Projecting 2019 NFL Draft Stock of CFB Title Game's Biggest Stars
NFL scouts will be flocking to the College Football Playoff National Championship on Monday to watch the plethora of talent playing for the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide and No. 2 Clemson Tigers. There are going to be plenty of prospects to keep an eye on, including a potential No. 1 overall pick.
Both Alabama and Clemson won their semifinal matchups convincingly Saturday, in large part thanks to the contributions of players who aren't even draft-eligible. Quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence still have some time before they can play Sundays, but the rest of their rosters are loaded with talent who will be playing in the NFL in 2019.
Head coach Nick Saban's team produces NFL players every season, but Tigers coach Dabo Swinney has some stars of his own, with the likes of Deshaun Watson and Mike Williams quickly making names for themselves. Clemson's senior class features a number of players who are expected to hear their names called early in April's draft in Nashville, Tennessee.
The draft process is only just beginning for a lot of these young men, but as they head into the biggest college football game of the year, here are their current draft projections based on a combination of dissecting game tape and studying the analysis of trusted draft experts.
Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama
No one's draft stock has improved more than Williams' during the 2018 season. A goal-line specialist as a redshirt freshman last season, Williams earned a starting role this year and has looked like the most dominant defensive lineman in the country.
Williams wins his assignments thanks to his ridiculous upper-body strength, hand placement/technique to disengage blockers and a relentless motor. His athleticism and 6'4", 295-pound frame help him get skinny to shoot gaps and disrupt plays in the backfield.
He may not be the most unstoppable pass-rusher, but Williams has All-Pro potential written all over him as an interior defensive lineman. Nick Bosa is still the favorite to be first overall in the 2019 draft, but another big outing from Williams against Clemson and a solid predraft process could have the Alabama prospect move into that spot.
Clelin Ferrell, EDGE, Clemson
Edge-rushers are in high demand in today's NFL, and Clelin Ferrell has an opportunity to further establish himself as a top-two prospect at the position.
Ferrell has been a nightmare for offensive lines and quarterbacks this season, racking up 11.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss in 14 games. Scouts will be drooling over an edge-rusher with Ferrell's lengthy 6'5", 260-pound frame, but he's so much more than a prospect with the ideal body type.
Ferrell wins with his hand placement, arm extension and variety of countermoves to disengage blockers, whether he's rushing the passer or defending the run. He doesn't have the elite bend that some NFL edge-rushers possess, but his play strength, athletic ability and football IQ allow him to generate pressure in the backfield on a consistent basis.
Ferrell looks more comfortable exploding off the snap with his hand in the dirt but should still develop nicely as a stand-up edge-rusher in the right scheme. A strong combine showing in Indianapolis should help solidify Ferrell's status.
Deionte Thompson, S, Alabama
Thompson was in the spotlight for the wrong reason during the Tide's 45-34 victory in the Orange Bowl on Saturday. He was caught looking in the backfield and let Oklahoma's Charleston Rambo get behind him for a deep touchdown pass from Kyler Murray. While the play wasn't ideal, Thompson's skill set is still worthy of a top-10 selection.
The 6'2", 196-pound Alabama safety showcases great length and speed for the position. When the play is in front of him, Thompson does a great job of getting downhill and shows good aggressiveness and willingness to make the tackle.
As we saw in the Orange Bowl, Thompson can get caught staring too long at the quarterback's eyes instead of tracking receivers in his area. There have been times in his college career when his aggressiveness has hurt him with penalties and mental errors. However, Thompson checks all of the boxes when it comes to his physical tools and athleticism.
His stock may not be as high as it was to start the year, but he's still the top safety prospect in this draft class.
Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama
A three-year starting offensive tackle for the Tide, Jonah Williams has firmly established himself as the top offensive lineman in this draft class. Even a lackluster performance in the national championship likely won't change that.
Although Williams (6'5", 301 lbs) doesn't have the ideal arm length for an NFL offensive tackle, everything else about his game screams first-round pick. He's a technician when it comes to his pass sets, hand placement and awareness to recognizes blitzes or stunts. He's a very good athlete with the balance, play strength and anchor to maintain pocket integrity, especially against the bull rush.
Some teams may be a little anxious drafting an offensive tackle without the ideal length, but Williams will be a reliable starter for years to come once he finds his NFL home.
Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson
Lawrence, one of the most talented defensive linemen in the country, was in the news for the wrong reason this past week when he was suspended for the Cotton Bowl because of a positive drug test. NFL teams will do their due diligence on the situation, but it definitely didn't help his draft stock.
Putting the suspension aside, Lawrence's game on the field is worthy of first-round consideration. You won't find many defensive line prospects at 6'4" and 350 pounds who are able to get off the snap quite like Lawrence.
Lawrence can be a tough assignment for any offensive lineman, and he can be disruptive as a pass-rusher with his strength and countermoves. Consistency is still an issue for Lawrence, but the right team in need of a big defensive tackle will have a hard time passing on him.
Raekwon Davis, DL, Alabama
In such a crowded group of defensive linemen, Davis was expected to be at the top heading into this season. While Quinnen Williams has stolen the spotlight a bit from Davis, the talented Crimson Tide prospect should still be a first-round pick.
It's not common to see a 6'7" defensive lineman consistently win the leverage battle like Davis. Thanks to that size and his length, Davis does a good job of keeping himself extended so that he can disengage at the right time to make a play.
While Davis is far from the most explosive athlete in this DL class, his size, strength (306 lbs) and technique will make him an appealing prospect later in the first round for a team that is looking for a menacing 3- or 5-technique.
Trayvon Mullen, CB, Clemson
LSU's Greedy Williams and Georgia's Deandre Baker top the list of cornerback prospects in this draft class, but Mullen has been shooting up boards across the league. He's firmly established himself as a first-round prospect despite a less than ideal performance in the Cotton Bowl against Notre Dame.
Length is a common trait among the prospects listed here, and that's the case for Mullen, who still has some room to grow into his 6'1", 195-pound frame. His play speed and hip fluidity, which allows him to stay in phase with receivers downfield, are what make him stand out. What I love most about Mullen is his aggressiveness and willingness to get dirty in run support or on special teams.
Mullen can get a bit too grabby at times, which is an issue we've seen with young defensive backs in the NFL before. With the right coaching, however, Mullen has a chance to be one of the league's top shutdown corners.
Mack Wilson, LB, Alabama
Wilson, one of my favorite prospects in this upcoming draft, can be overlooked at times with all of the talent surrounding him on Alabama's defense. NFL teams are still paying attention to him, however, because he has first-round potential written all over him.
Wilson possesses natural instincts and consistently shows a good first step toward the play. At 6'2", 239 pounds, he doesn't possess elite size or length to help him disengage from blockers, but he has an excellent base to generate power through his hips at the point of contact when engaging those blockers in order to constrict his gap and minimize rushing lanes.
Explosiveness and closing speed are some of Wilson's best traits, but sometimes, he can be overaggressive and take poor angles toward the ball-carrier.
Teams looking for someone willing to take on blockers and help his teammates make plays will have a hard time passing on Wilson.
Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama
Coming into the Orange Bowl, Jacobs ranked third on the team in total carries. Head coach Nick Saban loves a running back ace up his sleeve for the postseason (hello, Bo Scarbrough), and Jacobs—15 carries for 198 yards, four catches for 60 yards and a touchdown—was the next iteration of that.
Anyone who watched Alabama thrash Oklahoma saw Jacobs' rare skill set. Not only does Jacobs have some great lateral agility to make defenders miss in open space, but he also has the play strength and balance to finish through contact.
Jacobs has established himself in the race for RB1. A strong predraft process will likely vault him into the first round.
Christian Wilkins, DL, Clemson
If you love a draft prospect who's just as good of a human being off the field as a player on the field, then you're going to love Wilkins. Part of a Clemson senior class that already has 54 victories, Wilkins is a proven winner.
The coaching for the Tigers defensive line has been phenomenal. Wilkins and others all posses surprisingly refined technique in the trenches. Wilkins uses that technique regardless of where he lines up, and he does a great job of disengaging and shooting gaps to wreak havoc in the backfield.
Like Jacobs, Wilkins is on the edge of being a first-round prospect. There's a good chance a team needing a versatile defensive lineman will take him early, especially if an organization falls in love with him during interviews.
Irv Smith Jr., TE, Alabama
Smith is one of the more complete tight end prospects in college football, and while he only had two receptions for 19 yards against Oklahoma, his run blocking stood out.
Smith is an athletic tight end with good size at 6'4" and 246 pounds. His versatility is what's going to make him a potential first-round pick. He can showcase his pass-catching skills and his ability to opening rushing lanes as a blocker.
Although Smith isn't the shiftiest tight end, his athleticism and determination are going to give Iowa's Noah Fant a run for his money as TE1.
Tre Lamar, LB, Clemson
Anyone who has the size of Tre Lamar (6'4", 250 lbs) at inside linebacker is going to get a nice long look from NFL scouts. He's not the flashiest player, but some old-school defensive coordinators will be begging their front offices to draft the Clemson prospect.
Lamar is a wrecking ball between the tackles, using his size and play strength to disrupt running plays and would-be blockers. When he sees an opening, Lamar makes sure to attack it.
The issues with Lamar are his lack of agility and sideline-to-sideline range. He's going to struggle trying to drop into coverage against NFL-caliber speed, but his abilities against the run could see him as an early-down linebacker in the league.
Damien Harris, RB, Alabama
Damien Harris was a very popular name as an RB prospect prior to the 2018 NFL draft but decided to stay another season at Alabama. His stock may not be as high as it was last season, but Harris will still be a safe pick for any team looking for help in the backfield.
The Crimson Tide senior isn't as flashy as his counterpart Josh Jacobs, but Harris is still a very good all-around back who checks all of the boxes necessary to succeed in the NFL. He has good to very good balance, vision, lateral quickness, burst and the ability to finish runs through contact.
He may not have any truly elite traits, but Harris is a good bet to be taken in the second or third round and contribute to a team looking to add another running back to its committee.
Hunter Renfrow, WR, Clemson
After approximately 25 years at Clemson, Hunter Renfrow is finally ready to graduate. From a 150-pound walk-on freshman to a national champion, Renfrow may actually get a chance to hear his name called in the NFL draft.
Limited by his small stature (5'10", 180 lbs) and lack of top-end speed, Renfrow can still win at the next level with his ability to create separation at the route stem and his consistently reliable hands. It's hard not to love Renfrow's story, and there's a real possibility someone will take a chance on him late in the draft to see if he can become an NFL-level playmaker.
Anfernee Jennings, EDGE, Alabama
The "edge" position is typically associated with someone who can bend the edge and consistently put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Alabama's Anfernee Jennings isn't a traditional edge-rusher but more of an edge-"setter."
While Jennings isn't an explosive athlete, he's a powerful prospect who does a great job keeping outside containment with arm extension and hand usage. He can still put pressure on quarterbacks with his strength and technique but excels at batting passes down (10 pass deflections in 2018) when he can't get there.
This is an extremely talented class of players on the edge, so Jennings will have a hard time standing out. Still, with the right team, Jennings has an opportunity to be a very reliable player in the league.
Austin Bryant, EDGE, Clemson
While Clelin Ferrell is getting serious consideration as one of the top edge-rushers in the country, his counterpart Austin Bryant isn't getting nearly as much attention. Fortunately for Bryant, he probably helped himself quite a bit with his two-sack performance against Notre Dame.
Bryant isn't nearly the athlete Ferrell is, showing some stiffness and adequate lateral agility that will hurt his grade with a lot of NFL teams. Still, Bryant has good play strength, a massive frame and a motor that will help him earn a chance at the next level.
Isaiah Buggs, DL, Alabama
Quinnen Williams and Raekwon Davis have made it difficult for Isaiah Buggs to get national recognition despite his productive season with the Crimson Tide.
Buggs is a disruptive lineman who can be moved around. Despite his athleticism, he's not as technically refined as his teammates, and his competitive toughness isn't as consistent as scouts would like to see.
Pre-draft workouts, interviews and his performance at the Senior Bowl could help or hurt Buggs in a big way in the coming months and determine whether he moves up on draft boards.
Kendall Joseph, LB, Clemson
Part of Clemson's talented senior class, Kendall Joseph has been one of the Tigers' true leaders on defense. He hasn't been as productive as he was in 2017, but Joseph is still a likable draft prospect.
Joseph showcases great football IQ and relays what he sees to his teammates. His biggest issues are his adequate play strength and inconsistent base when attacking blockers, which gets him washed out of gaps and opens up rushing lanes.
Athletically, Joseph isn't going to wow any scouts, but his feel for the game and experience with a championship program will help him get a chance in the NFL.