As he has throughout the bowl season, Joe Malfa has a list of the top names to watch in each of the biggest bowl games. Because Alabama and Clemson have over a dozen draft prospects each, he decided to focus on the top three prospects from each team otherwise this would be a 4000 word article. This is the last bowl game of the season with the National Championship coming next week. We hope you enjoyed these bowl preview articles and you can follow Joe and the rest of our staff as they dive into draft breakdowns over the next three months.
Matchup: Alabama vs. Clemson
Time: 8:00 p.m.
1) S Minkah Fitzpatrick
2017 stats: 11 games, 52 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 INT
It is no secret that Alabama is a factory that produces pro-talent every year, and one of the mass-produced positions, if you will, is safety. Over the last few years, it has produced the likes of Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, Landon Collins and Eddie Jackson. This year, Fitzpatrick is among the top five players in the draft class overall, and he is not the only Alabama safety who could hear his name called in the first round (Ronnie Harrison). Fitzpatrick is the most NFL ready safety in the draft. He has good size at 6-foot-1, 205-pounds. The athleticism is off the charts. I watched him burn by Jabrill Peppers in a New Jersey high school state championship game a few years back when Peppers was a corner and Fitzpatrick played both wide receiver and corner. He began his Alabama career as a true freshman starting as a hybrid slot corner/safety. Fitzpatrick can play every role you can think of for a safety. He can cover, step up to play the run or sit back in center field. He is an elite talent that could change the culture of a weak NFL defense near the top of the draft.
2) MLB Rashaan Evans
2017 stats: 10 games 59 tackles, 5.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble
Safety is not the only position at which Alabama has mass-produced NFL talent over the last few seasons. Since 2006, seven linebackers have been drafted in the first two rounds. Evans has taken charge of this defense ever since Reuben Foster departed for the NFL. He has the size, speed, athleticism and instincts to be an impactful NFL starter, and he will likely come off the board in the first round.
3) WR Calvin Ridley
2017 stats: 55 catches, 896 yards, 3 TDs
Career stats: 216 catches, 2,710 yards, 17 TDs
Ridley is the third of the three Alabama players that seem like first round locks, but I have my doubts about him. Because of the run-heavy nature of this offense, pass-catchers do not put up the best numbers but a few have still gone on to be top picks in the NFL (Julio Jones, Amari Cooper and O.J. Howard to name a few). Ridley’s numbers are unimpressive, but that is not what scares me away from him. He has good hands, he runs good routes and he is very polished, but I do not see Ridley as a true number one receiver worthy of the top-15 grade he is receiving. I think he could be a poor man’s Keenan Allen. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound receiver is also already 24-years-old, and I am not a fan of older rookies especially at a skill position that does not have the longest of shelf lives. If I were a general manager in the NFL, I would not think about Ridley until the second round, but he is going to be a top-15 pick. Only time will tell if he is able to live up to the expectations.
More names to watch:
- S Ronnie Harrison (1st-2nd round)
- DL Da’Ron Payne (1st-2nd round)
- DL Da’Shawn Hand (1st-2nd round)
- CB Levi Wallace (2nd-3rd round)
- RB Damien Harris (2nd-3rd round)
- Bo Scarbrough (3rd-4th round)
1) DT Christian Wilkins
2017 stats: 13 games, 113 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble
Michigan’s Maurice Hurst and Washington’s Vita Vea are the draft’s top inside run-stuffers, but Wilkins is the draft’s top inside pass rusher. He uses his 6-foot-4, 300-pound frame to bully guards and centers, fight through double teams and get pressure on the quarterback. He is not a true run stuffer like the other two players I mentioned, but he is quick off the ball and capable of exploding into the backfield to blow up a run. Based on his size, technique and skill set, he is the most NFL-ready interior defensive lineman in this draft and will be selected in the middle of the first round.
2) EDGE Clelin Ferrell
2017 stats: 13 games, 62 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
N.C. State’s Bradley Chubb and Boston College’s Harold Landry are the consensus top two edge rushers in the draft, but Ferrell is right behind them. At 6-foot-5, 260-pounds, he has prototypical size and length to go along with elite speed and explosiveness around the edge. He is just a 20-yeard-old redshirt sophomore so he needs some refining, but with NFL coaching he can tap into his full potential and be a truly scary defender.
3) WR Deon Cain
2017 stats: 52 catches, 659 yards, 6 TDs
Career stats: 124 catches, 1,965 yards, 20 TDs
This game is a matchup of two NFL-ready, likely first round wide receivers in Ridley and Cain, though I believe both are slotted higher than they should be. Cain has the speed to be a dangerous deep threat to go along with good hands, but he struggles with the timing of his jumps and has not been asked to run a full NFL route tree at Clemson. The 6-foot-1, 190 pound receiver (coincidentally the same exact size as Ridley) is currently on the border between the first and second round, but I believe he will wow a team with his speed at the combine and find his way into the first. Again, as is the case with Ridley, I think Cain is more of a second round pick. I simply do not see an elite talent or polished player that would warrant a first round pick, especially when players like Anthony Miller from Memphis and Colorado State’s Michael Gallup are more complete receivers who could give a team the same production for the price of a later pick.
More Names to watch:
- EDGE Austin Bryant (2nd-3rd round)
- G Tyrone Crowder (4th-5th round)
- OT Mitch Hyatt (3rd-4th round)
- MLB Kendall Joseph (4th-5th round)
- MLB Dorian O’Daniel (3rd-4th round)
Photo Credit: rolltide.com