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Saturday Scouting: Final Four Preview

The College Football Playoffs are finally here as bowl season begins to wrap up. While there are a couple of other big matchups worth noting, the majority of this piece will be dedicated to the best individual showdowns in the Peach Bowl (Washington and Alabama) and the Fiesta Bowl (Ohio State and Clemson). This week on the College Draft Podcast, Ross Tucker and I discussed some of the latest news regarding underclassmen declaring for the NFL Draft. Here's my detailed breakdown of the battles to watch this weekend.

1. Washington QB Jake Browning vs. Alabama Defense
*Peach Bowl, Georgia Dome, Atlanta - Saturday 3 p.m. - ESPN *

The matchup of the Alabama defensive front against this Washington offensive line and backfield will ultimately decide this game, in my opinion. This is a huge stage for the sophomore quarterback who has put up huge numbers in coach Chris Peterson's offense. Browning was the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-Pac-12 selection. He doesn't have outstanding physical tools, but he executes Peterson's scheme at a high level and takes advantage of all of the weapons at his disposal, including standout sophomore running back Myles Gaskin.

Browning, who is not draft eligible this year, is going up against the biggest test of his career with an Alabama front seven that is, once again, loaded with pro prospects. There are two potential top-10 picks in the upcoming draft in defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and linebacker Reuben Foster. Edge rushers Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson, and nose tackle Dalvin Tomlinson will be at the Senior Bowl next month.

Allen has great scheme versatility at the next level and has drawn comparisons to current Seattle Seahawks lineman Michael Bennett. Foster may be the best linebacker prospect since Luke Kuechly because of his combination of instincts, athleticism and toughness. Williams is the most explosive of all the edge rushers in this draft class and would likely be a high pick if not for off-the-field concerns. His counterpart, Anderson, is well-rounded, but lacks the high upside. Tomlinson is a prototypical 2-gapper with run-stuffing capabilities inside. Keep in mind, this is just the senior class as Alabama sends waves of underclassmen at offenses as well. It's what makes the Crimson Tide defense the deepest unit in the country.

2. Clemson RB Wayne Gallman vs. Ohio State LB Raekwon McMillan
*Fiesta Bowl, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona - Saturday 7 p.m. - ESPN *

Quarterback Deshaun Watson and wide receiver Mike Williams get all the headlines as the two potential top-10 picks from the Clemson offense, but don't forget about Gallman. The second-team All-ACC pick nearly entered the 2016 NFL Draft after a productive sophomore season last year, but chose to return for another national title run. Gallman is intriguing because he's big, strong and competitive. One of the more complete backs in the draft class, Gallman doesn't have top-level vision and instincts. He may never be a feature back in the NFL, but he has the look of a player who will certainly stick in a primary backup capacity once he reaches the league.

Gallman will be seeing a lot of one of Ohio State's defensive leaders on Saturday night in McMillan. A former five-star recruit out of Virginia, McMillan stands at 6-2, 240 pounds and packs a punch inside between the tackles. Some, including myself, have questioned his overall instincts and just how good of an athlete he is, but there's no discounting the impact he's had on the Buckeyes this year. The two-year starter is a forceful tackler, gap-sound in the run game and would be one of the top defenders in the country if he went back to school for his senior season in 2017. Keep an eye on this matchup throughout the game when Clemson decides to run the football.

3. Washington WR John Ross vs. Alabama Secondary
*Peach Bowl, Georgia Dome, Atlanta - Saturday 3 p.m. - ESPN *

Ross has been torching Pac-12 secondaries on an almost weekly basis. With reported 4.3-speed and a diminutive frame, the junior from Long Beach, California has drawn comparisons to former Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson. There's some validity to that. Ross is explosive, for sure, but what impressed me most in the little I've studied of him is his ability to get off the line of scrimmage quickly and separate at the top of his stem. He's a crafty route runner who can get open in tight quarters, even close to the red zone, and his ability to stretch defenses vertically makes him as tough test as anyone in college football.

Like the front seven, Alabama's secondary is chock full of prospects at both cornerback and safety even without senior Eddie Jackson, who is out with a broken leg. Redshirt sophomore cornerback Marlon Humphrey has first-round buzz and could be the most underrated cover man in the country. Replacing Jackson at the safety spot is true sophomore Minkah Fitzpatrick, who started opposite Humphrey at cornerback until the injury. Fitzpatrick is athletic, instinctive, tough and versatile. The New Jersey native will likely be a first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Senior cornerback Tony Brown has seen increased reps with Fitzpatrick's move to safety. He doesn't have a wealth of starting experience, but he's a former big-time recruit with explosive speed to run with anyone, including Ross, in the open field. This will be a fun matchup to follow on the perimeter.

4. Alabama Pass Catchers vs. Washington Secondary
*Peach Bowl, Georgia Dome, Atlanta - Saturday 3 p.m. - ESPN *

When the Crimson Tide has the football, all eyes will be on true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts and the run game with players like Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough. But the pass catchers for Alabama deserve recognition as well. Sophomore wide receiver Calvin Ridley was seen as the next Amari Cooper a year ago as a true freshman, but with the identity of the offense changing a bit in 2016 the focus has gone away from the explosive wideout. Still, he and junior ArDarius Stewart are game-breakers on the perimeter who can take the top off the defense and are threats to score anytime they touch the football. A year ago, tight end O.J. Howard was the star of Alabama's National Championship win over Clemson. He's very capable of doing something similar against the Huskies. Howard is certainly a prospect who is worthy of being selected in the first round. His ability to win as a blocker as well as a receiver in space will make him a hot commodity this spring.

Luckily for Washington, the strength of its defense is the secondary. It starts with two cornerbacks who will enter the NFL Draft in senior Kevin King and junior Sidney Jones. King has outstanding size for the cornerback position at 6-3 and 186 pounds. His ball skills, physicality and position versatility (he's moonlighted as a safety throughout his career) make him one of the most intriguing defensive backs in the class. Jones, a two-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection at 6-0, 181 pounds, shares King's instincts and competitiveness in the run game. At safety, look for Budda Baker to be patrolling every inch of the field as both a coverage player and run defender. I wouldn't be shocked at all to see the second-team All-America shadow Howard in certain situations throughout the game.

5. Western Michigan T Taylor Moton vs. Wisconsin Pass Rushers
Cotton Bowl, AT&T Stadium, Dallas - Monday 1 p.m. - ESPN

After all of the fun and champagne from the Saturday night games, we get rewarded with a lot of great action on Monday. Sure, we've got Penn State in the Rose Bowl, a matchup of two explosive offenses in the Sugar Bowl and an interesting SEC-Big Ten matchup in the Outback Bowl, but I'm excited for this Cotton Bowl showdown. Western Michigan has one of my favorite players in the draft in wide receiver Corey Davis, but right tackle Taylor Moton is a very good player in his own right. A former guard who will probably have to return inside at the next level, Moton moved outside this year and played really well against Big Ten opponents in Northwestern and Illinois in the beginning of the season. Moton is a powerful run blocker who constantly keeps his feet moving on contact. He has one more test before going down to the Senior Bowl in late January.

Moton's challenge on Monday afternoon comes in the form of Wisconsin's 3-4 defense and a pair of edge rushers in senior Vince Biegel and junior T.J. Watt. Biegel has a high motor, is a strong run defender and knows how to use his hands. Those two will face off in practice at the Senior Bowl in a few weeks. Watt, the younger brother of J.J. Watt, was a second-team All-America selection this year after a productive junior season.

Draft Buzz

As I prepare for both the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl, both of which we will cover extensively here on, several players have stood out with their play this season. One of the players who has piqued my interest the most is BYU linebacker Harvey Langi, a senior heading to the Shrine Game in a couple of weeks. When I say "linebacker" that's a bit of a loose term. The senior has lined up all over the field on both sides of the ball over the last two seasons in two different schemes. Langi began his career as a running back for the Utah Utes, and after transferring to BYU he made the move to the defensive side of the ball. The change in schools didn't completely end his days as a skill player. Langi ran the ball 20 times this year for 79 yards and two touchdowns, but his abilities as a ball carrier aren't what stood out to me.

In each of the past two seasons, Langi has impressed with his relentless motor and his position versatility. He started at middle linebacker in the Cougars' 3-4 scheme in 2015, but this year transitioned to more of a hybrid defensive end-SAM linebacker role in the new 4-3 scheme. In that position, he played with his hand on the ground as a defensive end, "stacked" like a typical linebacker behind the defensive line, in press coverage over tight ends and walked out in the slot against receivers. Langi's batteries never run out of juice, and he plays with great sideline-to-sideline speed. He's not a special pass rusher, but he would be a great fit in a scheme that requires linebackers to be tough, rangy and explosive. If a team has patience, he could become reacquainted with a more traditional role.

Small-School Spotlight

Another player who has stood out over the last three seasons of studying prospects is Toledo running back Kareem Hunt. It's been very interesting to watch him transform since his sophomore year. In 2014, Hunt reminded me a bit of current Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard because of his quickness and versatility as a pass catcher. I was excited to watch him progress into his junior season last year. Hunt added some weight and looked considerably bigger as a third-year player. He still looked like a good prospect, but I wasn't shocked at all to see him return for his senior season after a suspension and an injury limited him to just nine games in 2015.

This year, he kept the weight on, but he appears to have really grown into his frame. Hunt now looks like the best back who will be in attendance at the Senior Bowl at the end of next month. Hunt refuses to go down on first contact, has good vision and has really come along as a blocker. A decisive runner who can fit in almost any scheme at the next level, Hunt is a player who I think will surely stick in the NFL, even if it's as a solid No. 2 option in a backfield.

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