NFL Draft Big Board: Alabama-LSU stocked with plenty of top-tier talent
Five of the top 10 players on the Big Board line up in Death Valley on Saturday night
The polls might say LSU Tigers is not a top-10 team, but from an NFL Draft perspective, the Tigers' showdown with No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide Saturday night rates as the game of the season.
A collection of future first-round picks will be on the field with five of the top 10 prospects on the Big Board squaring off. Five of my top 10 share the field in Death Valley on Saturday.
The most fascinating battles of the game should be near the line of scrimmage with LSU's freakishly gifted running back Leonard Fournette and a powerful offensive line matching up against Alabama's No. 1-rated run defense, led by top-rated senior Jonathan Allen and inside linebacker Reuben Foster , the most explosive hitter in college football.
Players are listed by name, position, school, year, height, weight and 40-yard dash time
1. Myles Garrett , DE, Texas A&M, Jr, 6-5, 262, 4.74
With a nagging ankle injury, the Aggies held Garrett out against New Mexico State Aggies a week after he registered seven tackles, including 3.5 for loss in the October 22 showdown with No. 1 Alabama. The former consensus five-star recruit has been a terror since stepping onto the field for the Aggies, answering his breakout freshman season (53 tackles, including 14 for loss and 11 sacks) with an even better one last year (59-19.5-12.5). Boasting a prototypical blend of explosiveness, flexibility and length off the corner, Garrett has the look of a future Pro Bowl regular.
2. Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama, Sr, 6-3, 292, 4.85
With all due respect to Garrett, Allen was the best player on the field Oct. 22, registering six tackles, including a sack that showed eye-popping athleticism and technique as well as a momentum-stealing fumble recovery and return for a touchdown. Allen has recorded 18 sacks over the past 23 games, a pace more typical among speedy edge rushers. Quite the contrary, Allen is position versatile, making many of his flashiest plays inside while at defensive tackle. He reminds me a little of Seattle Seahawks Pro Bowler Michael Bennett , winning with an explosive upfield burst and powerful, coordinated hands.
3. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU, Jr, 6-1, 230, 4.45
Fournette returned from a four-week hiatus with a vengeance against Ole Miss in Week 8, setting a new school record with a staggering 284 rushing yards (and three touchdowns) in a 38-21 victory. Alabama is obviously a more formidable opponent. Fournette is an exceptional talent who I believe is the most exciting prospect at the position since Adrian Peterson . Like Peterson, Fournette gets a lot of attention because of his rare combination of size, speed and power but his vision and agility are the stuff of legend.
4. Malik McDowell , DT, Michigan State Spartans , Jr, 6-5, 282, 4.92
McDowell made waves in the preseason by announcing his plans to return to East Lansing unless he was projected "in the top three." McDowell drew plenty of attention from Michigan Wolverines 's offensive line in last week's rivalry game and only recorded two tackles. He made them count, however, with both coming behind the line of scrimmage. While the Spartans are down, McDowell's stock is not because of his combination of length, strength and agility offer exciting position and schematic versatility at the next level.
5. Jabrill Peppers , SS/OLB, Michigan, rSoph, 6-0, 208, 4.48
Michigan is loaded with NFL prospects and Peppers is the best of the bunch. Peppers is the latest in a new line of defensive "erasers" capable of lining up at safety, linebacker or cornerback similar in style to recent first-round picks Deone Bucannon , Damarious Randall and Shaq Thompson. Peppers perfectly demonstrated his versatility against rival Michigan State, officially playing eight positions (linebacker, cornerback, safety, quarterback, running back, wide receiver, kick returner, punt returner), recording seven tackles (including two for loss and a sack) and scoring on a scramble as a Wildcat quarterback and a botched PAT return.
6. Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama, Sr, 6-1, 240, 4.72
Fans who enjoy big collisions will want to watch Foster against LSU and Fournette. Foster might be the most intimidating hitter in all of college football and he possesses the fluidity and speed to cover. He is a more explosive athlete than Alabama's recent stars at linebacker, showing ridiculous closing speed and an utter disregard for his own safety or that of his opponents.
7. Marlon Humphrey , CB, Alabama, rSoph, 6-1, 198, 4.53
The son of former Alabama (and NFL) standout Bobby Humphrey, Marlon looks like a chip off the old block with his easy change of direction and acceleration. He's built well for a young player at a solid 6-foot-1 and 198 pounds and is an aggressive tackler, including in run support. Humphrey and true sophomore Minkah Fitzpatrick gives Alabama the best duo of cornerbacks in the nation.
8. Christian McCaffrey , RB, Stanford Cardinal , Jr, 6-0, 202, 4.48
Despite Stanford's struggles, McCaffrey has proven every bit as dynamic as in past seasons -- when healthy. With his easy agility, instant acceleration and soft hands, McCaffrey is a weapon of mass destruction as a runner, receiver and returner, warranting comparison to another former Pac-12 star, Reggie Bush . Like Bush, McCaffrey lacks the bulk to be a true bell-cow back at the next level but his versatility translates very well to today's wide-open NFL.
9. Teez Tabor , CB, Florida Gators , Jr, 6-0, 199, 4.52
Until this summer, Tabor's first name was Jalen, though his new name may provide a more accurate description of his game. Tabor teases with an exciting combination of size, fluidity and speed, standing out in coverage and as a gunner on special teams the past two years. Tabor is one the nation's top smack-talkers but usually backs it up. He was suspended (reportedly for a fight with a teammate) for Florida's season opener but has recorded four interceptions in the six games since, most in the SEC.
10. Jamar Adams, S, LSU, Jr, 6-0, 211, 4.48
It is easy to mistake Adams for former LSU Tigers star Tyrann Mathieu , given their similar instincts and highly aggressive playing style. Like Mathieu, Adams possesses the agility and speed to handle coverage duties on slot receivers, possesses soft hands for the interception and is a tenacious run defender. Adams' kamikaze style of play can lead to occasional mistakes but he is always around the ball. Whether providing run support or protecting down the seam against fellow first round talent O.J. Howard (No. 14 on this list), Adams will be closely watched by scouts in the showdown with Alabama.
11. DeShone Kizer , QB, Notre Dame Fighting Irish , rSoph, 6-4, 230, 4.84
Kizer is the most gifted draft-eligible quarterback prospect in the country with a prototypical blend of build, arm strength and functional athleticism. The young signal-caller has struggled in recent weeks, however, and was even benched for much of the second half against Stanford. He possesses the kind of undeniable talent that could lead to an early selection should he opt to head to the NFL but is far from a surefire franchise quarterback. Teams will not overlook that Brian Kelly has produced just one NFL quarterback (2010 sixth-round pick Tony Pike , Carolina) in 26 seasons as a head coach.
12. Dalvin Cook , RB, Florida State Seminoles , Jr, 5-11, 206, 4.46
Cook struggled out of the gate this season but has been dynamic since, including in last week's near upset over Clemson Tigers , when he ran for 169 and four touchdowns. While not as big as Fournette nor as explosive as McCaffrey, Cook is a natural runner with excellent vision, agility and burst who projects nicely in today's pass-happy NFL.
13. Zach Cunningham , LB, Vanderbilt Commodores , rJr, 6-3, 230, 4.74
Cunningham played a starring role in Vandy's Week 7 upset in Athens, recording a career-high 19 tackles against Georgia Bulldogs , including a solo stop on fourth down inside the final minute to seal the victory. He was named the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week for this performance and is far from just a one-game wonder, recording 16 more tackles this season (85) than any other defender in the SEC. Instinctive, aggressive and athletic, Cunningham offers an exciting skill set and may be only scratching the surface of his potential. Despite not starting until the fourth game of last season, Cunningham posted 103 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles, earning first-team All-SEC honors.
14. O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama, Sr, 6-6, 242, 4.57
Howard is the best tight end in the country even if he plays an inconsistent role in the Alabama offense. Just as he did when featured during last season's national title game against Clemson, Howard was virtually unstoppable against Texas A&M, registering a career-high eight receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown. His freakish combination of size, speed and strength make Howard a mismatch nightmare in the passing game, and he's made major strides this season as a blocker.
15. Deshaun Watson , QB, Clemson, Jr, 6-2, 210, 4.64
Watson has guided the Tigers to an 8-0 start but has made troubling decisions with the ball and struggled with shaky accuracy from inside the pocket, belying his 63.5 completion percentage and 22 touchdowns (against 10 interceptions). That's not what scouts want to see from a quarterback in his third season as a starter. Watson's slight frame and Clemson's relatively simple offense are other legitimate concerns. Watson's stock is slipping but he remains firmly in the first-round conversation at this point as he possesses exciting potential as a dual-threat quarterback and has proven his poise in big games, including in guiding the Tigers to a comeback win over Florida State on Oct. 29.
16. Mike Williams , WR, Clemson, rJr, 6-3, 220, 4.50
According to Clemson coaches, Williams is in the same class athletically as former teammates Sammy Watkins , DeAndre Hopkins and Martavis Bryant . An imposing target with explosive speed and the body control to win contested passes, Williams is only a clean bill of health away from competing with Smith-Schuster to be the top receiver prospect in the country.
17. Carl Lawson , DE, Auburn Tigers , rJr, 6-2, 253, 4.67
With all due respect to the top-ranked Garrett, Lawson has been the best pass rusher in the SEC over the past month, already eclipsing his previous single-season high with eight sacks. Finally healthy after missing 19 of 26 games over the 2014-15 seasons with a torn ACL and hip injury, Lawson is winning with a fearsome combination of initial burst, core strength and a relentless motor. He was voted the SEC's Defensive Lineman of the Week for his two-sack performance (and forced fumble) in a road win over Mississippi State Bulldogs in Week 6.
18. John Ross , WR, Washington Huskies , rJr, 5-11, 190, 4.35
With all due respect to sophomore quarterback Jake Browning , Ross is the fireplug sparking Washington's high-octane offense (and special teams). A DeSean Jackson clone with blinding straight-line speed, agility and versatility as both a receiver and returner, he is only a clean medical grade away from becoming the first receiver from Washington to earn a first-round pick since Reggie Williams in 2004.
19. Cam Robinson , OT, Alabama, Jr, 6-5, 327, 5.28
This week Robinson faces his third consecutive future first-round pick in LSU's speedy sophomore Arden Key , who currently enters the showdown with eight sacks already on the year, second behind only Tennessee Volunteers 's Derek Barnett (No. 21 on this list). Barnett's polished technique gave Robinson trouble on Oct. 15, but Alabama's tackle performed well in the win over Garrett and A&M a week later. As his monstrous size implies, Robinson can be a road-grader in the running game and his quickness and length can make him very effective in pass protection. Unfortunately, Robinson comes with legitimate off-field concerns as well, with an arrest in May on guns and drug charges. The charges were later dropped.
20. JuJu Smith-Schuster , WR, Southern Cal, Jr, 6-2, 220, 4.52
This week's Oregon-USC game may not earn quite as much attention as in recent years but NFL scouts will be interested in how well Smith-Schuster performs against Oregon Ducks 's talented junior cornerback Arrion Springs . With his eight touchdowns this season coming in just three games ( Utah State Aggies , Arizona State Sun Devils , Arizona Wildcats ), scouts want to see more consistency from Smith-Schuster, who is able to bully cornerbacks with his size, strength and body control but may lack top-end speed.
Best of the rest:
21. Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee, Jr, 6-3, 257, 4.76
22. Sidney Jones , CB, Washington, Jr, 6-0, 181, 4.49
23. Bucky Hodges , TE, Virginia Tech Hokies , rJr, 6-6, 245, 4.78
24. Desmond King , CB, Iowa Hawkeyes , Sr, 5-10, 200, 4.53
25. Mitch Trubisky , QB, Jr, North Carolina Tar Heels , 6-3, 220, 4.74
26. Royce Freeman , RB, Oregon, Jr, 5-11, 230, 4.49
27. Vita Vea , DT, Washington, rSoph, 6-4, 322, 5.19
28. Dan Feeney , OG, Indiana Hoosiers , rSr, 6-4, 310, 5.09
29. Lowell Lotulelei , DT, Utah Utes , Jr, 6-2, 310, 5.28
30. Adoree' Jackson , CB/WR/RS, Jr, Southern Cal, 5-11, 185, 4.43
31. Malik Hooker , FS, Ohio State Buckeyes , rSoph, 6-2, 205, 4.52
32. Dorian Johnson , OG, Pittsburgh Panthers , Sr, 6-5, 300, 5.20
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