Missouri vs. Georgia 2013: Aaron Murray and the best NFL Draft prospects to watch
For the first time since Georgia came to Missouri to welcome the Tigers to the Southeastern Conference, Missouri will be playing in a game that is relevant on the national stage. Ranked No. 25 in the country, its highest rankings since 2011, Missouri heads to Athens to take on No. 7 Georgia.
The Tigers are 5-0 but haven't been tested much in the process. The team's most impressive win came last week at Vanderbilt in a 51-28 drubbing to open up conference play. Missouri will get a chance to see where it stands in the SEC East against Georgia, who hasn't lost in conference this season.
Missouri has also proven to be a factory for NFL talent in recent seasons. The Tigers have produced three first-round draft picks in the last three draft, most recently defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who has been dominant with the Jets.
Here's a look at Saturday's game with a focus on the NFL Draft.
Georgia vs. Missouri
12 ET, ESPN
When Missouri has the football
James Franklin is the trigger man in a revamped, up-tempo Missouri offense. Some have speculated that Franklin, who is a bit undersized but can make plays with his legs, may be an offensive weapon candidate at the next level. That seems hopeful at best given Franklin's limited straight line speed and change of direction ability, but he may intrigue some teams as a passer with the improvements he's made this season. He still doesn't drive the ball enough to be considered a legitimate NFL prospect at his size.
Franklin should have success moving the ball, though. He has a stable of towering receivers with NFL potential. Sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham will end up being the best pro of the bunch, but seniors Marcus Lucas and L'Damian Washington have had productive seasons as well. Damian Swann is the most experienced member of Georgia's secondary and the player to keep an eye on during Saturday's game. Outside linebacker Garrison Smith will be key to getting pressure on the quarterback for the Bulldogs.
When Georgia has the football
Aaron Murray recently became the SEC's all-time career passing leader. He's getting some deserved NFL attention as a result. He's still buried a bit in our quarterback rankings due to his size and decision making. He still needs to work on driving the football down the field with consistency. The potential is there for Murray to be a day two pick. Sophomore running back Todd Gurley will be slowed by injury, and Murray will be without three receivers, so Saturday is a big test for him. Take note of tight end Arthur Lynch, who should be targeted often.
Missouri's defensive line has been raising hell in recent weeks. Michael Sam is an emerging NFL prospect after collecting six sacks in his last two games. He's quick off the ball and relentless in pursuit, making him a handful for any offensive line. Kony Ealy may be the better prospect, though. The redshirt junior defensive end has shown the ability to play outside and inside on Missouri's defensive line. Ealy flashes bits of dominance in every facet of his game, but consistency has been a bit of an issue. His burst of the ball has been improving, but he's still developing consistent hand use and polishing his pass rush moves.
Beyond the defensive line, Missouri has a few players worth tracking. Cornerback E.J. Gaines has the ball skills to catch the attention of NFL scouts, but he's a bit undersized and not the fastest player in the open field. Linebacker Andrew Wilson is the steadiest of Missouri's prospects. Wilson has consistently improved every season with the Tigers and has developed into a violent hitter who is tough to block. Next to him, Donovan Bonner has shown some athleticism early in the season.
Of course, Georgia's offensive line is a load to handle inside. Guards Chris Burnette and Kenarious Gates both have NFL potential. They're the key to keeping the Georgia running game moving, and the Bulldogs figure to lean on their running backs in an effort to wear down the Tigers' front seven.
Question of the night
Can Missouri's defensive line continue its production against Georgia's strong offensive line?
Missouri has gotten as much production as it could ask for out of its defensive line through five games, but Saturday's game will provide the stiffest test to date. The Tigers rotate eight players through the defensive line when healthy, so the depth may pay off late in the game. That's when the Bulldogs pulled away in the 2012 version of this matchup.
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