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Published: Jan. 3, 2017 at 03:54 p.m.

Top 25 prospects playing in national championship game

Clemson and Alabama are coming off impressive performances in the College Football Playoff and will meet to decide the national championship for the second consecutive year on Monday night.
NFL scouts are booking their flights to see this talent-laden matchup Tampa. Here are the top 25 players scouts will be watching, either in anticipation of this year's draft or to keep in the back of their minds for future drafts.

25 Photos Total

  • Averett has gone from whipping boy to battle-tested defender over the past couple of seasons. With guys like Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick defending outside, offensive coordinators targeted Averett regularly. Now, they're not so sure they can make a lot of plays against the 6-foot corner with very good speed. Against Washington in the Peach Bowl, Averett was in tight coverage and also showed his ability to blitz off the edge. Now, he'll get a chance to show how he handles big receivers like Mike Williams and Deon Cain or quicker guys like Hunter Renfrow and Ray-Ray McCloud. 25

    Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY Sports

    25. Anthony Averett, CB, Alabama

    Averett has gone from whipping boy to battle-tested defender over the past couple of seasons. With guys like Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick defending outside, offensive coordinators targeted Averett regularly. Now, they're not so sure they can make a lot of plays against the 6-foot corner with very good speed. Against Washington in the Peach Bowl, Averett was in tight coverage and also showed his ability to blitz off the edge. Now, he'll get a chance to show how he handles big receivers like Mike Williams and Deon Cain or quicker guys like Hunter Renfrow and Ray-Ray McCloud.

  • Crowder is a short, squatty guard who plays with a nasty streak that NFL offensive line coaches love. He proved again against Ohio State that his low center of gravity and 340-pound build make him an excellent run blocker. But Clemson coaches also trust him to move on run plays and as a personal protector when Deshaun Watson leaves the pocket. Crowder will face multiple future pros inside, however, in Da'Ron Payne, Dalvin Tomlinson and Josh Frazier. Staying strong and opening holes against those guys will assure scouts that he can be a longtime Sunday starter. 24

    Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports

    24. Tyrone Crowder, OG, Clemson

    Crowder is a short, squatty guard who plays with a nasty streak that NFL offensive line coaches love. He proved again against Ohio State that his low center of gravity and 340-pound build make him an excellent run blocker. But Clemson coaches also trust him to move on run plays and as a personal protector when Deshaun Watson leaves the pocket. Crowder will face multiple future pros inside, however, in Da'Ron Payne, Dalvin Tomlinson and Josh Frazier. Staying strong and opening holes against those guys will assure scouts that he can be a longtime Sunday starter.

  • It's easy to be overlooked on a stacked defensive line rotation like Alabama's. In fact, it was a tough choice on whether to include Hand, Da'Ron Payne or Dalvin Tomlinson in this spot. Hand's combination of size (6-4, 280) and athleticism might make him the best pro of the three. Returning to Tuscaloosa for 2017 could allow him to excel in his final year like teammate Jonathan Allen, coming off the edge on early downs and moving inside to utilize his quickness in pass-rush mode. In last year's national title game, Hand had four tackles, two for loss. Repeating that performance will set him up for a breakout senior season. 23

    Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

    23. Da'Shawn Hand, DL, Alabama

    It's easy to be overlooked on a stacked defensive line rotation like Alabama's. In fact, it was a tough choice on whether to include Hand, Da'Ron Payne or Dalvin Tomlinson in this spot. Hand's combination of size (6-4, 280) and athleticism might make him the best pro of the three. Returning to Tuscaloosa for 2017 could allow him to excel in his final year like teammate Jonathan Allen, coming off the edge on early downs and moving inside to utilize his quickness in pass-rush mode. In last year's national title game, Hand had four tackles, two for loss. Repeating that performance will set him up for a breakout senior season.

  • Hurts has had a remarkable true freshman season, leading the Tide to a perfect record thus far. He has room to grow as a pocket passer, certainly, but there's no doubting his arm talent and toughness. Hurts has had issues with fumbles this year, and had another in the Peach Bowl. He'll need to have better ball security against Clemson's aggressive defense. Regardless of how he plays in the title game, Hurts has a great future ahead of him. 22

    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    22. Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama

    Hurts has had a remarkable true freshman season, leading the Tide to a perfect record thus far. He has room to grow as a pocket passer, certainly, but there's no doubting his arm talent and toughness. Hurts has had issues with fumbles this year, and had another in the Peach Bowl. He'll need to have better ball security against Clemson's aggressive defense. Regardless of how he plays in the title game, Hurts has a great future ahead of him.

  • Unfortunately, the 6-5, 255-pound Leggett is a bit banged-up right now, and he struggled to make it through the semifinal. When healthy, 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 was even a mismatch at times for Alabama's talented defenders last year, catching five passes for 78 yards and a score. Having him as a healthy blocker and receiver is a key for Clemson. 21

    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    21. Jordan Leggett, TE, Clemson

    Unfortunately, the 6-5, 255-pound Leggett is a bit banged-up right now, and he struggled to make it through the semifinal. When healthy, 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 was even a mismatch at times for Alabama's talented defenders last year, catching five passes for 78 yards and a score. Having him as a healthy blocker and receiver is a key for Clemson.

  • Ohio State bottled up Gallman pretty well through three quarters in the Fiesta Bowl, holding him to 40 yards on 15 carries. Once the Buckeyes were loosened up in the fourth quarter, he gained 45 yards on his final three carries. The junior back runs a bit high, allowing defenders to stop his advances a bit easier than they should given his strength. That was a problem against Alabama in last year's title game. However, Gallman is capable of accelerating through holes into daylight and is tough for smaller defenders to bring down in space; he made big gains as a receiver and a 34-yard rush against the Tide last January, something he'll need to do again for the Tigers to stay close. 20

    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Pres

    20. Wayne Gallman, RB, Clemson

    Ohio State bottled up Gallman pretty well through three quarters in the Fiesta Bowl, holding him to 40 yards on 15 carries. Once the Buckeyes were loosened up in the fourth quarter, he gained 45 yards on his final three carries. The junior back runs a bit high, allowing defenders to stop his advances a bit easier than they should given his strength. That was a problem against Alabama in last year's title game. However, Gallman is capable of accelerating through holes into daylight and is tough for smaller defenders to bring down in space; he made big gains as a receiver and a 34-yard rush against the Tide last January, something he'll need to do again for the Tigers to stay close.

  • Nick Saban appreciates the sophomore's ability to be a "joker" on defense. After senior leader Eddie Jackson went down due to injury, Fitzpatrick has showed off his versatility and ball skills in his stead. He made his team-leading sixth interception against Washington, to go along with 12 pass breakups on the year, and has helped the Tide's defense score five times in the past two years. Expect him to make a play in coverage in the title game, whether it's an interception or crucial pass breakup to prevent a big play for Deshaun Watson and his receivers. 19

    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    19. Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama

    Nick Saban appreciates the sophomore's ability to be a "joker" on defense. After senior leader Eddie Jackson went down due to injury, Fitzpatrick has showed off his versatility and ball skills in his stead. He made his team-leading sixth interception against Washington, to go along with 12 pass breakups on the year, and has helped the Tide's defense score five times in the past two years. Expect him to make a play in coverage in the title game, whether it's an interception or crucial pass breakup to prevent a big play for Deshaun Watson and his receivers.

  • It's hard not to think of former San Francisco 49ers safety Merton Hanks when seeing Harrison run all over the field for the Tide. The rangy defender popped Washington ball carriers six times in the semifinal game, using his speed and ability to diagnose off the snap. The sophomore is an excellent last line of defense; he'll need to be a factor when Deshaun Watson is looking for Mike Williams downfield, and when the quarterback takes off as a runner. 18

    Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

    18. Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama

    It's hard not to think of former San Francisco 49ers safety Merton Hanks when seeing Harrison run all over the field for the Tide. The rangy defender popped Washington ball carriers six times in the semifinal game, using his speed and ability to diagnose off the snap. The sophomore is an excellent last line of defense; he'll need to be a factor when Deshaun Watson is looking for Mike Williams downfield, and when the quarterback takes off as a runner.

  • With ArDarius Stewart becoming quarterback Jalen Hurts' big-play receiver, Ridley's taken a bit of a backseat this season. He had only one catch for six yards against Washington, as the passing offense stalled against the Huskies' defense. Regardless, the team's leading receiver has extreme quickness with or without the ball, but his body control and ability to high-point passes downfield make him a potential difference-maker in the Antonio Brown mold at the next level. 17

    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    17. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

    With ArDarius Stewart becoming quarterback Jalen Hurts' big-play receiver, Ridley's taken a bit of a backseat this season. He had only one catch for six yards against Washington, as the passing offense stalled against the Huskies' defense. Regardless, the team's leading receiver has extreme quickness with or without the ball, but his body control and ability to high-point passes downfield make him a potential difference-maker in the Antonio Brown mold at the next level.

  • After a shaky start, Humphrey's coverage skills limited the deep passing game of Washington in the Tide's semifinal win. The redshirt sophomore was the victim on QB Jake Browning's touchdown pass to Dante Pettis early, but his coverage allowed the pass rush to reach the quarterback in the pocket later on. The son of a former NFL running back, Humphrey plays with the physicality of a guy who was taught to be tough. He'll need to play tough if lined up against Mike Williams throughout the final, as Williams can separate from most corners downfield using his strong upper body. 16

    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    16. Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama

    After a shaky start, Humphrey's coverage skills limited the deep passing game of Washington in the Tide's semifinal win. The redshirt sophomore was the victim on QB Jake Browning's touchdown pass to Dante Pettis early, but his coverage allowed the pass rush to reach the quarterback in the pocket later on. The son of a former NFL running back, Humphrey plays with the physicality of a guy who was taught to be tough. He'll need to play tough if lined up against Mike Williams throughout the final, as Williams can separate from most corners downfield using his strong upper body.

  • Lawrence didn't make much of an impact against Ohio State, but his presence will be needed against the interior running game of the Tide. Despite being a true freshman on a defense stacked with NFL talent, Lawrence ranks among the team leaders in tackles (59), fourth in tackles for loss (9.5) and second in sacks (seven). The ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year has a chance to make hay against the interior of Alabama's offensive line because of his power and agility. 15

    Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

    15. Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson

    Lawrence didn't make much of an impact against Ohio State, but his presence will be needed against the interior running game of the Tide. Despite being a true freshman on a defense stacked with NFL talent, Lawrence ranks among the team leaders in tackles (59), fourth in tackles for loss (9.5) and second in sacks (seven). The ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year has a chance to make hay against the interior of Alabama's offensive line because of his power and agility.

  • The first-team All-ACC pick by league media has a great chance to launch a strong 2017 season by holding back Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams and whomever else Alabama coaches line up against him. He's shown the athleticism to keep pass rushers at bay during his career, as well as the strength to seal his man in the run game. A couple of times in last year's title game, however, he learned the hard way that overextending and stopping his feet will result in his quarterback taking a shot. That can't happen very often on Monday night if the Tigers' passing game is to be effective. 14

    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    14. Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson

    The first-team All-ACC pick by league media has a great chance to launch a strong 2017 season by holding back Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams and whomever else Alabama coaches line up against him. He's shown the athleticism to keep pass rushers at bay during his career, as well as the strength to seal his man in the run game. A couple of times in last year's title game, however, he learned the hard way that overextending and stopping his feet will result in his quarterback taking a shot. That can't happen very often on Monday night if the Tigers' passing game is to be effective.

  • In case anyone was wondering who would join Christian Wilkins as the next NFL-caliber defensive end coming from Clemson, Ferrell decided to answer that question in the Tigers' beatdown of Ohio State. The second-year player redshirted in 2015 to get healthy from a torn ACL that caused him to miss his final season of high school football. But he had 8.5 tackles for loss and five sacks coming into the game against Ohio State. Whether working on twists inside against a troubled left guard spot for the Buckeyes or coming off the edge, Ferrell continually appeared in the backfield, making three tackles for loss and a sack. 13

    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    13. Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson

    In case anyone was wondering who would join Christian Wilkins as the next NFL-caliber defensive end coming from Clemson, Ferrell decided to answer that question in the Tigers' beatdown of Ohio State. The second-year player redshirted in 2015 to get healthy from a torn ACL that caused him to miss his final season of high school football. But he had 8.5 tackles for loss and five sacks coming into the game against Ohio State. Whether working on twists inside against a troubled left guard spot for the Buckeyes or coming off the edge, Ferrell continually appeared in the backfield, making three tackles for loss and a sack.

  • Howard turned out to be quarterback Jalen Hurts' favorite target against Washington. Howard was the only receiver with more than one catch on the night (4-40). Clemson remembers Howard well, as he finally was used as a playmaker in the Alabama offense in last year's title game, catching five passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns. He'll be a primary focus of the Tigers' defense this year. Still, combining the value of a safety valve with big-play potential makes Howard a likely early round pick. 12

    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    12. O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama

    Howard turned out to be quarterback Jalen Hurts' favorite target against Washington. Howard was the only receiver with more than one catch on the night (4-40). Clemson remembers Howard well, as he finally was used as a playmaker in the Alabama offense in last year's title game, catching five passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns. He'll be a primary focus of the Tigers' defense this year. Still, combining the value of a safety valve with big-play potential makes Howard a likely early round pick.

  • Wilkins is a sophomore talent who looks like a defensive tackle but plays outside for Clemson due to agility and power. He had his team-leading 13th tackle for loss against Ohio State, using his athleticism to control the edge against the run. His matchup against freshman right tackle Jonah Williams will be a key one in the national championship game. 11

    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    11. Christian Wilkins, DE, Clemson

    Wilkins is a sophomore talent who looks like a defensive tackle but plays outside for Clemson due to agility and power. He had his team-leading 13th tackle for loss against Ohio State, using his athleticism to control the edge against the run. His matchup against freshman right tackle Jonah Williams will be a key one in the national championship game.

  • Tankersley secured his third interception in the last two games late against Ohio State. The senior has the height and length to be a starting NFL corner, and isn't afraid to mix it up near the line of scrimmage or downfield. He'll get more chances to prove himself against Tide receivers on Monday night, as he makes his case for a first-round draft slot. 10

    Ric Tapia/Associated Press

    10. Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson

    Tankersley secured his third interception in the last two games late against Ohio State. The senior has the height and length to be a starting NFL corner, and isn't afraid to mix it up near the line of scrimmage or downfield. He'll get more chances to prove himself against Tide receivers on Monday night, as he makes his case for a first-round draft slot.

  • Usually, linebackers or defensive ends lead their team in sacks, but Watkins ranks first on the Tigers with 10.5 quarterback stops, including two against Ohio State in the semifinal to go along with two batted-down passes. While a bit under the radar nationally, he's among the top tackles in the senior class as far as scouts are concerned due to his relentless nature. There are weak points in Alabama's offensive line of which Watkins can take advantage using his quickness and strength. 9

    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    9. Carlos Watkins, DT, Clemson

    Usually, linebackers or defensive ends lead their team in sacks, but Watkins ranks first on the Tigers with 10.5 quarterback stops, including two against Ohio State in the semifinal to go along with two batted-down passes. While a bit under the radar nationally, he's among the top tackles in the senior class as far as scouts are concerned due to his relentless nature. There are weak points in Alabama's offensive line of which Watkins can take advantage using his quickness and strength.

  • Early in Alabama's win over Washington, Scarbrough pounded his way into the end zone to answer the Huskies' opening score. His combination of power and speed on his 19 carries during the course of the game resulted in 180 yards, including a highlight-reel 68-yard touchdown run that led to comparisons to 2015 Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry. Last year, Henry had 36 carries for 158 yards and three scores against Clemson's defense -- 20 of those carries in the first half. If Nick Saban has his way, new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will give Scarbrough a similar workload this time around. 8

    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    8. Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama

    Early in Alabama's win over Washington, Scarbrough pounded his way into the end zone to answer the Huskies' opening score. His combination of power and speed on his 19 carries during the course of the game resulted in 180 yards, including a highlight-reel 68-yard touchdown run that led to comparisons to 2015 Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry. Last year, Henry had 36 carries for 158 yards and three scores against Clemson's defense -- 20 of those carries in the first half. If Nick Saban has his way, new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will give Scarbrough a similar workload this time around.

  • Anderson is the glue of Alabama's defense, proving that again with a great pick-six against Washington. He's usually in the right place at the right time. The team leader with 17 tackles for loss is an all-around talent worthy of recognition, and his play will be a key in controlling the running of Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman, as well as making Watson uncomfortable in the pocket. 7

    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    7. Ryan Anderson, LB, Alabama

    Anderson is the glue of Alabama's defense, proving that again with a great pick-six against Washington. He's usually in the right place at the right time. The team leader with 17 tackles for loss is an all-around talent worthy of recognition, and his play will be a key in controlling the running of Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman, as well as making Watson uncomfortable in the pocket.

  • Robinson is a nasty blocker. He absolutely collapses the edge in the run game, and often is used to lead runs despite not being the most fleet-of-foot tackle prospect. The Outland Trophy winner is usually a brick wall in pass protection, but his lateral agility and recovery speed will be challenged by Clemson ends and tackles on the Tigers' twists. The All-American might also be asked to pick up linebackers blitzing off the edge, as well. NFL teams looking for a starting left tackle will be watching Robinson closely. 6

    Matthew Visinsky/Associated Pres

    6. Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama

    Robinson is a nasty blocker. He absolutely collapses the edge in the run game, and often is used to lead runs despite not being the most fleet-of-foot tackle prospect. The Outland Trophy winner is usually a brick wall in pass protection, but his lateral agility and recovery speed will be challenged by Clemson ends and tackles on the Tigers' twists. The All-American might also be asked to pick up linebackers blitzing off the edge, as well. NFL teams looking for a starting left tackle will be watching Robinson closely.

  • Scouts know all about Williams' speed and power off the edge, and he made Huskies quarterback Jake Browning uncomfortable in the pocket a few times in the Peach Bowl. Williams added a half sack to his stats, giving him 16 tackles for loss and nine sacks this season. He could use more polish as a rusher, though. He needs to add a counter move and turn the corner in other situations once beating his man upfield. To his credit, Williams looked pretty smooth dropping in coverage and held his ground in the run game vs. UW. NFL teams that think he can put everything together in one package will likely give him top-10 grades. 5

    Samantha Baker/Associated Press

    5. Tim Williams, LB, Alabama

    Scouts know all about Williams' speed and power off the edge, and he made Huskies quarterback Jake Browning uncomfortable in the pocket a few times in the Peach Bowl. Williams added a half sack to his stats, giving him 16 tackles for loss and nine sacks this season. He could use more polish as a rusher, though. He needs to add a counter move and turn the corner in other situations once beating his man upfield. To his credit, Williams looked pretty smooth dropping in coverage and held his ground in the run game vs. UW. NFL teams that think he can put everything together in one package will likely give him top-10 grades.

  • When Williams was able to keep his footing in the Fiesta Bowl, he showed the strong hands and physicality to be a No. 1 receiver at the next level. General managers will want to check out his medical exams to ensure his neck is fine after missing almost all of the 2015 season with the injury. But he continues to make the case that he's the top WR in college football. 4

    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    4. Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

    When Williams was able to keep his footing in the Fiesta Bowl, he showed the strong hands and physicality to be a No. 1 receiver at the next level. General managers will want to check out his medical exams to ensure his neck is fine after missing almost all of the 2015 season with the injury. But he continues to make the case that he's the top WR in college football.

  • Once again, Foster was part of more tackles than any other Alabama defender in its playoff semifinal victory (9). He was the team's top stopper coming into the game, partially because he's playing 15 pounds lighter than he did in 2015. Foster will be watching for Deshaun Watson to run out of the pocket, and he'll be filling the hole if the Tigers try to run between the tackles. 3

    Jason Getz/USA TODAY Sports

    3. Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama

    Once again, Foster was part of more tackles than any other Alabama defender in its playoff semifinal victory (9). He was the team's top stopper coming into the game, partially because he's playing 15 pounds lighter than he did in 2015. Foster will be watching for Deshaun Watson to run out of the pocket, and he'll be filling the hole if the Tigers try to run between the tackles.

  • The senior defensive lineman is the winner of the 2016 Chuck Bednarik and Bronco Nagurski Awards as the nation's top defender. While only ranking 43rd in the FBS in sacks (8.5) and third on his own team with 13 tackles for loss, Allen's abilities transcend statistics. Scouts love his versatility to play inside and outside. He displays supreme hustle to the ball on every snap. His hands are as strong as any lineman's in the country, and he uses them to discard his opponents. Allen is a force that NFL teams can't wait to plug into their lines, whether as a three- or five-technique. 2

    Jason Getz/USA TODAY Sports

    2. Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama

    The senior defensive lineman is the winner of the 2016 Chuck Bednarik and Bronco Nagurski Awards as the nation's top defender. While only ranking 43rd in the FBS in sacks (8.5) and third on his own team with 13 tackles for loss, Allen's abilities transcend statistics. Scouts love his versatility to play inside and outside. He displays supreme hustle to the ball on every snap. His hands are as strong as any lineman's in the country, and he uses them to discard his opponents. Allen is a force that NFL teams can't wait to plug into their lines, whether as a three- or five-technique.

  • Yes, Watson threw two interceptions against Ohio State. One occurred after his receiver slipped, the other on an excellent play by safety Malik Hooker. But scouts were still impressed by his command of the offense and ability to move the team against a good Buckeyes defense. After a shaky midseason stretch, Watson has looked strong from the pocket late in the year, nailing slants and downfield throws while trusting his receivers to make plays through anticipation of routes -- an underrated trait for a NFL starting quarterback. Also, he's used his feet to pick up yards, something he'll definitely do at the next level when needed. Now, Watson faces a defense loaded with future NFL players in the Tide, a group that is even better than the one he torched for 305 yards and four scores in last year's battle. 1

    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    1. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

    Yes, Watson threw two interceptions against Ohio State. One occurred after his receiver slipped, the other on an excellent play by safety Malik Hooker. But scouts were still impressed by his command of the offense and ability to move the team against a good Buckeyes defense. After a shaky midseason stretch, Watson has looked strong from the pocket late in the year, nailing slants and downfield throws while trusting his receivers to make plays through anticipation of routes -- an underrated trait for a NFL starting quarterback. Also, he's used his feet to pick up yards, something he'll definitely do at the next level when needed. Now, Watson faces a defense loaded with future NFL players in the Tide, a group that is even better than the one he torched for 305 yards and four scores in last year's battle.