It's finally here. Weeks and weeks of what seemed like never-ending debate about the BCS National Championship will culminate tonight in New Orleans when No. 1 LSU takes on No. 2 Alabama in the most anticipated rematch in, dare I say, college football history.
Whether these two teams should be pitted against each other with it all on the line tonight is a discussion for another day and another article, but right now we're going to focus on these two squads and what this game means tonight for them both moving forward. These are two rosters that are teeming with talent that will succeed at the next level (particularly on the defensive side of the ball), that is something that no one can possibly argue. After a bowl season that included dozens of scoring records either matched or broken, this defensive battle tonight will be a breath of fresh air for most NFL coaches and evaluators starving for some good old fashioned defensive football.
With that in mind, let's take a further look at the rosters of these two programs, and see which players we can keep a closer eye on for the 2012 NFL Draft. Now, there are a bevy of potential prospects in tonight’s game who could be eligible for this year’s draft if they declare as underclassmen, but for now we focus only on those players assured of being available come April.
WR Marquis Maze (5'8, 192 lbs):
Maze hasn't drawn many headlines this season, but he quietly had a solid campaign for the Tide. A likely slot receiver at the next level, Maze is a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands and has speed to burn. He was electric as a punt returner over his career, and will look to serve that role in the NFL as well. Maze has reportedly been invited to the Senior Bowl, and evaluators will look to see improvement in his route running and his ability to beat press coverage during his time in Mobile.
C William Vlachos (6'1, 301 lbs):
Vlachos is a classic overachiever who may not necessarily have all of the physical tools teams covet at the next level. But from the neck up? Vlachos is one of the nation’s best. He plays with good pad level and shows the ability to get to the next level in the run game. How he handles the monstrous LSU front four (which features a slew of potential top draft picks), will be one of the keys to the game for the Crimson Tide tonight.
DT Josh Chapman (6'0, 316 lbs):
Chapman is not someone who is going to stand out from play to play, but he plays a key role in Nick Saban's 3-4 defensive front. A strong player that understands leverage and excels at holding up blocks, his play is key for the Alabama linebacking corps that is one of the country's best. He's never going to be a premier pass rusher at the next level, but his motor alone will net him some time in the opposing backfield tonight. His ability to anchor in the run game will also be integral to stopping an option attack from LSU that features a variety of looks from multiple different ball carriers.
OLB Courtney Upshaw (6'1, 271 lbs):
In a defense that employs a number of different looks, Upshaw is one of its most versatile cogs. A physically imposing edge rusher, Upshaw is used by defensive coordinator Kirby Smart as a stand-up rush linebacker in their base 3-4 defense, and as a down lineman in their sub-packages. He's far from an elite athlete, but Upshaw is a tenacious pass rusher (particularly when he's standing up) and has the size to anchor against the run game as well. He is a sound tackler in close quarters, and while he is a bit stiff covering running backs and tight ends in man-to-man, he holds his own in underneath zone coverage. Overall, Upshaw is a lock for the first round of the draft, and one of the best defensive players in this class.
SS Mark Barron (6'1, 223 lbs):
Barron is considered by most to be the top box safety on the board this year, and his ability to run the alley and inflict damage on opposing ball carriers is what makes him worthy of that distinction. Barron is a good tackler that excels inside the box and he has the versatility to play in space as a zone defender in the deep half as well. Barron doesn't have superb ball skills, but his elite instincts and field awareness allow him to be around the football on a constant basis. Barron is a high character player and leader of the Crimson defense; look for this future first-round pick to make his presence felt sooner rather than later after the opening kickoff tonight.
TE Deangelo Peterson (6'3, 229 lbs):
An athletic move tight end who has the speed to stretch the seam is all the rage in the NFL these days, and that's what makes a player like Peterson so appealing. Though he needs to put on a few pounds after graduation, Peterson has long arms and shows the ability to be a threat after the catch that really reminds me of a Jared Cook-like presence in an offense. That being said, Peterson has a lot to improve on, including his pad level, route running, and consistency catching the football. At this stage, he looks like a late-round selection.
SS Brandon Taylor (5'11, 196 lbs):
Taylor is another player we should all keep a close eye on in tonight's game, as he is going to look to exact some revenge on the Tide after what was not his best performance in the first go-round. Taylor missed a couple of tackles in that game against Trent Richardson (he is neither the first nor the last to say that), and will look to improve on that outing in tonight's match-up. Taylor is a hard hitter who, much like Alabama's Mark Barron, loves to run downhill and make plays on the football in the run game. He's a good tackler who exhibits good ball skills in coverage as well, making him one of the better all-around players at the safety position in this year's class. At this point, Taylor looks like he will be a mid-round selection, likely in the fourth-round range.