Happy New Year and welcome to what should be the most exciting and high stakes day of college football as four teams square off for two spots in the National Title. While much of bowl season has lost NFL draft intrigue with players sitting out of pointless games to stay healthy, the playoffs are much different. Every NFL prospect wants to prove themselves on the biggest stage, often against teams they’d never otherwise play. Also who can forget about the glory of ending your college career on the highest possible note. Here are NFL draft prospects to watch on each of the four playoff teams.
Kris Jenkins, Defensive Lineman: Michigan’s identity is built through the trenches and Kris Jenkins is a tone setting, run stuffing interior defender that is integral to that identity. Keeping Alabama in third and long will be crucial for the Wolverines and Jenkins’ early down prowess will be tested by a physical Alabama offensive line.
Junior Colson, Linebacker: Junior Colson is yet another difference maker in the Michigan front. He is a perfect compliment to the Wolverine’s big bodied defensive line with his speed and instinctive ability to knife through traffic to make a play. Colson’s biggest challenge might be chasing around Jalen Milroe all day, but he will also need to be disciplined to defend the short passing game.
Mike Sainristil, Cornerback: Mike Sainristil went from a wide receiver on the fringe of Michigan’s depth chart to their biggest defensive playmaker. Sainristil is an athletic, scrappy player with great ball skills and a knack for the big play. Alabama fields a few dangerous receivers and Sainristil will have his hands full covering any one of them. This will be a great showcase for the ascending defender.
Blake Corum, Running Back: Blake Corum does so much to drive the Michigan offense and is a key part of their identity on that side of the ball for the last two years. Since the beginning of the 2022 season, Corum has rushed for almost 2,500 yards and FORTY TWO touchdowns. He is a physical, smart back who will make the most out of every carry. The Alabama defense will no doubt be keying in on the run and Corum can show he can overcome an athletic, physical defense to make plays for Michigan.
Other names to watch: JJ McCarthy, Rod Moore, Donovan Edwards, Roman Wilson
Rome Odunze, Wide Receiver: Rome Odunze has simply been one of the best receivers in the country over the last two years. Odunze stands over 6’2” and has a strong build and wins as a refined route runner with great footwork and has excellent ball skills to come down with passes down the field. Odunze is a key part of everything Washington does on offense and should see a generous helping of targets in what should be a high scoring game.
Ja’Lynn Polk, Wide Receiver: On the majority of other teams in the country, Ja’Lynn Polk would be the top receiver. Polk is a well built player who wins with immense physicality and some of the best hands in the country. He always comes up big for the Huskies in critical situations so expect him to see the ball on third downs and in the red zone.
Bralen Trice, Edge Defender: Whoever can play a little bit more defense in this game should come out as the winner. Bralen Trice is a talented pass rusher who can take over a game at will. Putting pressure on Quinn Ewers will be crucial to Washington advancing to the Championship.
Other names to watch: Michael Penix Jr, Troy Fautanu, Dillon Johnson, Jabbar Muhammad
Xavier Worthy, Wide Receiver: Texas also has a pair of absolute studs at wide receiver in this game. Xavier Worthy brings immense speed to the Texas offense and can score on any target. The Longhorns get him the ball in a variety of ways and he should see targets early and often.
Adonai Mitchell, Wide Receiver: While Xavier Worthy is the higher volume option in the Texas passing game, Adonai Mitchell has emerged as the big play threat. Mitchell averages nearly 16 yards a reception and has scored 10 times on only 51 catches. He is a big bodied receiver who can play above the rim down the field and in the red zone. This will be a high scoring game and there will be plenty of opportunities for Mitchell to make some big plays.
Ja’Tavion Sanders, Tight End: Ja’Tavion Sanders is the best tight end in the country not named Brock. He is a great athlete with soft hands and the ability to pick up all sorts of yardage after the catch. He is not your classic big bodied tight end who can block defensive ends into the ground, but he is a tough receiver who can overwhelm defensive backs with his size or linebackers with his speed.
T’Vondre Sweat, Defensive Lineman: One again, defense will be at a premium in this game. Any big plays made on that side of the ball by either team will factor greatly into the game’s outcome. T’Vondre Sweat is one of the best senior defenders in the country. He isn’t a flashy pass rusher, but he is a physical run defender who can eat up space and create plays for his teammates. Sweat will need to bring a bit more disruption on passing downs to help his team in this game.
Other names to watch: Byron Murphy II, Quinn Ewers
Dallas Turner, Edge: Dallas Turner has stepped up this year to be one of the best defenders on the Alabama defense. After playing in the shadow of Will Anderson over the last two years, Turner has emerged and shown he can be the top pass rusher on a defense. Turner is a fast, high motor defender who can bend the edge with ease. Against Michigan, rushing the passer will be important, but so will playing their run game. This is a great opportunity for Turner to show how well rounded a player he is.
JC Latham, Offensive Tackle: JC Latham is just the next great Alabama offensive lineman. The big bodied tackle brings immense length and strength to the position. He will have his hands full with Michigan’s talented defensive line, and his ability to keep Jalen Milroe upright will play a big part in Alabama’s chances to advance.
Kool-Aid McKinstry, Cornerback: Alabama has a pair of great cornerbacks this year and it will surely be debated hotly which one is better. Both, likely, will be top 40 selections this spring. Kool-Aid McKinstry did not have a flashy season in terms of numbers but it was largely because teams did not throw the ball at him very much. He is an athletic, physical cover man and will no doubt put on a show against Michigan’s offense.
Terrion Arnold, Cornerback: Across the way of Alabama’s defense is Terrion Arnold. Arnold had a fantastic season, being named an All-American after picking off five passes and breaking up another 11. He is a smart, athletic, ball hawking defender who makes targeting him a dangerous proposition. Arnold and McKinstry will probably both line up across from Roman Wilson at some point in this game and get shots at slowing down the talented receiver.
Jermaine Burton, Wide Receiver: Alabama has put some incredible pass catchers into the NFL over the last few years. It’s likely Jermaine Burton is the next one. Despite not being particularly pass heavy in 2023, Burton still turned his 35 catches in 777 yards and eight touchdowns. He has game breaking speed and could provide the necessary big plays to give Alabama a win in this game.
Other names to watch: Jalen Milroe, Chris Braswell