Ohio State and Clemson are both out to finish their seasons with a W after taking the opposite in their previous outings. Both have loads of NFL talent, with 3 or more players featuring that could become 1st round selections in May.
One of the two premier defensive prospects in this showdown is Buckeye junior linebacker Ryan Shazier (#2). Reports that Shazier received a 2nd round grade from the Draft Advisory Committee and that he is 50/50 on declaring for the draft have hit the interwebs. If he opts to leave Columbus, any team in need of a linebacker will be put on notice.
Shazier is so highly touted because of his natural athleticism and knack for big hits and big plays. He flashes all over the field on the Buckeye defense. Shazier even flashes as a pass rusher on the edge or blitzing from the interior, where his acceleration wreaks havoc on pass blockers. The fluidity of his movement lends itself to redirecting in zone coverage over the middle and tracking routes, which he does well.
There are concerns with Shazier, and Clemson has the offensive system to attack them. Shazier isn’t highly developed reading plays to fitting the run quickly. Interior blockers are able to get their hands on him before he begins coming forward and his ability to play off blocks in a timely fashion is inconsistent. Clemson’s rushing attack will test his gap discipline with a heavy dose of zone looks, read option, and inverted veer looks.
A second prospect to watch on the Ohio State defense is senior safety C.J. Barnett (#4). Look for Clemson to test his range with vertical passing concepts. Barnett has had issues with double moves in man coverage. He also lacks high level acceleration to drive on routes from over the top. Where he wins is coming forward as a tackler. Barnett’s strength and physicality along with fine tackling technique make him a high-impact safety in the box. A fine showing against a deceptive offense and explosive passing attack in the Orange Bowl would be big for C.J. Barnett.
The disappointing season cornerback Bradley Roby has had may be finished as reports surface that he is unlikely to play due to a bone bruise in his knee. Roby has already declared for the 2014 draft, but won’t get one last crack at putting together a complete game in his junior season.
On the other side of the ball is a prospect who has had a season go the opposite way of Roby’s. Carlos Hyde (#34) has taken his game to the next level in 2013, rushing for over 100 yards in his final eight outings and crossing the goal line 15 times in the process.
The all-around development of Hyde as a back is a big reason he will be in the conversation to be the first back of the board in May. At 6’0” 235, Hyde is obviously a bigger back who runs with power. His feet are nimble as well, with the ability to make fine cuts behind the line of scrimmage or to make defenders miss in space. The patience Hyde shows behind his blocks to let them develop on the inside and then cut into the emerging hole is remarkable. When Hyde can build up a head of steam running north and south, he runs faster than one might expect as well.
There are a few areas of Hyde’s game to keep an eye on as far as limitations go. He hasn’t been an overly productive or effective pass catcher or pass blocker, which is so important for backs in a majority of NFL offenses today. Pay attention to any perimeter runs the Buckeyes may call as well and how Hyde fares athletically when it comes to pressing the corner.
At this stage, Carlos Hyde looks every bit of a solid second round pick for a team interested in a back who can carry a heavier workload. His senior season has done wonders for his NFL projection.
A more divisive prospect on the offense of the Buckeyes is junior quarterback Braxton Miller. He’s been quoted as saying “I’m ready for the NFL.” Miller should strongly consider remaining at Ohio State though.
His accuracy down the field, even if improved from previous seasons, is still poor. Miller doesn’t make reads and anticipation throws in the vein required of NFL quarterbacks. He also has issues managing a pocket, where he tends to take off all too quickly.
The natural ability to Braxton Miller as an athlete will make him an intriguing prospect whenever he enters the draft. His mobility and knack for big plays are always going to be the hallmark of his game, but he needs to develop the finer points to make it on Sundays.
One of the Buckeye prospects who will be heavily tested by his opposition is left tackle Jack Mewhort (#74). With Tiger pass rush dynamo Vic Beasley across from him, he has an opportunity to prove his mettle.
Mewhort is more of a grinder than an athlete at the tackle position. His feet aren’t overly quick, which means Beasley will be a big test for him in pass protection. If he doesn’t get depth off the line of scrimmage, Beasley can press the edge and bend past him. Mewhort is very physical and technical with his hands however. Look for him to land a punch on the undersized rusher and stand him up.
The run game is where Mewhort will need to dominate. He has a massive size advantage against Beasley and is the type of run blocker who churns well to create space in the middle. Keep an eye on how effective Mewhort is when climbing to second level targets. He tends to get a bit high and out of control, not breaking down in space to maximize the block. At the end of the day, Mewhort has a chance to make himself some money with this matchup.
One more viable prospect on a talented offensive line for the Buckeyes is center Corey Linsley (#71). Linsley is a cerebral center who anchors the line from the middle. He’s sufficiently athletic and an attacking type center who tends to be overaggressive. One of his bigger issues is pad level and balance on contact, which should be watched closely in this one.
The best prospect the Orange Bowl may have to offer is Clemson’s junior receiver Sammy Watkins (#2). Watkins is the whole package as a receiver and has all the makings of a top ten draft pick.
First and foremost, Watkins can get open because he’s an explosive and sudden athlete. He changes speeds and changes directions in a hurry. On top of that, Watkins is a physical and tough receiver who will play off contact and make catches in traffic. The consistency with which Watkins snags the ball with his hands leads to a low amount of drops and aids his ability to make contested catches. As teams started to bracket Watkins in 2013, his development as a route runner underneath has shown through.
The long speed of Watkins makes him an extremely dangerous receiver for any defense. With a clean release, he can take the top off a defense in a hurry. When the coverage backs off, Clemson will screen it to him and let his elusiveness take over. The increased physicality and toughness of Watkins this season has come into play after the catch as well, where he bounces off contact and into space.
Without Bradley Roby in the fold, Ohio State will need to put a lot of attention on Sammy Watkins to keep him from taking over this game. Look for Tajh Boyd to throw his way early and often, which is nothing new for the Clemson signal caller.
Tajh Boyd is a prospect who has seemingly taken a step back in 2013 as more of the offense was put on his shoulders after the departure of DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Ellington.
The best traits of Tajh Boyd are ones that Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris brings out often. More than any, Boyd is an accurate thrower of the deep ball with the kind of touch to drop in bucket throws. The mobility of Boyd also allows him to create plays when the pocket breaks down. His tendency to change arm angles is more of a quirk than clearly a positive or a negative trait.
Boyd’s issues begin with his finer quarterback instincts. He really struggles to make throw on anticipation, often staring down receivers. He doesn’t make overly complicated reads, normally working high low concepts. Boyd can also be overly reliant on his athletic ability, which has limited his growth in the pocket. When opponents bring blitz packages, he doesn’t anticipate where to go with the football and can panic. Another slight to Boyd is that he doesn’t generate significant velocity on many throws, which limits his ability to put the ball in tight windows.
After a big showing against LSU last season in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Tajh Boyd made a statement about his 2013 season. His senior campaign didn’t exactly go as planned after a middling performance in Clemson’s biggest game. How much can a big showing in the Orange Bowl do for him now?
One of the more unheralded yet highly effective Tiger prospects is left tackle Brandon Thomas (#63). Thomas looks a candidate for a move inside to offensive guard, but has shown well on the outside.
Thomas is a fluid mover on the outside, both working backwards in his kickslide and moving upfield as a run blocker. His skillful hands are a big reason for his success as a pass blocker despite a lack of length. Thomas’ ability to keep his pads down by bending at the knees and sinking his hips plays into his effectiveness as a run and pass blocker.
It’s in the ground game where Thomas still needs work. He isn’t overly nasty, with struggles to sustain blocks and finish up front. At this stage, he’s more of a wall-off blocker at the line of scrimmage. Keep an eye out for Thomas though. He’s a sleeper as an offensive guard prospect with lots of upside.
On the defensive side of the ball for Clemson, all eyes should be on junior defensive end Vic Beasley (#3). After totaling 12 sacks in 2013, Beasley looks the part of an upside pass rusher who could wind up a first round pick if he declares.
The acceleration off the ball and flexibility to dip around the corner as a rusher is the hallmark of Beasley’s game. When he gets off the ball well, he’s a terror around the corner. That said, he also can work a variety of pass rush moves on the outside. Despite his lack of ideal size (6’2” 235 lb.), Beasley can also set up rushes by converting speed to power and keep from getting locked up.
Unsurprisingly, Beasley’s most effective work as a run stopper is in pursuit either from the backside or flowing over the top. He and his teammates will have a big job ahead of them in stopping Carlos Hyde and the Buckeye rushing attack. Keep an eye on how Beasley competes at the line of scrimmage against a mauler in Jack Mewhort. He will have to go tit for tat in terms power on first contact to maintain gap discipline against a back with the kind of vision Carlos Hyde has.
Despite the talent of Jack Mewhort, Vic Beasley is capable of a big day against him. Don’t mistake a contain philosophy on the outside to keep Braxton Miller in the pocket as a lack of disruption from Beasley though. Clemson will surely be well-versed in the tendencies of the Buckeye quarterback.
Others to watch: Ohio State LG Andrew Norwell, Ohio State RG Marcus Hall, Clemson WR Martavis Bryant, Clemson RB Roderick McDowell
Tags: Bowl Preview, Bradley Roby, Brandon Thomas, Braxton Miller, C.J. Barnett, Carlos Hyde, Clemson Tigers, Corey Linsley, Jack Mewhort, Ohio State Buckeyes, Orange Bowl, Ryan Shazier, Sammy Watkins, Tajh Boyd, Vic Beasley