The Alabama Crimson Tide got a second chance to dethrone the mighty LSU Tigers on Monday night in the Allstate BCS National Championship game, and they took full advantage of that opportunity. Folks back home in Tuscaloosa rejoiced following the Tide's 21-0 shellacking of the previously unbeaten Tigers in the Superdome in Louisiana.
Everyone knew that this game would feature defense, just like the two teams' previous matchup on November 5th. There are several future first-round draft picks on each of these two defenses, and they were on display again in the clash for all the marbles.
For LSU, sophomore cornerback Tyrann Mathieu and junior cornerback Morris Claiborne may be the two players with the brightest future in the NFL.
For Alabama, junior cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and senior safety Mark Barron are almost surely headed for the NFL Draft in April, and there is a strong chance that both will be first-round selections.
How did each of these guys state their case in Monday night's championship game to the NFL scouts watching their every move?
The youngest of these four defensive backs, LSU's Tyrann Mathieu was also the only defensive finalist for the Heisman Trophy back in December. The "Honey Badger," as he is commonly called, will not be headed to the NFL this year. Still, Monday's clash with Alabama may have altered his reputation with NFL scouts who could be grading him for his eventual arrival at the next level.
I think Mathieu suffered the worst downgrade from this game among the four players discussed. He recorded six solo tackles in the game and defended two passes, but his inability to be the dynamic playmaker he has been all season certainly raised some questions with speculators.
Give Alabama credit for executing some perfect passes, but Mathieu was beaten on a few occasions and didn't appear to be the solid tackler he is known to be. He struggled to bring down receivers at times. He didn't dominate the game. And the bigger concern will be his ability to bring down significantly bigger, stronger and faster receivers in the NFL.
A dynamic return man? Absolutely. But Mathieu, after his performance in the title game, will need to get back on track and prove to the world once again that he really is capable of being elite at the next level.
Unlike Mathieu, Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick is headed for the NFL draft this April. He is arguably the second-best cornerback on the board, only trailing the other star corner that donned purple and yellow on Monday night.
Kirkpatrick made some similar mistakes to Mathieu in his missed opportunities throughout the game. On a few occasions, he failed to bring down a player behind the line on a screen pass. On a punt into LSU territory, the ball bounced near the two-yard line and ultimately hit Kirkpatrick in the end zone for a touchback.
The miscues were limited, though, and Kirkpatrick showcased his ability far more than he raised concerns about it. He recorded four total tackles—two of them for losses—and didn't allow an LSU receiver to see a glimpse of open field all game. Kirkpatrick blanketed the man in front of him, essentially from start to finish.
He is a huge cornerback with tremendous athletic ability, and he displayed his knowledge for the game on the few plays he busted at the line—regardless of whether he successfully made the tackle or not.
It may not have catapulted him to the top spot in the cornerback draft class, but it certainly solidified his spot as one of the very best. Expect Kirkpatrick to be drafted in the middle of the first round, just like analysts have predicted.
The one guy considered to have the upper hand on Kirkpatrick in the cornerback class wears No. 17 for the LSU Tigers. Junior Morris Claiborne is expected to be drafted in the top ten—potentially the top five—of April's NFL draft, and his performance on Monday did not hurt that standing.
Claiborne was unimpressive returning kicks for LSU, but his future as an NFL player most likely does not feature much returning. Whoever drafts him—many mock drafts predict it will be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 5 overall—will be expecting a shut-down cornerback who can dominate receivers the way that Darrelle Revis does for the New York Jets.
Alabama was able to move the football all over the Tigers in the title clash, but Claiborne usually was not the man getting beat. He made five tackles in the game, and he didn't make any glaring mistakes on defense that would have lowered his stock enough to drop him in the first round.
For his defense as a whole, it was a disappointing finish to an amazing season. But the fact that Claiborne's name wasn't mentioned often was actually more of a positive than a negative.
He was covering his man, even if his teammates were struggling with their own. Expect Claiborne to still be the first corner taken in the draft come April.
For senior safety Mark Barron, it was a story-book ending to his career as a college football player. The game itself, however, was just another day at the office—and a quiet one, at that—for Barron.
The star safety made just two tackles—one of them a sack of LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson—in his squad's utter domination of the Tigers' offense. While Barron didn't get the opportunity to jump up the charts with stellar interceptions and tackles, he also didn't hurt his status and had a very similar outcome to that of Claiborne's in terms of his NFL stock.
Barron is projected to be a late first-round selection, with the potential of him falling to the second round. He would be a good fit with teams picking at the end of the first—teams like the Patriots and Steelers.
LSU barely managed to reach the 50-yard line. They had no plays downfield. It was a quiet day for Barron at safety.
So scouts will have to focus on his body of work—a career with two national titles, 229 tackles, 12 interceptions and four sacks—to decide where he gets taken.
And don't forget—all of these players have done their work within two of the greatest defenses college football has ever seen.
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