Sugar Bowl 2018: Predictions for Top Prospects in Clemson vs. Alabama

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistDecember 26, 2017

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 23: Calvin Ridley #3 of the 'nAlabama Crimson Tide runs after a catch during a game against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vanderbilt Stadium on September 23, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. Alabama won 59-0. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

It's not surprising two teams battling for a spot in the national championship game are loaded with elite pro prospects, like which is the case for Alabama and Clemson.

The 2018 Sugar Bowl represents the third straight postseason battle between these two squads, with the previous two versions deciding a national title. Although many of the names have changed, there are still top players who will make this a high-level battle.

NFL teams will likely be looking at the defensive side of the ball more than offense, but the stars could stand out regardless of where they line up.


Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 23: Minkah Fitzpatrick #29 of the Alabama Crimson Tide in action during a game against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vanderbilt Stadium on September 23, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. Alabama won 59-0. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty I
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

While Minkah Fitzpatrick could be the best player on either side of the ball in this game, you might not hear his name called all that often.

The safety ranks just fifth on the team in tackles and has only one interception, but his all-around game was enough to earn the Thorpe award as the best defensive back and the Bednarik as the best defensive player in the country.

Even with modest statistics, his coverage ability is nearly unmatched in college football. If Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant is smart, he will do everything he can to keep the ball away from Fitzpatrick.

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller has had high praise of the defensive back since early in the season:

Miller more recently called him one of the safest players in the entire class.

Fitzpatrick will be a valuable part of the Sugar Bowl to slow down the Clemson passing attack, but don't expect an interception or many tackles.


Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson

Richard Shiro/Associated Press

The strength of Clemson is its defensive line, and much of that comes from the play of Christian Wilkins.

At 6'4", 300 pounds, the junior has the size to clog lanes but also enough agility to get into the backfield on a regular basis. This will be key against an Alabama rushing attack that averages 265.3 yards per game on the ground.

He is excited about the opportunity to take on the Tide.

"I know they’re going to be amped up to play us and everything too, so it’s going to be one of those situations where it’s like, 'Alright. Come on. Let’s bring it,'" Wilkins said earlier this month, per Grace Raynor of the Post and Courier.

Wilkins had 8.5 tackles for loss this year, and he should be able to get a couple more against this opponent.


Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

After missing a couple of games at the start of the year with a groin injury, Rashaan Evans is seemingly back to full strength, which is bad for Clemson.

The versatile linebacker can work as a middle linebacker, covering sideline to sideline against the run. He also sometimes lines up on the outside, rushing the quarterback and disrupting the opposing passing attack.

NFL coaching staffs will have the option of using him however they see fit, although his work against the run will likely be the most important in this game.

Clemson has a multi-headed rushing attack with a quality offensive line blocking the way. Evans will struggle at times to get through Mitch Hyatt and Tyrone Crowder, but he should still approach double-digit tackles in this one.


Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson

Gerry Broome/Associated Press

Clemson won last year's national championship game, but it allowed 31 points thanks in part to the inability to stop Jalen Hurts.

Not only did he score the go-ahead touchdown on a 30-yard run, he also avoided taking any sacks in the loss. The Tigers might not be able to survive a similar stat line this time around.

Austin Bryant will be able to help, but Clelin Ferrell is the man who must step up for Clemson on the outside. He had 8.5 sacks this season, enough to earn him status as a second-team All-American by the Associated Press.

If he wants to be a first-round pick in the upcoming draft, though, he will need to showcase his ability against top offensive line talent like on Alabama. Ferrell should succeed in this matchup, picking up at least one sack and a few hurries against Hurts.


Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 16:  Calvin Ridley #3 of the Alabama Crimson Tide rushes in for a touchdown against the Colorado State Rams at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 16, 2017 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The quarterbacks on both teams are likely to return next season, leaving Calvin Ridley as the top offensive prospect to watch in this game.

Although Alabama doesn't run the type of offense that allows for big numbers at receiver, Ridley remains a threat with 55 catches for 896 yards on the season. In three years in Tuscaloosa, he has 216 catches for 2,710 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Jonah Tuls of NDT Scouting had high praise of the junior:

Ridley is dangerous with the ball in his hands, and the coaching staff should look to give him as many opportunities as possible to beat this defense. Considering the talent on the defensive line, there will likely be plenty of quick passes his way.

A reasonable projection is about six catches for 80 yards and a touchdown from the talented wideout.


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