The 2018 college football regular season may be over, but bowl games actually offer one of the best measuring sticks for pre-draft evaluation. Scouting players as they perform against quality competition in cross-conference play is extremely valuable, often allowing us to see prospects tested in a way that the regular season never permits.
This is especially true of the college football playoff, where the four top-ranked teams in the country square off in what is often evaluation-defining matchups for players. Here are the top 20 draft-eligible prospects that will be performing in this year’s playoffs.
1. Quinnen Williams, IDL, Alabama
The best defensive player in college football this season, his first as a starter as a redshirt sophomore. Oklahoma’s offensive line is extremely talented, but they are in for a WAY bigger test in the College Football Playoff than they’ve faced in their careers.
Quinnen Williams is the best player in the 2019 NFL Draft
— Rob Paul (@RobPaulNFL) December 1, 2018
2. Deionte Thompson, S, Alabama
Thompson’s numbers aren’t overwhelming, but his range and instincts on tape are wildly impressive. He’s big, long and physical, capable of playing single-high or in the box. Against Oklahoma’s big-time passing attack, he’ll have the opportunity to make a major impact.
3. Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama
Don’t expect Williams to be tested much until the National Championship Game, as Oklahoma doesn’t pose a threat to him off the edge. He had an unbelievable war with Clelin Ferrell last year in the playoffs, and a re-match could be huge for both players’ stock.
4. Mack Wilson, LB, Alabama
Oklahoma’s RPO-heavy offense will test Wilson’s discipline and tape study in January. The athletic linebacker was outstanding in the playoffs last year, and will have the opportunity to seize the LB1 label with a strong showing to end this season.
5. Raekwon Davis, IDL, Alabama
Can Davis make a pass rush impact? That’s been the question with the talented Alabama defensive lineman, who will enjoy a major physical advantage over Oklahoma right guard Dru Samia, one of the smaller offensive linemen in the playoffs.
6. Clelin Ferrell, EDGE, Clemson
After tearing up the ACC once again, two tests (potentially) remain for Ferrell: Notre Dame’s stout offensive line and Jonah Williams. He’s been dynamic with his hand usage this season, but the question of athleticism will hound him until the Combine.
7. Christian Wilkins, IDL, Clemson
I thought Wilkins didn’t have room to get much better by returning to school, but he’s proven me wrong this season. He’s utilized his hands to shed blockers better as an interior defender this season, something he’ll have to do early and often against Notre Dame.
8. Jerry Tillery, IDL, Notre Dame
Tillery’s flashes are awesome, and finally this season the consistency has begun to manifest itself. Still, he struggles with pad level and can look overwhelmed against more powerful opponents at times, so making impact plays against a stout Clemson offensive line will be important for him.
Jerry Tillery is a baaaaaad man pic.twitter.com/yG7PPGtvqS
— Barstool Irish (@BarstoolIrish) October 28, 2018
9. Dexter Lawrence, IDL, Clemson
Lawrence’s numbers are pedestrian, but he’s been a run-stuffing force for Clemson all season long. His strength at the point of attack and ability to eat doubles is so important for the rest of the offensive line. Does Lawrence provide 3-down value as a pass rusher? That’s what he’ll set out to prove in the playoffs.
10. Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma
Brown is a blur on the football field, but he’s also shown more developed routes this season and the ability to be crafty with the ball in his hands in the open field. Can he make contested grabs and work through contact in his routes? How good are those hands?
11. Irv Smith, TE, Alabama
Good luck finding a tight end that matches Smith’s athletic abilities, traits that become evident after the catch in the open field. Oklahoma isn’t going to have anyone that can match him in the slot, and we all know how Clemson has struggled against Alabama tight ends in the big game. This could be Smith’s time to eat.
— BamaInsider.com (@bamainsider) November 17, 2018
12. Ben Powers, OG, Oklahoma
I really like Powers game, but we’re about to find out just how much there is to like. Oklahoma doesn’t play any defensive lines in the stratosphere of Alabama’s group, so this will easily be the biggest test of Powers’ career, especially considering he’ll be lined up across from Quinnen Williams most of the night.
13. Cody Ford, OT, Oklahoma
Ford likely kicks inside in the NFL, where his mauling style of play and violent temperament will be even better suited than on the edge. Technically Ford has work to do, and this test against the left side of Alabama’s defensive line, typically Raekwon Davis and Anfernee Jennings or Christian Miller, will be must-watch tape for the junior.
14. Julian Love, CB, Notre Dame
Love’s instincts and route recognition are impressive, displaying a cerebral nature that will play well with NFL teams. How fast is he? Can he compete at the catch point? We’re about to find out both of those things as he faces the best receiver corps he’ll see all season – unless Notre Dame wins. Then the bar will be elevated again vs. Alabama.
Julian Love ☘️🏈 pic.twitter.com/s65nrxwNjR
— Here Come The Irish (@herecometheiris) April 8, 2018
15. Joshua Jacobs, RB, Alabama
I’ve got Jacobs one spot above Harris right now, largely because he’s the more accomplished receiver and pass protector. Jacobs numbers aren’t great, but he’s starting to out-snap Bama’s other two top backs, and with good reason. His power, balance, burst and versatility will be on full display vs. Oklahoma.
16. Damien Harris, RB, Alabama
It’s been a rough couple of weeks for Harris, but he’s still one of the top backs in the upcoming class. Can he reveal a more dynamic skill set in the playoffs, or will he keep losing snaps to Jacobs? Oklahoma’s defense is an opportunity for any offensive player to get on track.
17. Isaiah Buggs, IDL, Alabama
I thinks Buggs is one of the x-factors in the upcoming matchup between Alabama and Oklahoma, as he’s been all season. The Sooners offensive line is a stiff test, but Buggs’ style of play is simple to scout: physical and overpowering.
18. Trayvon Mullen, CB, Clemson
Maybe it’s me, but Mullen has struggled every time I’ve caught a Clemson game this season, so I’m very anxious to see how he fares against Notre Dame’s trio of Chris Finke, Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool. Mullen looks the part, but doesn’t make many plays on the ball and is still looking for his first interception this season.
19. Kendall Joseph, LB, Clemson
Quietly, Joseph has had an excellent year for the Tigers, but it’s gone largely unnoticed because of the defensive line he plays behind. He’ll be tested by Notre Dame’s physical offensive line, but this is a huge opportunity for Joseph to prove his name belongs among the top linebackers in the class.
20. Te’Von Coney, LB, Notre Dame
Coney is a thumper with terrific instincts around the box, but can he stay on the field all three downs? If Clemson is going to be stopped Notre Dame will need to limited their impact in the ground game, a task that begins with Coney.