10 best draft prospects to watch in the College Football Playoff

Who should you be watching in the College Football Playoff? Steve Palazzolo identifies the top prospects.

| 6 months ago
Jonathan Allen

(Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

10 best draft prospects to watch in the College Football Playoff

When the four best teams in the country get together for the College Football Playoff, NFL scouts will be locked in to get a final look at a number of top prospects. The bowl season, and now the playoff, are rarely a make-or-break final audition for prospects, but top performances do not go unnoticed, and a strong finish can vault a prospect into the offseason process with great momentum. The playoff enhances this even further, as bowl games were often seen as glorified exhibitions, but with three intense playoff games remaining, it’s a great chance to see top prospects perform against their peers in crunch time.

Here are the top prospects remaining in the College Football Playoff, with positional value factored in.

1. Jonathan Allen, DI, Alabama

Perhaps the best overall player in the nation, Allen went from part-time contributor to dominant force in his first year as a full-time player. He leads all interior defensive linemen with 60 QB pressures, as he has dominated guards on the interior, while also having success moving around the defensive line. Coming into the year, there were some questions about Allen’s ability as an every-down run defender, but he performed just fine in that area, grading at 86.4 to go with his 92.8 pass-rush grade that led all interior defensive linemen. Allen should be a top-five pick in the draft, as he’s capable of contributing in multiple roles in any scheme.

2. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

We’ve already entered the part of the process where evaluators have mixed opinions on Watson. While he’s not a physical marvel as a passer, he’s shown the ability to throw with zip and touch, and can put the ball on the money on intermediate and downfield throws. Unfortunately, his accuracy and decision-making were a tick behind for much of the 2016 season, but he’s on a late-season tear for the second year in a row, and should still be very much in the mix to be the top quarterback off the board. Watson has a chance to carry Clemson through the playoff, and that will only help his chances come draft time.

3. Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

Perhaps the top wide receiver prospect in the nation, Williams is Clemson’s go-to guy on the outside. He can win down the field, where he’s caught 50 percent of his targets (11-for-22). He also does plenty of damage at the intermediate level, and he’s been outstanding on passes thrown in the 0–9-yard range, as he’s caught 34 of his 37 targets there for 328 yards. He’s capable of adding a big-play or possession element to the Clemson offense. Williams has excellent downfield ball skills and a strong frame to win in the possession game, making him a top prospect for WR-needy teams.

4. Tim Williams, Edge, Alabama

It’s all about the pass-rush with Williams, who has harassed quarterbacks at a ridiculous rate over the last three years. While the average edge rusher is getting to the quarterback 10 percent of the time, Williams has created pressure on 27 percent of his rushes over the last three seasons, and this year, his overall grade ranks 15th among edge defenders. The NFL does not know how Williams will hold up against the run, as he’s only played 146 snaps in the run game over the last three years, but his ability to create havoc off the edge puts him in the first-round mix, and he may sneak into the top-10 overall.

5. Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama

Foster looks better every time we fire up the tape, as he’s a three-down linebacker capable of contributing in all facets of the game. He can attack blocks with power, but he also has incredible agility to slip blocks and stick with shifty running backs in coverage. Foster also finishes plays with great power, and he’s shown to be a sure tackler throughout his career. With the value of the three-down linebacker perhaps higher than ever, Foster should get top-10 consideration, as he has the best combination of run-stopping and coverage ability among the nation’s linebackers.

6. Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson

With height, length, and movement skills, Tankersley is one of the nation’s best cornerbacks, and he took another step forward to grade at 87.7 overall, good for sixth in the nation. He gave up only 24 catches on 55 targets this season (43.6 percent) while intercepting three passes and breaking up eight more, good for a passer rating of 41.9 on throws into his coverage. In two-plus years of action, that passer rating sits at 41.2, so he has a large sample of strong play in coverage. At 6-foot-1, Tankersley has the length to play press-man coverage, and he moves better than many long corners, making him a fit in multiple schemes at the next level.

7. Sidney Jones, CB, Washington

It’s a deep cornerback class, and Jones has done his best to not get lost in the shuffle this season. Pac-12 quarterbacks are familiar with him, as 182 of the nation’s cornerbacks saw more targets than Jones, and 23 Pac-12 cornerbacks also had more targets, meaning he was rarely tested this season. When he did get targeted, Jones allowed a passer rating of only 42.1 into his coverage, intercepting three passes and breaking up four others. At 6-foot, Jones will be appealing to teams looking to add length to their secondary and he’s one of many cornerbacks with first-round potential in the draft.

8. Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State

Yet another 6-foot cornerback, Lattimore broke out after seeing the field for only 84 snaps coming into the season. He was targeted 41 times in 2016, allowing only 18 catches for 226 yards while picking off four passes and breaking up seven, all adding up to a passer rating of 30.2 into his coverage. Lattimore does a fine job of staying on top of receivers down the field, and his 87.2 overall grade tied for seventh in the nation this season.

9. Pat Elflein, G/C, Ohio State

Elflein moved to center this season after two strong years at guard, and after some hiccups early on, he’s settled in to rank 13th among the nation’s centers, earning an 82.2 overall grade. He does his best work in the run game, where his 84.9 grade ranked second in the country; this is in line with his work at guard, as well. Elflein will bring the versatility to play both positions to an NFL offensive line, though he gave up more pressure than most centers with two sacks, one QB hit, and 10 hurries allowed this season. Elflein’s work in the run game should be enough to make him one of the top interior offensive linemen selected in the draft, however.

10. John Ross, WR, Washington

Perhaps the most dynamic playmaker in the College Football Playoff, Ross has the deep speed and elusiveness to change the game with big plays. Already garnering comparisons to DeSean Jackson of the Washington Redskins, Ross ranked third in the nation with a passer rating of 140.3 when targeted, and he caught 54.2 percent of his deep targets, good for the 15th-highest rate in the nation. Ross is not just a one-trick deep threat, as he can create after the catch while also running routes well enough to contribute in the short game. Like the rest of the top players in the playoff, he’ll get a look as a potential first-round pick.

| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

  • Will H

    Linebackers seldom go that early unless they have a blazing first step. Foster looks great but that and the Bama curse will likely drop him though CJ Moseley may have helped that. Someone will likely get him in the lower ones. Zack Martin has made Center a star position all of a sudden so the Elflien idea isn’t bad. Don’t be surprised if Wake Forest’s Ejiofor gets into top ten consideration after the bowl season and the workouts. Looks more and more like Ziggy Ansah as the season progresses. And start telling folks the measure of a CB’s arms and get someone to test hand quickness as well as all since those seem to add up to draft level and success at that position as well as on the lines.

    • Phil

      Martin is a Right Guard bud