with first round status and still has a chance to solidify that billing with good performances in his final few games. Calhoun’s ability to explode off the line on the snap is his best attribute. His evaluation for the next level will be debated between a 4-3 defensive end and an outside rush linebacker because he struggles to convert his speed to power losing more battles with him lacking that desired upper body strength. Iowa’s smash-mouth football game plan could put Calhoun’s strengths to rest but giving us another chance to see his one on one strength test is key.

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