Top 5 NFL draft prospects in Alabama-Clemson national title game
The final game in college football is often a showcase event for top prospects, and this year is no different. Performing on the big stage can often alter draft stock for better or for worse, even if it’s only one game in a much larger sample size for the player.
This year’s rematch between Clemson and Alabama is loaded with NFL Draft talent, with Clemson’s offense and Alabama’s defense the biggest matchup to watch on a field littered with future NFL players. Here are the top prospects in this year’s College Football Playoff national championship game:
1. Jonathan Allen, DI, Alabama
The PFF Best Player Award winner, Allen became a superstar this season, leading all interior defensive linemen with a 92.8 pass-rush grade. His 64 total pressures also lead the way (11 sacks, 12 hits, 41 hurries), and he was unblockable while moving around the defensive front for the Crimson Tide.
He took on more of a full-time role this season, playing more snaps against the run than he had previously, and he excelled in that area as well, destroying blockers and finishing plays consistently. His run-stop percentage of 12.4 percent ranks fifth among interior defensive linemen.
In the semifinal against Washington, Allen was once again the best player on the defensive side for Alabama, and he has a chance to cap his college career with one more marquee game before moving to potential top-five status in the NFL draft.
2. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Draft season may look like a roller coaster for Watson’s draft stock, but the reality is he’s an outstanding college player who scouts are not currently sold on as top overall pick material. From an on-field production standpoint, Watson has been one of the best in the nation for two years now, and while he may not have lived up to his massive expectations this season, he is still the nation’s No. 2-graded passer since Week 9.
As we saw against Ohio State in the semifinal, Watson can put the ball in harm’s way as he has 17 interceptions on the year and that’s a legitimate total as he’s seen an uptick in his turnover-worthy throws this season. However, even in games in which he’s made big mistakes, Watson has shown the amnesia needed to bounce back and still make big plays down the stretch. He has the zip and touch to get the ball down the field, though his accuracy has been inconsistent this season, and he still has to do a better job of making throws under pressure.
In last year’s CFP Title game, Watson had an outstanding performance against a loaded Alabama defense, and he has the chance to do the same this week. It may take another Vince Young-like performance to push Watson back up into the top of the first-round mix for scouts, although we still see him as a viable option at the top of the draft.
3. Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
Battling for the top spot among receivers in the draft, Williams has the size, body control, and downfield ball skills to make plays at all levels of the field. He’s Watson’s favorite target, and the pair have a great connection in the vertical game, either on downfield “go” routes or back-shoulder throws off of them.
Williams can use his size to win as a possession receiver, doing a nice job of using his frame to create windows on slants and posts, but it’s his big-play ability that will have the NFL intrigued. He’s capable of making spectacular catches down the field, winning at the catch point, and adding a big-play element to an offense that has a quarterback willing to give him opportunities to make plays. Currently our No. 2 receiver on the PFF Draft Board, Williams has a chance to move to the No. 1 spot during the draft process.
4. Tim Williams, Edge, Alabama
Perhaps the best pure pass-rusher in the nation, Williams has been a specialist during his career at Alabama, creating pressure on 27 percent of his snaps, while the average edge defender is getting pressure on about 10 percent of their rushes. Williams has the burst off the edge to challenge offensive tackles, but also the power to bull rush and push the pocket.
The questions for Williams have generally been in the run game where he has rarely had an opportunity to contribute, but he played more snaps against the run this year and showed the ability to play with power and shed blocks. Williams is a first-round prospect on his pass-rushing ability alone, and if he does develop as a run defender, it’s just an added bonus for his future team.
5. Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
A tradition of great Alabama linebackers continues with Foster, who is right there with the previous inside linebackers who have come through the program and contributed in the NFL. He has the quickness and power to slip blocks in the running game, and he closes on ball-carriers in a hurry. That skill set has Foster leading the nation with a 91.7 grade against the run and a run-stop percentage of 16.1 percent that leads all inside linebackers.
Foster is also strong in coverage – he tied for the national lead with seven pass breakups in 2015 – and his 87.3 coverage grade ranks fifth in the nation. Foster is a three-down linebacker, and more than ever, the NFL needs linebackers who can play the run, drop into coverage and make an impact as a blitzer.