A look at NFL prospects who helped themselves over championship weekend:
Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia, JR. (6-0, 224, 4.64, #3)
In my recent mock draft, only one linebacker made the cut and surfaced in the first round: Smith to the Dallas Cowboys at No. 15 overall. And in the SEC Championship Game against Auburn, the junior only reinforced his status as a potential top-15 draft pick if he chooses to declare.
Smith finished with a game-high 13 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack and two fumble recoveries, earning the game's MVP honors. The performance was basically a microcosm of the dominance he has shown all season, proving himself to be the most valuable player on a Bulldogs' defense full of future pros.
The term "sideline-to-sideline" speed is often overused for linebackers, but Smith deserves that description because of his quick first step to track the ball, followed by the reaction to unlock and close on the ball-carrier, finishing with the balance and physicality to shut down the run.
As if his weekend wasn't already impressive enough, Smith was recognized as the winner of the Butkus Award (nation's top linebacker) Sunday night in a surprise ceremony during Georgia's end-of-season awards event.
Jerome Baker, LB, Ohio State, JR. (6-1, 225, 4.62, #17)
Thought to be in consideration before the season as the first linebacker drafted, Baker didn't live up to that hype for much of his junior season with below-average performances in several key games, most notably the Iowa loss.
However, he played arguably his best game of the season in the win over Wisconsin, giving the Buckeyes their first Big Ten title since 2014. The only player to finish with double-digit tackles, Baker posted 16 tackles, including two for loss and one sack, and did a much better job in coverage.
Wisconsin isn't known for their downfield passing attack, making the Ohio State linebackers the key to limiting a powerful run game, as well as the fullback/tight end targets in the short-to-intermediate passing game. The OSU linebackers, led by Baker, did just that as the Badgers' offense managed only one touchdown.
Although he will benefit from getting stronger and speeding up his mental processor, Baker has the athleticism and aggressive nature that are solid building blocks for a starting NFL linebacker.
Bryce Love, RB, Stanford, JR. (5-9, 191, 4.43, #20)
For the second time this season, Stanford fell short against USC, but it wasn't because the Cardinal didn't get enough from their star running back. Love managed a modest (for his standards) 125 rushing yards and one touchdown on 22 carries, but his performance was notable because he clearly isn't at full health, dealing with ankle issues, and yet he battled through the pain to help give his team a chance at the Pac-12 title.
He averaged 5.7 yards per carry against the Trojans and with a 52-yard scamper in the third quarter, the junior added to his FBS-record with his 12th run of the season of 50-plus yards. Love has been playing through injuries since the beginning of November and even at an estimated 75 percent healthy, he was still dynamic in his cuts with the speed to shoot through holes and attack the second level.
At 200-ish pounds, NFL teams will question his build and long-term durability at the position, but no one who has watched Love in the past month will ever question his heart and toughness -- two attributes that pair nicely with his explosive running style and speed.
Travin Howard, LB/S, TCU, SR. (6-0, 212, 4.63, #32)
In two meetings this season, Oklahoma has combined to score 79 points against TCU, the Big 12's No. 1-rated defense. But despite the unfavorable outcome for the Horned Frogs, Howard showed in both games why scouts think he has a future in the NFL.
Howard, the leading tackler at TCU during Gary Patterson's 17-season tenure, battled injuries throughout November, but he wasn't going to miss the Big 12 title game, finishing with a game-best 15 stops. Playing a hybrid box safety/linebacker role, he did a nice job limiting Sooners' running back Rodney Anderson to under 4.0 yards per carry, showing off his pursuit to the edges.
Howard does a great job finding the quickest route to the ball-carrier and finishes with some serious closing burst. He made a few plays in man coverage against Oklahoma talented tight end Mark Andrews, but it was also evident that was not a matchup that favored the defense. Nevertheless, Howard's downhill ability is what will give him a shot at the next level, despite his tweener traits.
--Four of the six quarterback spots for the Senior Bowl are now confirmed: Virginia's Kurt Benkert (6-3, 225, 4.92, #6), Washington State's Luke Falk (6-3, 225, 4.87, #4), Richmond's Kyle Lauletta (6-2, 215, 4.86, #5) and Western Kentucky's Mike White (6-3, 215, 4.87, #14). The final two spots are for Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield (6-0, 218, 4.65, #6) and Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph (6-4, 230, 4.83, #2), but neither has accepted the invite yet.
--Another quarterback with a standing Senior Bowl invite is Wyoming redshirt junior QB Josh Allen (6-4, 233, 4.76, #17), who has already declared early for the 2018 NFL Draft. Underclassmen who graduate early are eligible for the senior all-star game, but Allen has yet to do so. There is a chance he will graduate this month, but if not, the expectation is for him to take classes into January to finish the remaining requirements to play in the Senior Bowl. Stay tuned.
--With the college football season complete for prospects from non-bowl teams, NFL underclassmen declarations are becoming official. On Monday, Pittsburgh WR Quadree Henderson (5-8, 170, 4.40, #10) and Texas CB Holton Hill (6-1, 195, 4.54, #5) announced they would skip their senior seasons to enter the 2018 NFL Draft. Henderson immediately becomes one of the better returners in this draft class with his burst, speed and vision. Hill was suspended indefinitely last month for an off-field issue, but aside from the character concerns, he has top-100 talent so his draft stock will be interesting to track.
--The Cleveland Browns have locked up a top-8 selection for the ninth time in the last 10 years. With an 0-12 record, the Browns are the clear favorites for the No. 1 overall pick, two games ahead of two-win San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants. If Cleveland keeps the No. 1 overall pick, it would mark the first time a franchise has the top selection in back-to-back years since... the Browns in 1999 and 2000.
--Dane Brugler is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, a collaboration between The Sports Xchange and Pro Football Hall of Fame