Alabama vs Clemson for the National Championship Game. It is going to be a star-studded affair as many, and I mean many 2019 draft prospects will be in action. There could potentially be five to eight first rounds picks alone suiting up tonight with many more back-end prospects in play as well.
Here is a positional breakdown of all the potential 2019 draft picks who will play in the CFP National Championship.
This is where all the money is at – Tua Tagovailoa vs Trevor Lawrence. Unfortunately, the NFL is going to have to wait at least a year or two until the duo are eligible for the NFL Draft. Still, the quarterback battle will be fun to watch. Tagovailoa threw for over 3600 yards with 41 touchdowns to just four interceptions in his sophomore year and Lawrence was equally as impressive, throwing 27 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Alabama now have a pair of emerging running backs to keep an eye on after Josh Jacobs burst onto the scene against Oklahoma in the CFP semi-finals. Jacobs has seen his draft stock rise over the last month or so and it may have peaked with his display against the Sooners. At 5’11 and 215 pounds, Jacobs is a wrecking ball, breaking defense’s wills as he smashes them into submission. He is a back capable of breaking many tackles and has the natural strength and balance to be a yards after contact machine at the next level.
While Jacobs may have stolen some of his spotlight, Alabama running back Damien Harris is still a mighty fine prospect. The senior running back is built in a similar fashion to his running mate and possesses some of the same qualities such as strength and balance but I do think Harris has the better feel for running lanes. In four seasons at ‘Bama, Harris has rushed for over 3000 yards, averaging 6.5 yards per carry.
Like their quarterbacks, majority of Alabama and Clemson’s wide receivers are at least a year or two away from being draft eligible, though they are oozing with potential once they get there. That leaves us with Clemson wider receiver Hunter Renfrow to focus on.
Renfrow has made a living out of the slot, as he showed once again with four receptions and 62 yards against Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. He is very nifty and quick and has excellent hands which make him a reliable option. Renfrow has been in this position before, catching the game winning touchdown against Alabama the last time these two teams met in the National Championship game. He also has a date with the upcoming Senior Bowl and could be a mid to late round pick.
Alabama tight end Irv Smith Jr. has the potential to creep up draft boards as he is an exceptional athlete at the position. The 2018 season was his first taste at being a go-to receiver and Smith Jr. showed that he can get it done with 40 receptions for 667 yards, averaging 16.7 yards per catch. He is NFL ready when it comes to being a receiving tight end, showing the ability to be an intermediate and vertical threat while also winning many contested catch battles. His blocking needs work but he may be able to see the field immediately at the next level thanks to his receiving skills. Early day two is where I would project Smith Jr.
Bama offensive tackle Jonah Williams is the cream of the crop in this game as he is projected to be one of the first tackles taken in the 2019 Draft. As he is big enough to stand his ground in pass protection and athletic enough to be a mauler in the run game, Williams looks to be one of the most plug and play ready tackles in this year’s draft. If he goes out there tonight and holds his own against Clemson pass rusher Clelin Ferrell, he could be the first tackle off the board.
Clemson has an impressive tackle of their own in Mitch Hyatt who has been their starter for the last four seasons. Hyatt does come with a handful of technical difficulties that he will have to improve on and as a result, could slip to rounds 3-5. His showing against the talented Alabama defensive line will also be instrumental in determining his draft stock.
Ross Pierschbacher has also done a fine job as Alabama’s center and has earned an invite to the upcoming Senior Bowl as well. Just like the rest of his offensive line mates, his performance tonight will go a long way to determine his projections.
Here is where all the money lies, as both Alabama and Clemson have some of the top 2019 Draft prospects on their defensive lines.
Like he was against Oklahoma, Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams is the clear-cut best prospect on the field today. He’s quick, strong, powerful and almost downright unstoppable in the trenches. He finished 2018 with 18 tackles for a loss and eight sacks as he was a force as both a pass rusher and run stopper. Look for Williams to be one of the first players selected in the 2019 Draft.
Clemson will counter with an impressive defensive tackle of their own in Christian Wilkins. The 300-pound tackle moves exceptionally well for his size and always seems to find his way in the backfield with 35 tackles for a loss and 13.5 sacks over his last three seasons. He had half a sack against Notre Dame and could solidify his status as a first round pick with another strong showing against Alabama.
The most intriguing player on the defensive line might be Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell, who finished with 10.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for a loss this season. Ferrell is quick off the edge and has a variety of tools such as a rip and swim move aided by hiss nifty hand technique. He is also coming off a performance against Notre Dame in which he had a sack and a pass defense. He may very well be one of the first handful of pass rushers taken in the 2019 Draft.
Alabama has a few other defensive line prospects who could very well be first to second round picks themselves. Raekwon Davis may join Williams as first round selections as he has done an exceptional job beside him on the defensive line. Davis, also a defensive tackle, is massive, at 6’7 and 315 pounds. He could be a dominant 3-4 nose tackle at the next level.
Defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs led Alabama in sacks this season with 9.5 sacks. He benefitted greatly from Williams and Davis’ talent but there is still a big role for him at the next level. I believe he could be effective in either a 4-3 or 3-4 as he has the size and tools to mold into the job requirement at hand. Day two seems to be the day where Buggs will find an NFL team calling.
Lastly, Clemson defensive end Austin Bryant is riding a rocket to NFL fame right now after finishing with two sacks against Notre Dame and 8.5 sacks on the year. Bryant has recorded 17 sacks and 29.5 tackles for a loss over his past two seasons. Bryant does not have one standalone talent but has tools to work with. He moves quite well in space, shows ability with his hands and has raw strength. There still is some room for growth though with Bryant.
*Clemson DE Dexter Lawrence will not play due to suspension but he is also a highly talented prospect.*
Mack Wilson is the man in the middle for Bama, recording 65 tackles and 4.5 tackles for a loss this season. Wilson is one of the more talented inside linebackers in this year’s class and has late day one – early day two potential. He does need some polish as he sometimes struggles with strength fighting through the trenches but he is a natural athlete in coverage and has a very high ceiling. Wilson is the modern linebacker NFL teams are looking for.
Tre Lamar is Clemson’s best linebacker prospect. Lamar leaves no questions unanswered when it comes to his ability to defend against the run as he is a downhill, thumper type linebacker. His work in coverage needs some seasoning but he should still hear his name called sometime during day two.
Alabama outside linebacker Christian Miller is questionable to play as of right now but should he suit up, he will bring some threatening pass rush skills. Miller now has eight sacks this season after notching a sack in the Orange Bowl before exiting with an injury. The senior outside linebacker has strong violent arms and a quick release off the line. Could be an intriguing mid round selection for a team looking for a 3-4 OLB.
On the opposite end of Miller is Anfernee Jennings, who is more of a run stopper than pass rusher. He has just 6.5 sacks over his NCAA career and should be a late round pick should he declare.
Deionte Thompson is arguably the best safety in this year’s class. In his first year starting, Thompson had 70 tackles, two interceptions and three forced fumbles. What makes Thompson so impressive is his combination of physicality and athleticism, as he has no problem coming downfield to help in the run or to disrupt the pass. Thompson looks to be the next big rookie safety prospect in the NFL and is a lock to be a first round pick.
Should Clemson safety/linebacker Isaiah Simmons declare for the draft, he projects as a day two selection. Simmons transitioned from safety to linebacker this season and with his size (225 pounds), he may strictly be an in the box safety or moneybacker at the next level. Ultimately though, I think it is a role that Simmons can perform quite well in as he will bring additional help against the run and could be a matchup problem for many offenses.
Clemson cornerback Trayvon Mullen brings one measurable to the table that will make defensive back coaches fall in love with him – his 6’2 height. Mullen is as physical as corners come but he struggled this season to build on his 2017 campaign where he recorded three interceptions. He is a corner who has a lot of physical tools to work with but lacks in the ball skills department with zero interceptions and three pass defenses this season. For his tools alone, Mullen will be a mid-round pick.