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Marcus Mariota and the 10 best NFL prospects in Ohio State vs. Oregon

Monday night's College Football Playoff national championship game features an array of pro talent, including a potential No. 1 overall pick and quality players along the defensive line.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

In last year's NFL Draft, 10 players from Ohio State and Oregon were selected. Monday night's College Football Playoff national championship game between the Buckeyes and Ducks could have as many draftable prospects, including a potential No. 1 overall pick.

One of those players isn't Ohio State starting quarterback Cardale Jones, a redshirt sophomore. With some type of artillery for a right arm, the 250-pounder lives up to his "12 Gauge" moniker. Despite being OSU's third-string quarterback, he seems to have better NFL tools than his injured predecessors Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett. Jones, however, has already announced he is returning to Ohio State, as has junior left tackle Taylor Decker.

In this game, Oregon has the edge in terms of NFL-eligible talent. That's largely because many of Ohio State's best players are sophomores and redshirt freshmen. That includes players like defensive back Eli Apple, heralded defensive end Joey Bosa, running back Ezekiel Elliott, linebacker Darron Lee and wide receiver Michael Thomas.

Regardless, 10 players in this game should receive a draftable grade from NFL front offices. That doesn't include Ducks cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who is out injured. Here's a look at those players:

1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (junior)

Mariota is the man with whom an NFL franchise success depends. Succeed and he can turn a team around. Fail as a pro and he'll probably get a coach or general manager fired. Relatively speaking, playing Ohio State should be stress free.

The junior is an inventive thrower who can deliver passes on the move with ease. He takes advantage of an Oregon offense that relies on the short passing game and route concepts that create large windows for him to complete passes. That sounds like it marginalizes Mariota, but it doesn't. He's shown improvement over the last two years as a pocket passer and does a better job going through his progressions than he did early in his career. Mariota tends to throw his receivers into a position where they can gain good yards after the catch, especially on intermediary passes. His arm strength is not as good as Jones', but it's not like he's consistently throwing wobbling passes.

This type of throws illustrates where Mariota has improved from his sophomore to junior seasons:


Oregon's fast-tempo offense is run thanks to Mariota. He guides the offense through quick plays and is never fazed by the pace the Ducks employ. As everyone knows by now, Mariota is a sensational runner and will time well at the NFL Scouting Combine. But what's especially impressive about Mariota as a runner is how few times he gets hit, let alone hit hard, while on the move. In other words, he's not doing what Robert Griffin III does.

Round projection: 1st

2. Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State (senior)

At 6'2 and 288 pounds, Bennett is slightly undersized for a defensive tackle. But he knows how to take advantage of it with quickness. He fits in the NFL as a three-technique in a four-man front. He's active against the run but an asset getting after the passer. Few players have finished the season stronger than Bennett, who had 6.5 tackles for loss and and four sacks in Ohio State's last three games. One of Bennett's best moves as a pass rusher is a spin, which he utilized on a sack in the Rose Bowl.

Here is Bennett (No. 53) in a classic three-technique play working the outside of the guard:


Round projection: 1st-2nd

3. DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon (junior)

Buckner is the first of Oregon's two monstrous defensive ends. At 6'7, 290 pounds, he is actually the smaller of the two. He has legitimate first-round potential because of his ability as a pass rusher. He's not simply one of those big ends relegated to playing in a 3-4. Buckner displays a good burst off the line of scrimmage and knows how to get into the backfield. This season he has 13 tackles for loss and four sacks. The numbers aren't terribly impressive, but Buckner is effective, and only getting better.

Round projection: 1st-2nd

4. Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon (junior)

How high is the opinion of Armstead? High enough, apparently, to warrant a $5 million insurance policy for loss of value. In other words, if Armstead got injured this season and slipped out of the middle of the first round or beginning of the second, he would get the money.

Thanks to his play this season, Armstead won't have to worry about the insurance (and the hefty premium he – or whoever – had to pay for it). Armstead is a rock solid run defender at an imposing 6'8 and 290 pounds. While Buckner could play end in any system, Armstead is relegated more so to being an end in a 3-4. His play is similar to Cameron Heyward of the Pittsburgh Steelers. There's not a lot of flash, but he's dependable. Armstead's best move is a bull rush. Because of his strength, he can often command double teams.

Round projection: 1st-2nd

5. Jake Fisher, OT, Oregon (senior)

This season, Oregon’s offensive line got noticeably better when Fisher returned to Oregon’s lineup in October. As is required in the Oregon system, Fisher is an agile and athletic offensive tackle. He can handle speed to the outside and can get downfield to break bigger plays in the run game. He previously played right tackle but moved over to the left side when Tyler Johnstone (a potential 2016 pick) tore his ACL in the offseason.

Round projection: 2nd-3rd

6. Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon (senior)

A four-year starter, Grasu has excelled thanks to his athleticism and quickness. He effortlessly gets the ball out and into his stance moving around to help block on either side or move up to the second level and pick off linebackers. While he may not be a power blocker, enough teams run zone blocking that Grasu should find a home and push to start as a rookie. In the Rose Bowl, he helped make Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman a non-factor.

Round projection: 3rd

7. Devin Smith, WR, Ohio State (senior)

Smith is one of the draft's best vertical options at the position. He has the speed to get deep and the vertical leap to out-jump cornerbacks. Think Torrey Smith of the Baltimore Ravens. Smith is averaging an incredible 27.7 yards per catch this season, and has 32 receptions for 886 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was originally scheduled to go to the East-West Shrine Game, but has since been accepted to the Senior Bowl.

Smith often gets used on comebacks and quick slants, but his best plays are still these vertical plays:


Round projection: 3rd

9. Tony Washington, OLB, Oregon (senior)

Washington has had quite a turnaround since a personal foul helped lead to Oregon’s only loss of the season. Oregon likes to stand Washington up at the line of scrimmage, allowing him to find an open rush lane and rely on his speed to disrupt the pocket. Washington is an intriguing player because he’s shown he can handle pass coverage in the flats and is a steady tackler against the run. That will be challenged Monday night against the powerful Elliott.

Round projection: 4th-5th

9. Doran Grant, CB, Ohio State (senior)

Steadily throughout his career at Ohio State Grant, has shown why he was a such a highly regarded player coming out of high school. He doesn’t have the best speed, but it’s good enough to keep up. Where he stands out his anticipation and ball skills. This season Grant has five interceptions and nine pass breakups. He’s a secure tackler as well.

Round projection: 4th-5th

10. Adolphus Washington, DT, Ohio State (junior)

In his first season as a defensive tackle, Washington has looked impressive at times. Washington's ability to hold his spot on the line and command blockers is one of the reasons Bennett is able to split a gap and penetrate. Washington struggled playing end because he doesn't have the speed to turn the corner. But inside as a tackle he's a little quicker than average and a strong tackler. Washington could be the type of player who can neutralize the inside power running of Oregon's Royce Freeman. No junior listed here could help himself more than Washington by returning for another season.

Round projection: 4th-5th

More to watch:

That's right, there's more.

Tight end Jeff Heueurman is another Senior Bowl invite, but he's often underused in Ohio State's offense. Heuerman is a dependable pass catcher and blocker but doesn't have the type of speed that will intimidate defenses when he's working the seam. Senior Ohio State middle linebacker, Curtis Grant, didn’t quite live up to the hype he had coming out of high school, but he’s a solid two-down linebacker who could find a role in the NFL on special teams and in a backup capacity.

Oregon cornerback Troy Hill will likely be tasked with sticking with Smith on those deep vertical plays. He was overshadowed by Ekpre-Olomu, but could slide into the late part of the draft, especially if he has a good game. Oregon safety Erick Dargan could work his way onto a roster as a special teams player.