It is officially the heart of college football season. The CFB Playoff committee debuted their first Top 25 rankings of the 2017 season, a barometer of where the heavyweights across the land stand with their playoff resumes.
The battle for a spot in the final four has just begun, as November and conference championships in early December will prove essential in sorting out the quagmire of teams slotted 3 through 13 (all with 1 or 0 losses).
In the meantime, this is a great excuse to introduce the country to the best eligible 2018 draft prospect on each team in the CFB Playoff committee’s Top 25.
1. Georgia Bulldogs (8-0) – RB Nick Chubb. Chubb gets notable competition from fellow RB Sony Michel and LB Lorenzo Carter. But Chubb has returned to form this year and brings balance, power and vision as a runner that in almost any other class would be widely regarded as a top talent.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide (8-0) – DB Minkah Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is a true junior and widely regarded as one of the top overall players in the country. His size (6’1, 202 lbs) is notable for a Free Safety prospect, and Fitzpatrick pairs it with tremendous ball skills.
3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (7-1) – OG Quenton Nelson. Nelson is one of the 5-10 best players in this class hands down. But because he plays a non-premium position, the odds are he’ll slip into the teens. A middle of the road franchise looking to take the next step would love nothing more.
4. Clemson Tigers (7-1) – DE Clelin Ferrell. Ferrell and fellow DE Austin Bryant (junior) have eclipsed double digit sack totals on the season and lead the way for a defensive line that may be comprised of four future first round picks. Ferrell is the best blend of traits out of that group.
5. Oklahoma Sooners (7-1) – QB Baker Mayfield. LB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo was close. But Mayfield’s ascension as a prospect is one of the most impressive improvements I’ve seen this year. Losing Dede Westbrook, Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine might have been the best thing to ever happen to Mayfield, who now puts the load on his shoulders alone.
6. Ohio State Buckeyes (7-1) – CB Denzel Ward. Do the Buckeyes ever run out of defensive backs? Ward follows in the footsteps of rookie sensation Marshon Lattimore as the latest Buckeye to emerge as a top prospect at the position.
7. Penn State Nittany Lions (7-1) – RB Saquon Barkley. I mean…come on. Barkley is a national sensation and the favorite for the 2017 Heisman Trophy for a reason. A true generational talent who does wonders for a Penn State team that would be high and dry without him.
8. Texas Christian Horned Frogs (7-1) – LB Travin Howard. He’s a bit undersized, but Howard is a fast, twitchy hybrid player that fits Gary Patterson’s fast flowing style of defense perfectly. In the NFL, he may have to play the role of a nickel defender or “moneybacker”. But team speed is coveted in today’s NFL, he’ll find a home.
9. Wisconsin Badgers (8-0) – EDGE Garrett Dooley. First of all, please “pour one out” for LB Jack Cichy, who is in the midst of sitting out the year with an injury: he’d have snatched this spot if healthy. Dooley gets the edge over SAF D’Cota Dixon thanks to making a lot of splash plays since taking over for Vince Biegel and TJ Watt (he’s the team leader in sacks and TFL).
10. Miami Hurricanes (7-0) – DL R.J. McIntosh. McIntosh has been the more active of Miami’s interior duo with Kendrick Norton (also a potential top target). His functional play strength allows him to press through contact and be a presence in the backfield.
11. Oklahoma State Cowboys (7-1) – QB Mason Rudolph. Rudolph’s a gifted passer but what is his ceiling? Regardless of his handle of pressure in the pocket and footwork, he has great command of his offense and continues to be one of the most productive QBs in college football.
12. Washington Huskies (7-1) – WR Dante Pettis. Pettis is flourishing without fellow WR John Ross across the formation in 2017. He’s taken to the featured receiver role well and continues to be a dynamic threat with the ball in his hands on return duties. Pettis boasts some of the best ball skills in the nation.
13. Virginia Tech Hokies (7-1) – LB Tremaine Edmunds. Edmunds is big, physical and can *move*. His range and ability to turn and run with pass catchers down the field makes him a rare bird, one who will stand out for his tackling and versatility when the NFL comes calling.
14. Auburn Tigers (6-2) – OL Braden Smith. Smith has played up and down the offensive line throughout his career with the Tigers, versatility that should make him a universal prospect to any offensive system.
15. Iowa State Cyclones (6-2) – WR Allen Lazard. How well regarded was Lazard as a prep star? He had offers at Notre Dame, Stanford and Oregon but chose to enroll at Iowa State. His commitment is paying off in 2017, as the team sits at 6-2 with wins over two CFB Playoff Top 25 teams (Oklahoma and TCU). Lazard is a massive target at 6’5, 220+ lbs and has caught over 200 passes for 28 touchdowns during his time with the Cyclones.
16. Mississippi State Bulldogs (6-2) – OL Martinas Rankin. Rankin. Rankin entered this season well known for his run blocking skills but the offensive tackle started the year strong in pass protection as well. CFB Film Room credited Rankin with a 97.8% pass block efficiency rate through the month of September.
17. Southern California Trojans (7-2) – RB Ronald Jones III. Stop, right now. I can hear it already: “What about Sam Darnold?!” Darnold is a player who I’m expecting more and more every week to return to USC for 2018. He’s a potential franchise quarterback. But he’s got some things to iron out and thus, I’m giving the nod to a much more polished prospect at this point in time, Jones III.
18. Central Florida Knights (7-0) – CB Mike Hughes. Hughes played 11 games with UNC in 2015 before a misdemeanor assault charge cost him his place with the Tar Heels. After a year in JUCO, Hughes is back with a vengeance for the Knights, who have stormed out to a 7-0 start and are staring a likely 11-0 regular season in the face. Hughes has logged 2 interceptions, 8 passes defensed, a forced fumble and a blocked kick in his seven games, while sitting T-6th on the team’s tackle leaderboard. Hughes, at 5’11, 191 lbs, has filled out his frame nicely and has the look of an NFL CB.
19. Louisiana State Tigers (6-2) – EDGE Arden Key. This was a coin toss between Key and Derrius Guice. Key’s length, burst and bend are all that defense coaches look for, meaning he’s likely to get drafted high even if he never fully turns it on in his junior season with the Tigers.
20. North Carolina State Wolfpack (6-2) – DE Bradley Chubb. Chubb reminds me of former Tennessee Vols DE Derek Barnett, though Chubb has more versatility in his pass rush counters at this point. Chubb has played himself into Top 10-15 conversation with his play on the field this year.
21. Stanford Cardinal (6-2) – RB Bryce Love. One of my National Scouts, Jonah Tuls, is going to be devastated that I didn’t give the nod to CB Quenton Meeks. But how do you look the other way on a player in Love that has hit over 100 yards rushing in his last 9 games going back to 2016, including over 150 in every game this year minus his last one against Oregon (“only” 147 yards rushing). Lightning quick with great center of gravity, Love has made a believer out of me.
22. Arizona Wildcats (6-2) – QB/Athlete Khalil Tate*. No, Tate isn’t eligible for 2018, but I don’t care. The addition of Tate to the starting lineup has likely saved Rich Rodriguez his job, especially after Tate gouged Colorado and UCLA for 557 combined rushing yards in consecutive weeks. Tate is a player we’ll have the chance to enjoy for at least another season, but he’s worth every look: quite an electric football player.
23. Memphis Tigers (7-1) – WR Anthony Miller. Miller isn’t the biggest of receivers, but few have had his presence on the field in 2017. Miller’s hands are unbelievably sticky and his route running prowess makes him an attractive supplementary piece to an NFL passing offense.
24. Michigan State Spartans (6-2) – C Brian Allen. The senior captain was named a semi-finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy last month, so you know he’s got the smarts to handle line calls and process defenses. Allen isn’t overwhelming in any area but he’s a rock solid Center prospect.
25. Washington State Cougars (7-2) – DL Hercules Mata’afa. Mata’afa has played an excellent season this year in spite of being played out of position on an odd man front for the Cougars defense. Occasionally found at nose tackle, Mata’afa is much more likable as an edge rusher, where his motor and first step can shine without having to fight through heavy traffic.