NFL Draft Prospects to Watch in College Football National Championship

Monday’s college football championship between Georgia and TCU is a showcase for some of the best prospects entering this year’s NFL draft (and also for Stetson Bennett IV). If you’re curious which of the players in Monday’s championship will be awkwardly hugging Roger Goodell in April and then dominating in the Sundays to come, here is a guide to Monday’s game.

Jalen Carter, Defensive Tackle, Georgia

Georgia had one of the best defenses in the history of college football in 2021, allowing just 10 points per game. Three Georgia defensive linemen were drafted in the first round of the 2022 NFL draft, tied for the most first-rounders from a single defensive line since the common draft era began in 1970. One of those defensive linemen, Jordan Davis, cracked the top 10 in Heisman voting. Another Bulldog, Travon Walker, went first overall to the Jaguars. And yet the best player from that Georgia defense just might be Jalen Carter, who will be anchoring the line for Georgia’s title defense.

Carter doesn’t have wild stats (just six sacks in college). He also hasn’t played a ton of snaps because of Georgia’s depth in 2021 and Carter’s ankle and MCL injuries in 2022. But what he lacks in big stats he makes up for in big plays. Carter is big, fast, and powerful. He crashes opposing offensive lines less like a defensive tackle and more like Pikachu using lightning strikes Super Smash Bros. Ironically, perhaps the best play to demonstrate Carter’s power came while he was playing offense. Against Arkansas in 2021, Carter subbed in as a fullback and blocked three different defenders like he was a city bus plowing through an intersection of golf carts.

His background is typical legendary football player stuff: five-star prospect, ranked by 247 as one of the top three recruits in his class from all of Florida. He went to the same high school as Hall of Famer Warren Sapp, and Sapp himself said that Carter was better in high school than he was. Carter seemed to enjoy doing Odell Beckham Jr. circus catches until his coaches demanded he stop playing skill positions (although he did have to play cornerback in a game in high school once).

There are videos of Jalen Carter as a teenager rocking high school kids half his size. But the funniest part is he still produced those videos in college football this season. In the SEC championship game against LSU in December, Carter picked up LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels like he was carrying his coach off the field—except it was the opposing quarterback. during the game– and then, while still holding Daniels, he held up his finger to show no. 1.

Was Carter saying that Georgia is the no. 1 team in America? Or that he’s the no. 1 player in college football? Either way, the answer is probably yes.

Quentin Johnston, Wide Receiver, TCU

In a draft with a lot of small wide receivers, Quentin Johnston is the muscle. Johnston is listed at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, but has the speed and agility of a much smaller man. He can beat defenders with straight-line speed, he can outmuscle them for jump balls and contested catches, and he can sit in the open spots of zone coverage. He also has the acceleration to create yardage after the catch—as he put on display against Michigan on New Year’s Eve to send TCU to the College Football Playoff championship.

He gets the dropsies at times, which can be frustrating. And the size advantage he had in the Big 12 might not matter as much in the NFL unless he learns to be more physical with his hands at the line of scrimmage. But that is mostly nitpicking. This is a player with enough deep-threat ability to get more than 22 yards per catch as a true freshman (the second-highest mark of any true freshman in the Power Five conferences in the last decade and a half) while also having the explosiveness to break open the game against no. 2 Michigan with his team’s season on the line. If he develops an underneath finesse game to work with his speed, he could be special. And for that upside, he is likely going to be the first receiver off the board thanks to simple supply and demand: a big WR in a small year.

Max Duggan, Quarterback, TCU

While we’re talking about Johnston, we might as well mention Duggan, the TCU quarterback who finished second in Heisman Trophy voting behind USC’s Caleb Williams. Duggan’s rise has been stunning. After three seasons as TCU’s starter, he was benched entering 2022. But when new starting QB Chandler Morris got hurt in the first game of the season, Duggan replaced him, led the Big 12 in every passing category that mattered, and has brought TCU to the brink of a national title after the team entered the season with championship odds of 200-to-1.

It’s a fairy-tale story—and enough to make a borderline draft prospect into a potential day two pick. As a prospect, Duggan is like if Mitchell Trubisky had actually been drafted where he should have been: the middle rounds to serve as a competent career backup. Duggan has the mobility and running style of Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, which is to say Duggan is fast and plays with absolutely no regard for his own safety. His style is endearing and entertaining when you aren’t cringing at his recklessness.

If Duggan pulls a legendary upset against Georgia on Monday night, it will be fun to watch him replace Taylor Heinicke as the Commanders quarterback in 2025.

Kelee Ringo, Cornerback, Georgia

Ringo was the no. 1 cornerback recruit in the United States coming out of high school. He starred as the top cornerback on the best defense in recent college football history for Georgia. On the biggest stage of his life in the national championship game last year, he pick-sixed Alabama quarterback Bryce Young to seal the Bulldogs’ national title. What more do you want? (Admittedly, his coach wanted him to go down during that pick-six, but Ringo wanted a touchdown.)

Ringo is big, fast, and physical. At 6-foot-2, he is tall for a cornerback, but he also has muscles and long arms. He runs a 10.4 100-meter dash and by my extremely unscientific conversion rate that would be like running a 4.3-second 40-yard dash. Most people with this kind of size and athleticism play wide receiver.

Broderick Jones, Offensive Tackle, Georgia

Jones is a redshirt sophomore, so he is no lock to declare for the draft. Like everyone else at Georgia, he was a prodigious high school prospect. This season has been his first as Georgia’s full-time left tackle, and he fared well but not spectacularly. He has the size (6-foot-4, 310 pounds) and the ludicrous athleticism. He’s got long arms and quick feet. But his technique is raw.

That’s a pretty common archetype for offensive linemen who have been dominant their entire lives based on size and athleticism, only to sink or swim in the NFL based on the instruction they get and the techniques they absorb. Just last year, the Dallas Cowboys drafted Tulsa tackle Tyler Smith, another athletically gifted but technically raw prospect, in the first round. He has already exceeded expectations by not just contributing, but playing well, in his rookie year. Jones could have a similar track ahead of him.

Stetson Bennett IV, Quarterback, Georgia

Sure, whatever, let’s talk Stetson Bennett. He is not going to be drafted in the first round. He might not get drafted, period. He is a player people talk about in terms of grit, heart, and toughnesswhich is another way of saying he isn’t very good but his team wins a lot.

Bennett has a nice story. His father wanted him to be a college football quarterback so badly that he made a football field behind the pharmacy he owned. Bennett was a walk-on at Georgia, transferred to JUCO when Georgia recruited Justin Fields, and came back to Georgia when Fields transferred to Ohio State. In 2020, Bennett finally got to quarterback this Georgia team as it became a juggernaut. The next year, he became the offensive MVP of the college football championship, beating Alabama—then went on national television the next morning either still drunk or incredibly hung over. He is the local kid who became a living legend.

But in terms of being an NFL prospect, well—let’s just say Bennett should soak in Monday’s game.

Bennett is 25 years old. This is his sixth season of college football. In NFL draft terms he might as well be geriatric. Bennett’s peers left college football years ago. Joe Burrow, who is 10 months older than Bennett, won a college national championship so long ago it was before the pandemic. Kyler Murray, who is two months older than Bennett, was taken no. 1 in the NFL draft four years ago. Sam Darnold, who is four months older than Bennett, has been in the NFL long enough that he played the final game of his rookie contract on Sunday.

Bennett’s team’s success at Georgia has been resounding because he is surrounded by a small army of five-star recruits. He’s got the keys to the Death Star, and his job is not to disrupt the autopilot. But individually, Bennett’s successes are mostly because he is old enough to rent a car while his opponents are not old enough to buy alcohol.

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