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What we learned from Championship Weekend in college football

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  • By Daniel Jeremiah, Bucky Brooks, Lance Zierlein and Chad Reuter NFL.com
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Here's a look at what NFL.com analysts learned about prospects in Week 14 of the college football season.

1. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson saved his best for last. I thought his performance Saturday against Virginia Tech in the ACC title game was his best performance of the season. He started out 10 for 10 and made clutch plays in the second half to secure the victory for Clemson. It's always helpful to scout quarterbacks in person because you can get a good feel for how they interact and lead their teammates. I thought he did a really nice job rallying his team and showed toughness both as a runner and a pocket passer. He took some big hits tonight.

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It wasn't all perfect for him. He missed a couple throws, had some balls tipped and was bailed out by a couple favorable pass-interference penalties. However, he remained calm and poised in crucial situations. I don't think he's a really crisp passer, but I do admire his grit and competitiveness. His evaluation will be a tricky one in the coming months, should he (as expected) enter the 2017 NFL Draft. -- Daniel Jeremiah

2. I went down to the field before the ACC title game to get a look at the top prospects, and one thing that immediately jumped to me was how Clemson WR Mike Williams is built like Andre Johnson. He's huge. He has a thick, muscled-up frame and very long arms. He played really well tonight. He used his big frame to wall off cornerbacks on slants and skinny posts. He showed the ability to play inside and outside. I wish they would've given him more opportunities down the field, but he still found a way to impact the game. -- Daniel Jeremiah

3. Oklahoma WR Dede Westbrook will intrigue NFL scouts with his polished receiving skills and explosive playmaking ability, but concerns over his size and durability could affect his standing on draft boards around the league.

Measuring 6-foot, 175 pounds, Westbrook has a slender build for a WR1. Although his impressive stop-start quickness and slippery running skills make him a terror to defend outside of the numbers, he lacks the bulk to withstand the pounding that comes with doing the dirty work between the hashes. Against Oklahoma State, Westbrook certainly flashed his tantalizing skills in a 4-catch, 111-yard performance that featured a spectacular 69-yard catch-and-run score that confirmed his status as one of the most explosive playmakers in college football.

On the flip side, Westbrook left the game early after taking a big hit over the middle. While teams won't necessarily downgrade players for injuries, the early exit will continue to raise concerns about his ability to survive as a WR1 in the league. -- Bucky Brooks

4. There's no question the Alabama front seven deserves a lot of praise for the team's stellar defensive play, but NFL scouts and coaches will also quickly fall in love with Nick Saban's defensive backs. The Crimson Tide has a crew of pro-ready defenders in the secondary, particularly Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick.

The dynamic duo possesses the requisite size (Humphrey is listed at 6-1, 195 pounds; Fitzpatrick measures 6-1, 200 pounds) and athleticism. They are instinctive corners with impressive ball skills and tackling ability. While a hamstring injury limited Humphrey's participation against Florida on Saturday, Fitzpatrick was the star of the show with a pick-six and a number of splash plays that will pique the interest of scouts looking for a versatile, big-bodied defender in the backend. The sophomore grabbed an errant pass and followed a convoy of blockers for an easy score. He later showed terrific instincts and awareness breaking up a 4th-and-goal pass to Florida TE DeAndre Goolsby. Considering how many teams are searching for safeties with cover corner skills, Fitzpatrick could join his heralded teammate as a hot commodity in meeting rooms around the league. -- Bucky Brooks

5. I've said it a million times this fall -- college football is loaded with running back talent. That being said, Clemson's Wayne Gallman is one of my favorite backs to study. His numbers won't jump off the page tonight -- 17 carries for 59 yards and 1 touchdown -- but he ran extremely hard and did a great job in pass protection. He's a complete back and scouts in attendance believe he's ideally suited for the NFL. -- Daniel Jeremiah

6. The ACC Championship Game was a high-scoring contest, but there were a couple of defensive standouts. The biggest contributor was Clemson CB Cordrea Tankersley. He's a tall, long cornerback with excellent ball skills. He picked off two balls tonight. He showed off his athleticism on one pick -- he tapped his toes on the sideline -- while the other one clinched the win late in the fourth quarter. I haven't studied him on tape, but this was one heck of a performance. -- Daniel Jeremiah

7. Penn State's passing attack was the story of the Big Ten Championship Game, but RB Saquon Barkley showed flashes of why he will likely be considered the top running back in CFB next season. The Wisconsin defensive front was extremely aggressive and active against the running game, but Barkley still managed to grind it out between the tackles while darting and accelerating to the outside on a couple of strong carries. His one-yard rushing touchdown showed off his strength as an interior runner, while his 18-yard touchdown catch on a wheel route showed why he will be a an every-down back in the NFL. -- Lance Zierlein

8. It might be hard for scouts to overlook Oklahoma Baker Mayfield's lack of height (6-foot-1, per school measurements), but they certainly should love his heart, competitive spirit and ability to move the ball through the air.

The fourth-year passer had a typically strong performance in the win over rival Oklahoma State on Saturday. Always working out of the shotgun, Mayfield knows the offense, can throw to a spot and is capable of finding a second option if his initial read is not available. He's at his best, though, when he's out of the pocket, seeing receivers on the move and delivering on-target throws downfield. The former Texas Tech quarterback lost his top receiver, Dede Westbrook, to injury in the first half but continued to deliver on-target passes to his other receivers. Mayfield might not have a plus arm, but there's a reason Westbrook has 12 scores of 40 yards or more this season -- the quarterback displays enough arm strength and touch to produce a catchable deep ball. And on a day where Cowboys quarterback Mason Rudolph had troubles with wet conditions, Mayfield had no such issues with ball handling or throwing in the rain.

The Sooners' leader announced after the game that he intends to return to Norman for another season, so even if he doesn't pick up the Heisman Trophy for his efforts this year, he'll be a top contender for the award heading into 2017. -- Chad Reuter

9. Wisconsin RB Corey Clement turned in a strong performance on Saturday against Penn State with 164 yards rushing on 21 carries, including a touchdown. After studying him heavily on tape two weeks ago, I realized he was a much better runner toward the perimeter than downhill, and we saw that again tonight with his 67-yard touchdown run coming on a play he bounced outside. With that said, I thought he did a better job of finding yards between the tackles rather than just running up his blocker's backs. I was pleased to see his involvement in the passing game, but his two fumbles are a big mark against him in this one. -- Lance Zierlein

10. Florida WR Antonio Callaway, a sophomore, has had some ups and downs in his career at Florida, on and off the field. The skills he put on tape against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game will be awfully tempting to NFL scouts. His 5-11, 197-pound frame is sturdy, but his speed and agility are among the best in the country at the position. When his game is on, as it was early against the Tide, Callaway showed he can avoid tacklers as well as run past them in the open field. His touchdown catch in the first quarter displayed his strong hands, as he extended away from his body and the ball stuck to his hands. He and QB Austin Appleby had a miscommunication on an Alabama interception, but I don't believe Callaway was in the wrong there. Unfortunately, Callaway struggled with a hamstring issue in the second half of the game. The team needed his explosiveness. -- Chad Reuter

11. With all of the star power on Alabama's defense, it's easy to overlook some of the talent on the field. DL Dalvin Tomlinson takes a backseat to no one, however, in terms of power and hustle. He's constantly on the move -- he lines up at five technique, nose tackle and as a shaded tackle. A stout run defender, he plays with good leverage when man-up. But the senior tackle also has a strong first step that he uses to generate pressure, even though he doesn't rack up lots of sacks. His quickness in the third quarter on fourth-and-goal, threw off Florida's playaction, forcing a prayer throw. He'll be, at least, a valuable rotational player at the next level, and he might be more if the opportunity arises. -- Chad Reuter

12. TCU coach Gary Patterson has relied on undersized but tenacious linebackers in his 4-2-5 system for years. Travin Howard's the next star in that safety/linebacker role. The junior presented scouts with his typical athleticism Saturday vs. Kansas State, staying with receivers over the middle and down the seam in coverage without an issue. Howard does like to stick his nose in vs. the run, and is willing to square up to stop a ball carrier just outside the hole. His lack of bulk caused him to be easily moved by KSU offensive lineman, which was emblematic of the Wildcats' dominance of the game on the ground. Still, an NFL team looking for a chase-and-cover weak-side linebacker might have interest in his skill set down the line. -- Chad Reuter

13. Kansas State DE Jordan Willis came into the Wildcats' contest at TCU ranking ninth nationally with 10.5 sacks. His strength and length on the edge was evident, as he challenged the right tackle with a long stride and thick upper body. Willis overwhelmed his man on occasion, getting a first-half strip-sack by smothering the quarterback. Willis is a bit tight in the hips, though, and lacks flexibility, making it difficult for him to adjust to quarterbacks stepping up in the pocket. He missed out on a couple of sacks that other top left end prospects would have made because of his lack of suddenness. At times, running backs could run through Willis' gap without worrying about him disengaging from his blocker to make a play. Scouts will need to see more out of the senior if they are to give him a top-100 grade. -- Chad Reuter

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