ITWR: Dallas Turner, Rome Odunze, and eight other players to watch in the College Football Playoffs

This week's Inside the War Room previews the College Football Playoffs.

Rome Odunze
Rome Odunze / Steph Chambers/GettyImages
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Now that Christmas is over it’s time to enter the most wonderful time of the year, which is the College Football Playoffs. In these two games, we see several NFL Draft prospects who have day one or day two grades.

In addition to highlighting players to watch in these games this week’s Inside the War Room also looks at some players taking part in the FCS championship on January 8th who could hear their name in the 2024 NFL Draft. We also take a look at the 2024 NFL Draft running back class and much more.

Top 10 Players in College Football Playoffs

1. Dallas Turner, OLB, Alabama: Turner is both the top player in the College Football Playoffs and also the top defensive player in the NFL Draft. What will likely make Turner a top-ten prospect is his ability to get after the passer. This year he finished second in the SEC with nine sacks and also led the Crimson Tide with 13 quarterback hurries. He could be an ideal fit for the Chicago Bears where he would be able to play opposite Montez Sweat and give the Bears one of the best defenses in the NFL.

2. Kool-Aid McKinstry, CB, Alabama: Another All-American on Alabama’s defense is cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry. McKinstry is a big corner who excels at playing press coverage. He also does a great job of not giving up the big play only allowing 29 percent of the passes thrown his way this year to be completed and in 2022 he didn’t allow a reception of 30-plus yards and gave up only two grabs of 20 yards or more.

3. Rome Odunze, WR, Washington: The top offensive prospect in the College Football Playoffs is wide receiver Rome Odunze. Odunze is just the second receiver in Washington history to record more than one 1,000-yard receiving season doing it in both 2022 and 2023. Along with his elite production scouts love his ability to go get the jump ball catching 70.8 percent of contested catches this year.

4. J.C. Latham, OT, Alabama: Alabama’s J.C. Latham is the prototype right tackle the NFL is looking for. He is a strong run blocker who averages 3.2 knockdown blocks a game. He is also solid in pass protection only giving up 11 pressures this season. Along with the three players above him look for him to be a top 20 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.

5. T’Vondre Sweat, DT, Texas : One thing is certain about Texas defensive tackle T’Vondre Sweat and that is that he knows how to stop the run. This year the Outland Trophy winner was the highest-graded run defender in college football according to Pro Football Focus, which makes him the first interior defensive lineman to grade out this high since Quinnen Williams in 2018.

6. Chris Braswell, OLB, Alabama : In last week’s Inside the War Room, I mocked the Las Vegas Raiders to take Braswell in the second round of the 2024 NFL Draft. One of the reasons why I predicted him to go so high is his quickness and strength off the edge which allowed him to pick up eight sacks this year. Something to watch for from Braswell in the College Football Playoffs is his ability to create turnovers as he led the SEC with three forced fumbles this year.

Chris Braswell
Alabama v Auburn / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

7. Terrion Arnold, CB, Alabama: Another Alabama prospect who excels at creating turnovers is cornerback Terrion Arnold. This season he finished tied for the SEC lead with five interceptions and led the conference in pass breakups. What shines through when watching Arnold is his athletic ability and overall speed.

8. Bralen Trice, DE, Washington: Even though Bralen Trice saw a drop in production this year he is still one of the better pass rushers in the 2024 NFL Draft. He offers the versatility to play in multiple defensive schemes showing the strength to lineup as a 4-3 defensive end and the cover skills to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.

9. Adonai Mitchell, WR, Texas: Going into the 2023 season Texas wide receiver Adonai Mitchell was named to Inside the War Room All-Undderated team and he has certainly lived up to those expectations this season. In his one season with Texas, he has set career highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns. He has also gone from someone draftniks gave an undrafted free agent grade on to someone now projected to go in the first round by some of these same people.

10. Troy Fautanu, OG, Washington : Another member of Inside the War Room’s Preseason All-Underrated team who flew up the draft board this year is Washington’s Troy Fautanu. What sticks out about Fautanu, who won the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12’s top offensive lineman this year is his athletic ability. He easily gets to the second level and also excels when asked to be a pulling blocker.

Prospects to Watch in the FCS Championship Game

Garret Greenfield, OT, South Dakota State: The top pro prospect in this game is South Dakota State offensive tackle Garret Greenfield who currently carries a sixth-round draft grade on my board. His most impressive trait is his strength which has allowed him to consistently open up running lanes for the Jackrabbits this year. He is a prospect to watch in the Shrine Bowl on February 1st.

Isaiah Davis, RB, South Dakota State: South Dakota State running back Isaiah Davis has been an impact player from day one having rushed for 4,461 career yards. This includes leading the team in rushing in 2020 over Pierre Strong Jr. who was a fourth-round pick of the New England Patriots. As a pro prospect, he is a physical runner who consistently runs downhill.

Isaiah Davis, Quinn Schulte
South Dakota State v Iowa / Matthew Holst/GettyImages

Mason McCormick, OT, South Dakota State: Like Garret Greenfield, Mason McCormick is another South Dakota State offensive lineman to be named an All-American. Also like Greenfield, McCormick wins with power and should be a good fit in a gap-blocking scheme. Look for teams to look at McCormick as an interior offensive lineman since he lacks the athletic ability to play offensive tackle in the NFL.

Alex Gubner, DT, Montana: While Montana doesn’t have near the NFL talent South Dakota State has, they do have one of the best interior defensive linemen in the FCS. Gubner who was named the Big Sky Defensive MVP and is a three-time All-American is a strong run defender who should get plenty of looks late in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Zach Heins, TE, South Dakota State: South Dakota State tight end Zach Heins has never put up big receiving numbers with a career-high of 29 receptions in 2022. However, despite this lack of production in the passing game, he is a strong run blocker who has the size, technique, and strength to make it in the NFL as a number two or three tight end.

Previewing the 2024 NFL Draft Running Back Class

Top Player: TreVeyon Henderson, Ohio State:
Despite battling his share of injuries this year Ohio State’s TreVeyon Henderson is the number one running back in the 2024 NFL Draft. This year he rushed for 854 yards in just nine games and averaged 6.2 yards per carry. As a pro prospect, NFL scouts will love his ability to quickly hit the hole, especially for a 212-pound back. He also runs behind his pads which allows him to run through tackles consistently.

Guy I would stand on the table for: Bucky Irving, Oregon:
While Bucky Irving is on the smaller side coming in at only 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, he has the skills to develop into an NFL starter. As a runner, he runs with quick feet, great vision, and surprising power for someone his size. He also is a terrific receiver who caught 53 passes last season and shows the soft hands and speed to stretch a defense in the passing game. One more positive with him is that he can return kicks having averaged 24.6 yards per kickoff return in 2022.

Overrated: Blake Corum, Michigan:
Michigan’s Blake Corum has been one of the most productive running backs in college football, yet the question is how well he translates to the NFL. There are plenty of concerns with him that should give him more of a late-day three grade than the third-round grade he is currently receiving. The biggest concern is his lack of production in the passing game. He has caught under 15 passes each of the past two seasons, and he is also only an average pass blocker. Another concern is he has not regained the explosiveness he had before he tore his ACL at the end of the 2022 season. Yet another issue is that he is an older back who will be 24 next year.

Blake Corum, Jermari Harris
2023 Big Ten Championship - Iowa v Michigan / Michael Hickey/GettyImages

Sleeper: MarShawn Lloyd, USC:
A player who went from not even on my draft board at the start of the season to currently carrying a day-two draft grade is USC’s MarShawn Lloyd. In Lloyd’s one season at USC he he averaged 7.1 yards per carry which was the second-highest total in the PAC 12. When looking at how his game translates to the NFL his physical running style combined with his impressive agility for a bigger back should allow him to earn a starting job at the next level.

Biggest Risk: Jonathon Brooks, Texas:
There is a good chance Jonathon Brooks will return to Texas, which would be a wise move since he tore his ACL this season. If he does decide to enter the NFL Draft though he will likely fall to the fifth or sixth round. However, if he goes back to school and has another strong year he should be a day two pick.

Breakout Player: Emani Bailey, TCU:
After only seeing 31 carries during the 2022 season, TCU running back Emani Bailey saw his production skyrocket. This season he carried the ball a total of 223 times for 1,209 yards and eight touchdowns. In addition to putting up impressive rushing numbers, he also caught a career-high 25 passes.

NFL Draft Scouting Notes

— Another Big Ten running back who is being overrated is Wisconsin’s Braelon Allen who is coming off a career low in rushing yards this season. One of the reasons I am not high on him is that he is not a very explosive runner and he takes time to get up to top speed. In addition to those concerns, he also showed just average power for a 245-pound back and will go down on first contact more than you would expect for a runner his size. One more concern with him is he is not a downfield passing threat and he averaged just 4.7 yards per catch last year.

— One of the biggest playmakers in this year’s running back class is Louisville’s Jawhar Jordan. What makes Jordan such a threat is his impressive speed which gives him a chance to take any handoff the distance. His speed also allows him to quickly hit the hole allows him to be a threat in the short-yardage game despite only being 185 pounds. Another trait that makes him so dangerous is his vision which helps him to set up his blocks consistently and also make dangerous cuts in the open field. On the downside, his lack of size and the fact he will be a 25 year old rookie will likely make him a day-three pick.

— The fifth round could be a sweet spot for snagging a high-quality running back. Like Jawhar Jordan another player who I am high on that carries a fifth-round draft grade is Kentucky’s Ray Davis. While Jordan is an explosive runner, Davis is more of a physical runner who runs with great patience. He also shows quick feet for a bigger back who can make impressive cuts for a 216-pound back. One more trait that scouts love about him is his football character and how much he loves football.

— An early draft fit that makes a lot of sense is Penn State offensive tackle Olumuyiwa Fashanu going to the Washington Commanders with the third pick overall. This fit makes a lot of sense as the Commanders need to improve their line on both sides of the ball, and Fashanu is by far the best lineman in the draft. In addition to taking an offensive tackle in the first round look for the team to add a defensive lineman in the second round with either their pick or the selection they got from Chicago in the Montez Sweat trade.

— The ideal fit for Iowa punter Troy Taylor may be with the Chicago Bears. The Bears' current punter Trenton Gill is only averaging 45.9 yards per punt which ranks 24th in the NFL, and is also just placing 26.7 percent of his punts inside the 20-yard line which ranks 31st in the NFL. Meanwhile, Taylor has placed 43.4 percent of his punts inside the 20-yard line and this year finished third in the nation with a 47.9 average. Chicago should also value a punter considering they are a team built around playing good defense, and Taylor would be able to consistently flip field position for Chicago.

— This past weekend Inside the War Room came out with their first position breakdown, which takes a look at the quarterback class. One of the bigger surprises NFL Draft fans might find is that I have LSU’s Jayden Daniel rated as the second-best player at his position. Another area where I differ from most NFL Draft pundits is that J.J. McCarthy only carries a third-round draft grade.

NFL Draft Quotes

“You can’t run the ball inside on those guys. Don’t even try it. They change the math on you. (T’Vondre) Sweat is like 360 and can move the way he can? It doesn’t make sense. If you spend two to block him, he’s gonna beat the double team. They have four (defensive tackles) and none of them suck. They haven’t recruited great everywhere, but they’ve recruited great there."

- Big 12 staffer to the Athletic’s Bruce Feldman on defensive tackle T'Vondre Sweat

“It was time to wake the world up to who Ray Davis is. All those awards are nice but for me, I was thinking about all those times everyone doubted me. I got the awards because of the work in the summer and trying to show people that I am that player.”

- Kentucky Running Back Ray Davis about being named an All-American and All-SEC

“To me, what Brock does when you talk about consistency over the period of years and game-in and game-out, and his effort, and the way he catches the ball, and the way he can run after the catch. The one game the speed that he showed after the catch, the determination. Everything about him is conducive to success and will lead to success in the NFL.”

- ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr on Georgia tight end Brock Bowers

"I want to play as many games as I can with this team. It’s been my dream to play here, and I’m not going to cut it short on a personal decision. I’m not going to leave any guys out to dry. I’m not going to let Jackson (Arnold) go out there without some guys with experience. I want to keep him safe.”

- Oklahoma offensive guard McKade Mettauer on why he chose to play in his team’s bowl game

“I think there’s not a lot of film showing how nimble I can be even at 270 [pounds] and this stature. I think I can show that. I think also people are going to be surprised by how well I run and how I jump and test and stuff too. I think people will understand already what I’ll do on bench press and all that, but I think as far as the athleticism, I think it’s going to shock a lot of people.”

- Illinois tight end Tip Reiman

“At no point did he complain, did he even sulk. And that's just Donovan Edwards; that’s the team. That’s how this whole unit is, and that's why we are where we are right now. He has a tremendous career ahead of him, and I think he's gonna continue to get better and better and continue to create explosive plays, do things for us, and continue to help us win.”

- Michigan offensive coordinator Sherrone More on running back Donovan Edwards

“I think it’s a good thing that we’re backs against the wall and we’re disrespected the way we are, because it gives us that extra motivation and extra drive to want to go out there and prove the world wrong.”

- Washington defensive end Bralen Trice on being an underdog in the College Football Playoffs

"The dude's touch down the field is really special,"

- An NFC area scout on LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels via ESPN

“He’s big and talented, but he’s so handsy. He’s a big pass interference guy,”

- An offensive coach who played Alabama on cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry via The Athletic

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