The two best teams in college football met Monday night in what was unsurprisingly a matchup between two of the game’s most NFL-rich rosters. Clemson and Alabama featured more than a dozen players who will play on Sundays in the near future — some of whom the Carolina Panthers could add come April’s NFL Draft.
The Panthers need help on the offensive and defensive lines and depth in their secondary. There were several players on the field during the College Football Playoff Championship Game who fit that mold — here’s how the Panthers should view them following Clemson’s dominant, 44-16 victory:
Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson: It’s odd to think a three-time All-American’s stock had room to rise entering Monday’s game, but it undoubtedly did with the way he and Clemson’s offensive line handled Alabama’s pass rush. At 6-foot-5, 310 pounds, he’s big enough to play left tackle in the NFL and athletic enough to move positions if necessary. The four-year collegiate starter could be a candidate to help shore up the Panthers offensive line.
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Austin Bryant, DE, Clemson: The world knows Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Dexter Lawrence, but Bryant was an integral part of Clemson’s defensive line this season. In his final collegiate game, his most memorable moment came on the first play of the second quarter, when he read an Alabama shovel pass and stopped it for a 4-yard loss. He may not be a first-round pick but if Carolina decides not to take an edge rusher there, Bryant could be an option as early as the second round.
Mark Fields, CB, Clemson: His maturity has often come into question during his time at Clemson but he confirmed his NFL Draft-worthiness Monday night with multiple pass deflections against one of the nation’s best receiver groups. Trayvon Mullen might have solidified himself as a first-round pick but the Panthers don’t need to take a corner in the first round. They could, however, draft Fields, a Hough High grad and son of the former Panthers linebacker of the same name, in a later round as a nickel back.
Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama: He should still be a first-round pick, but he’ll take some of the blame for a subpar performance from Alabama’s offensive line. He faced another potential top-10 pick in Clelin Ferrell, losing the matchup often enough to possibly knock himself further down the draft boards. This could be a good thing for the Panthers, however — Williams could be available at No. 16 should they decide to draft a potential anchor there.
Deionte Thompson, FS, Alabama: Thompson’s performance, specifically two plays, might have put to rest the notion that Carolina will take the safety with their first pick. The first came on third-and-14 when he lost track of Tee Higgins, who ran a seam right past him for a 62-yard completion. The second came on a 74-yard touchdown to Justyn Ross, when Thompson took a bad angle and stumbled as Ross raced by him and into the end zone. Thompson is better than he showed this game, but his proclivity for giving up big plays against elite playmakers shouldn’t be appealing to a Panthers defense that often did the same in 2018.
More clarity needed
Christian Miller, LB, Alabama: Miller didn’t play with a hamstring injury he suffered against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. Still, Should the Panthers decide on a pass-rushing linebacker, Miller is a solid option at 6-foot-4, 245 pounds.