With the 2018 NFL draft coming in five months, Conference championship weekend is the penultimate opportunity for many collegiate prospects to impress scouts in live game action. Furthermore, Clemson, Auburn, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Georgia and Miami are virtually assured of receiving a spot in the College Football playoffs with a victory this Saturday.
The 2018 crop appears to be exceptionally deep at running back and quarterback if all of the top players declare for the draft. Early reports indicate the offensive line group will be better than last year, but the receivers may not be as well thought of as recent classes. The upcoming draft class should feature the usual volume of talented pass rushers. However, it is not expected to match the number of early impact defenders that were available in the 2017 draft.
Prospects to watch this weekend:
Stanford vs Southern California, 8pm Friday
David Shaw’s Stanford offense revolves around RB Bryce Love, a probable first round selection. TE Dalton Schultz is a complementary piece that could be picked in the middle rounds. The Cardinal’s defense is strong up the middle with DT Harrison Phillips and SS Justin Reid, while CB Quenton Meeks is their top speed position prospect.
Trojans QB Sam Darnold is in contention to be the first overall selection. Probable Day 2 RB Ronald Jones and WR Deontay Burnett round out an impressive trio of offensive playmakers. USC fields some intriguing defensive talent as well, namely active ILB Cameron Smith, CB Iman Marshall and S Chris Hawkins.
Texas Christian vs Oklahoma, 12:30pm Saturday
The Horned Frogs will lean on RB Kyle Hicks to carry their offense. Senior OLB Travin Howard is undersized but should be able to find a role on an NFL team that prioritizes coverage from their linebackers.
Polarizing Sooners QB Baker Mayfield is favored to win the Heisman trophy this season. He is supported by first round OT Orlando Brown, talented TE Mark Andrews and burley FB Dimitri Flowers. OLB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo has caught the attention of scouts this season and S Steven Parker should earn a look on Day 3.
Georgia vs Auburn, 4pm Saturday
Senior RB Nick Chubb and RB Sony Michel both boast pro potential and will be pounding the ball behind capable OG Isaiah Wynn. Bulldogs OLB Roquan Smith has been pegged as a top-20 overall defender. He leads a stout defense that includes OLB Lorenzo Carter, DT Trenton Thompson and S Dominick Sanders.
RB Kerryon Johnson has greatly improved his draft stock this season behind OG Braden Smith and OT Austin Golson. QB Jarrett Stidham should also come off the board relatively early if he forgoes his remaining eligibility. The strength of Auburn’s defense is their line, with DE Jeff Holland and DT Donatvius Russell developing into accomplished prospects. CB Carlton Davis has potential to thrive in a press man scheme.
Miami vs Clemson, 8pm Saturday
The Hurricanes have taken a major step forward this season with a young roster. Most of their best players will not be eligible for the draft until 2019. DE Chad Thomas and DT Kendrick Norton appear to be Day 3 prospects. OT K.C. McDermott might be drafted due to the extreme scarcity of quality blockers in the NFL and versatile WR Braxton Berrios could be a late round steal.
Clemson’s defensive front is loaded with pro talent. DT Christian Wilkins should be a first round selection, while DE Clelin Ferrell and DE Austin Bryant possess early round aspirations. OLB Dorial O’Daniel, OLB Kendall Fuller and FS Van Smith are also exciting prospects. WR Deon Cain has had an inconsistent season, but still may provide draft value on Day 2. OT Mitch Hyatt and OG Tyrone Crowder should make NFL rosters as well.
Ohio State vs Wisconsin, 8pm Saturday
The Buckeyes probably have the most talented roster in the nation, although some of the best players are still underclassmen. Senior C Billy Price is undoubetedly one of the top interior blockers in the country. OT Jamarco Jones will probably be chosen on Day 2 while TE Marcus Baugh and WR Parris Campbell should also receive invitations to the Combine. Injury prone RB Mike Weber is another prospect to watch, he has the upside to be chosen early if he declares for the draft. Ohio State fields incredible talent on their defensive line. DE Sam Hubbard, DE Tyquan Lewis and DE Jalyn Holmes will all earn first round consideration. OLB Jerome Baker and S Damon Webb are also legitimate draft prospects, yet impressive CB Denzel Ward is likely to be their first player to come off the board.
Badgers workhorse RB Jonathan Taylor is just a freshman, but TE Troy Fumagalli is among the best at his position. CB Derrick Tindal and especially ILB T.J. Edwards are strong prospects in their own right. OT Michael Dieter will be aiming to continue the tradition of Wisconsin blockers in the NFL.