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Top Seven NFL Prospects In The College Football Playoff National Championship Game

Jason Getz - USA Today Sports

This National Championship rematch is loaded with future NFL stars.

There are still 108 days remaining until the 2017 NFL Draft begins in Philadelphia on Thursday, April 27. Draft speculation is still in its infant stage, and a lot will change after detailed scouting, pro days, and the combine. And there is still one more official game yet to be played — the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

When Alabama and Clemson meet on Monday, more than a dozen future NFL players will be on the field. This rematch of last year’s championship game, a 45-40 Alabama victory, will feature a handful of potential first round picks.

Top 32 NFL Draft Prospects in CFP National Championship

Top 32 RankingPlayerPositionSchool
3Jonathan AllenDE/DTAlabama
5Reuben FosterILBAlabama
9Tim WilliamsOLB/DEAlabama
10Mike WilliamsWRClemson
15Cam RobinsonOTAlabama
23O.J. HowardTEAlabama

*Rankings according to ESPN’s Todd McShay

Alabama’s defense alone could produce three top-10 picks. And Clemson’s offense is led by potentially the draft’s top wide receiver prospect and a game-breaking quarterback with a bright professional future. With all of these playmakers coming together, Monday’s game is “must see” action, especially for pro scouts. Here are the top seven players NFL organizations will be watching:

1. Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama

Jonathan Allen is the most dominant player who will be on the field in this game. He ranks third in the SEC with 10 of Alabama’s conference-best 50 sacks. In a draft class loaded with defensive linemen and edge rushers — eight of Scout Inc.’s Top 20 are DL’s or DE’s — Allen is regarded as one of the best of the group. 

An elite defensive lineman controls a game in many different ways. First, they are almost impossible to block with just one person. Offenses are forced to build an entire chunk of their game plan around stopping a player like this. Allen will draw the attention of two or three blockers, which opens up opportunities for other players on defense to make plays. As a result, coordinators can get more pressure in opposing backfields without having to dial up huge blitz packages. With a player like Allen, one blitzing linebacker or safety may be all a defense needs to come up with a big play.

What to watch: Allen’s versatility allows him to line up anywhere on the defensive line, creating further problems for offensive lines. Look at the different spots where Allen lines up, and watch how his presence affects the production of players like Reuben Foster, Tim Williams, and Ryan Anderson. His skill set will unlock all of the defensive potential that a superstar defensive lineman can create.

2. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

This year’s quarterback class is difficult to evaluate. Even a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist like Deshaun Watson is drawing little consideration to be a high first-round selection in the Spring. Still, he is the most dynamic offensive player in Monday’s game and has a chance to drastically improve his stock with another impressive performance against Alabama.

In last year’s National Championship Game, Watson lit up Alabama’s fabled defense by going 30-of-47 for 405 yards and four touchdowns while adding 73 yards on 20 rushes. That performance set the bar insanely high for his 2016 campaign and, as a result, Watson caught a lot of criticism for some inconsistent play early in the year. Still, he and the Tigers found a way to win 13 games, capture the ACC Championship, and rebound from a November loss against Pittsburgh to return to the National Championship Game.

Watson’s Big Games


100+ rushing yard games4+ total TD gamesAt least 70% completion games
2015
2016

It was always going to be tough for Watson to live up to his unbelievable 2015 season. Despite fewer monster single-game performances, he still put up elite numbers and has his team one victory away from a National Championship. Although he is undervalued now, the reality is that numerous NFL teams need a quarterback now or within the next one to two seasons. And, with 9,743 passing yards, 1,891 rushing yards, and 112 total touchdowns, there are plenty of teams who could try to build their offense around him. 


What to watch: Watson’s 478 total yards against Alabama last year came against a Crimson Tide defense that gave up just 15.1 points per game. This year, they enter Monday allowing just 11.4 points per game. If Watson can come up with another terrific performance against an even better ‘Bama defense, his draft stock will increase exponentially. 

3. Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama

It almost seems unfair that the one player in this game who may be able to slow down Alabama’s front seven will also be wearing the same uniform as Allen and his NFL-bound defensive teammates. Robinson is currently ESPN’s top-ranked offensive line prospect and fifteenth overall. He has started 41 games at left tackle for the Tide — every game since he arrived in Tuscaloosa. This experience and durability will make him very attractive to a team looking to rebuild an offensive line.

What to watch: Clemson ranks second in the ACC with 49 sacks and allowed 123 rush yards per game. Defensive linemen Dexter Lawrence and Carlos Watkins are both tough to block and may find themselves across from Robinson throughout the game.

Image title

Jerome Miron - USA Today Sports

4. Tim Williams, OLB/DE, Alabama

With a quarterback like Watson leading the opposing offense, Williams’ presence as a pass rusher is going to be extremely important for the Crimson Tide. He has nine sacks in 2016 and 57.4 of his tackles have resulted in lost yardage for his opponents. With Allen drawing most of the focus of Clemson’s offensive line, Williams should find himself in the Tigers’ backfield on several occasions on Monday night.

What to watch: Williams is a pure edge rusher. His NFL value comes from his ability to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. In the National Championship game, Williams will force Watson to make plays with his legs. He has attempted 144 rushes in 2016 compared to 207 in 2015. With Williams, Allen, and the rest of the Alabama front seven pressuring him, Watson will likely be forced to attempt more than his average of 10 rushes per game.

5. Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

Williams did not play in last year’s National Championship game after suffering a fracture in his neck during the Tigers’ season opener and missing the entire 2015 season. After 90 receptions, 1,267 yards, and 10 touchdowns in 2016, it is safe to say that he made up for his lost season by emerging as one of the best receivers in the country. Williams recorded four 100-yard games and grabbed at least one touchdown in eight of Clemson’s 12 regular season games. The Tigers offense has playmakers at every position, but Williams may have the brightest NFL future of them all.

There are five wideouts in this year’s draft who are on the first round radar of every team, with Williams at the top of the list for many front offices. He is 6‘3”, weighs 225 pounds, and is a serious threat as an outside receiver. The biggest threats to Williams’ chances of being the first receiver chosen are Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook and Western Michigan’s Corey Davis. One final impressive performance, especially against Alabama, could give Williams the edge and help him become a top-10 overall selection.

What to watch: Alabama’s defense has allowed just 182 pass yards per game this year. The Tide’s top corner, sophomore Marlon Humphrey, should draw the majority of the coverage assignments against Williams. Humphrey is a former freshman All-American and has allowed just 29 completions this season.


6. O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama

The tight end position in this draft class is deep, and there are some very talented prospects at the top of the list. Alabama’s O.J. Howard, currently the top-ranked tight end and No. 23 overall prospect, is as good as it gets. With Michigan’s Jake Butt suffering a knee injury in the Orange Bowl, Howard will likely be the first tight end drafted. 

In four years at Alabama, Howard caught 110 passes for 1,620 yards and six touchdowns. His role increased drastically in his final two years, as he recorded 71.8% of his receptions as a junior and senior. Howard has shown that he can be more than just a complementary piece to an offense. He has an excellent chance to become the focal point of an NFL passing game in the very near future.


What to watch: Howard’s counterpart, Clemson’s Jordan Leggett, is the one of the Tigers’ most dangerous big-play threats. Both tight ends are valuable weapons who help expand their respective offenses beyond their most notable playmakers.

7. Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama

Foster leads Alabama with 103 total tackles and is the anchor of the Tide defense’s second level. He is the latest in a long line of inside linebackers who is likely going to be at the heart of an NFL defense beginning next season. Foster is ESPN’s No. 5 overall prospect. However, with a wealth of pass rushers in this year’s draft, Foster may not be drafted as high as his ranking indicates. Still, he is a very valuable piece of this Crimson Tide team and has an excellent chance to be an elite pro very soon.

What to watch: Allen, Williams, and the rest of Alabama’s front seven complement each other very nicely. Foster takes advantage of his elite defensive line and fills the gaps at the line of scrimmage. He will be the key factor in neutralizing Clemson’s rushing attack.

Edited by Jazmyn Brown, David Kaptzan.

SQuiz
How many players from Clemson and Alabama were taken in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft?
Created 1/8/17
  1. 4
  2. 3
  3. 2
  4. 0

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