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PFF's All-Bowl Team: Dawgs dominate on D and a surprise at QB

Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (11) runs past Utah Utes cornerback Malone Mataele (15) during the second quarter of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. on Jan. 1, 2022. College Football Rose Bowl

As a part of our partnership with ESPN, this is a part of a story that was originally published on ESPN+ and can be viewed in its entirety here with your ESPN+ subscription — PFF's All-Bowl Team: Dawgs dominate on D and a surprise at QB

The college football postseason has officially come to a close with the Georgia Bulldogs avenging their SEC championship loss to beat the Alabama Crimson Tide for the first College Football Playoff national championship of Kirby Smart's tenure.

Now that all of the bowl games and the playoff are behind us, it's time to highlight the top performers from the postseason action by creating an All-Bowl Team with the help of PFF's unique play-by-play grading system and other advanced metrics.

Below is that team, which includes players from the CFP, Duke's Mayo Bowl, Rose Bowl, Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and more.

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Offense

QB: SAM HOWELLNORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS

North Carolina was on the wrong side of one of bowl season's biggest upsets, as it was favored by double digits and ended up losing by double digits to South Carolina. Howell, however, was far from the reason. The Tar Heels quarterback earned a 92.5 passing grade in the Duke's Mayo Bowl, recording three big-time throws and zero turnover-worthy plays in the process. It was the highest passing grade by a Power 5 quarterback from this year's bowl season.

RB: BRIAN ROBINSON JR., ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE

Robinson fared as expected against the vaunted Georgia run defense in the national championship, but that shouldn't take away from his performance in the semifinal against Cincinnati. He earned an 86.5 PFF grade thanks to racking up 4.65 yards after contact per attempt, 12 broken tackles and seven explosive runs of 10 or more yards across 26 carries. Robinson runs with physicality, and it showed in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. His rushing grade was the third-best PFF has on record from a back in a CFP game. (Ezekiel Elliott in 2014's championship game and Bo Scarbrough in 2016's semifinal are the top two.)

RB: DEWAYNE MCBRIDEUAB BLAZERS

Out of all the bowl games, no running back earned a higher PFF grade than McBride in UAB's win over BYU in the Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl (89.5). He broke 11 tackles and totaled 117 yards after contact from 28 carries. What's interesting about McBride's standout bowl outing is that he produced while carrying the ball on a higher rate of gap-scheme runs than normal (24% in 2021 entering the game, 39% in the game). Regardless of the concept, McBride made some plays for the Blazers and was instrumental in their upset win.

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WR: JAXON SMITH-NJIGBAOHIO STATE BUCKEYES

For every other team, when two potential first-round wide receivers like Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave opt out of the program's bowl game, it would be too difficult to overcome. But for the wide receiver factory that is Ohio State, it was no issue thanks to true sophomore Smith-Njigba, who broke records with his 15-catch, 336-yard and three-touchdown performance in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Capital One Venture X. Smith-Njigba generated an astounding 7.64 yards per route run and earned a 90.7 receiving grade for the game. He generated multiple steps of separation on five of his eight targets against single coverage and caught two contested opportunities among the remaining three targets. From his ball skills to his short-area quickness to his route running, Smith-Njigba has all the traits to be college football's top wide receiver in 2022.

WR: JESSE MATTHEWSSAN DIEGO STATE AZTECS

Matthews finished second to only Smith-Njigba in total explosive receptions (15 or more yards) among all pass-catchers during the bowl season with six in the Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl. He was ultra-strong at the catch point, as he caught all four of his contested targets. Of all the pass-catchers who received at least 10 targets in a bowl, Matthews joined Smith-Njigba as the only other player who generated a perfect 158.3 passer rating when targeted.

TE: JAHEIM BELLSOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS

Bell put together an unprecedented outing in South Carolina's win. Despite running only seven routes, the 6-3, 230-pound tight end hauled in five passes for 159 yards and two scores. He also took a counter run for a 20-yard gain. He posted a 95.1 PFF grade for the game, making it one of the best tight end performances that PFF College has on record.

LT: TYLER SMITHTULSA GOLDEN HURRICANE

Smith plays with a mean streak, and his 90.1 run-block grade in the Myrtle Beach Bowl presented by TaxAct backs that up. He laid down three big-time blocks and the second-most positively graded run blocks overall among all offensive linemen in bowl season. Smith was also crisp in pass protection, as he didn't allow a single pressure for the fourth straight game and also did not commit a penalty. In the end, Smith earned a season-high 92.0 PFF grade.

LG: KYLER SCHOTTIOWA HAWKEYES

Schott was the lone Power 5 offensive lineman in a bowl this year who generated a grade above 84.0 as a run- and pass-blocker. It was also the first time in Schott's collegiate career that he accomplished such a feat. Overall, he turned in an 87.2 PFF grade against Kentucky in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl, surpassing his previous career best by seven points.

C: KEEGAN CRYDERWYOMING COWBOYS

Cryder had a clean performance against Kent State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, as he earned a season-high 88.0 PFF grade. He didn't lose a rep in pass protection and earned an 81.9 run-blocking grade. Unsurprisingly, Cryder also didn't commit a penalty. He has committed a penalty only twice in over 2,000 snaps in the past three years.

RG: WILLIAM DUNKLE, SAN DIEGO STATE AZTECS

Edging out Smith for the made-up Nastiest Run-Blocker of Bowl Season award is none other than Dunkle, who was nearly flawless in that department against UTSA in the Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl. Dunkle posted a 99.1 run-blocking grade while earning more positively graded run blocks than any other lineman in bowl season. He wanted to pancake defenders on every single rep.

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RT: RENATO BROWNLOUISVILLE CARDINALS

The 6-4, 309-pounder was too much for the Air Force Falcons in the SERVPRO First Responder Bowl. Brown didn't lose a single run-blocking rep — which is a rare occurrence for anyone — and allowed just one pressure from 26 pass-blocking snaps, paving the way to a career-high 90.7 PFF grade.

AP: JERRETH STERNSWESTERN KENTUCKY HILLTOPPERS

Sterns had several eye-popping box scores in the 2021 season while playing in Western Kentucky's Air Raid offense, but none was more impressive than what he did in the RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl against Appalachian State, as Sterns posted a season-high 90.5 PFF grade and 4.84 yards per route run. The 5-foot-9, 195-pound slot receiver dazzled in the open field with 120 yards after the catch and three broken tackles. The former trailed only Smith-Njigba for the most in a bowl this season.


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Defense

DI: JALEN CARTER, GEORGIA BULLDOGS

Carter posted the best outing of his true sophomore campaign when it mattered most in the national championship. In Round 2 against the Crimson Tide, the former five-star recruit was a pass-rushing force thanks to the power in his 6-3, 310-pound frame. Carter generated six total pressures and a 23.5% win rate en route to a 90.2 pass-rush grade for the game.

DI: DEVONTE WYATT, GEORGIA BULLDOGS

Wyatt entered the postseason as the highest-graded interior defensive lineman in the Power 5, and his consistent, high-level play remained throughout the CFP, as Wyatt generated an 81.2 run defense and 76.1 pass-rush grade across the two games. He earned a positive grade on 43.5% of his run-defense snaps against Michigan and Alabama, which was more than four percentage points higher than all interior defensive linemen during the bowl season.

Edge: NOLAN SMITH, GEORGIA BULLDOGS

Smith was the most consistent performer in the CFP, as he posted an 83.4 PFF grade in the Capital One Orange Bowl before recording a 79.5 mark in the national title game. Smith, who was ESPN's No. 2-rated recruit in the 2019 class, totaled 10 defensive stops, eight pressures, a forced fumble and a batted pass across the two games.

Edge: MYJAI SANDERSCINCINNATI BEARCATS

Only two edge defenders in the PFF College era have generated double-digit pressures against an Alabama offensive line. One of those two was Myjai Sanders in this year's Cotton Bowl. The 6-5, 255-pound edge defender turned in a 40.7% win rate and 10 total pressures from 27 pass-rush snaps en route to an 84.3 pass-rush grade for the game.


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LB: NAKOBE DEAN, GEORGIA BULLDOGS

Dean's Orange Bowl performance against Michigan was the best by any player in the CFP this season. He made several plays on his way to an elite 90.0 PFF grade for the game thanks to his tools and instincts. He produced five pressures, six defensive stops and one forced fumble while allowing minus-2 yards in coverage. The likely first-round NFL draft pick didn't have as strong of a performance in the national championship, but he was still productive with three pressures and four defensive stops.

LB: DONAVAN MUTINHOUSTON COUGARS

Houston's defense put the clamps on Auburn in its TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl win, and Mutin was the best player from that group. The 6-foot, 230-pound off-ball linebacker earned an 87.4 PFF grade because he didn't miss any of his eight tackle attempts, recorded three defensive stops and didn't allow a yard in coverage.

CB: CLARK PHILLIPS IIIUTAH UTES

Ohio State's passing offense went nuclear in the Rose Bowl against Utah, but cornerback Clark Phillips III had little to do with Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud racking up 573 passing yards for the game. Phillips allowed only 38 yards in his coverage, picked off a pass and forced a fumble. Phillips — a 2020 ESPN top 100 recruit — earned an 88.0 PFF grade for the game.

CB: MARIO GOODRICHCLEMSON TIGERS

Goodrich ended his time at Clemson with one of the best games of his career in the Cheez-It Bowl against Iowa State. He allowed only one first down in coverage while intercepting a pass and forcing a fumble. Goodrich took that interception — which came on the head-scratching Brock Purdy batted ball that went viral — to the end zone for one of Clemson's two touchdowns in the game.

S: JT WOODSBAYLOR BEARS
After a volatile and underwhelming 2021 campaign — and career — at safety for Baylor, Woods posted a career night in the Allstate Sugar Bowl that was critical to the Bears beating Ole Miss. He was targeted three times in coverage and didn't allow any to be caught, as he picked off two and broke up the other. One of those interceptions came against potential 2022 first-round pick Matt Corral before he exited thanks to an injury. Woods finished with a 90.5 PFF grade for the game — his highest of the season by more than 16 grading points.
S: JACQUEZ WARRENMIAMI (OHIO) REDHAWKS

The first-ever Frisco Football Classic featured one of the best safety performances of the bowl season from Warren, who earned an 82.4 PFF grade in the RedHawks' win over North Texas. The 6-foot, 183-pound safety read the quarterback's eyes perfectly for an interception in the red zone and allowed only 7 yards in total for the game. When down in the box, Warren fought through the trash on two occasions for run stops.

Flex D: WILLIAM POOLE, GEORGIA BULLDOGS

Georgia made a sudden change in the SEC championship at STAR (i.e., the slot corner), as it opted to play Poole at the position even though he played only 23 coverage snaps in the regular season and Latavious Brini had started there up until that point. Unsurprisingly, Poole struggled with a poor PFF grade for the game, but in the Orange Bowl and national title game, the senior righted the ship. Poole posted an 81.3 coverage grade across those two games, as he allowed just two first downs on 12 targets while forcing three incompletions and two passing stops.

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