National CFP Semi-finals Prospects Preview

December 28, 2018

#2 CLEMSON (13-0) vs #3 NOTRE DAME (12-0); Cotton Bowl; 4 PM ET; ESPN … The national semi-finals get underway with a match-up of unbeaten teams with 2nd ranked Clemson playing #3 Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. And while both teams are unbeaten, Clemson is just that much better a team, at least on paper, it’s hard to see the Irish hanging in for the full 60 minutes. The Clemson talent starts with arguably the best defensive line in college football, although the unit took a hit when star junior NT Dexter Lawrence was ruled out of the game after he failed a drug test this week. However, Notre Dame will still have to deal with DEs Austin Bryant (#7, 6-4, 265, SR) and junior Clelin Ferrell (#99, 6-4, 260) and DT Christian Wilkins (#42, 6-3, 315, SR). Ferrell and Wilkins, in particular, have both generated some top 10 talk with the Ferrell considered to be a top 3-5 prospect, while Bryant is a second-day candidate. Bryant need not feel all that lonely though as he could be joined in the second and/or third rounds by several other Tigers including veteran LT Mitch Hyatt (#75, 6-5, 305), junior MLB Tre Lamar (#57, 6-3, 255), junior CB Trayvon Mullen (#1, 6-0, 195) and OLB Kendall Joseph (#34, 6-0, 235). In the end, though, the keys to a Tigers’ victory over Notre Dame likely will by freshman QB Trevor Lawrence (#16, 6-5, 215), already the early favorite to be the #1 pick overall in 2021, and sophomore RB Travis Etienne (#9, 5-10, 200), who figures to be a Heisman favorite next year after rushing for 1,450 yards and 21 TDs this fall when he averaged over 8 yards per run.

The defensive line will also be the focus of pro scouts watching Notre Dame as senior DT Jerry Tillery (#99, 6-5, 305) is clearly the Irish best prospect for the 2019 draft. Indeed, Tillery, who has 8 sacks so far this year, has top 10-15 potential. Notre Dame also has several other players who could figure in the second day mix including LB Te’von Coney (#4, 6-0, 240) who had 107 tackles this season, OLB Drue Tranquill (#23, 6-1, 235), junior CB Julian Love (#27, 5-10, 195) and junior TE Alize Mack (#86, 6-4, 245), while RB Dexter Williams (#2, 5-11, 215), C Sam Mistipher (#53, 6-2, 310) and NT Jonathan Bonner (#55, 6-3, 295) are later round candidates.

#1 ALABAMA (13-0) vs #4 OKLAHOMA (12-1); Orange Bowl; 8 PM ET; ESPN … It really doesn’t get much better than this for college football fans; two of the most storied programs in the history of the game; two explosive offenses both capable of putting 50 on the board; and the top two finalists for the Heisman in winner Oklahoma junior QB Kyler Murray (#1, 5-9, 195) and sophomore QB Tua Tagovailoa (#13, 6-1, 220) of Alabama, who isn’t eligible for the draft until 2020. The difference in this game, though, is that while Alabama can play defense, there are real questions about the Oklahoma stop troops.

In fact, this was supposed to be something of a rebuilding year for Alabama, but somebody forgot to tell Nick Saban and his troops who have been ranked #1 much of the year and again figure to be one of the dominant teams at the 2019 draft. Indeed, Alabama has at least 4 legitimate first round prospects including rising redshirt sophomore DT Quinnen Williams (#92, 6-3, 295), who could get some consideration to be the first player picked period, along with junior OT Jonah Williams (#73, 6-5, 305), junior DE Raekwon Davis (#99, 6-7, 3200, and junior FS Deionte Thompson (#14, 6-2, 200, JR). Alabama also has a number of other solid second-day candidates including OLBs Christian Miller (#47, 6-3, 245) and junior Anfernee Jennings (#33, 6-3, 270), RB Damien Harris (#34, 5-10, 220), C Ross Pierschbacher (#71, 6-3, 310) and junior TE Irv Smith (#82, 6-4, 245). Also keep an eye on DE Isaiah Buggs (#49, 6-5, 290) who leads the team in sacks with 8.5, along with veteran OG Lester Cotton (#66, 6-3, 325) who have mid-round potential.

Win, lose or draw, the Sooners’ Murray figures to be one of, if not THE most interesting prospect leading up to the 2019 NFL draft. Murray has already received a huge signing bonus from MLB’s Oakland A’s after being selected in the baseball draft last spring, but he keeps making noises about finding a way to extend his football career into the NFL ranks after blowing up the college game throwing for over 4,000 yards and 40 TDs this fall while also running for another 900 yards and 11 more TDs on the ground. If it does appear that Murray is going to be in the draft, he’ll challenge pro scouts as he is way undersized at under 5-10, but he’s also got legit jets. Murray with a number of outstanding receivers including speedy junior WR Marquise Brown (#5, 5-11, 165), one of the fastest players in this year’s draft, while OU also features arguably the best offensive front in the country including junior LT Bobby Evans (#71, 6-5, 305), junior RT Cody Ford (#74, 6-4, 340, JR), and OGs Dru Samia (#75, 6-4, 305) and Ben Powers (#72, 6-3, 315).