Our picks for the 2017 College Football Playoff

Yes, we're already taking a look at next season -- Gordon McGuinness shares his early picks for 2017's best teams.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Tony Ding)

(AP Photo/Tony Ding)

Our picks for the 2017 College Football Playoff

The confetti has barely stopped falling from the roof in celebration of Alabama’s fourth National Championship in seven years, but we’re ready to cast a very early eye on the top teams to look out for when the 2016 season rolls around. There’s a long way to go before the season even begins, but here are a few teams we like heading into next year.

  1. Clemson Tigers

They’re just coming off the National Championship loss, but there’s little reason why the Tigers shouldn’t be in position to get back there in 2016. Quarterback Deshaun Watson (+40.3) was our highest graded player at the position from Week 9 onwards, and will head into next season projected as the best quarterback in the nation, and a potential number one overall selection in the NFL draft. He’s joined in the backfield by running back Wayne Gallman (+20.5), who had forced 62 missed tackles heading into last night’s big game. On the defensive side of the ball, keeping defensive ends Kevin Dodd (+30.7) and Shaq Lawson (+37.7), who could make the decision to go pro, will be key.

  1. Alabama Crimson Tide

Quarterback Jake Coker’s college career is over, but the Crimson Tide will still return their top two receivers in ArDarius Stewart (+4.3) and Calvin Ridley (+9.5). In the backfield a lot will depend on whether or not Derrick Henry heads to the NFL, or decides to stick around for another heavy workload in college. On the defensive side of the ball they are going to lose some talent, that’s for sure. Jarran Reed (+47.0) was a senior but fellow standout defensive linemen A’Shawn Robinson (+28.2) and Jonathan Allen (+31.0) might opt to follow him and enter the NFL draft. That being said, every Alabama defensive lineman who played in 2015 had a positive grade, so it’s not as if they don’t have talent coming through. From a pass rushing perspective, it will be interesting to see in Tim Williams (+24.0) and Ryan Anderson (+31.0) opt to head to the NFL, after combining for 18 sacks in 2015.

  1. Oklahoma Sooners

Losing their top target in Sterling Sheperd isn’t ideal, but they’ll still likely return their starting quarterback in Baker Mayfield (+48.8) and two talented running backs in Samaje Perine (+17.1) and Joe Mixon (+13.7). On the defensive side of the ball, defensive end Charles Walker (+34.8) is their best player, coming off a season where he registered 26 defensive stops. Their success or failure will likely be decided by their offense once again though, and with Mayfield at the helm, they have a good shot in the Big 12. On throws 20 yards or further downfield in 2015, he completed 27-of-60, for 1,066 yards, with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.

  1. Michigan Wolverines

Head coach Jim Harbaugh appeared to have worked his magic with quarterback Jake Rudock (+10.6) by the end of the year, with the signal caller grading at +4.6 or higher in four of the Wolverines final five games. His eligibility is up though, so he’s going to have to do it with a new quarterback once again in 2016. The strength of the Michigan team was their defense though, and that should remain the same next season. There are five players on their defensive line who still have eligibility left with a grade of +24.7 or higher last year, and while there are concerns at linebacker, the defensive backfield looks like the best in the nation.

Jourdan Lewis (+22.1), the best cornerback in the nation last year, returns for his final season, looking to build on a 2015 campaign where he made teams pay for targeting him in coverage. The key player to watch here though, is Jabrill Peppers (+15.7). Spending time at safety and in the slot, Peppers is a dynamic weapon who can turn defense into offense in the blink of an eye, and does the basic things really well too. If he can continue to progress, he has a chance to be the best defensive player in the country next year, and he gets snaps on offense and as a returner too, such is his explosiveness.

| Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst

Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.

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