LOS ANGELES – The four teams competing in the College Football Playoff combined to have 21 players selected in the 2016 NFL draft. (Alabama alone had 10 players and Georgia just one.) This year, it’s likely that total number will be even higher, as Georgia will have a large uptick in overall prospects. Who are the top players from the four playoff teams that you’ll be seeing on Sundays? Yahoo Sports polled a half-dozen NFL scouts and executives to compile a Top 10* list of the best prospects for this NFL draft that you’ll see in the CFP.
1. Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB Alabama – Scouts view Fitzpatrick as one of the safest picks in the draft, and it would be a surprise if he’s not among the top 10 players chosen. Can Fitzpatrick leap FSU safety Derwin James and be the first defensive back off the board? The guess here is yes. His value includes the versatility of playing corner, nickel and safety.
2. Roquan Smith, LB Georgia – There will be an interesting debate between Smith and Alabama’s Rashaan Evans as the top linebacker in this draft class. Smith is more dynamic than Evans, as he’s freakish sideline-to-sideline. Here’s the potential hiccup – his measurements will be important, as there’s questions about his true height. If he ends up being only 5-foot-11, he doesn’t fit in some NFL prototypes.
3. Clelin Ferrell, DE Clemson – Announced himself as a prospect after winning the Defensive MVP of last season’s Fiesta Bowl in a College Football Playoff shutout of Ohio State (3 TFLs). Ferrell is twitchy, unusually fast for his size (6-foot-5, 260 pounds). A knock will be lack of experience, as he’s only a redshirt sophomore. Ferrell’s production this season has been spotty, as he had just two sacks over the first six games. (He finished with 8.5, buoyed by a 3.5-sack showing in Clemson’s loss to Syracuse.)
4. Calvin Ridley, WR Alabama – This is an anomalously poor year for wide receivers, and there’s little doubt Ridley will be the first one picked. While Ridley projects high in a lot of early mock drafts, his modest size – 6-foot-1, 190 pounds – may give some teams pause.
5. Baker Mayfield, QB Oklahoma – We went in-depth on Mayfield’s pro prospects earlier this week. One NFL executive recently summed him up this way: “He’s a winner – that’s what you look for in quarterbacks. And remember, Drew Brees was 6-foot.”
6. Rashaan Evans LB Alabama – At 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, he appears to be the latest bruiser in a lineage of linebackers that includes Reuben Foster, Reggie Ragland and C.J. Mosley. His versatility will be a plus, as a scout notes: “Teams have seen him do a little bit of everything.”
7. Christian Wilkins DL Clemson – A familiar stalwart along the Clemson defensive line, Wilkins has proven versatile enough to play any position. “He’s done it for three years, so people know the name,” said a scout. “But he hasn’t been super productive.” Wilkins has 9.0 TFLs and 5.0 sacks so far this season, both a dip compared to his production last year.
8. Ronnie Harrison S Alabama – One scout pointed out why teams will covet him for the modern NFL: “He’s interesting because he’s versatile. They match him up. Like a nickel linebacker. He’s a match-up linebacker. He’s got cover skills and can play the run.”
9. Orlando Brown OT Oklahoma – This is a down year for offensive tackles, which may inflate the value of Brown compared to his production. He’s 6-foot-8 and 340 pounds and has good genes as his father, the late Orlando “Zeus” Brown, was a linchpin NFL player at the same position. Tulane coach Willie Fritz had a visceral reaction to seeing Brown in person earlier this season: “That’s the biggest human being I’ve ever seen.”
10. Da’Ron Payne, DT Alabama – One scout estimated he’d go between 25 and 45 in the draft. A pure nose tackle, Payne’s production has been modest this season as he has just one sack. The NFL will overlook that: “Down there, those frontline guys play in waves and rotate,” said a scout. “The paper production is misleading; most teams won’t view it as a concern.”
*Both star Georgia tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel didn’t make the list. But they’re two of the high-profile players in the playoff, so we wanted to note that they both are considered prospects that will be chosen by the end of the third round. One executive said he had Chubb graded as a second-round pick and expected Michel to be chosen early in the third round.
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