Alabama and Clemson made it to the College Football Playoff National Championship for a reason. They’ve got long tenured coaches who have won far more than they’ve lost and the rosters are loaded with talent.
Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney don’t appear to be going anywhere, anytime soon, but many of the players who take the field tonight in Tampa will play in the final college football game of their career.
And a few months from now, many will land with an NFL team on the first day or two of the draft.
With five picks in the top 65, the Browns will be busy during those first two days. There’s no guarantee Cleveland will use any of its picks on players from Alabama or Clemson, but the odds are stronger with them than most simply because of how many elite prospects they’ve produced for the 2017 class.
Here’s a glance at 12 of them. * are next to the players who are draft-eligible but haven’t yet declared.
DL Jonathan Allen - Alabama
Perhaps no one in recent memory has made a better decision to return for his senior season than Allen. One of the top leaders on college football’s top defenses, Allen went from a projected late first-round or second-round pick to the potential top pick in the draft. He thrives as both a pass rusher and run-stopper and projects to do just that in the NFL.
LB Ryan Anderson - Alabama
His interception return for a touchdown in last week’s semifinal against Washington gave Alabama the multi-score lead it would never relinquish. He’s not the biggest name on the Crimson Tide’s loaded defense, but he’s quietly performed at a high level and projects as a Day 2 pick.
*OG Tyrone Crowder - Clemson
The redshirt junior has yet to declare his intentions -- like a number of player on this list -- but he’d be poised to be a Day 1 or 2 selection if he does, according to most rankings. The 340-pounder is a road grader of a blocker in the run game and is considered by CBSSports.com to be the No. 2 guard available in this year’s class.
LB Reuben Foster - Alabama
The latest in line of Alabama inside linebackers poised to become a first-round pick, Foster is a hard hitter who serves as one of the main reasons why the Crimson Tide leads the nation in run defense. The previous four players who have played Foster’s position in Alabama’s defense (Reggie Ragland, C.J. Mosley, Dont’a Hightower, Rolando McClain) have been Day 1 or 2 picks.
TE O.J. Howard - Alabama
The star of last year’s national championship, Howard hasn’t always had consistent production during his college career, but he’s a rare, big-play threat at the position. There could be multiple tight ends selected in the first round this year, and if that’s the case, Howard probably will be one of them.
*DB Marlon Humphrey - Alabama
The son of former NFL running back Bobby Humphrey is widely regarded as the top cornerback prospect in this year’s class. He has just two interceptions, but that’s a bit misleading when it comes to his skill set. If quarterbacks can avoid it, they don’t throw his way very often.
*OL Cam Robinson - Alabama
In a draft class perceivably low on high-end offensive line talent, Robinson is considered to be one of the top tackle prospects. He’s been a starter since Day 1 at Alabama, holding down the left tackle job for the past three seasons.
DB Cordrea Tankersley - Clemson
Another potential first-round defensive back, Tankersley has come up biggest for Clemson in its two biggest games. He had two interceptions against Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship and one against Ohio State in the national semifinal.
DL Carlos Watkins - Clemson
It’s been a long and winding path toward this kind of projection, but the fifth-year senior could be one of the top-selected interior defensive linemen in April. He was a big-time player against the Buckeyes, knocking down two passes and delivering two sacks.
*QB Deshaun Watson - Clemson
Ah, yes. The quarterback. He had one of the best games of his career in last year’s matchup with Alabama (30-47, 405 yards, 4 TDs, 73 rushing yards). He’ll be debated as one of the top quarterback prospects in the draft for months to come, and tonight’s performance, rightly or wrongly, will help shape a lot of opinions about it.
*WR Mike Williams - Clemson
Watson’s top target wasn’t around the last time Clemson and Alabama met because of a season-ending neck injury. He’s been one of the biggest reasons why the Tigers are back in this game, hauling in 90 passes for 1,267 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season.
LB Tim Williams - Alabama
At 6-foot-4 and 252 pounds, Williams is an absolute terror off the edge as one of Alabama’s most productive pass rushers. After a slow start to his career, Williams has 19.5 sacks over the past two seasons.