2016 NFL Draft: College Football Recaps – New Year’s Bowls

This section breaks down many college football games each week and highlights how 2016 NFL Draft Prospects have performed. Or look at the 2016 NFL Draft Stock page (link coming soon).

By Charlie Campbell.
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Alabama 45, Clemson 40
  • Alabama junior tight end O.J. Howard has been under-utilized the past two seasons since Lane Kiffin became the Crimson Tide offensive coordinator, but he picked the perfect time to have a huge performance.

    Howard got his game started with a 25-yard completion on a checkdown that he broke downfield. On Derrick Henry’s 50-yard touchdown run, Howard had a nice kick-out block to help spring his back. Early in the third quarter, Howard got wide open for a 53-yard touchdown. He ran down the sideline and right by safety T.J. Green as the Clemson safety left him uncovered. Howard then showed his speed on a free release as he burst down the seam to get wide open in blown Tampa-2 coverage for a 51-yard touchdown.

    Late in the fourth quarter, with Alabama protecting a five-point lead, Howard came through with a huge play. Howard caught a screen, made a tackler miss, and exploded down the sideline for a 63-yard gain. That play set up a touchdown and pretty much clinched the National Championship for Alabama. Howard came through with the game of his life as he totaled 208 yards on five receptions with the two scores.

    Howard hadn’t scored a touchdown since 2013, but he delivered when it mattered the most. He showed his rare speed and athleticism to hurt teams as a receiving tight end. His blocking and route-running have been improved as a junior. This tape will help Howard to be a potential second-round pick if he enters the 2016 NFL Draft.

  • Alabama’s defensive front seven could have three players go on Thursday night of the 2016 NFL Draft. Inside linebacker Reggie Ragland had some tough tackles and showed some pass coverage talent to make stops in the open field. It wasn’t a great game from Ragland, but he was solid. Ragland is the rare inside linebacker who could go in the first round, and this tape won’t hurt those hopes.

    Junior defensive tackle Jarran Reed had a mixed game. In the third quarter, Reed got pushed out of his gap on a third-and-goal, and Clemson charged right at him to get into the end zone for a go ahead touchdown. Reed came back to help keep Deshaun Watson out of the end zone on a two-point conversion after the play broke down and Watson rolled out. Overall, Reed is a tough run defender, but doesn’t offer much as a pass-rusher.

    Junior nose tackle A’Shawn Robinson had a solid gap filling his gap and stuffing some interior runs. He blew up a goal line run with penetration. This tape won’t impact Robinson’s draft stock positively or negatively.

  • Alabama junior running back Derrick Henry finished his career with a bang. He totaled 158 yards on 36 carries with three touchdowns. Midway through the first quarter, Henry exploded down the field for a 50-yard touchdown run. Clemson safety Jayron Kearse ran downhill and didn’t stay deep to allow Henry to explode down the field for the score. In the second quarter, Henry dove over the scrum at the goal lines to tie the game at 14. Henry went across the goal line for one more score late in the game.

    This was vintage Henry against Clemson. He is a tall, upright runner who lacks elusiveness. However, he has a burst to take runs the distance, and if he can get going downhill, he will run over or by defenders. Henry has a wide range in his draft estimation, as some teams expect him to go late in the first round and others seem him as a third-rounder.

  • Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander has received a lot of first-round hype from media, but in speaking with sources at multiple teams, they have given Alexander third/fourth-round grades. This performance won’t make him go higher.

    Early in the fist quarter, Alexander got away with a blatant hold of Calvin Ridley to keep him from getting open deep down the field, but the refs didn’t throw the flag. Alexander then looped around the line to jump on the back of Henry to help stuff the tough running back, and after the play, Alexander was injured. He had a leg issue entering the game, and after that play, he was done for the night. While the media doesn’t realize it, Alexander would be better off going back to school.

  • Clemson junior defensive ends Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd both played well for the Tigers. In the first quarter, Lawson came unblocked to run down the quarterback for a sack. Lawson then contributed to a tackle for a loss when he came unblocked again. Later in the second quarter, Lawson stuffed a goal-line run. Lawson worked off a block from Cam Robinson after that and shed him to chase down Coker for a coverage sack. Lawson wasn’t 100 percent, but he helped his draft grade with this performance.

    Dodd, meanwhile, whipped Alabama’s right tackle all night. He burned him for multiple big plays showing power to speed and the ability to shed blocks. Dodd was a backup before finally seeing the field as a junior. Returning for his senior year to have a shot at the first round would be the best move for Dodd.

    Ole Miss 48, Oklahoma State 20
  • This game had the potential for perhaps the best draft matchup of the Bowl season with Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil going against Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah. WalterFootball.com was first to report that Ogbah is going to enter the 2016 NFL Draft, while Tunsil is a lock to go pro.

    Throughout the first half, Tunsil was dominant. He kept every pass rusher out of the pocket. He only had a few snaps against Ogbah, as the Cowboys generally lined him up over the right tackle. On a second-and-20, Ogbah couldn’t get by Tunsil and that allowed Chad Kelly to throw a long touchdown pass to Laquon Treadwell.

    Ole Miss ran a trick play on the last play of the first half, with a tackle eligible and completed a throwback pass to Tunsil, and he coasted into the end zone with a touchdown. That ended Tunsil’s game, as he didn’t return to the field after halftime in the blowout.

    Tunsil only needed a half of play for it to be mission accomplished in the Sugar Bowl. He did well in his reps against Ogbah and showed that he is a shutdown, franchise left tackle for the NFL. This was another tape that showed why he is a top-five pick.

    Ogbah got involved in the ground game with a tackle when he came unblocked off the edge. Ogbah then batted a pass and burned the right tackle with a speed rush to almost get a sack. He came close to another sack coming on a stunt but missed the tackle. In the fourth quarter, Ogbah cut under the backup left tackle to come close to another sack, but Kelly escaped the pocket.

    In the third quarter, Ogbah flew by the right tackle and was dragging down Kelly for a sack, but the quarterback was able to get the pass off. He pounded the backup quarterback into the turf with some serious power in the fourth quarter to force a third-down incompletion. Ogbah finished with three tackles and two passes batted, but he had a number of pressures with quarterback hits. This tape won’t hurt his first-round hopes.

  • Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell was seeing a quality test with Oklahoma State Kevin Peterson. Peterson (5-11, 190) is going to the Senior Bowl and has been a steady cover corner for the Cowboys.

    To get the game started, Treadwell caught a short pass in front of Peterson to move the chains, as Peterson gave him a decent cushion. Treadwell then went over Peterson for a 34-yard touchdown pass. Peterson hit Treadwell early but it didn’t matter as he hauled in the score.

    On the next possession, Treadwell caught a backward pass and Treadwell threw a deep ball well for 45 yards. Peterson made a touchdown saving tackle. A few plays later, Treadwell beat Peterson for a 10-yard touchdown catch. Treadwell used his big body to shield off the cornerback to provide his quarterback with an easy score.

    Peterson got flagged again for an obvious pass interference in the third quarter. After that, Treadwell caught a fade for a touchdown to end his game. He totaled six receptions for 71 yards with three touchdowns. This was another tape that illustrated he is a big possession receiver for the NFL and a mid to late first-rounder.

    This was an ugly performance for Peterson. He was beaten by Treadwell deep and that is concerning because Treadwell is not a speed receiver that gets separation from defensive backs with speed. Peterson also was holding and interfering with receivers regularly. This tape made Peterson look like a day-three pick.

    Stanford 45, Iowa 16
  • Iowa junior cornerback Desmond King was going to see a nice test in what could be his final collegiate game with Stanford wide receivers Devon Cajuste and Michael Rector.

    King had a tackle in run support, but couldn’t get off a block on a touchdown run by quarterback Kevin Hogan. Late in the first quarter, King snuffed out a receiver screen for only a 2-yard gain. He had a face mask penalty early in the second. A few plays later, King bit on a fake fumble by Stanford and allowed Rector to run wide open for a 31-yard touchdown. King was caught looking in the backfield as Rector streaked by him to get deep behind the defense.

    In the third quarter, King had a nice open-field tackle of Christian McCaffrey and made a diving breakup in the end zone coming over in zone coverage on Cajuste. He added two more hard tackles on perimeter runs. He later almost took a punt return the distance but was tripped up by Blake Martinez after a return of 38 yards.

    Overall, this was a mixed tape for King. He had some good tackles in run support and Stanford rarely threw his direction because he was pretty sound in coverage, but he did give up that 31-yard touchdown. King should be an early-rounder if he enters the 2016 NFL Draft.

  • Stanford senior quarterback Kevin Hogan has been inconsistent in his collegiate career, but to end his time with the Cardinal, it was the good Hogan who showed up. On the first play from scrimmage, he fired a bullet down the seam to hit McCaffrey on the run and the star running back burst down the field for a 75-yard touchdown. Hogan followed that up with a touchdown run himself, and threw an 31-yard score after a fake fumble got Michael Rector wide open. To cap his collegiate career, Hogan dropped in a 42-yard touchdown pass to Rector late in the fourth quarter. Hogan was 12-of-21 for 223 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.

    Hogan is a bit of a sleeper for the 2016 NFL Draft, but he could be an interesting mid-round or day-three pick.

  • Stanford senior inside linebacker Blake Martinez finished his career in impressive fashion. Throughout the first half, Martinez was all over in the tackle box, shutting down the Iowa ground game. In the second quarter, Martinez exploded into the backfield on a blitz and ripped down C.J. Beathard to start a team sack for Stanford. Martinez made a number of good run tackles and also came up with a clutch tackle on punt coverage to prevent a touchdown return from King.

    Martinez could further improve his draft stock with a strong Senior Bowl, showing well in pass coverage. Right now, he looks like a potential mid-round pick who could sneak into second-day consideration.

    Louisville 27, Texas A&M 21
  • In the first half of the season, Louisville edge rusher Devonte Fields was a ghost, as he recorded only half a sack in the first six games and looked nothing like the freshman superstar who dominated the Big 12 two years ago. Halfway through the season, Fields returned to his 2013 form and finished the year with an impressive performance against Texas A&M.

    Fields chased down the quarterback for a sack in the middle of the first quarter. He then shed the block from the left tackle and made his way to the quarterback for his second sack. Shortly later, he beat right tackle Germain Ifedi with a spin move to notch his third sack of the game.

    In the second half, Fields had some pressures and saw more blocking attention. He totaled those three sacks and eight tackles. He looked every bit of the pass-rushing force from two years ago. Fields looks like a great fit in a 3-4 defense.

    Fields totaled 10 sacks in the final seven games and has really resurrected his NFL hopes. If Fields enters the 2016 NFL Draft, he could have second-day potential if his off-the-field issues don’t sink him.

  • One of the reasons that Fields was able to breakout in the second half of the year was the strong play of defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins. He was active against the Aggies with five tackles and a tackle for a loss. Rankins is a quick and disruptive interior defender who is thickly built. His stock could really rise with a strong Senior Bowl.

  • Texas A&M right tackle Germain Ifedi didn’t impress against Louisville. He looked better in the ground game compared to his pass protection. In the first quarter, Ifedi pushed a defender out of his gap to open up a big hole for a nine-yard touchdown run for Tra Carson. He was able to get some push and was a physical run blocker.

    In pass protection, he got away with a hold and was reaching after blockers. That came back to bite him when Fields burned him on a spin move for a sack. He was close to giving up some other sacks as well. If Ifedi enters the 2016 NFL Draft, he would be best as a day-two guard or right tackle. If he remains at tackle, he will need some development and potential double-team help to block speed rushers.

    Ohio State 41, Notre Dame 28
  • This game had the potential for one of the best draft matchups of the bowl schedule with Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa going against Notre Dame left tackle Ronnie Stanley. Perhaps the only one that had the possibility of being better was Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil taking on Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah. It turned out that this was the matchup that wasn’t, as Bosa didn’t make it out of the first quarter.

    In the early going, Bosa wasn’t lining up against Stanley. Stanley continued his false start problems in the first quarter. Bosa had two impressive run tackles going against the right tackle. With five minutes remaining in the first quarter Bosa was correctly called for targeting and disqualified from the game, ending his collegiate career. It was an extremely stupid play for Bosa to lead with the crown of his helmet into the quarterback, clearly after the ball was released. To make it even worse, Bosa’s penalty took away an Ohio State interception.

    Stanley had a solid game for Notre Dame. He was dependable in pass protection and won his blocks. He has good quickness with length and the ability to bend at the knees. This tape should serve to confirm Stanley’s first-round grade.

  • Bosa wasn’t the only top prospect in the game to leave early, and this loss could be much more devastating for the draft hopes of a special prospect. Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith is a potential top-16 pick and he was going to be challenged by Ohio State junior running back Ezekiel Elliott, a first-round running back and one of the most talented runners in the nation. Elliott has already declared for the 2016 NFL Draft, and he hasn’t seen a linebacker as good as Smith this season.

    On the first drive of the game, Smith showed his speed to close on wide receiver Jalin Marshall in the flat for a tackle. However, to end the drive Elliott ran through a tackle from Smith to fall forward for a touchdown from a yard out. On the next drive, Smith was stumbling and his ankle caved in to the inside. He ended up being carted into the locker room, and that injury could be serious. Hopefully it isn’t as it could significantly drop Smith in the draft.

    Elliott kept rolling and had a number of chunk runs to set up a short touchdown carry before halftime. On top of running well, Elliott had some impressive blocks and took a checkdown pass for a 30-yard gain down the sideline. That set up his third touchdown plunge of the first half.

    Early in the third quarter, after Notre Dame scratched their way back into the game, Elliott hesitated before he exploded down the field for a 47-yard touchdown run completely untouched. In his final collegiate performance, Elliott totaled 149 yards on 27 carries with four touchdowns. He had that one reception and flashed some blocking. This tape will serve to confirm Elliott’s first-round grade and could help him to go in the top 20.

  • Notre Dame defensive tackle Sheldon Day flashed. He did well on some run plays and batted pass. Day has an impressive get-off, as he is very quick off the snap and engages offensive linemen before they’re ready. He is an undersized defensive tackle for the NFL, but could be a good pick-up on Day 2 of the draft for a 4-3 defense.

  • Ohio State junior wide receiver Michael Thomas had seven catches for 72 yards with a score and some other significant plays. Midway through the first quarter, Thomas was given a big cushion and he caught a dig route before turning upfield into the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown. Thomas later got open running the post corner, but he dropped the over-the-shoulder catch. Thomas is a fringe first-rounder. The drop will bother some teams, but overall, his combination of speed, size, and release off the line of scrimmage were impressive in this game.

  • Ohio State senior left tackle Taylor Decker finished his career in respectable fashion. Decker was tough in the ground game to open holes for Elliott. He generally was sound in pass protection. In the fourth quarter, Decker almost got beat for a sack after he allowed a blitzer to jet by him to the inside. That play illustrated that the 6-foot-8 Decker could be better off as a right tackle in the NFL. With his feet, bending, and slight stiffness, he would be better off on the right side. Decker has accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl, and if he dominates in the pass rushing one-on-ones, that could change that view.

    Michigan 41, Florida 7
  • Florida junior cornerback Vernon Hargreaves was almost certainly playing in his final game for the Gators, and this was an ugly performance for him.

    In the second quarter, Hargreaves gave up a 31-yard touchdown, as he went to jump a route, and that allowed the receiver to break wide open for a 31-yard touchdown. In the third quarter, Hargreaves gave up a long completion on a deep post. Hargreaves was close to the receiver, but a perfectly placed pass by Jake Rudock got the better of Hargreaves. That set up a short touchdown run that basically put Florida away.

    This was a bad tape of coverage lapses for Hargreaves. The way his junior year has concluded against Alabama and Michigan, Hargreaves looks more like a mid to late first-rounder rather than a top-16 pick.

  • Gators senior defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard has had an excellent season, and he continued to thrive against Michigan. Bullard defended the run well and was creating disruption behind the line of scrimmage.

  • Florida junior safety Keanu Neal is expected to enter the 2016 NFL Draft. He had a so-so game. Sources have said they graded Neal in the third round, but think the team that drafts him could pull the trigger in Round 2. In this writer’s opinion, Neal and fellow safety Marcus Maye should return for their senior year. They still have room for improvement before going pro.

    Alabama 38, Michigan State 0
  • Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook had an underwhelming performance in his final collegiate outing. Things just never got in sync for Cook. He had a few drops on well-thrown passes, the pressure was getting to him, receivers struggled to get open, and Cook had some of his typical inaccuracy.

    Just before halftime, Cook made an excellent throw to convert a third-and-10 and then a high back-shoulder throw to Aaron Burbridge brought the ball into the red zone. However, after getting to the Alabama 11-yard line, Cook made a terrible play as he stared down his receiver and threw a pass that was easily picked off by Cyrus Jones to cancel out the Spartans’ scoring opportunity.

    After that, Michigan State’s offense was completely inept, and it was a real momentum killer. Cook couldn’t sustain drives and Alabama cruised. In garbage time, Cook had a poorly placed pass for his second interception of the game. Cook completed 19-of-39 for 210 yards with no touchdowns and those two picks. NFL teams want quarterbacks to rise the occasion in a big game and push their teammates to play above their talent level. This performance didn’t illustrate that Cook is that kind of quarterback prospect, and if anything, it will hurt his draft stock.

  • Alabama running back Derrick Henry was held to 75 yards on 20 carries with two touchdowns by Michigan State’s tough defense. The Spartans did a great job of maintaining their gap integrity and keeping running lanes from opening up. Henry ran for two touchdowns, and the second one was impressive as he showed his power to stiff-arm defensive end Shilique Calhoun away and race to the corner for about a 10-yard touchdown run. Michigan State kept him from breaking any long runs that highlighted his Heisman Trophy season.

    It wasn’t a damning performance, but this game did illustrate some of the flaws in Henry’s game. When the hole wasn’t there and he had to move laterally, Henry’s runs went nowhere. He’s a north-south runner and showed that he struggles to create for himself.

  • Alabama’s front seven is stacked with NFL talent, led by senior middle linebacker Reggie Ragland, junior defensive end Jonathan Allen, and defensive tackles A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed. They all made their presence felt and overwhelmed the Spartans at the point of attack. All four defenders produced good tapes that will help their draft grades.

    Reed and Robinson didn’t have big statical games, but both players were superb at shutting down the Spartans’ ground game. Michigan State was incapable of moving either at the point of attack, and they effectively shut down the rushing offense.

    Late in the first quarter, Allen used a swim move to get by the right guard for a sack. Allen then ran by the right guard, crashed into the center, and fired down the middle of the pocket to rip down Cook for his second sack of the night.

    Ragland had a number of open-field tackles and also got some hits on Cook after rushing off the edge. He also batted down a pass on a fourth down in the second half. He totaled seven tackles.

    Clemson 37, Oklahoma 17
  • Clemson junior defensive end Shaq Lawson was the top prospect in this game and, unfortunately, he had a quick exit. On the first play from scrimmage, Lawson used a rip move to get leverage on the left tackle to rush to the inside and join a teammate for a sack of Baker Mayfield. On the next possession, Lawson got pushed around by the left tackle on a run play. The next snap was a third down, and Lawson has held up by the left tackle and couldn’t shed the block. He then got knocked to a knee by a guard and from the ground, he pulled the tackle down. Lawson got up and sacked Mayfield as he scrambled away from other pressures. It was a good second effort sack for Lawson, but he was blocked well on the play and most NFL quarterbacks would have had the ball out.

    Lawson injured his knee on that play and was knocked him out of the game. Sources say that Lawson is grading out in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft, so the injury hurts his chances of becoming a first-round pick. Hopefully, Lawson can return for the National Championship game.

  • Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander was expected to be challenged with a quality receiver in Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard. However, the Sooners barely threw in Alexander’s direction as he prevented separation.

    On the first drive, Alexander allowed separation on an out route to convert a third-and-long. In the second quarter, Alexander and Shepard each landed unsportsmanlike penalties for some fighting after the whistle. Shepard made a nice leaping back-shoulder catch along the sideline while blanketed in coverage. Midway through the fourth quarter, Shepard made some short receptions to help move the chains.

    Overall, this was a fine tape for Alexander as he was solid in coverage and didn’t give up any big plays. On the negative side, Alexander was trash talking an Oklahoma assistant coach on the field before the game, and that will bother NFL evaluators. Sources from multiple teams say they have third- or fourth-round grades on Alexander.

    Shepard totaled 87 yards on seven receptions. He looks like a mid-round pick as a slot receiver.

  • Oklahoma outside linebacker Eric Striker was playing in his final game for the Sooners, and his performance confirmed what has been known about him. He is a good pursuit defender, but struggles with downhill runs coming straight at him.

    In the first quarter, Striker came off the edge with a missed block on the backside to chase down the runner from behind for a tackle for a loss. In the second quarter, he ran downfield to make a touchdown-saving tackle. Striker blew up a third-down play at the end of that drive by forcing an intentional grounding. At the end of the third quarter, he had another pursuit tackle for a loss, but early in the fourth quarter, he had a running back rush through his arms on a power touchdown run. Sriker added another tackle for a loss when he fired behind the line to stuff the back.

    Overall, this tape won’t help Striker’s draft grade. He is too undersized to be a three-down starter in the NFL as teams would run at him all day long. Rather, Striker is a pursuit defender who is a luxury pick as a situational edge rusher. He is a 3-4 outside linebacker in the body of a strong safety.

  • Oklahoma defensive end Charles Tapper had a quality senior year, and he finished by playing well against Clemson. Tapper made a few run tackles and generally was tough at the point of attack. In the second quarter, he shed the left tackle and had Deshaun Watson dead for a sack, but Watson broke Tapper’s tackle to scramble away. Tapper came close to another sack before halftime. In the second half, he got after Watson some and defended the run well. Tapper is a solid player who could be a second-day pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. He doesn’t have rare speed or physicality, but an impressive week at the Senior Bowl could be huge for his draft stock.

  • Oklahoma junior cornerback Zack Sanchez could have been playing the final game of his collegiate career. Late in the first half, he was beaten by Charone Peake on a skinny post for a gain of 26 yards. To finish the drive, Sanchez notched his seventh interception of the year. The ball was thrown up for grabs, and Sanchez caught the deflected pass in a crowd of players.

    Overall, Sanchez had a nice performance. If he enters the 2016 NFL Draft, he has second-day potential. Sanchez would be better off as a nickel corner in the NFL.


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