With the Heisman Trophy winner, a Heisman finalist, the nation's best defensive front and one of the nation's best defense, Monday's College Football Playoff National Championship is loaded with talent at nearly every position.
Alabama recruits better than any team in college football, with five straight top-ranked classes, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. Clemson may not be quite at that level, but under Dabo Swinney the Tigers have consistently excelled on the recruiting trail, then backed up that success by developing talent and depth.
No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 Alabama are two great teams, and a lot of future individual NFL talent will be on full display in the national title showdown in Arizona. In advance of the game, we rank the top 25 players based on current impact at the college level.
1. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson. The nation's best quarterback, Watson finished third in the Heisman Trophy vote, proving to be a dangerous pure passer and a dangerous runner too. His running ability was the highlight in the Orange Bowl, and he has now rushed for over 100 yards in five of his last six games, cracking the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Don't mistake Watson as a run-first quarterback, though. He's able to extend plays and make things happen on designed runs, but he's also a polished passer with the ability to accurately push the ball downfield. He has a 68.2 completion percentage with 3,699 passing yards, 31 touchdowns and 12 picks, plus 12 rushing TDs. He will put pressure on the Crimson Tide in a variety of ways, unlike any quarterback they've seen this season.
2. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama. Henry is the Heisman Trophy winner, but a strong argument can be made that he's not the best player in this game thanks to the presence of Watson -- who also would have been a deserving winner. That doesn't mean Henry is not a great player. The 6-foot-3, 242-pound junior has been a workhorse for the Crimson Tide, punishing defenses with power, in addition to the surprising speed he has if he gets a crease. While he was quiet in the Cotton Bowl, he has 359 carries for an SEC-record 2,061 yards with 25 touchdowns this season, and he averaged 180 yards per game in nine SEC games.
3. Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson. Overshadowed by All-American Vic Beasley in 2014, Lawson stepped into the lead role in the Clemson defense, becoming the ACC defensive player of the year and capturing All-America honors. He leads the nation with 23 ½ tackles for loss and has 56 tackles, 10 ½ sacks and a forced fumble, emerging as one of the nation's premier pass rushers. There is a catch here, unfortunately, as it's not guaranteed that Lawson will play on Monday. He hopes to, but he missed most of the Orange Bowl with a sprained knee.
4. A'Shawn Robinson, DL, Alabama. The Crimson Tide defensive front is loaded with impressive, talented athletes, and Robinson may be the most physically imposing. He might not be the most consistent of the bunch, but at his best he is a monster up the middle, a 6-foot-4, 312-pound junior capable of leaping over the line and blocking a kick. He's tied for fifth on the team with 43 tackles, with 7 ½ tackles for loss, 3 ½ sacks and a pass breakup. He's a disruptive force along the line of scrimmage, helping to allow others to make plays around him.
5. Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama. The prototypical linebacker for Nick Saban at Alabama, Ragland earned SEC defensive player of the year honors, racking up a team-high 97 tackles with 6 ½ tackles for loss, seven pass breakups and two forced fumbles. The senior looks NFL-ready at 252 pounds, and he brings a complete skill set to the table, as an instinctive, reliable and athletic tackler in the run game who is also effective when dropping into coverage.
6. Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson. The fact that Alexander does not have an interception and has a mere 11 pass breakups in two seasons is not an indictment of his performance. He doesn't show up often on stat sheets because quarterbacks rarely go his way. Alexander is capable of taking top receivers out of the game, bringing instincts and intelligence to the cornerback position. He's rarely out of position, meaning he quietly has a huge impact on every game he plays.
7. Jarran Reed, DL, Alabama. Reed brings talent to the table that's similar to Robinson. He's a 6-foot-4, 313-pound senior who can play anywhere along the line, ranking fourth on the team with 56 tackles. He's a monster against the run, clogging the line and freeing up room for those around him to make plays. His numbers may not look particularly disruptive -- just one sack and 4 ½ tackles for loss -- but make no mistake, he's always a key factor.
8. Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama. Allen isn't even listed atop the Alabama depth chart, although he has started in 10 of 14 games. The 6-foot-3, 283-pound junior leads the Crimson Tide in sacks with 12, posting 36 tackles, four pass breakups and two forced fumbles. He's not the immovable monster against the run that Reed and Robinson are, but he's a complete player who has proven to be the Tide's most consistent pass rusher and can line up anywhere.
9. Jayron Kearse, S, Clemson. The nephew of Jevon Kearse, Jayron Kearse grew into a star this season. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound junior has 60 tackles, 6 ½ tackles for loss, six pass breakups and an interception, possessing a rare combination of size and range.
10. Wayne Gallman, RB, Clemson. Sharing a backfield with Watson has made Gallman one of the most underappreciated runners in college football. Playing behind a new offensive line, the 215-pound sophomore has 269 carries for 1,482 yards and 12 touchdowns, including 150 yards and two TDs in the Orange Bowl. He's a punishing runner who wears down defenses and made a lot of things happen after contact against Oklahoma.
11. Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama. Kelly had big shoes to fill upon replacing Outland and Rimington Trophy winner Barrett Jones, but he has developed into one of the nation's best blockers as a three-year starter. He won the 2015 Rimington Trophy as the best center in college football, proving to be a realizable blocker up the middle for Henry's Heisman season.
12. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama. The 21-year-old true freshman quickly developed into the Tide's top receiver with Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones gone and Robert Foster sidelined by a knee injury. Ridley is easily the team's leading receiver, with 83 catches for 1,031 yards and seven touchdowns, and he has been particularly strong down the stretch -- including eight catches for 138 yards and two TDs in the Cotton Bowl.
When Jake Coker throws to Calvin Ridley, good things happen. https://t.co/1Tw2yTEC6R— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) January 1, 2016
13. Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama. Robinson became a rare true freshman starter at left tackle in 2014, and he performed admirably in that role. He's taken another step as a sophomore, playing a role in a big season for Henry on the ground and in protecting Jake Coker. The 6-foot-6, 326-pound Robinson has a good chance to develop into one of the NFL draft's top tackle prospects for 2017.
14. Eddie Jackson, S, Alabama. The former cornerback became one of the nation's top safeties as a junior. He has five interceptions, returning two for touchdowns, with 43 tackles and a forced fumble, bringing versatility to the Tide's defensive backfield.
15. B.J. Goodson, LB, Clemson. Previously a role player who had 25 tackles as a reserve last season, the 250-pound senior broke out as a second-team All-ACC player this season. The Tigers' middle linebacker, Goodson has a team-high 98 tackles with 14 tackles for loss, 5 ½ sacks, three pass breakups, two picks and a forced fumble. He's gone from a little-known backup for much of his career to an anchor of one of the nation's best defenses.
16. Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson. The Tigers played without an injured Lawson for much of the Orange Bowl, and yet Clemson's defense dominated the Sooners anyway. Dodd in particular stepped up, continuing a superb late-season stretch. He had 3 ½ tackles for loss against the Sooners, giving him 8 ½ TFL in the last four games and 18 ½ for the season. He has nine sacks, and he's proven to be an excellent complement opposite Lawson.
17. Tim Williams, LB, Alabama. Williams has not started a game this season. He is not a full-time player. And yet he makes a tremendous impact because of his ability as a situational pass-rusher. Alabama is always stout against the run, but this year's impossibly deep front seven also features the team's best pass rush under Saban. Williams barely played his first two seasons, and he has only 19 tackles this year. But he has 10 ½ sacks, giving the Tide an athletic, disruptive force off the edge. He's been particularly strong recently, with five sacks in the last three games. Just ask Michigan State right tackle Kodi Kieler.
18. Ben Boulware, LB, Clemson. Boulware was one of the defense's most proven players entering the season, despite starting only two games in his first two years. In stepping into to a full-time starting role at outside linebacker, Boulware has excelled, earning defensive MVP honors in the Orange Bowl and getting second-team All-ACC recognition. The junior has 79 tackles, eight tackles for loss, seven pass breakups, three forced fumbles and two picks.
19. Eric Mac Lain, G, and Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson. The Clemson offensive line has been terrific this season, more as a collective unit than with any individual starring above the rest. But we'll give special mention two players. Mac Lain, a former tight end, was a utility player for the Tigers but has broken out as the team's starting left guard as a senior. He's been a leader for a unit that has gone from unknown to one of the most effective in the country. Hyatt is making an impact for Clemson similar to what Cam Robinson did for Alabama last year. With Isaiah Battle entering the supplemental draft, Hyatt -- a five-star recruit -- unexpectedly stepped into the starting left tackle role to protect the blind side of Watson, who was coming off a torn ACL. It's hard to overstate how important Hyatt's instant impact has been, although he'll face his toughest challenge yet on Monday.
20. Cyrus Jones, CB/PR, Alabama. Jones is Alabama's best cornerback, growing at the position and with 32 tackles, two picks, seven pass breakups and a forced fumble this season. But he's also on this list because of the impact he makes on special teams. He returned a punt 57 yards for a touchdown against Michigan State, his fourth punt return touchdown of the season.
Cyrus Jones ������������������������������������������������ https://t.co/kEPieMpa3X— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) January 1, 2016
21. Artavis Scott, WR, Clemson. Scott nearly finished with 1,000 yards as a freshman, and while he catches a lot of short passes, he makes a big impact on the game. With Mike Williams missing the season, Scott is the Tigers' leading receiver, catching 89 passes for 868 yards and five touchdowns. He averages only 9.8 yards per catch, but he is dangerous after the catch and can make plays in the open field.
22. Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama. The 2013 five-star recruit broke into the starting lineup as a junior and forms an intimidating duo at inside linebacker with Ragland. He is second on the team with 64 tackles and has nine pass breakups and seven tackles for loss. He can be a devastatingly hard hitter.
23. Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson. With Alexander at one cornerback spot, Tankersley gets more attention from offenses, but that's hardly an indictment of him. He's been terrific as well, forming one of the top cornerback duos in the country. He has 44 tackles, five interceptions and nine pass breakups, excelling in his first year as a starter as a junior.
24. Carlos Watkins, DT, Clemson. Despite losing Grady Jarrett and others up the middle, Clemson has found a stellar rotation at tackle with Watkins, D.J. Reader and Christian Wilkins leading the way. Watkins, a 300-pound junior, earned first-team All-ACC recognition with 32 tackles, 6 ½ tackles for loss and a pick-six for what has been a top-20 run defense.
25. Jake Coker, QB, Alabama. At the very least, the Coker we saw against Michigan State deserves a spot on this list. This offense has gone through Henry and the running game, and Alabama has often limited Coker, not putting too much pressure on him. But he has come through with some big throws in big moments, and in the Cotton Bowl, he played the best game of his career, completing 25 of 30 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns with no picks. He's not a star, but after a shaky start to the season, he's settled in and mostly avoided mistakes, making some plays when he has needed to do so.