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Bowl season has been something to behold, with opt-outs, the transfer portal and coaching changes affecting the on-field product. The games have been watered down at times and mostly unpredictable. 

But the College Football Playoff have been immune to these changes. And on Jan. 1 -- when Alabama meets Michigan in the Rose Bowl, and Texas meets Washington in the Sugar Bowl -- here's a player from each team I'll be most excited to see. For some, it will be a chance to confirm what we witnessed during the fall; for others, it will be one last opportunity to prove their bona-fides as high-round picks in the 2024 NFL Draft and difference-makers at the next level.

J.J. McCarthy, QB, Michigan

Caleb Williams and Drake Maye are the favorites to be the first two quarterbacks drafted on April 25, 2024, and Heisman winner Jayden Danniels has made a strong case on the back of his outstanding 2023 season that he deserves to be no worse than QB3. In fact, there will be serious conversations about even that.

A year ago, we all knew that CJ Stroud was the most accurate passer in the draft class, but he proved against Georgia that he was a high-end athlete who could consistently win out of structure. There are no such concerns about McCarthy's athleticism, but like Stroud, he can use these playoffs to show that he can not only be a complete quarterback, but that he deserves to be one of the first players drafted next spring. 

Unlike Stroud, the questions about McCarthy start with his ability to push the ball down the field, and to make consistently good decisions when doing so. He has the arm strength to make every throw, but what frequently showed up on tape was McCarthy's unwillingness to make the tight-window throws downfield, the tight-window throws he'll be required to make in the NFL every week. Against Alabama, I want to see him get through his reads and trust himself to rip the intermediate and deep balls, because there is no denying his ability to buy time in the pocket and win on the perimeter with his legs. 

To be clear, McCarthy has been really good in 2023; in fact, he's been his most efficient on third downs. In the fall, he completed 72% of his throws on third down, with five passing touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 182.0. Now I want to see him put it all together in Michigan's biggest game of the season.

For more draft coverage, you can hear in-depth analysis twice a week on "With the First Pick" -- our year-round NFL Draft podcast with NFL Draft analyst Ryan Wilson and former Vikings general manager Rick Spielman. You can find "With the First Pick" wherever you get your podcasts: Apple PodcastsSpotifyYouTube, etc. Listen to the latest episode below!

Chris Braswell, EDGE, Alabama

Dallas Turner will likely be a top-10 pick, and rightly so, but do not sleep on his teammate, and edge-rushing bookend, Chris Braswell. Will Anderson Jr., who has balling out for the Texans in his rookie season, talked up both players when we had him on the "With the First Pick" podcast back in November. 

Good luck finding a player with a higher motor than Braswell, who refuses to be blocked by tight ends, has the juice and power to regularly split double teams, and shows the twitch to win in 1-on-1 pass-rush situations against SEC tackles. And Braswell isn't a one-trick pony who relies on just a speed rush; the bull rush is his bread and butter, and it requires the offensive lineman at the business end of it to re-anchor throughout the rep. Then there are his hands, which is another element of his pass-rush arsenal that makes him so difficult to prepare for.

Don't be surprised that, as we get through these playoffs and into the pre-draft process, if Braswell doesn't find himself as an early Day 2 selection.

Washington Huskies WRs not named Rome Odunze

We all know about Rome Odunze and how dominant he was this season, and why he's firmly in the WR2 conversation after Marvin Harison Jr. and alongside Malik Nabers, Brian Thomas Jr. and Keon Coleman. But Odunze's teammates, Ja'Lynn Polk and Jalen McMillen, will both hear their names called early in the draft, and this trio has, to varying degrees, made quarterback Michael Penix Jr.'s life immeasurably easier. 

Polk had 60 receptions for 1,000 yards (16.7) to go along with eight touchdowns. And after a red-hot start, he didn't find his way on the stat sheet vs. Oregon St. and Washington St. (despite 10 targets), but showed up big in the conference title game against Oregon, catching five passes for 57 yards. In two games against the Ducks, Polk combined for 11 grabs, 175 yards and a touchdown. 

Polk is a precise route runner who lines up primarily outside but can also play in the slot. He had four drops on 92 targets, but he showed the ability to make contested catches in traffic, and also tracked the ball well on vertical routes. He gets in and out of his breaks with purpose, and while he's long, we'd like to see him be a little more physical at the top of the route (though that may be something he'll improve as he continues to grow and get stronger).

McMillen, meanwhile, plays almost exclusively in the slot and spent a lot of the season battling through a knee injury. But his statement game came on Washington's biggest stage (to date): against Oregon in the conference championship, McMillen had nine catches for 131 yards. Put another way, the Oregon performance accounted for 27% of the 34 receptions McMillen had all season. 

He's a long strider who can separate downfield, but is also dangerous in the quick game; he was targeted most often on WR screens, followed closely by out routes. And it's that versatility that makes him so dangerous for the Huskies (show me the college defense that can match up against three legit NFL wide receivers), and why his NFL future is a bright one. Expect Washington to use him at all three levels to stress the Longhorns defense, and don't be surprised if he picks up where he left off against Oregon in early December.

Byron Murphy II, DL, Texas

It's hard to miss T'Vondre Sweat, the Texas defensive tackle listed at 346 pounds. But if you can redirect your eyes to his linemate, No. 90 Byron Murphy II, you'll find a player who only weighs 295, but who is twitched up and surprisingly strong for his size. Just look at the hand usage and laterally mobility of No. 90 below:

Murphy consistently overpowers the center when lining up as a zero technique, and when the Longhorns bump him out to over the guard, he routinely has the juice to shoot the A gap and get into the backfield and be disruptive against both the run and the pass. He is undersized by NFL interior defensive linemen standards, but that lack of girth doesn't show up on tape. And in a draft class that is light on defensive linemen, Murphy is making his case as DL2 after Illinois' Johnny Newton. In fact, I could see Murphy working his way into the first-round conversation because a) he's that good, b) there isn't much depth at the position, and c) we saw Calijah Kancey go in Round 1 a year ago, and he's had a solid rookie campaign for the Buccaneers.