Jan 12, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; General view of the stadium interior prior to the game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Oregon Ducks in the 2015 CFP National Championship at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
We’re just a couple hours away from the first ever College Football Playoff National Championship game. With just three games remaining, the professional football season is about to wrap up as well, which means we’re just a few months away from the 2015 NFL Draft.
The New Orleans Saints‘ year came to a close much earlier than anticipated. Before the season began, many experts had the Black and Gold as one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl. Disappointing performances on both sides of the ball mean it’s time to start scouting potential prospects that can help get the club back on track in 2015, so why not start with tonight’s matchup between Oregon and Ohio State?
The Saints undoubtedly have several holes to fill, but cornerback, pass rusher, protection for QB Drew Brees and a run stopper to plug up the middle of the defensive line are the obvious positions that should be sniffed out first. A quarterback for the future is another position that should be addressed, but of course, Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota is a top-two pick.
GM Mickey Loomis feels he’s in a comfortable position to get his club under the cap, which means New Orleans will likely pursue some of these needs in the free agent market. Regardless, let’s take a look at some potential prospects playing in tonight’s game.
Michael Bennett (#53), Defensive tackle, Ohio State
Bennett is a force in the interior of the defensive line for the Buckeyes, using his excellent balance to work off blocks and his quickness to penetrate the backfield. At 6-foot-2 and 288 pounds, he still has room to fill out and grow stronger.
While the Saints will likely have better options in the first round at No. 13 if they choose to go the defensive tackle route, Bennett is certainly an option, especially in the pass rushing aspect of the game. It’s been a while since the Saints have had a reliable force in the middle of the line. With Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley likely hitting the free agent market, Bennett probably won’t slip past the Detroit Lions at No. 23.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Cornerback, Oregon
Ekpre-Olomu could come as a steal in this year’s draft. He was a potential first-round prospect, but unfortunately he will miss tonight’s national championship game after suffering a torn ACL during a December practice.
With two interceptions and nine pass breakups before his injury, many teams may consider taking the risk on Ifo somewhere in the middle of the draft. The Saints’ horrid secondary could certainly use some assistance.
Doran Grant (#12), Cornerback, Ohio State
During the regular season, Grant was second on the team with five interceptions and led with 14 passes defended. He was even able to hang with Alabama WR Amari Cooper, the top wide receiver in college football, during the Buckeyes’ win over the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl.
Grant struggled his first two seasons, but became the full-time starter opposite Bradley Roby, who was selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. ESPN Draft analyst Todd McShay has a fifth-round grade on Grant.
Jake Fisher (#67), Offensive tackle, Oregon
The Saints could certainly use some protection for Brees — New Orleans has been outstanding at discovering just that in the later rounds of the draft. Finding a guard is crucial for the Black and Gold with Ben Grubbs‘ recent struggles. Fisher has intriguing upside with experience at both guard and tackle.
Fisher has played a key role in the protection of Heisman QB Marcus Mariota and is a vocal leader on the Ducks’ offense. The senior tackle is an efficient double-team blocker, who plays with good athleticism, size and strength. Projected to go in the fourth or fifth round, Fisher is a potential day-one starter for a team that is lacking protection on the offensive line.
Adolphus Washington (#92), Defensive tackle, Ohio State
According to ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr, Washington is also an interior lineman for the Buckeyes with first-round potential, if he decides to declare for the draft.
Washington is a big, physical pass rusher, flipping spots with Bennett from three-technique to nose tackle earlier this season. Through the help of defensive line coach Larry Johnson, Washington has seen major improvements at stopping the run.
Hroniss Grasu (#55), Center, Oregon
It’s unlikely, but still hard to tell if the Saints will address the center position in the draft. Jonathan Goodwin will be a free agent in March, but Tim Lelito was actually one of the bright spots on the offensive line this year. There are other positions that are far more important, but that doesn’t change the fact that Grasu is an intriguing individual.
The four-year starter and three-time first-team All-Pac 12 selection has an NFL-ready frame and plays with great quickness and athleticism. Effectively blocking on a consistent basis for a mobile quarterback like Mariota is not an easy task. Todd McShay grades Grasu as the top center prospect in the class — he won’t see past the third round.
Tony Washington (#91), Outside linebacker, Oregon
A potential steal as a late-round prospect, Washington was one of the Ducks’ biggest playmakers on defense this year. At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, the senior linebacker is an effective pass rusher in both the two-point and three-point stance.
His broad shoulders, weight and explosiveness could also earn him a spot on the line as a defensive end. Guys that possess the skill-set to switch positions are ideal for Rob Ryan’s defensive scheme and the Saints are definitely in the market for a pass rusher. Somebody needs to replace Parys Haralson.
Curtis Grant (#14), Middle linebacker, Ohio State
Here’s a fun fact -before committing to the Buckeyes years ago, Grant was the No. 2 prospect in the country behind only DE Jadeveon Clowney, the first overall pick in 2014. His hype outweighed his performance in Columbus, but he still played a key role on defense.
While he may not be the guy he was originally expected to be, his experience will land him a job either through the 2015 NFL Draft or via the undrafted free agent market. His ten-tackle performance against Alabama proved that he knows how to show up in big game situations.
Arik Armstead (#9), Defensive end, Oregon
According to reports by Yahoo’s Rand Getlin in December, Armstead is “leaning toward” entering the draft. Tonight will be his test to see where he lands on draft boards is he does decide to go that route.
The 6-foot-7, 296 pound freak of nature is a force to be reckoned with on the defensive line and the Saints could certainly use a talent like his if he falls to Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton in the second round. “He has first-round talent, no doubt,” an NFL GM told NFL Media’s Albert Breer. Cam Jordan and Akiem Hicks were both no-shows for New Orleans this year.
As you can see, there is tons of talent to be displayed in Monday night’s CFP National Championship game. Again, the New Orleans Saints have many needs to address, so is it possible we could be watching a future member of the Black and Gold play when the Ohio State Buckeyes and Oregon Ducks go head-to-head for the NCAA title in AT&T Stadium in Arlington Texas? Keep your eyes on these prospects, Who Dat Nation.