AJ McCarron enters his final Iron Bowl with another chance to showcase his talents on a big stage against No. 4 Auburn.
The 78th Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn on Saturday will feature a bevy of talented NFL draft-eligible prospects who will duel inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.
With both teams ranked in the Top Five, several difference-makers for the Tide and the Tigers will get an opportunity to make a statement in front of a national audience.
Nick Saban’s roster is once again loaded with plenty of NFL-ready talent. However, Gus Malzahn has re-energized an Auburn program that had fallen on hard times over the past two seasons.
Which players participating in this weekend’s game will NFL scouts be watching closely?
Fullbacks are not a top priority for general managers in the draft. However, versatile players who can block, run and catch have shown they can thrive in a niche role in the NFL.
Auburn has one of the very best fullbacks in the country in senior Jay Prosch.
The 6’0”, 258-pound Prosch checks in as the second-best fullback in the 2014 class, according to CBS Sports.
If Prosch can help clear out some room for the Tigers against a Tide front seven that ranks as the nation’s fourth-best defense against the run, his chances to hear his name called in the upcoming draft could see a significant bump.
Alabama senior guard Anthony Steen has quietly been a three-year starter on one of the most dominant offenses in the country. Steen has put together a strong career in the shadows of his more celebrated linemates such as left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio.
As it relates to his draft prospects, Steen is regarded as one of the most punishing run-blockers available in the 2014 draft.
CBS Sports rates Steen as the fifth-best guard and projects him to be a third-round pick in the upcoming draft.
While quarterback Nick Marshall has generated most of the headlines concerning Auburn’s offensive turnaround, running back Tre Mason has been the spark plug to the nation’s No. 3 rushing attack.
Mason has rushed for 1,153 yards and an SEC-best 17 rushing touchdowns.
The 5’10”, 205-pound junior has also been an excellent receiving threat out of the backfield.
Should he choose to test the NFL waters, Mason could provide value as a three-down back with the ability to return kicks on special teams.
Auburn defensive end Dee Ford has had a breakout season in his final campaign on the Plains.
Ford has thrived in Tigers first-year defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson’s system as a player who wreaks havoc off the edge. His eight sacks lead the team and rank third in the SEC in that category.
At the next level, Ford is a player who could transition into an outside linebacker in a 3-4 system.
The 6’2”, 240-pounder currently rates as the 12th-best outside linebacker, according to CBS Sports. He’s currently projected as a mid-round selection, but there remains an opportunity for him to keep climbing the boards with a strong finish to this season.
One of the biggest trends in recent drafts is the weight teams place on pass-rushers who can stand up or play with their hands in the dirt in a 3-4 scheme.
Alabama junior outside linebacker Adrian Hubbard is a candidate to fill that role at the next level. Although he could return next season, he’s a fourth-year junior who flirted with turning pro before last season’s draft.
While he has the size and athleticism to be dominant, he’s been a solid player who has shown more flashes than extended periods of strong play in 25 games as a starter over the past two seasons.
However, his potential is tantalizing enough that he could be a player who surges up draft boards if he performs well during the pre-draft circuit.
While there are questions surrounding whether or not AJ McCarron is an elite quarterback, all he does is keep racking up wins.
His numbers are efficient, and he has the size NFL scouts typically look for in a franchise quarterback. He’s got above-average mobility, and his intangible qualities are sure to be a strength in his bid to be one of the top signal-callers to come off the board in the 2014 draft.
However, there's debate as to whether he has enough arm strength to warrant first-round consideration. That’s part of the reason why he’s viewed as a second- or third-round pick by outlets such as CBS Sports.
Regardless of how he finishes the season, McCarron will continue to be a hot-button topic among NFL draft analysts and personnel during the buildup to draft day.
Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson is only a sophomore by class. However, the fact that he redshirted makes him a candidate to test the NFL draft waters following just his second season of action on the Plains.
Count ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper as a fan of his abilities at the next level. According to Joel A. Erickson of AL.com, Kiper rates him at No. 22 in his latest big board.
While there’s a chance he could come back to school and follow the route of players such as Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan from last season, Robinson has been a key cog in the revival of Auburn’s high-powered ground game, and his play has him on the radar of NFL scouts.
If Robinson can clear some holes against the Tide this weekend, look for that buzz surrounding his draft stock to continue to grow.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has taken the torch from safeties such as Mark Barron and Robert Lester and continued to anchor one of the nation’s best pass defenses.
Despite missing two games due to a suspension, Clinton-Dix has still managed to have a strong junior season, tying for the team lead in interceptions with two.
The 6’1”, 208-pounder is listed as the top free safety in the 2014 class, according to CBS Sports.
With Auburn running primarily a ground-oriented attack, Clinton-Dix will get a chance to showcase his abilities as a physical defender in run support against the Tigers.
Regarded as one of the nation’s top left tackles, Cyrus Kouandjio is an athletic specimen who fits the prototypical franchise NFL blindside pass-protector.
The 6’5”, 310-pounder is only a junior, but he plays a position typically regarded with great value in the first round of the NFL draft.
Kouandjio has allowed only 1.5 sacks this season on nearly 300 pass attempts.
CBS Sports has Kouandjio rated as the No. 2 left tackle in the 2014 class and a solid first-round projection should he opt to leave school early.
After an All-American campaign as a junior, linebacker C.J. Mosley has been the most consistent player on the Tide’s roster in his final season.
As the heart and soul of Nick Saban’s defense, Mosley has racked up 89 tackles this season and is up for consideration for several national awards.
At 6’2”, 232 pounds, NFL types will love Mosley because he’s a three-down linebacker who has excelled covering tight ends, slot receivers and running backs throughout his college career.
Mosley is projected as one of the top outside linebackers in the 2014 class, and he’s a safe bet to become the fifth Saban defender to be picked in the first round since the 2010 draft.
With the Tigers presenting a formidable challenge at the point of attack, Mosley will get another stage to show off his talents as an all-around linebacker who can play downhill against a punishing rushing attack.