Like every College Football Playoff, this one comes with some controversy, but we don’t care about that. We’re here to talk about the best NFL Draft prospects for every team in the CFP.
We have four familiar suspects this year, as all participants have been here in the last two years – Alabama, Clemson, Ohio St, and Notre Dame. While the CFP has its own rankings, we have our draft prospect rankings. This article is here to analyze the best NFL Draft prospects that the CFP teams have to offer.
DeVonta Smith – Alabama, WR
Over the last ten years, Alabama has been the premier pipeline of NFL talent – no other team comes close. With 82 players selected since 2012, they’ve been as well represented in the NFL Draft as entire FBS conferences. While the Tide have had some epic NFL draft classes recently, their 2021 class should be one for the record books.
Devonta Smith, Patrick Surtain Jr, Christian Barmore, Jaylen Waddle, and Alex Leatherwood are all likely first-round selections. Fringe day-one prospects Mac Jones, Najee Harris, and Dylan Moses could give Alabama as many as 8 first-round picks, which would break Miami’s record of 6 first-rounders in their 2004 class.
As impressive as that is, the Tide have the potential to accomplish something even more unbelievable. They are almost guaranteed to have two wide receivers selected in the first-round in back-to-back NFL drafts, which is absolutely amazing!
DeVonta Smith is one of those receivers but he may not even be the best in this ‘Bama receiver in this class. His teammate, Jaylen Waddle, has game-breaking speed and run-after catch ability. Waddle may be a dynamic player but, his season was cut short with a broken ankle. DeVonta Smith, however, has been productive all year, and we’ll see him tonight against Notre Dame.
While Smith is not a complete prospect, he’s been so dominant on the field that he’s caught the eye of every NFL scouting team. He has an innate ability to manipulate defenders in man coverage. The subtleties from his head to his feet allow him to create separation, and while he doesn’t have ‘Ruggs-speed’, Smith is fast. He can turn an inch into a yard and make a big play at any time.
However, Smith is a piece of driftwood. At 6’ 1”, 175-pounds, he’d be thin for the ‘1’ on an NBA roster. Not surprisingly, Smith is a below average run-blocker at the NCAA level. He’s at high-risk to be bullied by NFL cornerbacks, though he’s done more than hold his own on the outside, against SEC physicality.
Smith has awesome length and he’s shown enough hand-technique to keep defenders off of him. However, there are plays where Smith is obsolete. Those are the plays that worry NFL scouts. There’s reason to question what his role might be in the NFL.
Smith has been able to beat college corners in press coverage with his length and feet, however, his thin frame might hinder his success against press at the pro level. His struggles as a run-blocker will effect his ability to contribute in the slot. He may be limited to a ‘Z’ role in the NFL.
While his size will be a limiting factor, Smith has quality feet, quickness, speed, and route-running. He also has some of the best hands in the game. On his 279 targets over the last three years, Smith has only dropped 5 balls. Those are great numbers and NFL scouts value reliability.
I have DeVonta Smith as an easy first-round selection but his place in the first-round has the potential to be highly volatile. It’s likely that some teams that have a role in mind for Smith and they’d select him in the top-15. There are also some teams that have already removed him from their draft board due to weight requirements. DeVonta Smith is one of the most interesting prospects in this class.
Trevor Lawrence – Clemson , QB
Trevor Lawrence is a special young man. He’s got everything NFL teams look for in a quarterback prospect. He’s got the tools that you can’t coach – a perfect 6’ 6”, 220-pound frame, elite athleticism, and one hell of an arm. He’s proven to also be coachable, as he’s improved his footwork, release, and accuracy at every level of the field. Those are now elite traits for Trevor Lawrence.
Obviously, though, Lawrence isn’t perfect. Coming from an RPO offense, there are plenty of reps where Lawrence is only asked to work one half of the field. His experience with NFL reads is fairly limited and he’s rarely been asked to progress past his second read. In general, Lawrence’s pre and post snap responsibilities have been fairly minimal.
When standing in the pocket, Lawrence holds the ball closer to his hip than his shoulder. He hasn’t struggled with fumbles yet but it could be an issue at the next level. He has little experience exposing pressure, pre-snap. He has the eyes to find the pressure after the snap but that’s often too late. Lawrence was responsible for 8 of Clemson’s 17 sacks in 2019, which is a lot. When Lawrence finds pressure, he scrambles to avoid it, rather than throwing at it.
When Lawrence scrambles, his eyes are downfield and he can create huge plays for his offense. When he decides to tuck it, he offers as much value as almost anybody. He has the shake to make defenders miss and the speed to take it the distance, though we’d like to see him slide more often when defenders have the angle. Lawrence offers ‘plus value’ as a ball-carrier.
Lawrence clearly has the ‘it’ factor. As a true freshman in 2018, he led Clemson to a CFP finals victory. He brought the Tigers to a second appearance in 2019, though that one ended in a loss to the better Tigers squad, LSU. Lawrence clearly has the poise and leadership traits that you want in your franchise quarterback.
Those intangibles combined with his natural abilities make Lawrence the top NFL draft prospect that we’ve seen in some time. We’ll get to watch him compete against Ohio St on Saturday night, another opportunity for Lawrence to prove himself against his old rival and friend, Justin Fields.
Justin Fields – Ohio St, QB
Justin Fields has been competing with Trevor Lawrence since high school. For ESPN, David Hale wrote an interesting piece on their relationship just prior to the 2020 Fiesta Bowl – a game in which Lawrence bested Fields.
Coming out of the same city (ATL) in the same recruiting class (2018) in which they were ranked 1st (Lawrence) and 2nd (Fields), the lives of these two players have been intertwined for years.
Fast-forward three years and not much has changed. Lawrence and Fields are 1st and 2nd, respectively, on a good portion of 2021 NFL Draft Big Boards. The two prospects share some common traits but also have plenty of differences in their game.
Much like Lawrence, Fields comes from an RPO heavy offense. This has limited not only Fields’ experience with traditional reads but also his progress processing those reads. He can be slow and indecisive. Fields has a lengthy release, which doesn’t help his struggles. While he can shake a would-be tackler with ease, Fields struggles to avoid pressure.
He’s not only been sacked plenty, but in 2020 specifically, he’s been wildly inconsistent throwing the ball when under pressure. We’ve seen some real head-scratchers from Fields this year, especially over the last 4 weeks. Between Fields’ slow processing ability, long release, and inability to find pressure, we have serious doubts about his ability to run an NFL offense from within the pocket.
Not surprisingly, the Buckeyes have asked Fields to operate from a moved pocked, quite a bit. This plays into Fields’ strengths, as he doesn’t have to read an entire front and can take advantage of his generational athletic ability. Fields is great at throwing on the run. He has the core strength to deliver the ball accurately off-platform, to any level.
Fields’ athleticism doesn’t only help him behind the line of scrimmage, it helps him as a ball-carrier. He offers the kind of elite dual-threat ability, that since RG3, may only be rivaled by fellow 2021 first-round prospect, Trey Lance. Fields can force missed tackles in a number of ways and his 15 rushing TDs over the last two years have been a big plus.
Fields has shown us both his best and his worst in 2020. We’ve seen him deliver the ball with extreme velocity and accuracy, leading to some awesome efficiency. We’ve also seen the train fly off the tracks. Over the last 4 games, Fields has a 4-5 TD-INT ratio, although many of those interceptions were because of his poor decision making.
However, when Fields has been at his best, he’s very impressive. At the end of the day, scouts ‘consider’ how they can use talent, and Fields has plenty of talent. He’s a top-5 prospect and could be drafted as early as 2nd overall.
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah – Notre Dame, Rover
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is still being described by some as a safety prospect, though he’s seen a total of 2 snaps at safety over the last two years. The bulk of his snaps have been at weakside linebacker and slot corner.
His role in the NFL translates to that exactly – WLB and slot. At 6’ 1”, 215 lbs, Koramoah has a unique body-type that can easily affect every aspect of the game at the NFL level. He offers as much versatility as anybody, which carries a lot of value these days.
JOK is a dart. When he sees a hole, he fills it… hard. His touchdown against Clemson in the ACC Champ game is the perfect example. He may be undersized for the LB position but he plays big. JOK has the agility to get involved in every play, and he can beat tight end, slot, and WR perimeter blocks with ease.
When he’s asked to defeat blocks on the inside, it’s a different story. He tends to undercut or take out the legs of the big man. He takes himself out of inside plays far too often. However, when Koramoah is free, he sees the progression of the run play and dissects it quickly.
In coverage, Koramoah shows his explosion. When the QB lets it rip, Koramoah is there. His eyes are always on the QB. We see him baiting the quarterback quite often. He does just as well in man coverage, locking down both tight ends and running backs.
JOK has been productive in every aspect of the game. Over the last two years, he’s recorded 7 sacks, 126 tackles, 7 passes defended, and he’s played a role in 10 turnovers. We absolutely love his play-making ability but we’re aware of his limitations. All in all, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah has earned a first-round grade.
There are many men who weren’t included in this article. Most of them improved their skill to a point that they should be listed here, but I don’t have space for everybody.
We’re talking about the top prospects of every CFP team. DeVonta Smith is arguably the #2 WR prospect in this class. His talents are highly coveted and his draft position might surprise people, come April. Trevor Lawrence is one if the best we’ve ever seen.
His counterpoint, Justin Fields, isn’t as complete a prospect but his talent is undeniable. Jeremiah Owusu-Kaoramoah is probably the best slot defender in this class but he’s so much more than that.
There’s no telling where some of these men get selected but we’ll be here for the journey, at Game On Wisconsin.