2014 Sugar Bowl Prospect Preview: Alabama vs. Oklahoma

Oklahoma playmaker Jalen Saunders projects as an NFL slot receiver. (Photo: Matthew Emmons — USA Today Sports)

Jalen Saunders, WR, Oklahoma, Sr. (5’9’’, 157 lbs)

Jalen Saunders transferred to Oklahoma after Pat Hill was fired at Fresno State in 2011, because Saunders was unhappy with the way he would be utilized in the new offense Tim DeRuyter implemented. The production that Saunders and Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr, the top senior quarterback in the 2014 draft class, could have put together could have been special.

Saunders had 15 touchdowns and averaged more than 19 yards per catch and 15 touchdowns between his freshman and sophomore seasons at Fresno State. In his final two seasons at Oklahoma, he has nine touchdowns and an average of only 12.4 yards per catch.

Saunders is a special talent in creating yards after the catch. Saunders accelerates up the field quickly off of short passes with excellent field vision, and is very difficult to tackle despite his limited size. He is surprisingly physical at 157 pounds.

Saunders has great speed down the field and can make plays vertically. He still flashed big-play potential at Oklahoma, although not at the rate he did at Fresno State. Saunders has the extra burst to create separation and make big plays at the top of vertical routes.

An underrated element of Saunders’ game is just how good of a blocker he is. Saunders can also contribute as a punt returner and has excelled in that area. He has averaged 15.8 yards per return for his career with three touchdowns.

Saunders is a dynamic player who projects nicely to the slot position in the NFL. He has early Day 3 potential.

Gabe Ikard, C, Oklahoma, Sr. (6’3’’, 298 lbs)

A four-year starter and three time All Big-12 player during his Sooner career, Ikard is bringing an impressive resume to the NFL.

Ikard is one of the most athletic centers in the draft class and a sound technician as a run blocker. His athleticism allows him to pull and get to the second level to seal off linebackers and create running lanes. He brings his feet with him while run blocking, which allows him to sustain blocks and create movement in the run game. Ikard is a good pass blocker, though he gives up too much penetration at times.

Centers are difficult to project, considering only one was selected in the first three rounds in the 2013 Draft. That said, Ikard is a likely mid-to-late round pick with the upside to become a starting center in the NFL.

Ed Stinson, DE, Alabama, Sr. (6’4’’, 292 lbs)

Stinson has been a starter for an exceptional Crimson Tide defense for the past two seasons. Stinson does not make many splash plays, but he understands his role in the defense and plays within the scheme. Stinson holds up well against the run, and could be a two-gap player in the NFL as a 3-4 defensive end.

Stinson does not offer as much as a pass-rusher, but he can create opportunities for other players by pushing the pocket. With 5-technique defensive ends in demand for 3-4 defenses, players like Stinson will have opportunities.

Kevin Norwood is a prospect to watch on Alabama’s offense in the Sugar Bowl. (Photo: John David Mercer — USA Today Sports)

Kevin Norwood, WR, Alabama, Sr. (6’2’’, 195 lbs)

Norwood has been the Crimson Tide’s second leading receiver in each of the past two seasons behind Amari Cooper. He has contributed 999 yards and 11 touchdowns over that span.

He is a move-the-chains type receiver who is frequently called upon to convert third downs. He has been a reliable target with good size for the position. Quicker than fast, he is a solid route runner. Norwood, who has accepted an invite to this year’s Senior Bowl, has the makings of a third or fourth wideout in the NFL.

Deion Belue, CB, Alabama, Sr. (5’ 11’’, 183 lbs)

Belue has transitioned nicely from the junior college ranks into a starter on an elite Alabama defense. Belue plays with good technique and body positioning, and has good closing speed and awareness. His ball skills and change-of-direction skills are below-average, however, and he needs to show more physicality.

Brennan Clay, RB, Oklahoma, Sr. (5’11’’, 201 lbs)

Since Damian Williams’ dismissal from the team, Clay has emerged as the Sooners’ top running back and has played great. He has rushed for 913 yards this season with six touchdowns, while averaging 5.8 yards per carry.

Clay is a physical runner with good vision and patience. He reads his blockers well and finishes runs while challenging tacklers in the open field.

Clay is projected as a late-round prospect but with good showings against Alabama and in the East-West Shrine Game, he could move up boards. He is unlikely to be a feature back in the NFL, but he could be part of a sound stable of backs.

Injured But Noteworthy: Two senior prospects who are unavailable in this game due to injury have mid-round draft potential.

Trey Millard, FB, Oklahoma, Sr. (6’2’’, 253 lbs) tore his ACL in October. He is an all-around talent who excels as a standout blocker, runner and receiver. He has 70 career receptions and seven touchdowns while averaging 5.5 yards per carry for his career.

Anthony Steen, RG, Oklahoma, Sr. (6’3″, 309 lbs) will also miss this game following shoulder surgery. He started the last two games of his freshman year and every game he has been healthy for since. Steen is a well-balanced blocker who has starting potential in the NFL. His focus should turn to hopefully becoming healthy enough to participate at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.

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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Aaron Colvin, AJ McCarron, Alabama, Anthony Steen, Bowl Games, Bowl Previews, Brennan Clay, C.J. Mosley, Cyrus Kouandjio, Deion Belue, Ed Stinson, Gabe Ikard, Game Previews, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Jalen Saunders, Kevin Norwood, Oklahoma, Prospect Previews, Sugar Bowl, Trey Millard

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