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Published: Dec. 28, 2016 at 11:21 a.m.

College Football Playoff preview: Top 10 Clemson prospects

Once again, Dabo Swinney's team is heading into the College Football Playoff, and once again, it's loaded with NFL-caliber talent. There will be a slew of future NFL players wearing orange and white on New Year's Eve (Fiesta Bowl vs. Ohio State, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN). Here are my top 10 Clemson prospects.

10 Photos Total

  • With apologies to all their other Clemson Tigers with NFL potential that could have been ranked here (there are many), I'm going with one of the "big uglies" for the last spot on this list. Crowder is a short, squatty guard who plays with a nasty streak that NFL offensive line coaches love. He's listed at 6-foot-2, though I'm guessing that's a bit kind. His low center of gravity and 340-pound build are the reasons he's so successful as a run blocker, however. Crowder will attempt to get under the pads of Buckeyes defensive linemen in the run game, and despite his weight, he's able to hit targets off the line to free up the second level for Wayne Gallman and Co. 10

    Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports

    10. Tyrone Crowder, G

    With apologies to all their other Clemson Tigers with NFL potential that could have been ranked here (there are many), I'm going with one of the "big uglies" for the last spot on this list. Crowder is a short, squatty guard who plays with a nasty streak that NFL offensive line coaches love. He's listed at 6-foot-2, though I'm guessing that's a bit kind. His low center of gravity and 340-pound build are the reasons he's so successful as a run blocker, however. Crowder will attempt to get under the pads of Buckeyes defensive linemen in the run game, and despite his weight, he's able to hit targets off the line to free up the second level for Wayne Gallman and Co.

  • Deshaun Watson's second-favorite target down the field (Mike Williams is No. 1) has been the 6-5, 255-pound Leggett. The senior tight end exploits the middle of the field with aplomb, reaching over linebackers and safeties to snatch the ball from the air. He's a bit of a strider, taking time to accelerate off the line, but once in motion, he's fluid and athletic. Leggett gives effort as an in-line blocker, which he'll need to do against Ohio State's defensive ends and blitzing corners to help out his tackles. 9

    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    9. Jordan Leggett, TE

    Deshaun Watson's second-favorite target down the field (Mike Williams is No. 1) has been the 6-5, 255-pound Leggett. The senior tight end exploits the middle of the field with aplomb, reaching over linebackers and safeties to snatch the ball from the air. He's a bit of a strider, taking time to accelerate off the line, but once in motion, he's fluid and athletic. Leggett gives effort as an in-line blocker, which he'll need to do against Ohio State's defensive ends and blitzing corners to help out his tackles.

  • Although Deshaun Watson and Mike Williams get the headlines, Clemson's offense is most efficient when Gallman is having success. The junior back runs a bit high, allowing defenders to stop his advance a bit easier than they should, given his strength. Nonetheless, his thick build and speed give him a chance to break off a long run at any time. Scouts will see his ability as a pass protector and receiver, two big pluses for a back heading to the NFL. 8

    Richard Shiro/Associated Press

    8. Wayne Gallman, RB

    Although Deshaun Watson and Mike Williams get the headlines, Clemson's offense is most efficient when Gallman is having success. The junior back runs a bit high, allowing defenders to stop his advance a bit easier than they should, given his strength. Nonetheless, his thick build and speed give him a chance to break off a long run at any time. Scouts will see his ability as a pass protector and receiver, two big pluses for a back heading to the NFL.

  • How's this for a freshman campaign? Lawrence is fourth on the team in tackles (59), fourth in tackles for loss (9.5), and second in sacks (seven). Not bad on a crew with as much pro talent as the Tigers. An explosive athlete with power and quickness, Lawrence can overwhelm most opponents on the college level. The ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year will also get a taste of a top-notch offensive linemen facing guard Billy Price, senior center Pat Elflein, and fellow freshman phenom Michael Jordan. Excelling there will only expand his mythos. 7

    Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

    7. Dexter Lawrence, DT

    How's this for a freshman campaign? Lawrence is fourth on the team in tackles (59), fourth in tackles for loss (9.5), and second in sacks (seven). Not bad on a crew with as much pro talent as the Tigers. An explosive athlete with power and quickness, Lawrence can overwhelm most opponents on the college level. The ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year will also get a taste of a top-notch offensive linemen facing guard Billy Price, senior center Pat Elflein, and fellow freshman phenom Michael Jordan. Excelling there will only expand his mythos.

  • Usually, outside linebackers or defensive ends lead their team in sacks, but Watkins ranks first on the Tigers with 8.5 quarterback stops. While he's a bit under the radar nationally, he's among the top tackles in the senior class due to his relentless nature up front. Seeing him work against the NFL-caliber interior offensive line for Ohio State will be a nice study for NFL teams. 6

    Rainier Ehrhardt/Associated Press

    6. Carlos Watkins, DT

    Usually, outside linebackers or defensive ends lead their team in sacks, but Watkins ranks first on the Tigers with 8.5 quarterback stops. While he's a bit under the radar nationally, he's among the top tackles in the senior class due to his relentless nature up front. Seeing him work against the NFL-caliber interior offensive line for Ohio State will be a nice study for NFL teams.

  • Deshaun Watson owes a debt of gratitude to Hyatt, who is a very strong and nimble pass protector on the blind side. He's adept at blocking down and then coming off to push aside a stunting linebacker, keeping Watson clean. Hyatt's no slouch in the run game, either, using his solid frame, agility and strong legs to seal the edge or reach second-level targets. You'll be hearing a lot about him in 2017, as well. 5

    Rainier Ehrhardt/Associated Press

    5. Mitch Hyatt, OT

    Deshaun Watson owes a debt of gratitude to Hyatt, who is a very strong and nimble pass protector on the blind side. He's adept at blocking down and then coming off to push aside a stunting linebacker, keeping Watson clean. Hyatt's no slouch in the run game, either, using his solid frame, agility and strong legs to seal the edge or reach second-level targets. You'll be hearing a lot about him in 2017, as well.

  • Wilkins is a sophomore who looks like a defensive tackle but plays outside for Clemson due to his agility and power. He leads the team with 12 tackles for loss, using his athleticism to control the edge against the run and to get to the quarterback when needed. The playoffs should be a jump-off point for All-America and other honors in 2017. 4

    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    4. Christian Wilkins, DE

    Wilkins is a sophomore who looks like a defensive tackle but plays outside for Clemson due to his agility and power. He leads the team with 12 tackles for loss, using his athleticism to control the edge against the run and to get to the quarterback when needed. The playoffs should be a jump-off point for All-America and other honors in 2017.

  • Tankersley has good length and has shown the ability to create turnovers (eight interceptions over the past two years -- two against Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game). Scouts will pay attention to his matchups against Ohio State playmakers Noah Brown and Curtis Samuel. 3

    Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports

    3. Cordrea Tankersley, CB

    Tankersley has good length and has shown the ability to create turnovers (eight interceptions over the past two years -- two against Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game). Scouts will pay attention to his matchups against Ohio State playmakers Noah Brown and Curtis Samuel.

  • Over the past final weeks of the regular season, Williams distanced himself from the pack as the top receiver prospect in the country. The scary neck injury he suffered in 2015 might still be on NFL teams' minds, but he isn't playing scared. He's carried defenders into the end zone on multiple occasions, turned on the jets in the open field to make big gains and has very strong hands. Williams and Deshaun Watson will contend with that excellent OSU secondary. 2

    Rainier Ehrhardt/Associated Press

    2. Mike Williams, WR

    Over the past final weeks of the regular season, Williams distanced himself from the pack as the top receiver prospect in the country. The scary neck injury he suffered in 2015 might still be on NFL teams' minds, but he isn't playing scared. He's carried defenders into the end zone on multiple occasions, turned on the jets in the open field to make big gains and has very strong hands. Williams and Deshaun Watson will contend with that excellent OSU secondary.

  • During the middle of the season, Watson looked out of sorts as a passer. Since then, he's turned on the accuracy at all levels of the field and has 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 studied by NFL teams in the evaluation process. 1

    Richard Shiro/Associated Press

    1. Deshaun Watson, QB

    During the middle of the season, Watson looked out of sorts as a passer. Since then, he's turned on the accuracy at all levels of the field and has 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 studied by NFL teams in the evaluation process.