- Gabriel Burns
Alabama and Georgia are loaded with NFL-caliber talent.
In two seasons, former Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart has assembled a defense reminiscent of his old Alabama teams (although Oklahoma might disagree). Nick Saban’s group, as usual, is stocked with five stars and future first round picks.
The football world will be watching Jan. 8 when these teams meet for the national championship. Here are five names you’ll be hearing a lot on Sundays:
DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, ALA: A true Swiss Army knife, Fitzpatrick is expected to be a top 10 draft choice. He compares similarly to former FSU star Jalen Ramsey, who’s since excelled with the Jaguars.
Fitzpatrick’s position is a debate. He’s listed as a strong safety, but has logged time at free safety, cornerback and even linebacker in some packages.
At 6-1, 203, Fitzpatrick has good size for a defensive back. He’s one of the most talented defenders to come from the program in recent years, which is the highest of compliments.
LB Roquan Smith, UGA: Smart’s Crimson Tide were known for great linebacker play. Smith might be the best one he’s had.
Smith is said to run a 4.4 40-yard dash. He’s quick, powerful and always seems aware of where the ball is. He’s the perfect linebacker for modern defenses given how much field he can cover.
A potential top 10 pick, Smith is sure to hear his name in the earlier half of round one if he declares.
WR Calvin Ridley, ALA: It’s surprising that Ridley didn’t cross the 1,000-yard mark, but perhaps it should be more a testament to how Alabama operates.
Ridley is arguably the draft’s best receiver. He’s a smooth route runner who should have little problem separating at the next level.
Georgia will employ a few tactics to take Ridley out of the game. While the Bulldogs have a good secondary, there isn’t a clear answer to Ridley. This could be a big game for him to boost his stock.
DL Da’Ron Payne, ALA: If you watched Alabama beat down Clemson, you learned who Payne is.
The 319-pounder intercepted Kelly Bryant then caught a touchdown on the ensuing drive. There will never be a better chain of events to explain how Alabama bullies people.
Payne is a true force in the middle whose power prowess should anchor an NFL defensive line. He’s not as skilled as some past Alabama linemen, but there will be fewer better options if a team needs a massive presence in the middle.
RB Sony Michel, RB Nick Chubb, UGA: Debate which one is better all you want. They’re both exceptional.
Two of the greatest backs in school history, Michel and Chubb took over the Oklahoma game. Just one of them wouldn’t have been enough.
They’ll go down similarly to Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown at Auburn; a rushing duo that proved near impossible to stop.
Chubb isn’t as explosive as he was before his gruesome injury two seasons ago, but this year has put him back on the right track in scouts’ eyes. He delivers hits, not absorbs them. Chubb could be a Brandon Jacobs-like player at the next level, and as he gets further away from his injury, may become a lot more.
It’s easy to understand why most NFL minds prefer Michel. He has less mileage and provides more in the passing game. He’s not as much of a downhill runner as his teammate, but is better in open space.
Michel projects as a second rounder after the Rose Bowl. A good combine could push him to the earlier parts of the round or even the late first.
Other players to watch on Alabama:
S Ronnie Harrison
RB Damien Harris
RB Bo Scarbrough
DE Da’Shawn Hand
WR Robert Foster
G Ross Pierschbacher
C Bradley Bozeman
LB Rashaan Evans
LB Christian Miller
CB Anthony Averett
CB Troy Brown
Other players to watch on Georgia:
T/G Isaiah Wynn
LB Lorenzo Carter
LB Davin Bellamy
DB Aaron Davis
DB Deandre Baker
DT Trent Thompson
DB Dominick Sanders