The Sugar Bowl between Ole Miss and Oklahoma State will be a showcase for a few highly regarded NFL prospects.
For them, it could also be an audition for the NFL team that plays at the site of the game — the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The New Orleans Saints are about to complete their second consecutive losing season and need an infusion of young talent in several areas.
The Rebels and Cowboys feature four potential first-round draft choices, if you count suspended Ole Miss defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, generally the highest-rated prospect on the two teams.
The others are Rebels wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil and OSU defensive lineman Emmanuel Ogbah. None of the prospects plays a position the Saints could turn their nose up at.
In fact, a recent mock draft by CBSSports.com has the Saints selecting Treadwell with the No. 11 pick in the first round.
Dane Brugler, senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, said Treadwell is a “less dynamic” version of Dallas Cowboys star Dez Bryant and could be New Orleans’ “new Marques Colston.”
ESPN analyst Todd McShay has Treadwell being selected with the 10th pick, citing Treadwell’s size (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) and reliable hands in comparing him to Bryant coming out of Oklahoma State.
Of course, the draft is still the length of a full college football season away from happening.
Underclassmen have until next month to declare early entry into the draft. Nkemdiche has said he’s turning pro, but the other three potential first-rounders in the Sugar Bowl are all juniors who haven’t announced their intentions.
“Right now, beating Ole Miss is my only priority,” Ogbah said.
Treadwell said he’s waiting on a “gut feeling” to tell him whether to stay or go.
“I just try to take it one day at a time,” he said, “and enjoy this moment I do have with my teammates if this is my last time with them.”
As for Friday’s game, Treadwell is the highest-rated skill player and therefore the one most likely to stand out before film analysis.
Treadwell suffered a broken fibula and dislocated ankle last season, but he came back strong and was one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award.
“He’s a lot more explosive. He’s a lot faster,” quarterback Chad Kelly said. “He trimmed down a good 10, 15 pounds. His work ethic is just not comparable.”
Offensive coordinator Dan Werner said Treadwell knows how to use his frame “like a rebounder in basketball.”
The most intriguing matchup in the game might come when Tunsil and Ogbah go head-to-head, though they won’t do so all the time.
“When they do,” Werner said, “it will be interesting to watch.”
The CBSSports.com projection has Tunsil going to the Tennessee Titans with the first pick.
McShay has the Detroit Lions using the seventh pick to select Tunsil, a player McShay called unusually athletic for his size (6-5, 305).
As for Ogbah, both projections have him as the last pick in the first round, going to the Carolina Panthers at No. 31. (The first round is lacking one pick this season because the New England Patriots were stripped of their pick, thanks to “Deflategate.”)
Cowboys defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said Ogbah, a native of Nigeria who was not a prized recruit coming out of Houston, has had “a normal progression.”
“He’s the poster child of work and development,” Spencer said. “There’s a reason he wasn’t a four- or five-star player. He wasn’t a dominant player then, but you can’t get inside a young man’s heart at that age.”
McShay has the San Diego Chargers taking Nkemdiche with the third pick. CBSSports.com has Nkemdiche sliding to the Oakland Raiders at No. 15.
There’s little doubt Nkemdiche will be one of the most scrutinized prospects leading up the draft.
“I think you try to research and see if it is a recurring problem, something that just happened the one time, or is it something that has repeated itself multiple times,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “I think you dig and do your due diligence to get a feel for what kind of kid this guy is.”
Meanwhile, Saints fans might want to keep an eye on Alabama defensive tackle Jarran Reed during the CFP Semifinal game against Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl on Thursday night because that’s who McShay has New Orleans selecting with the 11th pick. McShay noted Reed’s ability to take on multiple blockers and be disruptive in the backfield against the run and pass.
(Advocate sportswriter Ted Lewis contributed to this report.)