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Top 10 Prospects playing on New Year's Eve


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Top 10 prospects playing on New Year's Eve

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Chad Reuter
Draft analyst
 
   

New Year's Eve will be a great day of football, starting with a great LSU-Louisville matchup in the Citrus Bowl and ending with two outstanding College Football Playoff semifinals -- Alabama vs. Washington in the Peach Bowl and Clemson vs. Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.

 

10. Sidney Jones, CB, Washington

Game: Peach Bowl (vs. Alabama), 3 p.m., ESPN
Jones isn't the biggest corner in the country at a lean 6-foot, 180 pounds, but he might be the best in terms of pure coverage skills. No outside defender plays with more tenacity. Seeing Jones face Alabama receivers like Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart will be a joy for scouts and football fans alike. And if outgoing Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin dials up screens and outside runs to Jones' side of the field, Jones will be involved in those as well.

 

9. Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State

Game: Fiesta Bowl (vs. Clemson), 7 p.m., ESPN
It didn't take long for the redshirt sophomore to earn respect for his athleticism and toughness at the safety position. The first-team all-conference pick is the most athletic deep defender in the country. He combines his length and quickness with instincts and an ability to read the quarterback that makes poor throws a turnover waiting to happen. If Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson throws the ball late over the middle or down the sideline, Hooker will be involved in the play.

 

8. Tim Williams, LB, Alabama

Game: Peach Bowl (vs. Washington), 3 p.m., ESPN
Scouts know that Williams can beat college tackles with his speed and agility (15.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks this season) when he's in pass-rush mode. Nick Saban has unprecedented depth along the front line, but it would be good for his draft status if Tide coaches kept Williams in the game against run plays during the playoff to show that he is capable of handling those responsibilities. He's flashed this ability when given the chance, but being around the ball consistently against Washington could quell any doubts about whether Williams is an elite prospect.

 

7. Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama

Game: Peach Bowl (vs. Washington), 3 p.m., ESPN
If you're looking for the next Joe Thomas in terms of agility and athleticism, Robinson isn't your kind of left tackle. But he's an absolute brick wall in pass protection who won't back down from any challenge. Alabama will run behind his power, as well, as he's capable of sealing the edge against larger ends and leading the way to mow down linebackers and defensive backs in space. He's improved throughout the season in handling speed off the edge.

 

6. Jamal Adams, S, LSU

Game: Citrus Bowl (vs. Louisville), 11 a.m., ABC
The Tigers' second-team All-American will present a challenge to Louisville in the Citrus Bowl. If QB Lamar Jackson stares down receivers over the middle, Adams can jump those passes. Adams will meet Cardinals running back Brandon Ratcliff at the second level, and Adams uses his speed to track down quick throws to the sideline. Sometimes fans don't even notice his ability to cover up a quarterback's check-down option, allowing for a sack or poor throw. If Adams can securely tackle the elusive Jackson in space, scouts will take notice of that coveted attribute.

 

5. Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

Game: Fiesta Bowl (vs. Ohio State), 7 p.m., ESPN
Williams is college football's top receiver. His strength allows him to separate off the line and downfield, as well as carry defenders into the end zone. He also has the acceleration to burn through creases in zone defenses and possesses the strong hands to snatch back-shoulder throws or high-point passes. Williams and Deshaun Watson, however, are facing defenders with NFL futures in their semifinal. Meeting that challenge head-on will only increases scouts' interest in them.

 

4. Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama

Game: Peach Bowl (vs. Washington), 3 p.m., ESPN
Some teams might not like their middle linebacker playing at 225 pounds, but Foster's dropping of 15 pounds last offseason has helped him become much quicker to the ball. He already had a reputation for coming downhill to make hard hits, but now he takes his aggression sideline to sideline and covers a lot of ground in coverage when asked. Foster's scheme versatility gives him a chance to go early in the draft.

 

3. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

Game: Fiesta Bowl (vs. Ohio State), 7 p.m., ESPN
Watson looked out of sorts as a passer during the middle of the season. Since then, he's turned on the accuracy at all levels of the field and been more decisive as a runner, putting pressure on defenses. Scouts will want to see how accurate he is against the vaunted Ohio State secondary and how he handles the Buckeyes' relentless pass rush. It's a great test that will be a factor in the draft-evaluation process for the QB.

 

2. Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama

Game: Peach Bowl (vs. Washington), 3 p.m., ESPN
The winner of the 2016 Chuck Bednarik and Bronco Nagurski Awards as the nation's top defender doesn't have mind-blowing statistics. He has just 8.5 sacks and is third on his own team with 13 tackles for loss. But scouts love his ability to make an impact whether he's lined up inside and outside, using his football IQ and supreme hustle to reach the ball on every snap. Allen's hands are as strong as any lineman's in the country, and he regularly uses them to discard his opponents.

 

1. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

Game: Citrus Bowl (vs. Louisville), 11 a.m., ABC
The Heisman Trophy winner will return to Louisville for his junior year in 2017, and with continued improvement as a pocket passer, he'll be viewed as a potential franchise QB by NFL evaluators. Facing a strong LSU defense is a good test for Jackson, who had a month to prepare for the pressure the Tigers will be bringing. Sticking in the pocket and delivering against a secondary full of pro-caliber talent will be a great jumping-off point for next season. Of course, LSU will have been preparing for Jackson's elite athleticism with the ball in his hands (1,538 yards, 21 scores rushing so far this season).

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Scout: Washington secondary loaded with NFL talent

 

 

The scoop: "(Jake) Browning and (John) Rossget most of the attention around here, but Washington's secondary is what makes them one of the top four teams in the country. I would put (Kevin) KingSidney Jones and Budda (Baker)up against any secondary in the nation. Jones is probably a first-rounder and I'm guessing Budda goes second day (Rounds 2-3), but King deserves more attention for his play as well." -- NFC regional scout on the Washington secondary

The skinny: Jones jumped out to me this summer when I was putting together my list of the top cornerbacks to watch in 2016, and his fellow CB King had several flashes as well, although I didn't include him on the list. Baker, a safety, rolls downhill with no fear and is a reliable tackler. To this scout's point, Washington has plenty of talent and its secondary is among the catalysts for the team's success this season.

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