2014 Orange Bowl Prospect Preview: Ohio State vs. Clemson

With Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby expected to be out of Friday’s Orange Bowl, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins could be in for a big day. (Photo: Joshua S. Kelly — USA Today Sports)

BBD Editor: Dan Hope

The second full week of college football’s bowl season will come to an end Friday with the fourth of five BCS games, the Orange Bowl (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), featuring two teams with numerous early-round NFL prospects in Ohio State (12-1) and Clemson (10-2).

Two of the nation’s most athletic teams, both the Buckeyes and Tigers have players on both sides of the ball who are projected to be first- or second-round picks. The players to watch in this game include quarterback Braxton Miller and Tajh Boyd, offensive playmakers Carlos Hyde and Sammy Watkins and defensive impact players Ryan Shazier and Vic Beasley.

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson, Jr. (6’1”, 205 lbs)

There is a lot to like about Sammy Watkins, a prospect whose game is reminiscent to that of Minnesota Vikings rookie standout Cordarrelle Patterson.

With fantastic speed and acceleration, Watkins is a deep threat on the outside who can burn cornerbacks deep for big plays.

He is also very good at extending plays in the open field. He can make defenders miss in space with sharp cuts, while he has good size and does not shy away from contact. He has shown he can drive through contact, both with an effective stiff-arm and by simply lowering his shoulder and running north-south.

Also an excellent route runner, Watkins does a great job of getting open for his quarterback regularly. While he sometimes rounds off his routes, he is precise in getting in proper position and often makes cornerbacks lose a step with his quick breaks.

Concentration drops happen far too regularly for Watkins. He also needs to show more effort as a blocker.

That said, Watkins brings immediate value as a triple threat who can not only be an immediate impact receiver on the outside, but whose speed and elusiveness also make him an effective running threat and kickoff returner.

Expected to have a marquee matchup in this game against Ohio State redshirt junior cornerback Bradley Roby, Roby is not expected to play Friday, according to Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch. This will leave an opportunity for Watkins to expose OSU’s shaky pass defense for a big game and attempt to prove himself as a top-15 draft selection.

Watkins is viewed as a “lock to leave school” and declare for the draft according to Rand Getlin of Yahoo! Sports.

Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State, Jr. (6’2”, 230 lbs)

The star of Ohio State’s defense, junior outside linebacker Ryan Shazier has the talent worthy of a first-round selection in the 2014 NFL draft.

Shazier is an explosive athlete with sideline-to-sideline range and a great closing burst.

He can make plays all over the field as a run defender, and although he is undersized for a linebacker, he hits with authority and tackles soundly. He is at his best when he is in pursuit, and has shown he chase runners down in space or make plays in the backfield as a blitzer.

Shazier is a versatile pass defender, which should make him a three-down linebacker at the next level. He is a fluid athlete with the change-of-direction ability to cover tight ends down the field and running backs out of the backfield, and he demonstrates good ball skills. With a great burst off the snap, he can also beat blockers around the edge with his speed as a pass-rusher.

Shazier’s biggest concern as it projects to the next level is his ability to get off of blocks. He is an undersized linebacker who lacks the strength or consistent hand moves to stop blockers from driving him away from the ball. While his biggest strength might be his ability to cover ground and make plays against the run, teams have shown the ability to run straight at him if they can get bodies on him.

Shazier would benefit from adding another 10 pounds of muscle, but his athleticism and versatile skill set still make him worthy of a first-round draft selection. Some have projected a drop in the draft similar to that of Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David, who fell to the No. 58 overall pick in the 2012 draft due to size concerns, but Shazier has the talent to be just as good of a player as David, who was named an All-Pro for the 2013 NFL season.

Carlos Hyde might be the first running back selected in the 2014 draft after a fantastic senior season. (Photo: Bradley Leeb — USA Today Sports)

Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State, Sr. (6’, 235 lbs)

One of college football’s most noticeably improved players in his senior season, Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde has emerged as arguably the top running back in the 2014 draft class, even after a suspension that cost him the first three games of the season following his involvement in an incident at a Columbus bar in July.

Hyde is known best as a powerful between-the-tackles runner. He is a physical runner who aggressively hits holes north and south and rarely goes down on first contact, as he does a great job of lowering his pads to drive through defenders and when he does get taken down,  fall forward to gain an extra yard or two.

Hyde was already excellent at that as a junior, but he became a noticeably more explosive athlete as a senior. He has a great burst out of the backfield and is deceptively fast down the field. He shows the ability to run away from defenders to extend plays in the open field, and while defenders already have a difficult time bringing him down thanks to his size and power, he shows the lateral quickness to occasionally make defenders miss in the open field as well.

The biggest question surrounding Hyde’s value is how well he can contribute on passing downs, but although he has not made many plays as a receiver at OSU, he has decent hands. He also does a good job of utilizing his size and strength as a pass protector, while he could bring extra value to a team that runs quarterback option as he has demonstrated skill as a run blocker leading the way for Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller.

Hyde’s calling card will be his ability to run the ball between the tackles, but he has shown as a senior that he is more than just a short-yardage runner. He has the potential to make a similar impact to Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy as a rookie, and should be a second-round draft choice.

See page 2 for breakdowns of the game’s two quarterbacks and of its marquee matchup in the trenches.

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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Andrew Norwell, Bowl Games, Bowl Previews, Brandon Thomas, Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde, Chandler Catanzaro, Clemson, Corey Linsley, Game Previews, Jack Mewhort, Kenny Guiton, Martavis Bryant, Ohio State, Orange Bowl, Prospect Previews, Roderick McDowell, Ryan Shazier, Sammy Watkins, Stephone Anthony, Tajh Boyd, Vic Beasley

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