The College Football Playoff Semifinals stunk. Neither game had any element of importance by the fourth quarter. Even by halftime everyone had sinking suspicions that the matchups we waited all season to see were already over. At least we saw some future faces of the 2022 NFL Draft in action. Hopefully the National Championship Game brings more drama.
Information on height, weight, and sacks comes from ESPN.
Feel free to tell me in the comments or on Twitter @Sam_Teets33 if you saw a player on New Year’s Eve that belongs on this list.
UP: Myjai Sanders, EDGE Cincinnati
The Cotton Bowl wasn’t an awful showing for every Bearcat involved. Ahmad Gardner and Sanders separated themselves as the elite of the elite on a defense full of future NFL players. Sanders finished the game with seven tackles, a pass breakup, and ten pressures. Interior defensive lineman Curtis Brooks was the only other Bearcat with more than two pressures.
Sanders’ ten pressures against Alabama were a season-high, meaning the senior finished his collegiate career on a personal high-note.
DOWN: Darrian Beavers, LB Cincinnati
Beavers led the Bearcats with ten tackles, two tackles for loss, and a sack. The UCONN transfer weighs about the same amount as Sanders (255 lbs.), which is why he’s such an intriguing NFL prospect. Very few true linebackers can hold that weight and play well in space.
Beavers’ unique build came back to bite him against Alabama. He struggled in coverage, allowing three receptions on four targets. However, the linebacker’s uncharacteristic three missed tackles were the larger issue that sealed his place in this article.
UP: Brian Robinson Jr., RB Alabama
I shouldn’t have to explain this one too much. Robinson set a new Alabama bowl record by rushing for 204 yards against Cincinnati. He averaged 7.8 yards per attempt, his second-highest average this season. Robinson patiently waited for his time to shine with the Crimson Tide, and his most recent performance hopefully solidified him as a top-six or seven running back in this class.
Robinson’s 6'1", 225 lb. frame makes him a menace to bring down. The fifth-year senior produced 127 yards after contact (nearly 4.9 yards per attempt) and forced 12 missed tackles in the Cotton Bowl.
DOWN: Chris Owens, OT Alabama
The Crimson Tide always have a few stud offensive linemen, but this year’s crop isn’t on par with past units. No Alabama lineman dominated against Cincinnati. Evan Neal came the closest, but even he allowed two pressures. Meanwhile, Emil Ekiyor Jr. only played 22 snaps because of an injury.
Owens had the worst performance of any draft-eligible Alabama offensive lineman. He allowed five pressures as Cincinnati mercilessly attacked him. I imagine Georgia will develop a similar game plan.
UP: Ahmad Gardner, CB Cincinnati
Gardner was one of the few Bearcats to match his hype against Alabama. He finished the game with five tackles, including a tackle for loss. Gardner allowed three receptions on four targets for 14 yards.
Unfortunately, he and Jameson Williams didn’t clash as much as everyone hoped, but the superstar cornerback held Alabama’s speedy receiver to one reception for -1 yards on two targets.
DOWN: Desmond Ridder, QB Cincinnati
Ridder’s decision to return to school granted him an opportunity to emerge as a difference-maker in a weak quarterback class. The senior had his statistically most productive season, but he failed to answer the questions draft analysts posed last year. He still struggles with ball placement and looked completely overwhelmed against the Crimson Tide.
Ridder completed 17 of 32 pass attempts for 144 yards. He didn’t account for a touchdown.
UP: James Cook, RB. Georgia
Cook’s draft stock began building significant momentum within the past month. I wasn’t on the hype train until I saw the 5'11", 190 lb. senior torch Michigan. Cook only carried the ball six times for 32 yards, but he hauled in four of four targets for 112 yards and a touchdown. He looked surprisingly natural as a receiving option, and that versatility always attracts NFL scouts.
DOWN: Dylan O'Quinn, OT Cincinnati
O'Quinn was an All-Conference First-Team member for the AAC, but he couldn’t keep up with Alabama’s pass rushers. The 6'4", 305 lb. fourth-year junior surrendered six pressures and two sacks on 41 pass blocking snaps after only allowing 15 pressures and two sacks during his first 13 appearances.
UP: Nakobe Dean, LB Georgia
So what if Dean is 6'0", 225 lbs.? The junior proved on Friday night that he’s worth a first-round selection. Dean welcomed in the new year with seven tackles, including two tackles for loss, five pressures, and a sack. Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning mastered using Dean as a blitzer. The linebacker is tied for the team lead with 28 pressures this season.
Dean also uses his size and speed to play exceptionally well in space. Against Michigan, he allowed two receptions on four targets to Blake Corum for -2 yards.
DOWN: David Ojabo, EDGE Michigan
Ojabo began entering the first-round discussion during the middle of this season, but he ended the year on a rough streak. He’s recorded eight tackles, eight pressures, and only one sack in Michigan’s past four games despite playing 181 snaps in those outings.
Ojabo failed to record a pressure or a tackle in the Orange Bowl.
UP: Nolan Smith, EDGE Georgia
At 6'3", 235 lbs., Smith is an undersized edge rusher who could struggle to reach his full potential in the NFL. However, he put together some great film in the Orange Bowl. Smith led the Bulldogs with eight tackles. He also recorded six pressures, a sack, and a pass breakup.
Similar to Myjai Sanders, Smith only has 2.5 sacks this year, but that total doesn’t tell the full story of his season.
DOWN: Quay Walker, LB Georgia
Walker made some high-impact plays against Michigan, including a bone-crushing hit or two. He finished the game with six tackles and a pass breakup. However, the 6'4", 240 lb. senior didn’t have a great day in coverage. He allowed six receptions on six targets for 89 yards (14.8 yards per reception).
Linebackers face the difficult mission of covering faster running backs or tight ends as they wheel out of the backfield. Unfortunately, Walker drew Donovan Edwards in coverage three times, and the freshman beat him each time for a total of 49 yards. Tight end Erick All also beat Walker on a play for 25 yards.
UP: Derion Kendrick, CB Georgia
Kendrick had himself a night against Cade McNamara. The senior Clemson transfer intercepted Michigan’s quarterback twice during his 46 coverage snaps. Kendrick allowed three receptions on eight targets for 55 yards, including a 42-yard play to Roman Wilson. Kendrick always struggles with speed, which is why Wilson successfully gashed him once.
The upcoming game against Alabama is huge for Kendrick. Ohio State torched him for 122 yards and two scores in the playoff last year, and LSU threw three touchdowns against him in the 2020 National Championship. Shutting down Jameson Williams is Kendrick’s best road to redemption.
DOWN: Vincent Gray, CB Michigan
Georgia only targeted Gray twice in the Orange Bowl, but those plays made a significant difference. Gray allowed both receptions, which went for 75 yards and two touchdowns. The former three-star recruit is a senior who could hear his name called late on Day 3 of the NFL Draft.
Honorable Mentions Stock Up
Christian Harris, LB Alabama