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Top 17 future NFL stars to watch in national championship game

Top 17 future NFL stars to watch in national championship game CFB 24/7 ...

Top 17 future NFL stars to watch in national championship game

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Top 17 future NFL stars to watch in national championship game Print
  • By Chad Reuter
  • Draft analyst
  • Published: Jan. 4, 2018 at 03:04 p.m.
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It's an All-SEC contest in the College Football Playoff national championship game, with Georgia set to take on Alabama on Jan. 8.

These two schools have combined to produce 100 draft picks since 2010. The Tide has sent 61 players to the league in those eight drafts, and has produced 39 picks over that span. So, it's no surprise that NFL scouts will again have a bounty of prospects to view at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. In honor of the conclusion of the 2017 season, here are my top 17 future NFL stars to watch in the title match.

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17. Levi Wallace, CB, Alabama

Wallace has put himself on NFL teams' radars this season. The former walk-on has more pass breakups in 2017 (15) than he had tackles in 2016 (11). The senior had six stops and two pass breakups for the Tide against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl, using his strength off the line of scrimmage to re-route receivers and make plays on the ball -- he's excelled at that throughout the fall. NFL personnel evaluators will be interested to see how Wallace handles the physical Javon Wims on the outside in this game.

16. Javon Wims, WR, Georgia

Wims has been one of the most pleasant surprises in the country this season, stepping forward to become UGA's best pass-catcher. The former junior college star caught 17 passes for 190 yards in his first year in Athens, but he leads the team in receiving this season (44-704, 7 TDs ). His 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame and strong hands make him a deadly sideline and red-zone target, as he displayed in the team's Rose Bowl win over Oklahoma. In addition to his six receptions for 73 yards and a touchdown, Wims drew a pass interference call in the end zone to set up a 2-yard Nick Chubb rushing score in the fourth quarter.

15. Isaiah Wynn, OT, Georgia

Wynn's play at left tackle this season belies his guard build (6-2, 302). The All-American again showed himself to be a brute in the run game against Oklahoma, fitting on his man and using his quick feet to stay engaged. In pass protection, his athleticism and hard work makes him difficult to beat around the edge. NFL scouts will project him as a guard because of that size, but Georgia QB Jake Fromm is happy to have the senior protecting his blind side. Wynn's ability to handle Da'Shawn Hand's strength and Rashaan Evans' speed off the edge will help determine the outcom e of this game.

14. Lorenzo Carter, LB, Georgia

Carter made one of the top plays in the Rose Bowl by leaping through a gap and blocking a field goal in the second overtime. He had made an impact before that play, however, posting 10 tackles and a half-sack for the Bulldogs. Carter hasn't put up big pass-rush numbers this season (4.5 sacks -- 14 for his career), but his athleticism at the second level gives his coaches the ability to play him in coverage as well as near the line of scrimmage. Carter will join teammate Roquan Smith in tracking Alabama's backs on early downs, as well as tracking Alabama QB Jalen Hurts to keep him from making plays with his feet.

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13. Da'Shawn Hand, DE, Alabama

Things got out of Hand at times between the Tide's stout defensive end and Clemson left tackle Mitch Hyatt in the Sugar Bowl. Even when Hyatt used his athleticism to stay in front initially, it was fairly easy for Hand to disengage and break away for a secondary rush or to make a tackle. He had five stops on the night, including a sack. Jake Fromm must unload the ball quickly if he wants to avoid big hits from Hand and the rest of the Tide's rushers.

12. Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia

The second-team All-SEC selection has proven himself a very good pass defender this season, intercepting two passes and breaking up nine others. He's wiry at 5-11, 180 pounds, but is willing to mix it up with receivers downfield and to do his part stopping the run on the edge. Oklahoma back Trey Sermon bulldozed him o n one play in the Rose Bowl, but in most situations, Baker is able to square up and bring backs down. Scouts are looking forward to any matchups between Calvin Ridley and Baker during the title game; if Baker can stay with the quick Alabama receiver through the course of the paly, it will gain him fans in the scouting community.

11. Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia

This true freshman played with poise against a tough Oklahoma defense in the Rose Bowl. His decision-making was nearly flawless, and his combination of arm strength and accuracy was impressive. Fromm's tall, thick frame allowed him to stand in the pocket and complete 20 of 29 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns. Scouts also like that he is playing in a pro-style system, working under center as well as in the shotgun, and making multiple reads as a true freshman. He'll face a much tougher test from Alabama's defense, though. If Fromm can play well again, he will earn 2018 Heisman run this su mmer and affix himself to NFL teams' radars as a future top prospect at the position.

10. Damien Harris, RB, Alabama

Harris has been the most reliable back for Alabama this season, although Clemson's defense kept him in check for most of the Sugar Bowl, limiting him to 77 yards on 19 carries and just 4 yards on 2 receptions. He must take some of the pressure off Jalen Hurts against Georgia, however, if the Tide is to move the ball effectively. Harris is not as flashy as Sony Michel or as well-known as Nick Chubb, but his ability to pick through traffic and accelerate has burned many defenses. Add in excellent balance and a thick frame, and Harris has the look of a NFL feature back.

9. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

Chubb's power came in handy against Oklahoma, as he carried the ball 14 times for 145 yards and two scores. When he hits the open field, it's not easy to catch him. While he's not as speedy and agile as tea mmate Sony Michel, Chubb will pound the ball and make defenses pay for not maintaining gap discipline. During the last game between Alabama and Georgia (October 2015), Chubb had 146 yards and a score on 20 carries against the Tide. Michel had 54 yards in that contest, and both need to excel again if they want to beat Nick Saban's group.

8. Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama

Da'Ron was a Payne in Clemson's neck in the Sugar Bowl. He made only two tackles, but he showed nice hand-eye coordination to grab an interception, then rumbled for 21 yards. A few plays later, Alabama coaches lined Payne up in the backfield on a goal-line play, and then sent him out on a rub route. He showed nimble feet and good hands on a touchdown reception that helped put Clemson away. Aside from the atypical plays Payne made, his ability to hold up multiple blockers to stuff plays inside is always a factor.

7. Sony Michel, RB, Georgia

I'll stand by my statement from last week: Michel is the most explosive back in the 2018 class. He ran over Oklahoma for 181 yards and three scores, including the game-winner, and also caught four passes for 41 yards and a touchdown. Michel had some big holes to run through, sure, but his speed and agility shined. A rare fumble nearly cost his team the win, but he showed up in pass protection and as an offensive weapon for the rest of the game. He could be viewed as the Alvin Kamara-type dual threat of this class, but he won't last until the third round like Kamara did.

6. Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama

Harrison didn't have to make a lot of plays against Clemson because his teammates in the front seven took care of business. He had two tackles and a pass breakup but made another important hit that didn't make the stat sheet. Harrison used his patented downhill speed to fly into the backfield on one blitz, hitting quarterback Kelly Bryant to prevent a big com pletion. Harrison is a physical and relentless force.

5. Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

Evans led the Tide with 9 tackles against Clemson, making plays vs. the run and pass. He brought down QB Kelly Bryant for a sack on one play, but also chased the quarterback and other ball carriers regularly. The leader of Alabama's hurting linebacker corps did his job, and will have to do so again against Georgia QB Jake Fromm and his stud backs.

4. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

Ridley led Alabama with four catches for 39 yards and a touchdown against Clemson. The only time he was targeted and didn't make a catch was on a leaping attempt down the middle of the field. An outstanding play by Tigers safety Van Smith caused an incompletion. On that play, Ridley showed off his elite body control, contorting himself into position to make a grab after going up to high-point the ball. He also showed great acceleration and quickness on his routes through out the game, and Ridley's touchdown catch came on a scramble drill where he gave Jalen Hurts a chance to find him in the end zone. Smith's ability to knock away the deep ball does bring up a potential concern about Ridley's ability to fight with veteran defensive backs downfield. Scouts will still believe, however, that he will have a bigger impact in the NFL than he did in Alabama's run-oriented offense.

3. Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama

Williams' first year at left tackle has gone well enough to earn All-American honors. Williams generally controlled the action against an excellent opponent in his matchup with the talented Clemson defensive line. Georgia's linebackers will also test the sophomore's agility in pass protection, and Williams will have to get the job done for Alabama to run the ball effectively against the Bulldogs' front seven.

2. Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

Smith looked the part of t he Butkus Award winner against Oklahoma. He spied quarterback Baker Mayfield, attacked running backs inside when free, and performed his typical magic by attacking plays to the outside. Smith will likely be in charge of keeping Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts' runs contained, as well. His lack of bulk caused him issues at times against the Sooners, as he struggled to get off blocks. But when his D-line did their jobs in keeping his jersey clean, his speed, instincts and aggressiveness showed why he will be an immediate starting inside 'backer at the next level.

1. Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

Fitzpatrick was moving all over the field against Clemson. He primarily lined up outside and in the slot as a blitzer, making three stops, one for loss, and a pass breakup. That versatility, and his ability to lead a secondary, makes him a highly rated prospect. He will likely have to make even more plays to beat a balanced Georgia offense, especially against the play-action game that can be quite deadly against an aggressive squad like the Tide.



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