More than a touchdown underdog just a week ago, the Clemson Tigers stunned Alabama and much of the college football-loving world Monday night, dominating the Crimson Tide 44-16 to win their second national championship in four seasons and become the first undefeated 15-0 team of the playoff era.
Prior to the game I previewed the top prospects for both sides with Ian Furness of Seattle’s Sports Radio 950 KJR, pointing out that I counted 24 individual draft-worthy prospects in this contest, 12 for either side.
As such, rather than highlight any one player, here is a ranking of the top 10 performances, regardless of team or draft class. Among the future first round picks NOT making the cut? Alabama’s Heisman finalist Tua Tagovailoa, whose first quarter interception returned for a touchdown gave Clemson its first points and inability to sustain drives helped the Tigers dominate the final three quarters (out-scoring Alabama 30-3) after holding just a 14-13 lead after the first frame.
Rather than further knock Tagovailoa – an exceptional talent who just ran into a buzz saw Monday night – let’s focus on the prospects who boosted their stock, instead.
10 (tie). Clelin Ferrell, Clemson, Redshirt Junior AND Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama, Junior:
The one-on-one matchup between Ferrell and Williams - my top-rated blocker potentially available in the 2019 draft - was worth the price of admission in, itself. On first clip below, Ferrell over-powers Williams but the Tide's standout blocker won his share of battles too, as you can see in the following clip. Both project as top 15 picks. Ferrell recording four tackles, including 1.5 for loss.
And now one for Williams.
9. Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama, Sophomore:
There weren’t a lot of bright spots Monday night for the Tide but Jeudy certainly was one of them, catching five passes for 139 yards and a touchdown, winning with his trademark agility and acceleration.
8. Irv Smith, Jr., TE, Alabama, Junior:
While not as dynamic as Jeudy, Smith showed off his body control and soft hands, hauling in four passes for 43 yards and making some stellar blocks at the second level, showing off the form that could make him a top 64 pick in 2019, should he elect to leave early.
7. Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama, Redshirt Sophomore:
Clemson’s explosive offense kept the most dominant draft-eligible player in the country this season from taking over to the extent that he has in most games this season but Big Q still registered four tackles, including 1.5 for loss despite facing constant double teams.
6. Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama, Junior:
Jacobs might rank as the second-string back for the Crimson Tide but he’s been my personal top-rated running back eligible for the 2019 draft for months and did nothing to change that ranking Monday night, showing off his exceptional blend of power, burst and lateral agility, as well as his underrated talents in the passing game, standing out as a blocker and receiver.
5. Anfernee Jennings, OLB/DE, Alabama, Redshirt Junior:
With fellow standout edge defender Christian Miller unable to contribute due to a pulled hamstring, Jennings stepped up, recording a game-high 3.5 tackles for loss and breaking up a pass. Notably, Jennings nor any other Alabama defender, recorded a sack Monday night.
4. Trayvon Mullen, CB, Clemson, Junior:
All of the buzz prior to the game focused on the dominant defensive lines but it was Clemson’s secondary that was most impressive among defensive prospects. Mullen earned Defensive MVP honors with a terrific all-around performance, intercepting a pass, forcing a fumble, getting a sack and recording six solo stops.
3. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson, Sophomore:
Well known for his elusiveness and breakaway speed, it was Etienne’s power and determination that stood out most Monday night, as he rushed for two scores and 86 yards on just 14 carries (6.1 ypc average) against the vaunted Alabama defense.
2. Justyn Ross, WR, Clemson, Freshman:
The Tigers’ incredible track record of producing exceptional NFL wide receivers shows no sign of letting up with Ross, whose one-handed grab late in the third quarter down the sideline was one of the more mesmerizing plays of the game. Already sporting an NFL-ready frame at 6-3, 210 pounds, Ross dominated the Tide, catching a game-high 153 yards and a touchdown on six grabs.
1. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson, Freshman:
Could there be any doubt as to who deserves top billing? To say Lawrence was spectacular would be cutting him short. Besides just the accuracy (20 of 32 for 347 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions), Lawrence showed the awareness and poise scouts are looking for in a future No. 1 overall candidate.