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What we learned from 2016 College Football Playoff semifinals

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  • By Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks
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Here's a look at what NFL.com analysts learned about prospects who played in the College Football Playoff semifinal games on Saturday.

Fiesta Bowl: Clemson 31, Ohio State 0

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- If quarterbacks are measured on their ability to win games, it's hard to dismiss Deshaun Watson's chances of developing into a franchise quarterback at the next level based on his success as the leader of the Clemson Tigers. In a 31-0 win over Ohio State on Saturday, the two-time Heisman Trophy finalist once again showed the football world that he can lead his team to the winner's circle using a wide array of skills as a dual-threat playmaker.

Although the performance was far from perfect, it was another example of how Watson can dig deep into his bag of tricks to lead his team to victory.

Watson completed 23 of 36 passes for 259 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. He picked apart the Buckeyes with an assortment of quick-rhythm throws that showcased his accuracy, timing and ball placement on "catch, rock and fire" plays.

Watson delivered fastballs to his receivers on slants and quick hitches against zone-blitzes and soft coverage on the perimeter. Naturally, those throws should be automatic for an elite college quarterback, but they are also staples in a number of pro systems that extensively feature "quicks" as an extension of the running game. Considering how well Watson shoots "layups" from the shotgun, it's easy to envision him thriving in an offense that features a ball-control passing game.

As a deep-ball passer, Watson continued to struggle with his accuracy and ball placement on vertical routes. He overthrew a couple passes down the boundary and tossed a couple of picks on balls thrown at deep range. While the first INT was partially due to a slip and fall from his intended receiver on a post-corner, the second interception resulted from a poor read against single-high coverage. Watson locked onto the receiver on the rail route and his refusal to look off the safety allowed safety Malik Hooker to fly over the top on the go-route. This has been one of his issues throughout his career, and scouts will certainly question whether he can solve his turnover woes going forward.

CFB PLAYOFF SEMIFINALS


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Watson showed impressive skills as a runner on the perimeter. He totaled 57 rushing yards on 15 attempts, exhibiting terrific patience and timing with the ball in his hands. Watson cruises around the corner on designed quarterback runs, particularly QB counters and sweeps around the edge. With a pair of red-zone scores on clever misdirection runs, Watson will undoubtedly intrigue creative offensive coordinators adept at designed quarterback runs for athletic playmakers.

Overall, Watson probably didn't change the narrative surrounding his potential as a pro on Saturday, but he continues to prove to evaluators that he's the ultimate winner at the position.

2. Clemson's Mike Williams is the prototypical WR1 that NFL offensive coordinators covet in the passing game. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound pass-catcher is an explosive playmaker capable of delivering big plays on "catch and run" concepts or jump balls along the boundary.

Against Ohio State, Williams immediately made his presence felt when he scooted 37 yards on a quick slant against man coverage. He showcased his first-step quickness and burst when he exploded through the secondary for a big gain. Williams flashed his impressive ball skills and leaping ability on a 26-yard reception on a fade route down the sideline against Denzel Ward. Overall, he finished with 96 receiving yards on six receptions and confirmed his status as the top receiver in college football.

3. Ohio State S Malik Hooker has been touted as the best centerfielder in college football by several NFL scouts familiar with his game. He validated that hype with a few outstanding plays in the Fiesta Bowl that showcased his speed, quickness and ball skills as a rangy playmaker. Hooker picked off a deep ball in the front corner of the end zone in the second quarter despite playing as a deep middle defender in a single-high safety coverage. He not only displayed exceptional anticipation and awareness on the ball, but he flashed the kind of closing quickness that only future Pro Bowl safeties display on the field.

4. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett is an outstanding college quarterback, but he has a lot of work to do before NFL scouts will seriously consider him a legitimate prospect at the position.

Despite his impressive passing numbers, Barrett is at his best as the designated runner in the Buckeyes' offense. He simply lacks the timing, anticipation and touch to be an effective passer in a complex passing game at the next level. Sure, Barrett can complete a few isolation routes outside the numbers or occasionally between the hashes, but he lacks the pocket-passing skills to consistently lead an offense down the field on the strength of his right arm.

Barrett repeatedly misfired on tight-window (multiple defenders within close proximity of the intended receiver) throws to receivers between the hashes. In addition, he couldn't connect on a few deep tosses down the boundary. Although the Buckeyes' leaky pass protection didn't help, the veteran passer couldn't find his rhythm for most of the game. Considering how much evaluators value accurate passers in the pro game, I wonder if Barrett will ever be able to develop into the consistent passer most teams desire at the position.

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5. NFL scouts already count Clemson as a must-visit school based on its reputation for producing elite prospects, but teams in need of D-line help will pitch a tent on campus based on the surplus of front-line talent in the pipeline. Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Clelin Farrell are three of the most impressive young defensive linemen that you'll find in the country.

Each defender delivered a handful of splash plays that will pique the interest of scouts looking for disruptors at the point of attack. Whether it was Wilkins and Lawrence suffocating running attempts or Farrell harassing J.T. Barrett all over the field, the Tigers' young trio was arguably the most impressive group on the field. With a few more years left to refine their respective games, scouts should make travel plans to see the youngsters up close in 2017. -- Bucky Brooks

Peach Bowl: Alabama 24, Washington 7

ATLANTA -- Alabama RB Bo Scarbrough's performance on Saturday will garner a lot of attention from the media (it's well deserved, as he rushed for 180 yards), but this game was all about the studs on the Alabama defense.

Washington had possession of the ball and was trailing by just 3 points with less than 2 minutes remaining in the first half -- that's when the game completely changed.

Alabama LB Reuben Foster exploded through the line of scrimmage on a blitz, forcing Washington QB Jake Browning to rush a throw to the flat. Tide LB Ryan Anderson snatched the ball out of the air and returned it for a TD. Those two players have been making big plays throughout their careers at Alabama. From that point on, the Washington offense couldn't get anything going against this ferocious defense.

2. All-American Alabama DL Jonathan Allen was all over the field on Saturday. Three of his plays really stood out to me: 1) He showed his awareness and sniffed out a screen on 3rd-and-long. 2) He showed tremendous effort, chased a play down the field and scooped up a fumble. 3) He showed his value as a pass rusher, using his hands to pop/separate before bursting to record a sack.

3. Outside linebacker Tim Williams was a constant presence in the UW backfield. He relied almost solely on speed, but it was very effective. He has an explosive get-off and he can flatten to the QB without downshifting. He has the athletic ability to be a top-20 pick.

4. Although he's only a sophomore, it was easy to get excited about Scarbrough. I was in attendance for the Sugar Bowl when Derrick Henry exploded onto the national scene with a huge game (albeit in a losing effort) against Oklahoma. This was Scarbrough's night. He is enormous. The RB showed rare power and balance tonight. He also has build-up speed, as evidenced by his long TD run to put the game away. He's going to be fun to watch against either Clemson or Ohio State. On a night where the Alabama passing game was worthless, he stepped up and carried the offense.

5. I thought the entire Washington defense played admirably, but I was most impressed with its secondary. Safety Budda Baker showed the ability to match up in the slot and he was very instinctive in zone coverage. He dropped an easy interception at the beginning of the game, but overall, he helped his draft stock in this contest. He was also outstanding on kick coverage. He can contribute on all four downs.

6. CBs Sidney Jones and Kevin King handled a very talented Alabama receiving corps with ease. King was also very physical in run support. Alabama QB Jalen Hurts didn't even bother looking in Jones' direction. Both of these guys will be solid NFL starters.

7. Washington DT Vita Vea had a solid game. He generated some pressure with his foot quickness and held up well at the point of attack. It will be interesting to see if he declares for the 2017 draft. -- Daniel Jeremiah

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