This week's Alabama-LSU showdown is the rare regular-season college game that features multiple early-round NFL prospects, including several who will go head-to-head.
Each team features five players ranked among the top 100 on my latest draft board, half of whom are in the top 32 overall. That kind of talent is nothing new for either team. And that doesn't include LSU sophomore DT Anthony Johnson, who might be the most talented interior defensive lineman on the field Saturday night.
That's nothing new, though. In the past four NFL drafts, Alabama has had 24 players selected and LSU has had 23.
While the quantity of picks is nearly identical, the Crimson Tide have a significant edge in terms of quality. Alabama had 18 of those 24 picks come off the board in the first three rounds, including 11 in the first, compared to 12 of 23 for LSU. The four first-rounders Alabama produced last season are as many as the Tigers have had in the past four drafts combined.
All that talent has translated to plenty of success on the field. Alabama won two BCS titles (2009, '11) in the past four seasons and posted an overall record of 48-6, with LSU playing in the title game last season and compiling a 41-12 mark.
So whom should you watch this weekend? This week's Nickel Package has you covered, with a look at the top five prospects on each team and what they will bring to the table in Baton Rouge, including some titanic matchups in the trenches.
DE Barkevious Mingo (Grade: 96; No. 2 overall)
I don't read much into Mingo's lack of sacks this season, because on film he has been highly disruptive. He has to show up against the Tide, though, after not having a sack in either of LSU's games against Alabama last season.
Mingo (6-foot-5, 240 pounds) will spend a lot of time opposite massive Crimson Tide RT D.J. Fluker, and he must use his hands and athleticism to keep Fluker from locking on. Fluker works best in the phone booth, but Mingo should be able to exploit Fluker's lack of athleticism with speed and agility off the edge. The Tigers need big plays on defense to pull off the upset, and Mingo is one player who can deliver them.
DE Sam Montgomery (90; No. 21)
Montgomery isn't as fast or athletic as Mingo, but he is consistent and his motor never stops running. His sack production is up and he is making some noise off the edge, but Montgomery (6-4, 245) is also very strong against the run. He'll face a talented but young left tackle in Cyrus Kouandjio, so look for Montgomery to disrupt things on that side.
DT Bennie Logan (88; No. 27)
Logan is a notch below the elite 2013 defensive tackle prospects in terms of size and quickness, but he is a good overall player. The Tigers rotate as many as four defensive tackles, but Logan (6-3, 290) is a consistent starter. His athleticism should help him in tough interior matchups against Alabama C Barrett Jones and G Chance Warmack.
S Eric Reid (84; No. 44)
Reid made one of the biggest plays in last year's regular-season matchup with the Tide, wrestling the ball away from TE Michael Williams for an interception near the LSU goal line. Reid has been filling hard against the run and throwing his body around this season, and he has two interceptions in 2012 after having only two all of last season.
That's important, because Alabama QB AJ McCarron hasn't thrown an interception this season, but he also hasn't faced a defensive front that can turn up the heat like LSU does. Reid (6-2, 208) will be looking to be a physical presence, but if he can take the ball away in the passing game, he will provide a huge boost for the Tigers.
OT Chris Faulk (76; No. 89)
Faulk (6-6, 325) suffered a season-ending knee injury in early September. There is talk of him petitioning the NCAA for another year of eligibility, but as it stands, his power, strong hands and good anchor make him a Day 2 prospect.
Other draftable prospects
CB Tharold Simon (68)
P Brad Wing (65)
DE Lavar Edwards (63)
RB Spencer Ware (57)
DT Josh Downs (45)
OT Alex Hurst (35)
WR Russell Shepard (34)
G Chance Warmack (Grade: 95; No. 5 overall)
Warmack is without question the best offensive linemen at any position in this year's class. He consistently handles and often dominates his blocking assignment, then moves to the second level or helps a teammate.
Warmack is big (6-foot-2, 325 pounds), strong and nasty. Having an interior lineman with the ability to win matchups against an LSU defensive tackle rotation that boasts at least three future NFL players is a big plus for the Tide.
CB Dee Milliner (94; No. 9)
He didn't have his best game last week against Mississippi State, but the Bulldogs wisely avoided challenging Milliner (6-0¾, 197) on a regular basis. He is reliable in run support, has adequate-to-good man coverage skills and is excellent in zone coverage.
Milliner's instincts and recognition skills are impressive, and he shows good discipline with his eyes to make sure he is in the right place within the scheme. The Tigers have struggled in the passing game and don't have a lot of weapons in that area, so look for them to keep WR Odell Beckham away from Milliner as much as possible. When they are on the same side, though, there's not much for the Tigers to like about the matchup.
DT Jesse Williams (86; No. 32)
Williams grew up in Australia and doesn't have great football experience, but he shows good natural instincts for someone who didn't play the game until his teens. He doesn't make many splash plays and isn't much of a pass-rusher, but Williams (6-4, 320) consistently executes his assignment and is tough to move when he plays with leverage. He can consistently occupy blockers as a two-gap defensive tackle.
That will be important against an LSU offense that wants to establish the run. Williams might be able to use a power move to drive an offensive lineman into the backfield and disrupt Tigers QB Zach Mettenberger in the passing game. Overall, Williams should continue to improve his technique and total skill set with more experience.
C Barrett Jones (83; No. 49)
He is not physically dominating like Warmack and will occasionally lose a one-on-one matchup, but Jones (6-5, 302) makes up for his lack of elite strength and athleticism with technique, good angles and instincts, and determination. His football intelligence and work ethic have shown up this season during his transition from left tackle to center.
Jones will make sure his linemates are on the same page and headed in the right direction at the snap. That will be key this week because the quickness of LSU's defensive line can be overwhelming if blockers take any false steps or hesitate for even a split second.
OT D.J. Fluker (79; No. 72)
Fluker is the prototypical right tackle, huge (6-6, 335) and country strong. If he gets into the body of smaller defensive ends like Mingo, they will be driven off the line of scrimmage. Fluker needs to continue to improve his balance and foot quickness, and he will likely need help against the more athletic Mingo on five- and seven-step drops. This matchup is one of the most important for both sides.
Other draftable prospects
RB Ed Lacy (73)
ILB Nico Johnson (71)
S Robert Lester (69)
TE Michael Williams (61)
DE Quinton Dial (36)