Alabama vs. Notre Dame: Players Who Will Make Big Impact on 2013 NFL Draft Stock
Besides tradition and it being the national championship, the matchup between Alabama and Notre Dame will feature a bunch of NFL talent. Many players on both teams will be selected in the 2013 NFL draft and there are a lot of guys that are pondering the decision to leave college early.
Regardless of whether or not some players make it to the next level, this is a big game for many that are thinking about playing football professionally. Of course, winning a national championship is wonderful, but with everybody watching, this is a game that could either make or break your NFL draft stock.
All it takes is one great performance on a stage like this, and you can turn some of those naysayers into believers.
Here are a couple of players from both Alabama and Notre Dame that have the most to gain from the title game.
Cierre Wood, RB, Notre Dame
Because Cierre Wood has a young child to look after, reports indicate that the junior running back will likely leave South Bend a year early.
The problem is that he hasn't done quite enough to put him in that elite category to be one of the first running backs taken. His small frame at 6'0", 215 pounds is also a reason NFL teams will watch him fall through the later rounds.
However, he is a running back that has explosive ability if he can get out in space. Being able to make a few defenders miss in the open field and hit big plays on a national stage could push some much needed attention his way.
Even though this is a weak running back class, Wood has a steep hill to climb if he were to leave early. This likely includes watching another Notre Dame running back Theo Riddick being selected before him.
Alabama doesn't give up many big plays, so if Wood can find a way to impress against that defense, he could win many scouts over.
Michael Williams, TE, Alabama
Unless you do that one thing absolutely spectacular, usually one-dimensional players don't do well in the NFL draft. Scouts must see tremendous upside in order to select a player that can really only help you out in one way.
This is why tight end Michael Williams is considered to be a late-round pick, despite having started a few years for Nick Saban. The senior is widely considered a blocking tight end, but hasn't shown much ability to consistently help out in the passing game. Having played four seasons in Tuscaloosa, he only has 48 career receptions and has never gone over 200 receiving yards in one season.
With the tight end position drastically turning into just another receiver on the field, teams are looking for guys that can make plays in the passing game.
Notre Dame has a solid linebacker corps that should be able to keep Williams in check throughout the game downfield. However, if he can make a few key plays and show more ability as a receiver, he could climb up into the fourth-round range.
Braxston Cave, C, Notre Dame
This was an important season for senior Braxston Cave at the center position because he missed majority of last year with an injured foot. He had to bounce back and have a productive year in order to maintain his draft stock for 2013.
While he has been a reliable player for Notre Dame in the middle of the offensive line, he has been abused by a few athletic defensive linemen at times.
He had his issues against a physical defense such as Stanford and let Kawann Short of Purdue blow right by him earlier in the year. If Cave isn't able to handle athletic interior linemen, his stock is going to drop heading into April.
The good thing is that Alabama has a massive nose tackle in Jesse Williams, who has been a tall order for guys to keep in front of him.
If Cave can get the best of Alabama's better defensive lineman, it will show that Cave can be a reliable player at the next level and will likely make him a second or third-round selection.
Nico Johnson, LB, Alabama
Alabama took an enormous hit at the linebacker position during the offseason, losing guys such as Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw to the NFL draft. That left Nico Johnson as the senior leader of the pack, and he has done a good job of mentoring the young guys and being productive.
However, none of that equals guaranteed success come April, and Johnson still has a little bit of work to do to become a high pick like his buddies last year.
Johnson is terrific in run support and is effective in blitz packages. Unlike past Crimson Tide linebackers, he isn't the best athlete in the world, which doesn't help him in pass coverage as he struggles to move from sideline to sideline.
Notre Dame has an athletic tight end in Tyler Eifert that could give the Alabama linebackers issues in the passing game.
If Johnson can show a little more ability in pass defense, he is somebody that could be taken as early as the late second round.
Bennett Jackson, CB, Notre Dame
With all of the injuries Notre Dame suffered to its secondary, Bennett Jackson has become the best cover guy on this team. He is tied for second with 61 tackles and has also intercepted four passes.
He has good size at 6'0", 185 pounds and does a nice job of shedding blocks and perusing the ball carrier. He has above-average speed, terrific ball skills and he is effective in man-coverage, allowing the receiver not to break free for a big play.
The problem is that it is only his first year as a full-time defensive player and there are much more proven corners leaving for the draft this year. Jackson would likely benefit with another year in college, but an Alabama playmaker such as Amari Cooper could change that thought process.
The Crimson Tide freshman receiver is averaging 17 yards a reception and has 12 catches that have gone for more than 25 yards.
This will be the biggest test for Jackson's young career, and if he passes, he may decide to test the waters with a greatly improved draft stock.