The two best programs in college football the past two seasons are Alabama and Clemson. They produce great players and play in the biggest games. There are a lot of players from this game that will be stars in the NFL. Here are the top NFL Draft prospects in the 2018 Sugar Bowl:
Alabama Crimson Tide
Minkah Fitzpatrick, S/CB
Fitzpatrick has experience at both corner and safety for Alabama, but will fit in better as a safety in the NFL. He has gotten playing time since his freshman season at Alabama and is now a junior. In his three seasons he has 163 total tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, nine interceptions, 23 passes defended and one forced fumble.
At 6’1″ and 201 pounds, Fitzpatrick has good enough size for the NFL at either position he has played. He likely won’t have to wait long to hear his name called.
Projected draft range: 1st round
Calvin Ridley, WR
Calvin Ridley (Photo by saturdaydownsouth.com)
Ridley is one of the best receivers in the draft class, if not the best. He has continued to put up numbers, despite not always having the greatest quarterback play. At Alabama, he has 2,710 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns. His best season was his freshman year with Blake Sims at quarterback.
He is 6’1″ and 190 pounds and will need to add some play strength to beat his man off the line of scrimmage. If he isn’t the first wide receiver drafted, Ridley will be shortly after.
Projected draft range: 1st round
Da’Ron Payne, DT
Payne doesn’t have the production of a lot of other prospects, but is asked to do something completely different for Alabama. He is a freakish athlete who takes on multiple blockers and helps stop the run well. He has 94 total tackles, five tackles for loss and three sacks in his time at Alabama.
At 6’2″ and 308 pounds, Payne has good size for an interior defensive lineman. He plays nose tackle in Alabama’s 3-4, but can also play defensive tackle in the 4-3 system.
Projected draft range: 1st round-2nd round
Other notable Alabama prospects: RB Damien Harris (2nd round-4th round), RB Bo Scarbrough (4th round-6th round), G/C Ross Pierschbacher (3rd round-5th round), C Lester Cotton (5th round-7th round), C Bradley Bozeman (3rd round-5th round), DE Da’Shawn Hand (6th round-undrafted free agent), LB Rashaan Evans (3rd round-4th round), LB Shaun Dion Hamilton (3rd round-5th round), CB Anthony Averett (3rd round-5th round), CB Tony Brown (4th round-6th round), S Ronnie Harrison (1st round-2nd round)
Clelin Ferrell, DE
Clelin Ferrell (Photo by independentmail.com)
Ferrell has been the leading sack-man on the Tigers’ defense this season. That is impressive due to how much talent they have on their roster. In his two years of playing time at Clemson, Ferrell has 106 tackles, 29.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks.
At 6’5″ and 265 pounds which is good size for a defensive end in the NFL. He will have to battle some fellow teammates for positioning in the draft class.
Projected draft range: 1st round-2nd round
Austin Bryant, DE
Bryant is the other half of a great sack tandem of defensive ends. He has 7.5 sacks on the season to make it tough on opposing quarterbacks. In his career, he has 82 total tackles, 21 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. He has some inconsistency, as some games he will have multiple sacks and some he will have none, but NFL teams can work with that.
He also has solid size at 6’4″ and 265 pounds. The junior could go back to Clemson and work on his consistency, but he already has enough tape to be drafted early in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Projected draft range: 1st round-2nd round
Christian Wilkins, DT
Wilkins is a leader for Clemson and one of the best defensive tackles in the country. The junior was a big part of the National Championship team last year. He has 133 total tackles, 26.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks in his career. Wilkins has shown the ability to rush the passer from the interior, which is appealing to NFL teams.
He is 6’4″ and 310 pounds, which makes his best fit as a defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme. Wilkins will be one of the first interior defensive linemen selected in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Projected draft range: 1st round-2nd round
Other notable Clemson prospects: WR Deon Cain (3rd round-5th round), WR Hunter Renfrow (5th round-7th round), OT Mitch Hyatt (2nd round-4th round), LB Kendall Joseph (3rd round-5th round), CB Mark Fields (2nd round-4th round), S Van Smith (4th round-6th round)
The football season is right around the corner so let’s dive into more rankings. This installment will go over top ten teams that will be vying for a title. For a spot on this list, teams need to have a lot of talent on their rosters.
Kirby Smart had a decent first season as head coach of the Bulldogs and helped them finish 8-5. They won the Liberty Bowl to finish last season, beating TCU 31-23. Smart will have 15 returning starters to work with, which includes 10 on the defensive side of the ball. This season the Bulldogs look to take a step forward and win the SEC East.
Offensively, the Bulldogs are set in the backfield. Jacob Eason will be entering his second season and there are high hopes for his career. He was a highly-touted prospect that threw for 2,430 yards as a freshman. He will have two good running backs in Nick Chubb and Sonny Michel. They will get the bulk of the carries and have amassed almost 6,000 yards on the ground during their time in Athens. Chubb is the lead man and averages 6.4 yards per carry over his career.
The offensive line returns two starters and will be the key to the Georgia attack. There isn’t too much experience returning at the receiver position, but tight end Isaac Nauta is getting a lot of hype. At 6’4″ 246 pounds he provides a good target for Eason, while the receiving unit as a whole needs to step up.
There may not be a weak point on the defense with how much experience they have returning. John Atkins returns in the middle of the defensive line, while Trenton Thompson returns at defensive end. Thompson had five sacks last season. The linebackers might be the most talented unit on the defense. Lorenzo Carter is a good pass rusher from outside linebacker, while Roquan Smith is a good run stopper from his inside linebacker position.
Dominick Sanders is the most talented out of the secondary players and has the most interceptions returning to the team from last year with three. Georgia’s defense was good last year and now must take the step forward to become elite.
Tough non-conference games will be had against Notre Dame and Georgia Tech. Their games that could give them trouble in conference are Tennessee, Florida and Auburn. Georgia has the talent on their roster to win every game on the schedule. They will likely drop two of the tough games on the schedule and go 10-2 on the season, with a spot in the SEC Championship Game.
9. Clemson Tigers
Christian Wilkins (Photo by si.com)
The Tigers lost a lot from the team that won the National Championship last season, but some respect has to be shown to the fantastic job Dabo Swinney has done recruiting. They do still return 12 starters from last year’s team and will be looking to get back to the College Football Playoff.
Clemson will win a lot of games because of the play of their offensive line, which returns four starters. This includes Mitch Hyatt, who is a 2018 NFL Draft Prospect. The running backs getting carries behind this offensive line will change a lot, but C.J. Fuller looks to be the lead man.
Kelly Bryant has to fill some big shoes that were left by Deshaun Watson. The junior was a good prospect himself out of high school and has all the tools to be successful. If he does end up struggling, Clemson has recruited freshman Hunter Johnson to step in. Deon Cain is a good receiver that now gets his chance to shine without Mike Williams on the team. Hunter Renfroe will continue to do work and make clutch plays from the slot.
The defensive line will be stacked with talent, with Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Dexter Lawrence returning. All three were highly productive for the team last year, with Ferrell leading them all with six sacks. Kendall Joseph leads the linebackers now after the departure of Ben Boulware, but is pretty accomplished himself with 124 tackles last season.
Van Smith is the leader of the secondary from his safety position and has the most interceptions returning with two. The pass defense will likely take a slight step back, while the run defense will stay about the same.
The schedule is tough and will be tougher with the fact that now Clemson will have a target on their back. They have games that will challenge them in Auburn, Louisville, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Georgia Tech and South Carolina. For the most part Clemson should be able to manage these tough games, but will likely drop two or three of them.
8. Oklahoma Sooners
Baker Mayfield (photo by usatoday.com)
Oklahoma’s ranking would’ve been higher had Bob Stoops still been the head coach. Lincoln Reilly takes over now and will have a good team to work with. They went 11-2 last season and beat Auburn in the Sugar Bowl. With a lot of talent returning, the Sooners will be looking to make the College Football Playoff.
The offense will start with Heisman Trophy Finalist Baker Mayfield. He has had a storied career so far for Oklahoma and will continue to put up big numbers this season. The problem is that he doesn’t have all the weapons he had in previous years. Jeff Badet transferred in from Kentucky and should provide a spark to a receiving core that only returns one starter, Jeffrey Mead.
There is good news for Oklahoma fans: The offensive line returns every starter. Orlando Brown is getting looks from the NFL and is a dominant force. The bad news is that there isn’t much experience returning at running back and Abdul Adams and Rodney Anderson will fight for carries.
Defense for the Sooners was average at best in 2016. The secondary gave up a lot of passing yards, but does return some good players. Jordan Thomas is a good college corner, but teams find a way to throw around him and pick up a lot of yardage.
Ogbonnia Okronkwo returns at linebacker and leads the pass rush with nine sacks last season. The Sooners will be inexperienced up front, with no returning starters on the defensive line.
Oklahoma gets to play Ohio State, Texas (neutral), Kansas State and Oklahoma State all away from home. West Virginia travels to Norman to give them plenty to focus on for this year. The Sooners’ offense will be high-powered enough to get them 10 wins this season and a spot in the new Big 12 Championship Game.
7. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Mason Rudolph (Photo by ncaa.com)
The Cowboys finished 10-3 last season and blew Colorado out in the Alamo Bowl. Mike Gundy has one of his most talented teams ever. His team is good enough to win the Big 12 and get to the College Football Playoff, but they have a long road a head and a lot of history to overcome.
Mason Rudolph returns at quarterback, after flirting with the idea of going pro. He will put up big numbers while protecting the football, which makes him an elite college quarterback. The good news for him was that his teammate and top target James Washington also chose to return to school. Tyron Johnson, an LSU transfer, will be eligible to play this season and will provide another good target for Rudolph.
Three offensive linemen return, but the unit will be more than capable of protecting Mason Rudolph. Oklahoma State found their running back of the future last season in Justice Hill. Hill ran for 1,142 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman last season. He will be asked to put up similar numbers in 2017.
In terms of scoring defense, Oklahoma State ranked third in the Big 12, but that isn’t saying too much. Essentially they were an average defense. Five starters return including two in the secondary. Ramon Richards and Tre Flowers will be starting again at safety, while new corners are broken in.
Chad Whittener returns to the linebackers and will be asked to step up his production this season after finishing with 71 tackles a year ago. The Cowboys don’t have much returning in the middle of the defensive line, but do have a lot of experience at defensive end. Both starters return as well as Trelund Webber, who comes off the bench to rush the passer. He returns as the team leader in sacks in 2016 with six.
The schedule features games against Pittsburgh, Texas, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kansas State. Oklahoma State will win at least nine games, but probably finish at 10-2, getting them a rematch with Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game.
6. USC Trojans
Sam Darnold (photo by dailynews.com)
The Trojans went on a magical run to the Rose Bowl last season and beat Penn State in a thriller. Clay Helton did a fine job last year as head coach, but has a new challenge this year. Only 10 starters return, meaning a lot of players will need to step up to help USC win the Pac-12.
Sam Darnold is the potential number one overall pick in the 2018 draft. He still has a lot to prove, but finished the season with 3,086 yards and 31 touchdowns, which is even more impressive considering he didn’t start the first few games of last season. Darnold won’t have an elite receiver to throw to this season, unless someone really improves, but Deontay Burnett is the leading returning receiver with 670 yards in 2016.
Ronald Jones II is overlooked because of how well Darnold played last year, but he can flat out run the football. His 1,082 yards and 12 touchdowns will be improved upon this season. Just two offensive linemen return this season. If the newcomers don’t step in and do their jobs the whole offense will suffer.
The linebackers return the most experience, with three of four starters returning. Porter Gustin and Cameron Smith are both playmakers. Smith had 83 tackles last season. Only one of three returns on the defensive line, Rasheem Green. Green had six sacks last season and will need to improve production to lead the pass rush.
Iman Marshall returns at corner and will now be asked to shut down the other teams’ best receivers, as Adoree Jackson is now in the NFL. He has a chance to be drafted early, like Jackson was, in the 2018 NFL Draft. Marveil Tell is back at safety and Chris Hawkins will be solid at the other starting safety spot in 2017. The defense was good last year and if they want to get to the College Football Playoff, need to improve this year.
USC has a tough schedule, which includes games against Stanford, Texas, Washington State, Notre Dame and UCLA. While they should have their fair share of struggles, they will have at least 10 wins entering the Pac-12 Championship Game. At that point it may be a play-in game for the College Football Playoff.
Featured image by usatoday.com.
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Linebacker is a position that is often overlooked, but very important nonetheless. In the 2017 NFL Draft there were plenty of talented linebackers selected. There are a lot of linebackers in this class that have potential, but will have to play well to justify a high draft pick. Here are the top prospects heading into the 2017 college football season:
Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
Tremaine Edmunds (Photo by: zimbio.com)
Edmunds is one of three brothers that have played for Virginia Tech and will look to have a big junior year. He has the most draft potential and has great size at 6’5″ and 236 pounds.
Last year Edmunds finished with 94 tackles. He has a great all around game with 16.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, an interception and three passes defended. If he can improve his coverage skills this season and keep consistent production, he will be a highly sought after prospect.
The Hokies play West Virginia, Clemson, North Carolina, Miami and Pittsburgh. Edmunds will need to step up in the game against Clemson for his team to win and if he does, his draft stock will be improved.
Malik Jefferson, Texas
One of the more highly touted linebackers coming out of high school, Jefferson has played early and often for the Longhorns. With solid size at 6’3″ and 238 pounds, he has all the tools to be the first linebacker selected in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Jefferson has 121 total tackles in his two seasons at Texas. He has great athleticism that makes him a well-rounded linebacker. With 16 tackles for loss, nine sacks, five passes defended and a touchdown scored he makes a lot of plays. Coverage and ball skills are things he will need to work on this season, but what he has already accomplished has made him a top prospect.
Texas has some big matchups this year that will require Jefferson’s best. They play USC, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia. If he can help slow down the USC and Oklahoma offenses, he could be the first linebacker taken in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Kendall Joseph, Clemson
Joseph may have been overlooked because of all the talent on Clemson’s roster last year, but he will need to be the one making headlines this season. He is a little undersized at 6’0″ and 230 pounds, but makes plays.
Last year was his first season getting a lot of playing time and he broke out. He finished the season with 106 total tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. If he can have a solid campaign to follow up his breakout season, NFL teams will move him up on their boards.
Clemson plays Auburn, Louisville, Virginia Tech and Florida State, which should give Joseph a lot of opportunities to prove what he can do. He needs to produce against these good offenses this season to hold his ranking.
Skai Moore, South Carolina
Skai Moore (Photo by: cbssports.com)
Moore is a good prospect, but did miss all of the 2016 season with a neck injury. Staying healthy will be key to preserve and enhance Moore’s draft stock. He has average size at 6’2″ and 220 pounds.
In 2015, the last season he played, Moore finished with 110 total tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss. He is a good run stopper and coverage linebacker, with 11 career interceptions, but could improve his blitzing ability. If his neck checks out and he has a productive year he will be one of the first linebackers taken.
The Gamecocks have Texas A&M, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and Clemson all on the schedule. Moore will be called upon to be at his best this season for South Carolina and will reap the rewards if he answers that call.
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