With the college football season underway, we take a look at the top 2018 NFL Draft-eligible prospects participating in this Saturday’s mega-matchup between Alabama and Florida State.
Deondre Francois, QB (Florida State)
Francois enters his redshirt sophomore season which simultaneously servers as his second as the starter under center. His magnificent play as a freshman starting quarterback in the ACC helped guide the Seminoles to a 10-3 record capped by a thrilling victory over Michigan in the Orange Bowl.
Should he declare, it’s safe to expect the knocking of Francois’ size; nevertheless, he displayed talent beyond his years and another season under his belt could confirm his NFL-readiness. Francois’ nuanced in the areas that most passers his age are continuing to develop, displaying the tight footwork that simplifies his ability to find optimal platforms and success as a rhythmic passer who’s on schedule with timing patterns. His blend of feel and awareness of blitzers is also noticeably advanced and allows him to get the ball out on-schedule. At the end of the day, Francois’ skillset is reminiscent of a quality starting quarterback currently in the league and could ultimately serve as his floor.
Bo Scarbrough, RB (Alabama)
The thickly-built, Under Armour All-American running back stands 6’1,” 232 pounds and is expected to breakout this season after sitting behind Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry in 2015 and splitting carries with Damien Harris last season.
Scarbrough’s size is an umbrella of his strengths, a physical grinder with the core strength, leg power and contact balance to finish through tackle attempts and extend runs in tight quarters. For what he can do from a contact and strength standpoint, Scarbrough has displayed the elusiveness that made Henry a similar dual-threat runner. It’s not unusual to see Scarbrough stutter behind in the line in order to allow his blocking to develop and find a lane, all before his skills as a decisive, one-cut runner who can get downhill and go come to life; his lateral agility is also particularly impressive with jump-cuts that can easily create space for himself. Scarbrough is a nuanced runner who can succeed in a number of ways and should hear his name called in the early portions of Day 2.
Auden Tate, WR (Florida State)
Francois’ top target is a big-bodied receiver at 6’5,” 225 pounds who evokes images and comparisons of current NFL receiver, Brandon Marshall. Tate enters his junior season after posting an impressive 16.4 yards per catch in 10 games last season.
First and foremost, the Florida product has displayed eye-popping body control and adjustment skills relative to his size with reps like this. He combines efficient hand fighting with the strength to work through contact in his routes and neutralize corners attempting to disrupt his release when in press; Tate has also displayed the ability to properly reduce his shoulder and tie in a chop or execute a slide-step when corners work to jam him off the line. When the ball’s in the air, Tate remains hyper-focused on its path with the hand-eye coordination to get his hands up at the ideal time. Expect Tate to post another productive season that should lead to an early Day 2 selection.
Calvin Ridley, WR (Alabama)
The former prep star has established himself as one of college football’s top pass catchers who has continuously improved his game. Very few receivers can replicate Ridley’s level of natural athleticism and smooth running capabilities, while his quickness and deliberate control both in and out of break points are incredibly impressive. What’s more, Ridley has displayed a desirable catch radius to haul in errant throws and make life increasingly easier on his quarterback. Alabama opted to get him in space more than necessary, but he often made something out of nothing due to his pure playmaking skills. Fans and scouts alike should expect nothing less than a first round selection.
Da’Shawn Hand, DE (Alabama)
Hand was heralded as one of the nation’s top prep players and naturally chose to join the rest at Alabama. At 6’4,” 288 pounds, the senior is an absolute force that could kick inside as a 3-Tech in nickel packages and make life tough on the middle of offensive lines. He has flashed the potential as a hands-rusher with a grasp on how to establish and win with a plan, while such hands possess the strength to capitalize on blockers that are out of position. When defending the run, Hand can drop his hips and park along the edge with his play-side shoulder free to maintain his run gap integrity and prevent the action from getting beyond his reach. The Tide’s defensive nucleus of talent is rich beyond that of any team in college football, so it may be difficult for Hand to serve as a standout player, but don’t be shocked if he’s a top-40 prospect come draft time.
Josh Sweat, DE (Florida State)
A former five-star recruit and the nation’s consensus top prep prospect, Sweat has continued to grow into a quality collegiate defender. Read more about his NFL potential here.
Derrick Nnadi, DT (Florida State)
A senior anchor along the Seminoles’ line, Nnadi stands 6’0″ and tips the scale at 312 pounds as a threatening interior force. He’s a pressure tackle with the natural leverage to work underneath blockers and fracture the interior of the pocket, while his violent initial punch paired with the unlocking of his hips upon contact can make life tough on the opposition. Against the run, Nnadi will get his hands on blockers and work to control the point-of-attack, and his initial quickness off the ball creates consistent early victories that he manages to sustain. I would like to see him expand on his pass-rushing skillset, but Nnadi has the potential to be a top-50 pick next April.
DaRon Payne, DT (Alabama)
One of the most dominant defensive lines in college football isn’t complete without the junior Payne. His heavy hands waste no time landing accurate, forceful strikes that can displace blockers while the power in his upper body allows to seamlessly defeat single blocks and wreck havoc as a two-gapper. Payne has displayed quality bend and flexibility to take efficient angles to the quarterback and his noticeable foot quickness is already NFL material as it propels him to battle against interior blockers trying to cross his face. The biggest weakness I wish to see Payne build on is the regularity in which his hands and feet work independent of each other, but he currently succeeds in the right areas for the position. There’s no question that Payne’s 2017 progression could lead to hearing his named called in the first round.
Tony Brown, CB (Alabama)
The senior is often a forgotten member of such a talented unit, but Brown is a great talent in his own right. At 6’0″ and 198 pounds, Brown displays quality speed-to-power conversion as a tackler who won’t shy away from mixing it up against ball carriers. He wastes no time recognizing and getting his hands on open-field blocks to keep himself clean and stay ahead in the rep, while he seamlessly transitions into an active stacker in space who will quickly disengage and make a stop. Brown remains a raw cover corner who requires further refinement in playing releases, but he possesses legitimate special teams experience in addition to strengths that should lead to a mid-to-late Day 2 pick. Were he to grow as a player and mitigate his weaknesses, Brown could potentially be a top-50 pick.
Tarvarus McFadden, CB (Florida State)
Without question, McFadden is one of college football’s top corners and a likely top-20 selection next April. He stands 6’2,” 198 pounds-ideal size and length-that he has full grasped when attempting to rely on such measurables, utilizing his length to eliminate space off the line when jamming with the understanding of how to properly and efficiently pin receivers along the sideline. McFadden’s a smooth, easy-flowing athlete that has sufficiently operated from a number of coverage responsibilities and has displayed the requisite blend of instincts and closing speed to eliminate big-play threats. While he’s still developing keen awareness of when it’s time to up his physicality and the proper use of footwork in press, McFadden has just about everything you want from an NFL-level corner.
Ronnie Harrison, S (Alabama)
Another important of that uber-talented defensive backfield, Harrison has played a vital role in Alabama’s success against both the run and the pass. He rotates between the strong and free safety roles though he’s more naturally built to provide an impact as the former. Harrison is noticeably disciplined in his run fits to prevent the extension of big runs and has displayed the ability to get on his horse to meet developing plays across the field. While he’s an explosive, tone-setting defender who won’t hesitate to deliver a crushing blow, Harrison has shown the propensity to enter tackle attempts too hot and ultimately surrender his positioning. The junior safety is currently a top-50 player with potential to squeak into the end of the first round.
Derwin James, S (Florida State)
The superstar junior returns from a season-long knee injury that robbed him of his 2016 campaign. Read more about his talent and NFL future here.
Minkah Fitzpatrick, S (Alabama)
The New Jersey star was a prep All-American and widely regarded as one of the nation’s top five cornerback recruits. A Freshman All-American and Associated Press first-team All-American selection later, Fitzpatrick has cemented himself as one of the nation’s top defenders.
Very few can match Fitzpatrick’s confidence and natural aggression when the ball’s in the air; once he’s located it and is in position, it’s his-partially because of his laser-focused tracking skills that allows him to properly time his adjustments. He’s a patient run defender who maintains his gap integrity, but has shown the ability to toggle between an aggressive downhill pursuer with the closing speed to cap YAC opportunities. Fitzpatrick is expected to make the full-time move to safety in 2017, and should immediate success with the smooth gait and long-speed to challenge throws over the top. We have yet to see if Fitzpatrick will have the same NFL future as a safety that many expected as a corner, but an athlete of his caliber suggests he should have no troubles.
Damien Harris, RB (Alabama); Jacques Patrick, RB (Florida State); Robert Foster, WR (Alabama); Jacob Pugh, DE (Florida State); Shaun Dion Hamilton, ILB (Alabama); Rashaan Evans, OLB (Alabama); Matthew Thomas, LB (Florida State); Trey Marshall, S (Florida State)