This weekend’s SEC showdown between West division foes Alabama and LSU in Baton Rouge will likely be heavily attended by NFL scouting personnel.
That’s because there aren’t many games this season that can rival the amount of elite future pro talent that will be on display at Tiger Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Alabama has close to 10 players on their roster that could be drafted in the 2011 NFL Draft depending on how many of the eligible underclassmen decide to forego their remaining eligibility and enter the NFL ranks early.
Some younger Tide players such as running back Mark Ingram, defensive end Marcell Dareus, safety Mark Barron and linebacker Dont’a Hightower all have a very realistic chance of cracking the first round if they decide to come out this year.
Ingram and Dareus, two juniors, are already being talked about as Top 10-caliber picks.
For LSU, they don’t necessarily have the true “wow” type talent that Alabama possesses. Instead, they have more intriguing prospects like defensive tackle Drake Nevis, offensive tackle Joseph Barksdale and linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, who are all seniors.
Nevis and Barksdale, especially, are two players who could see their stock shift dramatically in either direction with their performance in postseason workouts.
With all that talent on the field, you would think it would be difficult to single out any specific individual player matchups, but that’s certainly not the case.
The battle everyone is going to be keeping their eye on is Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones vs. LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson.
Jones, a 6'4", 215-pound junior, has as much hype as any receiver in the country outside of Georgia’s A.J. Green. But he also might have the most questions as well.
The former five-star recruit has had bursts where he’s looked like the type of receiver many thought he would be when he entered the college ranks as a supposed freshman phenom. But there’s also been instances when Jones has flat-out disappeared from the offense and struggled to maintain his consistency.
Though his numbers—45 catches, 669 receiving yards, 3 receiving TDs—look fairly decent this year, we’ve still yet to see the truly-dominant impact player we thought we were getting when Jones first put on a Tide uniform three years ago.
Jones could have a tough time looking all that great going up against LSU’s Patrick Peterson, who is the top cornerback prospect and maybe even the best overall player in college football this year.
Peterson, a 6'1", 220-pound junior, is the rare “shutdown” type of cornerback that you just don’t see very often these days. His superior size, athleticism and ability force offensive coordinators to alter their gameplans.
Peterson, who in all likelihood will be a top 10 pick in 2011, has the best package of natural cornerback skills we’ve seen since Charles Woodson was playing at Michigan.
Footwork, coverage, instincts, closing speed, ball skills—he’s got it all.
He’s the type of player that not only changes the complexion of a defense, but an entire team.
This is a matchup of two supremely-gifted young football players, and one that will likely break the tie of their three-round battle before they each enter the pros after this season.
Round 1 of the fight, when the two were freshman, went to Jones. In their 2008 meeting, the Alabama receiver had his best game of the season, hauling in seven passes for 128 yards.
In 2009, it was a different story. Peterson kept Julio largely in check before he was forced to the sidelines because of cramps. With his adversary out of the way, Julio took a screen pass 73 yards to the house for a game-changing score.
Hopefully for this game, Peterson won’t have to deal with a cramping problem that has plagued him throughout his career. That way, we can see a full game’s worth of action pitting these two future pros against each other one last time.
Even though this will probably be the last time they go up against one another on a college football field, something tells me we could see Jones and Peterson going at it on the gridirons of the NFL in the very near future.