After a couple weeks of bowl madness, the college football season comes to a close tonight with Notre Dame and Alabama squaring off in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game. Both teams deserve to be here and I imagine the atmosphere will be electric in Miami at Sun Life Stadium tonight. Hopefully the game lives up to the hype. I handled Notre Dame and their prospects, while Nick Chiamardas gives you a breakdown of Alabama's prospects. Catch us both on Twitter @Woods49ers and @BigSwinginNick to talk football.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish Prospects
When talking about the Irish, you have to talk about the heart and soul of the team first, Manti Te'o. Te'o racked up all the big awards this year, bringing home the Maxwell Award, the Chuck Bednarik Award, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Butkus Award, the Lombardi Award, and the Walter Camp Award, as well as finishing 2nd in the Heisman voting. Te'o had 104 tackles this season to go along with seven interceptions. Manti is the best inside linebacker in the draft and more than likely will be drafted in the first 10 picks. He's a sure tackler, has great instincts and awareness, and for a linebacker, he's a ballhawk! Seven interceptions by a linebacker in one season, enough said.
Te'o also is a great leader for Notre Dame, and someone who plays with tremendous fire each and every down. The NFL is losing Ray Lewis to retirement this offseason, so it will be nice to have someone like Te'o who shows flashes of the Ray-like intensity most football fans have grown to love over the years. No, Te'o will not be on the 49ers radar, but it would be disrespectful not to talk about Manti. He's everything you'd want a football player to be. I don't see him going any lower on the board than pick No. 8 (Buffalo Bills).
Fighting Irish tight end Tyler Eifert is going to be another name called in the first round of the draft. Eifert had 44 catches this season and 4 touchdowns. Eifert won the John Mackey Award this year, which goes to the most outstanding tight end in college football. Eifert isn't the only quality tight end to hail from Notre Dame. ND has produced a few NFL tight ends the past 6 years (Anthony Fasano, John Carlson, and ). While all three just named have had success in the NFL, Eifert could be something special. Eifert is 6-5 and 252 pounds, so right away a scout will like his measurables. But there is so much more to like than just that.
Eifert is an exceptional route runner who more times than not can get himself wide open. When the coverage is tight, he's able to use his size and grab to catch the jump ball as well as box defenders out. Eifert is an absolute nightmare for linebackers or corners to cover, if you have to guard him one on one, good luck. His hands are as reliable as they come, they're what Coach Harbaugh would define as frog tongue like. On top of all these kudos I'm throwing his way, I'll add two more: he's clutch and a good blocker. There have been so many times this season where there was a crucial 3rd down for Notre Dame, and Eifert came up with the big catch. Last season Eifert was criticized for his blocking. This season he's been a big part of their success running the football. He still has room for improvement, but he has shown he isn't just a receiving tight end. His 40 yard dash low time is listed at 4.72, but I think he's faster than that. Look for him to improve on that number at the combine.
It's a long shot for Eifert to fall all the way down to the 49ers (pick 32?), but whoever lands him will get a fine tight end who will help a club win from day one. Eifert won't hurt his stock tonight much even if he has a mediocre performance. If he has a great game though, his stock will become even higher.
The Fighting Irish had a two headed monster of a backfield this season, with running backs Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick leading the charge. Riddick is considered the more talented of the duo and is projected to go in the mid 4th-5th round. I think he's better than his current draft grade however. At 5-11 and 200 pounds, Riddick is able to run between the tackles, running north and south, as well as sideline to sideline. Riddick possesses good strength, an NFL quality stiff arm, as well as good vision. He isn't Frank Gore, but like the Inconvenient Truth, Riddick always seems to be falling forward, fight for and gaining extra yards, which always mean so much in this game of inches.
While he doesn't possess elite speed, he has all the other ingredients that would make a good running back in the NFL. There are some concerns that being just 200 pounds Riddick may not be durable at the next level. I'm not concerned with that, as I think this guy is tough as nails. He could benefit by adding 15 good pounds to his frame, which wouldn't be hard to do. If teams tell him to do that, you can bet the house that's what he's going to do. Riddick can help his stock greatly with a big game against a good Alabama defense.
While Wood has had a fine season for Notre Dame, he isn't nearly as sought after as Riddick, and will likely be a late round pick. Wood is a junior however, so his best bet may be staying in school another season. We'll find out what he decides to do shortly after the champion is crowned. Wood averaged 6.7 yards per carry this season (compared to Riddick's 4.9 ypc) and there's no reason to think he couldn't duplicate those numbers next season with Riddick gone. Like Riddick, Wood can help his stock with a stellar game.
Center Braxston Cave has had a fine senior season, anchoring an offensive line that helped Notre Dame average 202 yards rushing per game. Cave is a gritty player who plays aggressively and smart. He knows his assignment and has good quickness for a center. Cave comes off the line hard and gets low with power. I'm not sure if he'll be a starting center right away in the NFL, but he'll certainly compete for a job. Look for Cave to go in the 3rd round. He's one of the top centers who can be had.
Free Safety Zeke Motta is a player to monitor in this game. At 6-2, 215 pounds, Motta is a big physical safety that at times makes some really good plays. Motta is at the back end of a very good Notre Dame defense, and has helped the Fighting Irish all season not give up big plays. Zeke is also a very good open field tackler and has good awareness in pass coverage and run coverage. He is a smart player. His biggest weaknesses are that he doesn't make big plays and his speed is okay. Motta had zero interceptions this year. It wasn't due to lack of effort, but rather he was just always a step late from the big play. At the next level he will continue to be a step behind and get burnt on deep balls. This is a guy I wouldn't gamble on come April. There are better safeties available if the 49ers have to replace Goldson.
Alabama Crimson Tide Prospects
Last year, Alabama saw four of their own taken in the first 25 picks and had eight players in all hear their name called in the 2012 NFL Draft. 2013 doesn’t appear to be very different with a potential nine to ten draft picks in the upcoming draft lining up for the Crimson Tide, including four first round potentials.
Senior guard Chance Warmack and junior cornerback Dee Milliner will likely be drafted in the first 15 selections making them unlikely targets for the Niners. If the need at corner was more significant I wouldn’t mind considering a trade up to acquire Milliner. He’s a true shutdown corner with 6-1 size.
One player I could see the 49ers giving much consideration to is senior center Barrett Jones. Jones has been an anchor along the Alabama line looking to win its third BCS Championship in four years. He’s also become one of the most decorated linemen in college football history. He was a third team All-American and first team All SEC as a right guard in 2010. He then moved to left tackle only to win the Outland Trophy as the nation’s top lineman. Then in 2012, Jones was switched to center where he won the Remington Trophy as the nation’s top center.
Jones has started 25 games at guard, 10 games at tackle and the entire 2012 campaign at center. He is extremely versatile and possess near perfect technique. He uses both his hands and feet very well in beating his opponents. His lack of athletic ability (when compared to the Niners current crop of lineman) ensures he must have excellent technique to be successful. Keep an eye on Jones’ footwork tonight. Like a bruising running back, his feet rarely stop moving.
Jones is likely a late first round or early second round pick for a team looking to add a versatile starting offensive lineman. The 49ers may consider using their first round pick on Jones if they believe Jonathan Goodwin’s future.is not the answer when debating
The fourth potential first rounder is defensive tackle Jessie Williams. The Aussie is a former rugby player and only picked up the game of football at 15. Alabama found him at Western Arizona Community College where he quickly became one of the top recruited junior college players.
Williams stands 6-3 and goes anywhere from 320-330lbs. He’s quite versatile for his size and has played both the 5-technique (DE in 3-4) and the 0-technique (NT in 3-4). His lack of speed and susceptibility to cut blocks mean he won’t be a great pass rusher. But his wide body and ability to gain and hold leverage makes him an asset at stopping the run and taking on combo blocks. He projects as a nose tackle in the pros but can obviously provide depth along the entire line. Williams even lined up on the offensive side of the ball as an extra lineman and in the backfield.
Depth on the defensive line is sure to be addressed during this draft. Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh have shown discipline in their first two drafts together, seemingly selecting the best available player in the first couple rounds. With not one glaring need and the need for depth at several positions we could be looking at more of the same this year. The only question will be who will be atop their draft board? If Jessie Williams is there when the Niners select, it wouldn’t shock me at all to see him in a 49ers uniform next year.
Junior running back Eddie Lacy hasn’t officially declared for the draft but many think he will announce his intention to turn pro after the title game. Lacy, like and before him, is built like a tank. Lacy goes 5-10 220lbs and runs a very solid 4.53 forty.
His size and speed are what teams look for when selecting a running back in the first two rounds. Most figure Lacy will go in the second round but I wouldn’t be surprised if he sneaks into the first round. But will Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh spend another high pick on a running back? I would think it’s unlikely but with his skill set (and after last year’s selection of) nothing would surprise me.
Another junior expected to declare is first team All SEC and second team All American right tackle D.J. Fluker. Fluker’s size (6-6 335lbs) and lack of lateral foot quickness project him at right tackle or guard in the NFL. Fluker is a drive blocker and figures to fit well in a power based offense. Fluker is projected to be drafted in the late second or early third round making him an ideal candidate for the Niners depending on how he grades out in the off-season.
Senior safety Robert Lester was hoping a solid final season at Alabama would catapult him into the first round. It’s not impossible with a great showing tonight and nice showings at post-season workouts. Lester has size and versatility to play either safety position but often lined up at free safety for Alabama. He shows above average ball skills and has shown a prowess for knocking the ball away from wide receivers at the last second.
Lester needs to improve his tackling and learn to read angles better. Good news for him, these are all things that can be fixed. He doesn’t have great speed but his size and long arms allow him to reroute receivers with ease. The impending contract situation with Dashon Goldson and an aging Donte Whitner make safety depth a primary target this year. Lester could be an interesting prospect.
Patrick Willis and are locked up for the next few years so inside linebacker is certainly not a position of need. However, if the Niners are looking for depth Nico Johnson could be someone to look at. His greatest strength is stopping the run. He lacks top end speed to move sideline to sideline so he’s likely not an every down player. Still for pure depth and special teams purposes, Johnson could be a target later in the draft.
Williams registered only 20 receptions in 2012 and isn’t exactly burner with 5.0+ speed. He does; however, block well and at 6-5 270lbs is built more like a tackle than tight end. Still, the Niners have shown interest in blocking tight ends in the past.
Dial and Square both have great size. Dial is 6-5 305lbs while Square goes 6-3, 286lbs. Both could hear their names called in the later rounds. Neither had great stats at Alabama but in a 3-4 the defensive lineman, as we know, are not often the most praised. They both take on blocks to allow the linebackers to make plays while simultaneously clogging running lanes. I’d consider both to be legitimate candidates for the 49ers in 2013.