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College Football Playoff: Top NFL Draft prospects to watch

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 03 Big 12 Championship - TCU vs Kansas State Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Happy New Year’s Eve! If you’re like me, you got some of your closest friends together this evening to pop a bottle of bubbly and bring in 2023. Also, if you’re like me, you are going to have the College Football Playoffs on. This year’s matchups feature Georgia’s Death Star-like defense, a hard-nosed Michigan team, a dynamic Ohio State team, and the speedy TCU Horned Frogs. Among these four squads are tons of future NFL players. Here are the best of the best to watch out for. (All listed times are EST)

Fiesta Bowl, 4 PM on ESPN

Quentin Johntson, Wide Receiver, TCU: TCU’s primary receiving threat is Quentin Johnston. Johnston’s blend of size, physicality and ability to create yards after the catch make him a threat from anywhere on the field. He will need to play some great football against a nasty Michigan defense.

Steve Avila, Guard, TCU: Steve Avila switched from center to guard this year, thriving and playing a big role in TCU’s great season. Avila is a smart, physical player who will have a great test against a tough Michigan front.

Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, Cornerback, TCU: TCU always seems to have scrappy, smart cornerbacks and Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson certainly fits that mold. He is a seasoned player whose speed and instincts allow him to fly around the secondary for TCU. Michigan’s offense will force him to play physical, coming downhill to stop the run and manning up with big receivers.

Dee Winters, Linebacker, TCU: Dee Winters is a fun weapon in the TCU defense. Standing at 6’1” and 230 pounds, Winters is not your typical off-ball linebacker. However, he has incredible speed that makes him a dynamic blitzer, which is how TCU is happy to use him. Winters is on a mission any time he is asked to go after a quarterback, racking up 7.5 sacks this season. Expect the Winters to be used this way against Michigan today.

DJ Turner, Cornerback, Michigan: DJ Turner has been a solid presence in the Michigan defense. He is a physical, consistent cornerback who does not make many big plays but also does not make many mistakes. He will have his hands full with Quentin Johnson and the rest of TCU’s passing game, but it will be a great showcase for him.

Mike Morris, Defensive Lineman, Michigan: Michigan has had at least one player selected in the first round of the last four NFL drafts. Three of their first round players since 2019 have been defensive linemen. If the Wolverines are going to send another first rounder to the NFL this year, it is possible it is Mike Morris, another defensive lineman. Morris is a big, physical player whose size and athleticism allows Michigan to move him around the line. Without talented teammate Mazi Smith playing today on the line, Morris will have an even bigger task in controlling the line of scrimmage against TCU’s dynamic offense. A strong game could help Michigan win and push Morris into consideration to follow in the footsteps of Rashan Gary, Kwity Paye, and Aidan Hutchinson to the first round.

Olusegun Oluwatimi, Center, Michigan: Olusegun Oluwatimi is one of the most decorated players in Michigan Football History, which is quite a feat. This year he brought home the Rimington Trophy for being the best center in the country and was also the first Wolverine ever to win the Outland Trophy, which is for the best interior offensive lineman in the country. Not bad! Needless to say, Oluwatimi is an excellent player who will get to show off against a creative TCU defense.

Peach Bowl, 8 PM on ESPN

Jalen Carter, Defensive Tackle, Georgia: Georgia had three defensive linemen drafted in the first round last year and arguably none of them are as good as Jalen Carter. Carter is a big, strong defensive lineman who can anchor against the run and hold his own as a two-gapper. If that wasn’t enough, he also possesses great burst, leverage and an array of pass rush moves to shoot gaps. He is as good of a defensive line prospect that has come out of college football in the last few years and will be a whole lot to handle for Ohio State’s offensive line.

Kelee Ringo, Cornerback, Georgia: Keele Ringo has been excellent this year in the Georgia secondary. The redshirt sophomore has rare size, standing tall at 6’2” and with a great 210 pound build. He has the length and strength to smother receivers at the line or at the catch point, but also has the speed to run with anyone. Ringo will probably see a lot of Marvin Harrison Junior today, one of the best receivers in the country. This battle will be one for the ages and could determine the outcome of the game.

Christopher Smith, Safety, Georgia: Christopher Smith is a bit unsung on a star studded defense, but he is a legit prospect. The fifth-year senior brings NFL instincts and discipline to the back end of the Bulldog secondary. Smith will have to show off that dependability today against Ohio State’s explosive passing game. One misstep and the Buckeyes could get a big play to swing the game.

Darnell Washington, Tight End, Georgia: It is hard not to notice Darnell Washington when Georgia is on offense. At 6’7” and 270 pounds, Washington looks like an extension of the offensive line and he blocks like it too. He is such an asset as a blocker, it almost overshadows that he is pretty damn good catching the football too. He has impressive speed for his size, and it is almost impossible for linebackers or defensive backs to match up for him. Georgia’s offense is not pass heavy and Washington is the second best receiving tight end behind Brock Bowers, but he is one hell of a player. Ohio State will likely key in on slowing Bowers, so Washington should get some opportunities in this game.

Broderick Jones, Offensive Tackle, Georgia: Georgia is able to establish their offensive identity through physical offensive line play. Broderick Jones shined in his first full year as a starter. His rare athleticism at the tackle position is evident when he is coming downhill as a run blocker or kicking back into pass protection. He is an NFL athlete whose only flaws really come down to lack of experience and consistency, but when he is on, he is on.

CJ Stroud, Quarterback, Ohio State: CJ Stroud has thrown 84 touchdowns in the last two seasons. Not bad for a prospect who won’t turn 22 until halfway through his rookie year. Stroud has an NFL arm with nice touch and accuracy to hit any window on the field. He has the athleticism to move the pocket and make nice throws on the run too. Georgia’s defense will be an excellent test of how he reacts to pressure and exotic coverage looks. Fair or not, this game will be huge in his evaluation by NFL teams. Paris Johnson Jr, Offensive Tackle, Ohio State: Paris Johnson Jr, will probably be a first round pick. He has NFL size and movement skills and moments of domination as a blocker. Like most young tackles, he needs to grow in terms of becoming more consistent. A strong showing against Georgia will be crucial if Ohio State wants to win. If he shows out, it could catapult his draft stock.

Cade Stover, Tight End, Ohio State: Cade Stover is not a flashy tight end, but he is exactly the type of guy who has a solid NFL career. He is a tough blocker and good athlete with nice ball skills. Stover is the safety valve in the Ohio State offense, so it would not be surprising to see him catch quite a few passes today as Georgia turns up the pressure and tries to shrink the field.

Luke Wypler, Center, Ohio State: Luke Wypier is the keystone of Ohio State’s excellent offensive line. Wypler is a smart player who excels in keeping CJ Stroud clean, a must in a pass heavy Buckeye offense. Wypler will have all sorts of talented players and exotic blitzes thrown at him today, so he will need to stay as constant as he did during the regular season.

Tommy Eichenberg, Linebacker, Ohio State: Ohio State is not as loaded on defense as they have been in years passed, but they still have some solid players. Tommy Eichenberg is the leader of the Buckeye defense. He is a solid three down backer who thrives attacking the line of scrimmage as a run defender. He will have his hands full today with a physical Georgia run game and the Bulldogs’ talented tight ends.

Zach Harrison, Edge, Ohio State: Zach Harrison has been a presence on the OSU defense for a long time. His talent is obvious, standing at 6’6” and nearly 270 pounds with NFL ready burst and bend. However, it has just never translated into consistent production. At his best, he looks like a first round defensive lineman, but he tends to disappear for long stretches. It only takes one NFL team to really fall in love with a player’s traits to make him a high pick, however, and Harrison feels like that type of player. He has a great chance to show the kind of player he can be against Georgia today.

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