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College Football Playoff Preview: Top draft prospects to watch

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Alabama at Florida Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The College Football Playoffs feature the best teams in the country with Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Notre Dame vying for the championship. Unsurprisingly, these four squads are loaded with top level prospects on both sides of the ball. Here are the top NFL Draft prospects at every position in the playoffs.

Quarterback

Trevor Lawrence, Clemson: Not much more can be said about Trevor Lawrence that hasn’t already been said. He is the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck. Despite having a somewhat below-par third season, by his standards, he still checks all the boxes for a franchise quarterback. The playoffs will provide a great chance to end his phenomenal college career on a high note.

Justin Fields, Ohio State: In any other draft, Justin Fields would be the clear-cut QB1. Fields is an accurate, strong armed passer with great athleticism to boot. Fields had a rough outing in his last game against Northwestern and will be looking to erase that performance from memory with a strong playoff showing.

Mac Jones, Alabama: Mac Jones has mounted a tremendous 2020 season that has garnered Heisman-hype. Jones has taken full advantage of the bevy of talent around him and has put up great numbers every week. Jones’ strengths are in his smarts as a passer, both in terms of taking care of the football and reading coverages. Any time a QB can run an offense efficiently, it is a big credit to their ability as a facilitator. Jones isn’t a physically gifted passer the way Lawnrece and Fields are, but his play this season has some people wondering if he could lead an NFL offense.

Ian Book, Notre Dame: Ian Book won’t get nearly the draft recognition as his playoff peers, but he is certainly an interesting quarterback. Book is a good athlete who has flashed aggressiveness as a passer and generally plays with a tough, calm demeanor. Book is a guy who can go late in the draft and make a career as a back up.

Running Back

Travis Etienne, Clemson: Travis Etienne would have been the first running back off the board last year and he will contend to be the top ball carrier in the 2021 draft. Due to a shortened schedule, Etienne hasn’t put up the crazy numbers we are used to from the speedster. Nonetheless, Etienne is still a home run hitter who can score from anywhere on the field or formation.

Najee Harris, Alabama: Where Etienne’s numbers waned, Najee Harris has put unfathomable numbers up. Harris has run for 24 touchdowns and caught 3 more. He is producing at an insane level and the efficiency is hard to comprehend. Harris is a big, bruising back with deceptive speed and agility. The fact that Harris can also make such a difference in the passing game makes him a multifaceted weapon who keeps defenses guessing how he could get the ball.

Trey Sermon, Ohio State: After a solid stint at Oklahoma, Trey Sermon was a difference maker in the Ohio State backfield. Sermon is a classic power back who forces defenders to strap in if they want to try to bring him down. Sermon is a hard runner with a blend of vision and patience that keeps the whole field open for him.

Wide Receiver

Devonta Smith, Alabama: Devonta Smith has been the best player in the country this year. Full stop. He has been a touchdown machine and his big play ability has opened up the rest of the Alabama offense. While he isn’t the biggest or the fastest receiver, he is a technician at the position and plays tough as hell. Smith’s also incredibly consistent, meaning he’ll have some great play ready for the playoffs.

Chris Olave, Ohio State: Chris Olave has been the top threat for Ohio State in the passing game the last two years. Olave’s blend of speed, route running and ball skills make him one of the better pure deep threats in the country. His absence against Northwestern was obvious as the Wildcats were able to condense the field against OSU. He’s back for the playoffs now and has a shot to show off his speed on the biggest stage in the country.

Javon McKinley, Notre Dame: Notre Dame isn’t throwing the ball the way OSU or Alabama is this year, but Javon McKinely makes the most of every reception. The 6’2” pass catcher has averaged over 17 yards a catch this year on 40 receptions. He will be facing some excellent cornerbacks this postseason, so he will need to show out big time.

Amari Rodgers, Clemson: With Tee Higgins in the NFL and Justyn Ross recovering from injury, Amari Rodgers has stepped up for Clemson’s passing game. At 5’10” and 210 pounds, Rodgers is built like a running back and plays like one with the ball in his hands. He is a tough receiver who is hard to bring down after the catch. He can make plays at every level of the field.

Offensive Line

Liam Eichenberg, Notre Dame: Liam Eichenberg is a longtime starter on the left side of the Irish line. The 6’6” redshirt season has great size, length and athleticism for the position. He is a polished pass blocker with room to grow in the running game. He will have a big challenge against the Alabama front.

Alex Leatherwood, Alabama: With experience at guard and tackle, Alex Leatherwood will be valued for versatility in the NFL. Despite a slightly underwhelming final season at Alabama, it is clear Leatherwood is a talented player who just needs to improve from a technical standpoint. The 6’6” blocker is a strong, athletic player and could impress against top competition in the playoffs.

Defensive Line

Christian Barmore, Alabama: Alabama didn’t have a first round defender taken in the 2020 draft for the first time in what felt like a long time. That will inevitably change this year, but the question goes back to how many first round defenders will the Tide have? Christian Barmore has had a breakout redshirt sophomore season: emerging as one of the best interior pass rushers in the country. In a weak defensive tackle class, Barmore could push himself to the fringes of the first round. If he balls out in the playoffs, that could be a sure thing.

Adetokunbo Ogundeji, Notre Dame: Adetokunbo Ogundeji is one of the leaders on the Notre Dame defense. Ogundeji is a tremendously strong, physical defender who has a nonstop motor. He will need that hard nosed play against Alabama. He could make some wow plays against their offensive line and boost his media stock.

Linebacker

Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah, Notre Dame: Notre Dame’s defense is led by Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah. The undersized linebacker is a lightning in a bottle defensive player who flies all over the field against the run, the pass and as a blitzer. He is a versatile defensive weapon who is one of the best linebackers in the country. He had a rough outing in the regular season finale against Clemson and will need a rebound against Alabama. A big game from him is one of the single performances that will help Notre Dame stay competitive in the playoff.

Dylan Moses, Alabama: After a strong 2018 season, Dylan Moses was hyped as one of the top defenders in the country. A knee injury sidelined him for 2019 and this year he has been playing himself back into NFL draft consideration. While he still isn’t at his 2018 level, he has played solid, smart football.

Cornerback

Patrick Surtain II, Alabama: Patrick Surtain is one of the best defenders in 2021 draft, period. He has great size, athleticism and physicality for the position. Teams will love what he can do in man coverage as much as they’ll love what he does as a run defender. Surtain is the clear cut top cornerback this year and should finish his college career on a high note.

Shaun Wade, Ohio State: Another Ohio State defensive back getting first round hype. Shaun Wade is an athletic cover corner who can run with anyone in the country. He will have a big challenge against the Clemson passing game, but a great opportunity ntity to show out.

Derion Kendrick, Clemson: After converting from receiver, Derion Kendrick has impressed at cornerback for the Tigers. At six foot with long arms and great athleticism, it is clear Kendrick’s best football is still ahead of him despite a high level of play in college. Kendrick could be facing some serious competition in the playoffs and quarterbacks who might actually test him. A strong postseason while send his draft stock into the stratosphere.