Sugar Bowl NFL Draft watch notes

Kevin C. Cox

At long last, the college career of Alabama's A.J. McCarron comes to an end in a prime time showdown against Oklahoma.

Many expect this year's Sugar Bowl to be a one-sided affair with an angry Alabama taking on an overmatched Oklahoma (8:30 p.m., ESPN). The Crimson Tide certainly have more NFL talent, but the Sooners have enough playmakers on offense to keep this one close. Maybe.

Alabama's best playmakers on offense – wide receiver Amari Cooper and running back T.J. Yeldon – aren't eligible for this year's draft. Because of that, by comparison, the Tide is a little lighter on NFL-eligible talent this year. Quarterback A.J. McCarron is going to be a polarizing player over the next few months. Is he a product of the system or could he be the next Tom Brady like some suggest?

When Alabama has the football:

Word surfaced on Thursday that Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron will turn down an invitation to the play in the Senior Bowl. It's a curious move for McCarron, especially if you consider that E.J. Manuel turned himself into a first-round player with his Senior Bowl performance. The best that can come out of it for McCarron is that he doesn't get outperformed by better players. Unless we find out he has to have offseason surgery, this is an unwise decision.

Since this is Alabama, the top players are on the offensive line. Junior left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio is a raw talent, but a good one. He's a powerful blocker and a key to Alabama's run game. Watch how Kouandjio uses his hands. He likes to employ a vicious head slap. Kouandjio just turned 20 in July, so if he goes pro he'll be one of the younger players in the draft. Right guard Anthony Steen is a solid Day 3 player who needs to add a little bit of power to his game.

Teams looking for bigger cornerbacks to mimic what the Seahawks do will like Oklahoma's Aaron Colvin. He can handle bigger receivers and can subtly move them around while they're working their routes. If you want to get a jump start on 2015, outside linebacker Eric Striker is the name to follow. His speed is unique.

When Oklahoma has the football:

Because of Oklahoma's poor quarterback play, wide receiver Jalen Saunders has to make the most of the opportunities he gets. He picked apart Texas Tech in October, but it was his only game of more than 100 yards receiving. Saunders relies on his foot quickness to get open and is a threat when working out of the slot.

Center Gabe Ikard will be attractive to teams that run a zone blocking scheme. He's arguably the most athletic center in this year's draft and wins with his footwork and movement skills.

Unlike McCarron, Alabama's C.J. Mosley will play in the Senior Bowl. In Mobile later this month he should prove himself to be the draft's premier middle linebacker. He unfairly gets compared to Luke Kuechly, but that's like comparing a quarterback to Andrew Luck. Mosley is a very good athlete who quickly flows to wherever the ball is headed and is rarely out of position. His partner Trey Depriest is a classic thumper two-down middle linebacker. For teams looking for a Brandon Spikes-type, he fits the mold. Outside, Adrian Hubbard didn't have quite the year most expected but his size alone will get him a shot at the next level.

Safety HaHa Clinton-Dix is the best safety in the draft. He's best when he can work downhill and make tackles. Because of the need at the position, Clinton-Dix should be a first-round pick. Up front, Ed Stinson is an underrated 3-4 end and junior Jeoffrey Pagan is a name to keep in mind for 2015.

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