The semifinal round of the College Football Playoffs lived up to the hype. Two outstanding contests that went right down to the final play. A lot of effort by NFL draft prospects went into giving their teams the best shot. Here are some thoughts that crossed my mind while watching both games.
- I am really intrigued by Bralen Trice. The NFL will be too. While the Washington Huskies have won 14 games this year by way of their incredible offense, they have a defensive playmaker who has been instrumental to their success this year. Bralen Trice is an athletic defender that Washington moves around their defensive front to create mismatches. His blend of size (6’4” and 275 pounds) and athleticism make him a difficult player to block. Against Texas, Trice was once again a chess piece for the Huskies. He lined up everywhere, including making a big play as an A-Gap Blitzer. He finished the nigh with two sacks and a game-changing forced fumble on a running back. Trice has a really unique physical skill set and has proven productive over the last two seasons, piling up 17 sacks in that time. He is an impressive player that showed out when the lights were brightest. He could be a high pick depending on how well he tests in Indy.
- Don’t overthink Rome Odunze. The Washington Huskies have three wide receivers who will hear their names called in the NFL draft. Jalen McMillan and Ja’Lynn Polk are very good players who will make an impact on Sunday. Rome Odunze is the best of the bunch. Not much of a hot take. The man is averaging almost 18 yards a catch on 87 receptions and has scored 13 times. Every target to him seems to result in some sort of spectacular catch for a big gain and last night was no different. He caught six passes for 125 yards, including a 55 yarder. The dude rocks. Odunze’s game is predicated on excellent ball skills, better hands, and great physicality at the catch point. These are great traits but I bet some people are questioning his ability to separate. Is a contested catch artist really going to be able to sustain that success at the NFL level. This question has gone both ways with NFL evaluations. Guys like Mike Evans or Deandre Hopkins go on to be Hall of Famers while the DeVante Parkers, Josh Doctsons, and Laquon Treadwells of the world have a much more uneven time adjusting to NFL speed. With Odunze, the speed shows up after the catch for him but his role really emphasizes his ability to play on the perimeters and above the rim in low percentage situations. It’s just Washington really using him for what he is good at. That might mean there are growing pains in the NFL as pro-defensive backs are more able to challenge him at the catch point and teams will ask him to run more diverse route trees, but the athleticism is there and the mentality is there. He is going to be a difference maker in the NFL.
- I still don’t know how to feel about Michael Penix Junior. The dude kicks ass. He is one of the best college quarterbacks in recent memory and is having a season for the ages. His accuracy at every level of the field, his aggressiveness as a passer, his poise in the pocket, and every great thing you hear about him in the locker room screams that he should be a high NFL draft pick. The age thing is huge though. He is on his sixth college season and will be 24 years old only a few days after the draft. It is an annoying point to bring up, but it is valid considering how unprecedented it is for older prospects, especially quarterbacks, to have high-level success in the NFL. There have been six first round quarterbacks who began their rookie season at 24 years old or older: Brandon Weeden, Jim Druckenmiller, Chad Pennington, Ryan Tannehill, Akili Smith, and Kenny Pickett. The age question is about how it becomes difficult to evaluate an older quarterback who is more physically advanced and, in Penix’s experience, has so much college experience under his belt. It is almost a given that a he would be playing at this high a level given those factors. That is why its a risky proposition. Don’t get me wrong though... Penix is a joy to watch play. If he can bring his style of play to the NFL, it would be welcomed for him to be a historical outlier. It just makes the evaluation really tricky.
- The two losing quarterbacks need another year. The playoff games featured four teams with four great quarterbacks. No doubt about that. What was evident in both games is that Alabama’s Jalen Milroe and Texas’ Quinn Ewers need one more year before they’re ready for the NFL. For Milroe, he has made monumental strides over his first full season as a starter. From early season debacle and temporary benching to making incredible plays against Georgia and Auburn to get Alabama to the playoffs, his growth has been spectacular. He has the arm, build, athleticism, and confidence to be a legit NFL quarterback prospect. His performance against Michigan, though gutsy, was riddled with small mistakes that amounted to a loss. From holding onto the ball too long and taking bad sacks (not every sack was his fault), to a clumsy fumble, to some tough missed throws it was clear where he can still grow as a quarterback. One more year in Tommy Rees’ offense should instill much more polish, comfort, and confidence for Milroe and I’d bet he is a highly touted prospect a year from now. Much of the same could be said for Quinn Ewers. Ewers has a spectacular arm and is unafraid to sling the ball all over the field. He just spent much of the first half against Washington failing to get into a good rhythm and by the time he did, the Huskies were up by a few scores. Much like Milroe, his gutsy play still brought his team within one play of winning (or tying), but you could just see where his play could still be smoothed over. Both players could enter the draft this spring given how talented they are and both could still be sought after. Given that NIL can compensate for the money question when it comes to NFL draft aspirations, they might be doing themselves a lot of good by giving it one more year to be fully cooked Quarterback Prospects.