How many players in Monday’s championship game will we see on NFL Sundays? Pete Thamel breaks down the six prospects with the best next-level potential (and gives a bonus couple RBs that we’ll definitely see in the league).
No. 6 Da’Ron Payne, DT Alabama
One scout estimated he’d go between 25 and 45 in the draft. A pure nose tackle, Payne’s production has been modest this season as he has just one sack. The NFL will overlook that: “Down there, those frontline guys play in waves and rotate,” said a scout. “The paper production is misleading; most teams won’t view it as a concern.”
No. 5 Ronnie Harrison S Alabama
One scout pointed out why teams will covet him for the modern NFL: “He’s interesting because he’s versatile. They match him up. Like a nickel linebacker. He’s a match-up linebacker. He’s got cover skills and can play the run.”
No. 4 Rashaan Evans LB Alabama
At 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, he appears to be the latest bruiser in a lineage of linebackers that includes Reuben Foster, Reggie Ragland and C.J. Mosley. His versatility will be a plus, as a scout notes: “Teams have seen him do a little bit of everything.”
No. 3 Calvin Ridley, WR Alabama
This is an anomalously poor year for wide receivers, and there’s little doubt Ridley will be the first one picked. While Ridley projects high in a lot of early mock drafts, his modest size – 6-foot-1, 190 pounds – may give some teams pause.
No. 2 Roquan Smith, LB Georgia
There will be an interesting debate between Smith and Alabama’s Rashaan Evans as the top linebacker in this draft class. Smith is more dynamic than Evans, as he’s freakish sideline-to-sideline. Here’s the potential hiccup – his measurements will be important, as there’s questions about his true height. If he ends up being only 5-foot-11, he doesn’t fit in some NFL prototypes.
No. 1 Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB Alabama
Scouts view Fitzpatrick as one of the safest picks in the draft, and it would be a surprise if he’s not among the top 10 players chosen. Can Fitzpatrick leap FSU safety Derwin James and be the first defensive back off the board? The guess here is yes. His value includes the versatility of playing corner, nickel and safety.
Both star Georgia tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel didn’t make the list. But they’re two of the high-profile players in the playoff, so we wanted to note that they both are considered prospects that will be chosen by the end of the third round. One executive said he had Chubb graded as a second-round pick and expected Michel to be chosen early in the third round.