The Cowboys locked in a spot in the NFL Playoffs with a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday, and the team has an essential bye week before gearing up for battle on Wild Card Weekend next week. It’s a breath of fresh air for a franchise that has in recent years spent a lot of time battling for position in the postseason in week 17.
While some have their eyes on other teams across the National Football League jockeying for playoff position, there are also a couple of marquee college football games going on this weekend — one of which will be played in AT&T Stadium. Marquee games means marquee talent in the upcoming draft class.
From a polarizing quarterback that could have the opportunity to play professionally in two different sports, to a freakishly athletic tight end with an extremely high ceiling, to a boatload of professional prospects along the defensive line, these two College Football Playoff games have everything a draftnik could ask for. Let’s dive right in on a handful of prospects that you need to have your eyes locked in on from the opening kickoff to the final snap.
2018 Cotton Bowl: No. 3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. No. 2 Clemson Tigers - 4 ET, ESPN
To kick the day off, Clemson and Notre Dame will battle it out in the stadium that hosts the Dallas Cowboys. The Tigers are led by a loaded defensive line unit that has NFL prospects all over the two-deep, while Notre Dame has a talented interior defensive lineman in their own right.
*Note: Projected first-round defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence will not play on Saturday due to suspension.
- Clelin Ferrell, EDGE, Clemson:
One of the better pass rushers in this draft class resides in Clemson, South Carolina, and will look to reside in the Fighting Irish backfield on Saturday afternoon. Ferrell flirted with the NFL Draft last offseason, but opted to come back in hopes of winning a championship for the Tigers. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound EDGE has 47 tackles, 17.5 tackles-for-loss, and 10.5 sacks to his name in 2018.
This is how you blow up a read option— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) September 29, 2018
Clelin Ferrell could've tackled either the QB or RB pic.twitter.com/8vqOqLchp0
- Christian Wilkins, DL, Clemson:
Much like fellow defensive line teammate Ferrell, Christian Wilkins could have left Clemson early for the 2018 draft, but he too wanted another shot at glory. Wilkins, 6-foot-4 and 300-pounds, has been a key piece on the Tigers defense since his freshman campaign. In 2018, Wilkins has made 46 total stops, including 12.5 TFLs and 4.5 sacks. Look for the Massachusetts native to hear his name called on day-one or day-two come April.
He can also do this:
Y’all...— New Year’s Tresolution (@TampaBayTre) October 27, 2018
Clemson put 300-pound DL Christian Wilkins at running back...
Not at full back!
AT RUNNING BACK pic.twitter.com/9m2hxwR9tu
- Trayvon Mullen, CB, Clemson:
The majority have LSU’s Greedy Williams as the draft’s top corner, but Clemson’s Trayon Mullen has a case to be right up there. The lengthy 6-foot-2, 190-pound defensive back is the Tigers best player in a secondary that will look to make life hard for Notre Dame signal caller Ian Book. Mullen has not picked off a pass yet this season, but he has made 25 tackles, three behind the line of scrimmage, and has gotten to the quarterback once.
- Jerry Tillery, DL, Notre Dame:
Jerry Tillery has been one of the biggest reasons why Notre Dame has a chance to play for a national championship. The 6-foot-7 and 300-pound defensive lineman has the ability to stuff the run in addition to his seven sacks this season. In a draft class loaded with defensive line prospects, Tillery’s ability to be a 3-tech on the next level while contributing on all three downs has him on the radar of teams picking in the first round.
Jerry Tillery is a baaaaaad man pic.twitter.com/yG7PPGtvqS— Barstool Irish (@BarstoolIrish) October 28, 2018
- Julian Love, CB, Notre Dame:
Tillery is not the only playmaker on the Notre Dame defense, as Julian Love has made life hard on quarterbacks and receivers all season long. Love, one of three finalists for the Jim Thorpe award, has been one of the better defensive backs across college football this season. The junior has totaled 61 tackles, three TFLs, and an interception for the Irish in 2018. If Brian Kelly’s squad is going to have a shot of upsetting the Tigers, Love needs to turn in a strong performance against a high-powered offense.
Others to watch: Austin Bryant, DE, Clemson; Kendall Joseph, LB, Clemson; Te’von Coney, LB, Notre Dame
2018 Orange Bowl: No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners vs. No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide - 7 ET, ESPN
In the main event of the night, we are treated to the defending champs taking on Heisman winner Kyler Murray in a game that should feature a lot of points. Keep an eye on these prospects throughout the matchup.
- Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma:
Murray, a Texas high school football legend, has turned in one of the most impressive single-season performances by a quarterback in college football history. Whether it is using his cannon of an arm to take the top off a defense or his burning speed to fly by defensive backs, Murray can find the end zone in more ways than not. After winning the 2018 Heisman Trophy, the Allen, TX product will have a tough task on his hands as the Alabama defense will look to limit the signal caller that has accounted for over 50 total touchdowns and nearly 5,000 total yards.
It remains to be seen if the ninth-overall selection in the Major League Baseball draft will test the NFL, but Dane Brugler seems to believe he would have a chance to exceed if Murray so chooses.
I’m not saying Kyler Murray is a mini-Mahomes...— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) December 28, 2018
...but I’m not saying he isn’t either.
Can Murray play in the NFL? I studied the coaches tape and this is what I found: https://t.co/RV0YcLDqTz
Especially when you’re making throws like this look routine:
Kyler Murray completing a 20 yard comeback from the opposite hash (college hash is further apart than NFL).— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) December 5, 2018
This is what we in the bizz call a FAT (Far Ass Throw) pic.twitter.com/CcQyu7PgWk
- Cody Ford, OT, Oklahoma:
Cody Ford is the man in charge of protecting Murray. Ford, 6-foot-4 and 338-pounds, has been a huge piece to an offensive line unit that took home honors as the best offensive line in college football. Though the former four-star recruit only has one year of starting experience in Norman, Ford is thought highly of by NFL scouts — as he has potential to go in round one. Murray will need a big night from his tackle against Alabama’s front.
Oklahoma RT Cody Ford is nastyyy! pic.twitter.com/lU2tbBHsvX— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) December 28, 2018
- Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma:
You like explosion and speed? Then you are in for a treat. Marquise “Hollywood” Brown has been one of the more electrifying playmakers across the college football landscape for the Sooners. Though he does suffer with drops, Brown is a big play waiting to happen, totaling 1,318 yards and 10 scores while averaging over 17 yards per catch on the season. Hollywood suffered a broken foot injury earlier this month in the Big 12 Championship, but he is expected to give it a go in Miami.
- Quinnen Williams, DL, Alabama:
One of the most dominant players in college football this season has been Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams. Williams, who played sparingly prior to this season, has transformed into a monster in 2018 posting 66 total tackles, 18 tackles-for-loss, and eight sacks in 13 games for the Tide. Along with running mate Raekwon Davis, who will also likely be taken in the first, the Sooners offensive line will have their hands full on Saturday evening. Do not be surprised if you see Williams be taken in the first three picks in April.
Quinnen Williams swimming through blocks like he’s Michael Phelps pic.twitter.com/0qAJz7kte8— Barstool Bama (@BarstoolAlabama) November 4, 2018
- Irv Smith, TE, Alabama:
Noah Fant is the top tight end on many boards, but Irv Smith, Jr. is one that can climb up the draft boards quickly. The son of former New Orleans Saints tight end Irv Smith, Sr. has caught 38 passes for 648 yards and seven touchdowns this season, becoming a reliable and big-play target for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. With a need at the tight end spot, the Cowboys would be wise in looking hard at trading up for the ‘Bama prospect, if he does not fall to them on day two.
Irv Smith Jr. is such a fluid athlete for a TE. Perfect throw by Tua pic.twitter.com/9Jl66MhA66— Fed Scivittaro (@MeshPointScout) November 4, 2018
He can block, too!
Irv Smith, Jr's block on Damien Harris' touchdown run is violent pic.twitter.com/VHB6VmuZJy— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) September 4, 2017
Others to watch: Mack Wilson, LB, Alabama; Deionte Thompson, SAF, Alabama; Damien Harris, RB, Alabama; Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama; Ben Powers, OG, Oklahoma; Bobby Evans, OT, Oklahoma