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College football players to watch for: National Championship Game

Related: Exploring every potential quarterback option for the 2021 Patriots

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Rose Bowl Game presented by Capital One - Alabama v Notre Dame Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

We have finally arrived at the finish line. Four and a half months ago we started the journey that was the 2020 college football season, 559 games played and 135 cancellations later, we await only the National Championship Game.

The stage is set to feature two perennial powerhouses. On one side, Ohio State. The college football playoffs’ inaugural winner, on a mission to prove their doubters (i.e. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney) wrong. On the other side, Alabama. College football’s version of your New England Patriots. Five titles in eleven years, all under head coach Nick Saban, who for this season, has assembled one of the best rosters that the sport has ever seen.

This game is riddled with NFL talent, something that many (including myself) have pointed out this week:

So we’re switching things up for our final installment of this series. We’ll take a look at the top prospect for each team at positions of need for the Patriots. I’ll profile each player’s potential fit in New England and link any past reports as well. Full profiles on these players will be available in the coming weeks, keep an eye out on Twitter @KeaganStiefel and @Ryan_Spags.

Enough wasting time, here are some college football players to watch in the National Championship Game.

Wide Receiver

DeVonta Smith, #6, Alabama

The crown jewel of NFL draft boards is DeVonta Smith. The Heisman trophy winner is just one of three true wide receivers to win the award and the first since Desmond Howard in 1991. He’s a true Z-receiver who can revamp an offense with his presence. With Julian Edelman’s career winding down and Jakobi Meyers’ best play coming from the slot, Smith would shore up 2/3 of your receiving corps with the hopes that N’Keal Harry can grow into his own in Year Three. It’s a long shot that he lasts to pick No. 15 with receiver-needy teams like the Miami Dolphins and Philadelphia Eagles picking in the top-10, but the draft has surprised us recently with early wide receiver selections. To read more about DeVonta Smith, please click here.

Chris Olave, #2, Ohio State

If DeVonta Smith is the NFL’s crown jewel, Chris Olave is mine. He’s another Z-receiver — the top five receivers in this class all fall into that category — and could help the Patriots evolve their receiving corps just as Smith would, albeit at a much cheaper price. This game will be huge for Olave’s draft stock as he could easily push himself up into the first round. Also, if you haven’t seen me mention it 100 times already, he covers punts. To read more about Chris Olave, please click here.


Baron Browning, #5, Ohio State

The Patriots have a glaring need at the second level of their defense, an athlete who knows how to play off the ball. They’ve got thumpers in Ja’Whaun Bentley and Terez Hall, as well as pass rushers who have tried to adjust like Chase Winovich, Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings. Unfortunately they couldn’t successfully fill the Dont’a Hightower role. If the Patriots are lucky, Browning could do it alongside Hightower, should the veteran return. He has elite measurables (6’3” 240lbs, 4.56 40-yard dash) and has proven to be a physical force for Ohio State as their do it all man in the middle.

Dylan Moses, #32, Alabama

Another man who could slot into that same role is Dylan Moses. He compares almost identically to Browning in terms of size but showed a little bit more athleticism in his time at Alabama. The man runs a 4.46 40-yard dash and is the quintessential sideline-to-sideline linebacker. He would come at a much higher price than Browning — a late first-round pick compared to a mid-rounder — but would require less time to develop. He’s a prospect that should be ready to contribute immediately. To read more about Dylan Moses, please click here.

Offensive Line

Alex Leatherwood, #70, Alabama

You guys will probably skip over this section so I will keep it quick. Leatherwood is one of the top offensive tackles in the country, and could be a candidate for the Patriots if they lose Joe Thuney to free agency. Michael Onwenu would be expected to slide over to his natural guard spot and a guy like Leatherwood could compete for the right tackle job.

Wyatt Davis, #52, Ohio State

What if the Patriots like Onwenu at tackle? Draft a guard. Davis is one of the best run blocking guards in the world, let alone college football. He could fit right in on the left side should they choose to go that route.

Defensive Line

Haskell Garrett, #92, Ohio State

With Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler slated to be free agents, the Patriots may be forced to add a defensive tackle that can replace the best of their production, Garrett may be the best/cheapest option to do so. Possessing a smaller frame (6’2” 300lbs) Garrett is a high motor type player who can get after the quarterback as well as hold his own against the run. The biggest positive however, his untapped potential. The former 5-star recruit had trouble cracking the lineup at Ohio State but once he did, he exploded. A moldable, high ceiling talent who can be had for a mid-round pick? Bill Belichick’s dream.

Christian Barmore, #58, Alabama

If the Patriots are looking to add a defensive tackle with more upside, they’d look in the direction of Barmore. A much more versatile and athletic player, Barmore would immediately provide an upgrade as a pass rusher on the interior. He spent his early years in Tuscaloosa as a third down rusher, but has recently grown into a more complete player. Depending how the first 14 picks unfold, New England’s best option might be beefing up its defensive line and Barmore is a prime candidate for that, especially if the Patriots believe he can continue to grow as much as he has with the Tide. To read more about Christian Barmore, please click here.

Tight End

Miller Forristall, #87, Alabama

Don’t let Devin Asiasi’s Week 17 touchdown fool you, the Patriots need more talent at the tight end position. Forristall may be a good option if they aren’t looking to spend any premium assets at a position that they invested so highly in just one year ago. The Senior has grown into the position after making the switch in high school when Trevor Lawrence took over his job as quarterback (no, seriously). He’s become a guy who can do everything asked of him from his coaching staff and played for Belichick’s good pal Nick Saban which would seemingly make for an easier transition than most. Another low risk, high reward option.

Jeremy Ruckert, #88, Ohio State

Ruckert is one of the most interesting players I’ve covered this season. Though he hasn’t done anything to knock anyone’s socks off, he’s highly regarded by a lot of draft experts. He’s certainly got the look standing at 6-foot-5 and weighing 250 pounds but, coming from someone who hasn’t missed an Ohio State game since he arrived on campus, he has never done anything to set himself apart. That is until he finally showed up in the semifinal game, recording three catches for 55 yards and two touchdowns. He’s just a solid prospect, is that what the Patriots are looking for?


Justin Fields, #1, Ohio State

Depending on his performance in this game, you just might be seeing Justin Fields twice a year for the next four-plus seasons. He’s got all of the tools, arm talent, running ability, capacity to pick apart defenses. Can he put it all together in time for the New York Jets to feel comfortable taking him at number two overall? We’ll see. To read more about Justin Fields, please click here.

Mac Jones, #10, Alabama

Mac Jones is a love-him-or-hate-him prospect; the kind of player that comment sections fight over (have at it below.) Not much to say about Jones that is not also said in the link below, but I will add one thing. If Mac Jones falls, he could be the steal of the draft. Being able to nab a guy like that with a second-round pick could be franchise-changing. The question is, will he fall that far? To read more about Mac Jones, please click here.