With the first ever playoff approaching we have seen throughout the season the stars play to the best of their ability to attempt to make their dream come true as an NFL player. So as the playoff creeps up I take a look at the top prospect from each team and how they can use the playoff to improve their stock.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Mariota has shown this season that he not only is a top candidate for the Heisman, but he is also a top prospect on any NFL draft board as well. He is the best dual threat prospect at quarterback since Robert Griffin III came out of Baylor, except unlike RGIII he can throw the ball better than almost anyone in the country and reserves his top notch speed for when he needs it. He never forces the ball, which shows in his completion percentage of just below 70% and an NCAA leading 186.1 quarterback rating. He has 53 combined touchdowns (38 passing, 14 rushing, and one receiving), which also leads the NCAA. In the playoff he can improve his stock by showing his ability to escape the pocket and make plays under pressure rather than taking the sack. He has been sacked 29 times this season, six more than the second most sacked playoff quarterback. A player with his athletic ability should not be taking as many sacks as he does. He needs to show he can escape the pocket and make plays under pressure instead of taking a sack against a grueling pass rush from Florida State, and Ohio State or Alabama if they advance. Mariota is most likely the runaway candidate to win the Heisman, but he could also end up being the number one selection on draft day.
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
Amari Cooper proved he was the best receiver in the nation this season as he posted a Heisman worthy season at Alabama. Cooper led the NCAA in both receptions and receiving yards this season, accounting for 45.3% of his team’s total receiving yardage. He is a perfect combination of size, speed, and hands, which reminds me of former Alabama receiver, Julio Jones. Honestly all he needs to do in the playoffs is to continue the elite play he has put on all season, but it is much easier said than done. The Crimson Tide are matched up against a gritty Ohio State secondary, and if they advance it won’t help having to play another tremendous secondary in Florida State, or being matched up with one of the best corners in the game in Ife Ekpre-Olomu from Oregon. However, not only is Cooper the SEC Offensive Player of the Year, but he is a top five talent on most draft boards.
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Despite lacking this season compared to last, Winston remains the top prospect from the Seminoles. Many doubts have arisen about Winston’s decision making, character, and attitude, mirroring the issues of former Heisman winner Johnny Manziel last season. He has thrown for almost 500 yards less than last season, as well as 16 fewer touchdowns, and seven more interceptions. Even though he is not living up to his expectations for this season, he has shown he can win games, even if it is a close call. He has also thrown for the ninth most passing yards this season, showing he still has put up decent numbers although it may not be what was expected. What he needs to do in the playoff is show he can lead a team against elite talent, because even though FSU is undefeated there are many questions floating around about what would happen if they played a highly appraised team outside the ACC. Considering they are the only team in the playoff to play an opponent in the top 10 it will be interesting to see how Winston will operate opposing the top talents in the nation. Winston has the most to prove out of all prospects in the playoffs, and his draft stock could depend on it.
Michael Bennett, DL, Ohio State
Although Bennett is overshadowed by the other top notch defensive ends in this draft class he brings experience and a favorable upside to the table. Bennett was the veteran of an immensely talented OSU defensive front. He is an all-around talent at defensive end, so when he is good at almost every aspect, he isn’t great at anything in particular. In the playoff he could improve his stock by demonstrating better pass rushing abilities against some of the top offensive linemen in the nation in Alabama. If he could record at least one sack and not make any key mistakes throughout the playoffs his draft stock could rise quite a bit.