The Cincinnati Bengals’ first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft is playing his final collegiate game tonight. You know his name and his story. The journey LSU has taken in 2019 is nothing short of intoxicating and the fact that they’re playing in the College Football Playoff National Championship game 80 miles away from their campus in the Superdome only makes it all more incredible.
Lost in all of the Joe Burrow-driven mania is the fact that this is LSU’s opponent’s FOURTH title game in FIVE years. Alabama is still the renowned king of the college landscape, but Clemson ending up here is the expectation at this point. Despite this, they’re almost a touchdown underdog, and no one seems taken back by that.
Burrow hasn’t blinked once in his Heisman Trophy campaign, and his supreme supporting cast has benefitted from the notoriety as well. But this will undoubtedly be a setting where Burrow and LSU will experience some form of adversity. As talented as Ed Orgeron’s team is, Dabo Swinney’s squad is mainly the same one that trounced Alabama in last year’s championship affair. They were the preseason No. 1 ranked team, after all.
Ignoring the guy you’ve all been accustomed to by now, here are the other major draft prospects that should be playing in their last college game.
Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson (No. 11)
The designation of “overhang defender” may be more appropriate for Simmons, who has the size of a traditional linebacker but the raw athleticism of a safety. His rare combination of size and speed is why he’s projected as a sure-fire first-round pick who isn’t likely to last the first 16 picks. If LSU’s ultra-potent passing game experiences any bumps in the road tonight, Simmons’ impact will likely be a reason as to why.
Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU (No. 1)
The title of CB1 belongs to Ohio State’s Jeffery Okudah, but Fulton’s game is nothing to sniff at. The last two years have shown Fulton to be one of the better bump and run cornerbacks in the country with ample ball skills and change of direction ability. He’s been outshined many times this year by his freshman teammate Derek Stingley Jr. (for good reason), but Fulton should be one of the first defensive backs to hear his name called this April. How he handles Clemson’s imposing receivers will leave a lasting impression until then.
Grant Delpit, SAF, LSU (No. 7)
This time last year, the perception of Delpit was much more positive. The then-sophomore had one of the more impressive seasons at the safety position in recent memory, so anything less than that was going to be seen as regression. There were more notable blunders in Delpit’s 2019 tape, but the Jim Thorpe award for top defensive back still ended up on his mantle. Delpit’s probably going to end up as the first safety taken in the draft, but one final test against a Trevor Lawrence-led offense will have teams drafting all over the first round intrigued.
Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson (No. 9)
On the verge of 2,000 yards from scrimmage this season, Etienne has safely solidified himself near the top of this running back class. Depending on whom you ask, he might even be the most talented back of the group. Etienne already has the school record for career touchdowns (55) and needs just six yards to break the career rushing yardage mark. The true junior brings an enticing combination of balance and acceleration in every carry he gets.
Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson (No. 5)
His running mate, Justyn Ross, took over last year’s title game, but Higgins is the one who’s draft eligible this year. The 6’4” Higgins is a jump ball master who is responsible for 25 of Lawrence’s touchdowns over the last two seasons. An ankle injury he suffered in the semifinal against Ohio state that was previously thought to be a concussion has Higgins listed as questionable for tonight, but the true Junior appears ready to face off against Fulton and Delpit.
K’Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, LSU (No. 18)
In his first year as a starter, a year removed from a torn ACL, Chaisson has established himself as one of the more athletic pass rushers in the country. His freaky bend around the edge gives him a figurative edge over other pass rushers in this class, provided the 20-year old does indeed declare. If he does and shows out at the combine, we’re looking at a second round pick at the very worst.
A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson (No. 8)
Physically, Terrell has the length and speed you desire at the position. He’s equally tenacious against the run as he is graceful flipping his hips in coverage. The problems lie in his strength at the catch point and his discipline in off coverage; two aspects that will be greatly tested against LSU’s dynamic duo at wide receiver. The second day of the draft sounds like a reasonable projection for Terrell.
Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU (No. 2)
Joe Brady did more than benefit LSU’s quarterback; he got the receivers of Baton Rouge to realize their potential as well. The 20-year old Jefferson won’t wow you with straight-line speed or sudden quickness, but his deep ball tracking and concise route running are why he’s caught over 100 balls this season. A deep class of receivers could push Jefferson down to the range of the third or fourth round, but that would be a worst case scenario. In the right system, he can be a solid player.
Lloyd Cushenberry III, IOL, LSU (No. 79)
LSU’s center is probably going to be the first offensive lineman from either team to get drafted. Cushenberry is a fun center to watch when he gets out in space in the running game. Ed Orgeron’s entire offensive line is active as Hell and routinely flatten defenders to the ground, and Cushenberry is no different. The rawness, however, is still apparent in the technical aspects of his game and it’s why he shouldn’t expect to go off the board in the top-100 picks if he declares, unless he tests like an alien at the scouting combine.
Joe Burrow, QB, LSU (No. 9)
Damn it how did you get in here?!