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Six Matchups Saints Fans Should Watch in the College Football Playoff National Championship

Which NFL Draft prospects should Saints fans focus on in a big matchup between Clemson and Alabam for the National Championship?

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NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Head Coaches News Conference John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The College Football Playoff title game looks like a great rematch of last year’s championship, especially for a perspective tuned in on top NFL Draft prospects. Elite quarterbacks, quarterback-hunters, skilled receivers and talented pass-defenders are all over the place.

I could talk all day about this game. There’s guys I haven’t even gotten to discuss who will probably be first round picks like Clemson’s Mike Williams, Cordrea Tankersley, and Carlos Watkins or Alabama’s Tim Williams, Cam Robinson, and Marlon Humphrey. For now, I’ve highlighted a few key matchups, citing some great data collected by the good folks at Pro Football Focus:

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Ohio State vs Clemson
Clemson Tigers guard Tyrone Crowder (55) and tight end Milan Richard (80) block for running back Wayne Gallman (9) against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2016 CFP semifinal at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson OG Tyrone Crowder vs. Alabama DL Jonathan Allen

Jonathan Allen’s decision to return to school looked questionable this time last year, but he’s since proven to have won the gamble he made with himself. Allen is in talks to be a top-three pick in this year’s draft, and with good reason: he’s averaged 4.4 tackles per game in 2016 while racking up 15 tackles for loss and 11 sacks, plus three fumble recoveries. The 6-foot-3, 291-pound wrecking ball lines up all over Alabama’s defensive line and is poised to put on a show.

The chief defense against Allen is junior right guard Tyrone Crowder, a 6-foot-2, 340-pound mammoth and All-ACC First Team selection. Crowder is a terrific run blocker and has improved in 2016 as a pass defender, allowing just one sack all year and culminating in a top-rated game against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl semi-final. Crowder currently grades out as a mid-round pick, but a dominant performance Alabama could catapult his draft stock should he choose to declare.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Alabama vs Clemson
Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Ryan Anderson (22) attempts to sack Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) in the 2016 CFP National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama LB Ryan Anderson vs. Clemson TE Jordan Leggett

Between Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams, the Crimson Tide’s pass rush is set as college football’s finest. However, Anderson is less of a specialist than Williams and should see plenty of time defending Clemson’s senior tight end, Jordan Leggett. The 6-foot-2, 253-pound Anderson logged his first career interception in the Peach Bowl and happened to return it 26 yards for a touchdown. We’ll get a better look at Anderson’s skills in space at Senior Bowl practices in Mobile later this month, but this will be a great primer.

Jordan Leggett is one of several stellar tight end prospects in this draft class, boasted a listed height and weight of 6-foot-5, 260-pounds. Leggett isn’t much of a blocker, but that’s largely due to how he’s deployed. Leggett gets many opportunities to make play with the ball in his hands, whether it’s scripted tight end screens or option routes that put him in position to catch and run. He exited the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State early with an injury, but expect Leggett to make big plays under the lights tonight.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Alabama vs Clemson
Clemson Tigers running back Wayne Gallman (9) against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2016 CFP National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson RB Wayne Gallman vs. Alabama LB Reuben Foster

Wayne Gallman is maybe the most underrated running back in this draft class. Gallman has a rare combination of physicality - picking up 60-percent of his yards after contact - and elusiveness (seen in his 51 missed tackles forced), plus splash play ability thanks to great vision and hands. Gallman isn’t the fastest runner but he’s instinctive and efficient. He’ll face a big challenge against Alabama again, which contained him to just 45 yards on 14 carries on the ground, though he did pick up 61 yards as a receiver.

Enter Reuben Foster. The leader of Alabama’s defense often enjoys free flow to ball-carriers thanks to a supremely talented defensive line, and he should meet Gallman early and often around the line of scrimmage. The really interesting battles between them will be when Foster is sent in on a blitz or when Gallman moves outside to run routes from the slot. Few backs protect their passers better than Gallman, who naturally sinks into a blocking stance and squares up against defenders. The same is true of Foster’s well-respected sideline-to-sideline speed.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Alabama vs Clemson
Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) throws a pass against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the 2016 CFP National Championship at U. of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama Defense vs. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson

The best quarterback in the 2017 NFL Draft class will again take the field against Alabama’s vaunted defense. Last year, Watson led a rallying effort that came up just short, completing 30 of 47 passes (63.8-percent) for four touchdowns and just one ill-timed interception. Watson’s margin for error will be even tighter this time around against a defense more than capable of making its own plays.

While Watson is a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist and has thrown 73 touchdowns in his last two years as a starter, Alabama boasts unmatched disruption along its defensive line and a lethal secondary. Defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick isn’t draft eligible until next year, but he’s already collected six interceptions in his second year. As a unit, Alabama’s defense averages 23.6-pressures per game on opposing quarterbacks. For perspective, Watson averages just 37.4-passes thrown per game.