College football is finally just around the corner. As fall camps get under way it’s time for our ranking of the 50 best players in college football for the 2017 season.
For this list we combined our assessment of each player’s pure talent and our expectations for how they will perform this season. So being an NFL prospect is part of the consideration, as are their projected numbers this fall. Be sure to check out our lists from 2015 and 2016.
Here’s our list of the top 50 college football players for 2017:
50. Trenton Thompson, DT, Georgia
After racking up 56 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and five sacks, Trenton Thompson was named Georgia’s MVP in 2016. After an offseason medical scare, he should be full-go for his junior season this fall.
49. Billy Price, C, Ohio State
After a first-team All-American season as a junior, Billy Price will move to center as a senior in 2017. Price, who has started 41 straight games, will be attempting the same switch former teammate Pat Elflein accomplished in 2016.
48. Jake Browning, QB, Washington
Overshadowed by Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen, Jake Browning will enter his junior season as the most accomplished of the three. He completed 62.1 percent of his passes while throwing for 3,430 yards and 43 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2016.
47. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
Athletic and big at 6’4″ and 218 pounds, Courtland Sutton broke out in a big way as a redshirt sophomore in 2016. He finished the year with 76 catches for 1,246 yards and 10 touchdowns. He opted to return for another season and NFL scouts are paying attention.
46. Trace McSorley, QB, Penn State
As a redshirt sophomore in 2016, Trace McSorley led a resurgence at Penn State. The mobile signal-caller threw for 3,614 yards, with 29 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also completed 57.9 percent of his passes and added seven rushing touchdowns. Neither he, nor the Nittany Lions will sneak up on anyone in 2017.
45. Kamryn Pettway, RB, Auburn
Despite missing five games as a redshirt sophomore in 2016, Kamryn Pettway still rushed for 1,224 yards on 209 carries (5.9 ypc) and seven touchdowns. The first-team All-SEC pick is set for a big year in 2017.
44. Tegray Scales, LB, Indiana
A defender from Indiana? Oh yeah. Tegray Scales might be the best collegiate athlete you’ve never heard of. He led the nation in tackles for loss (23.5) as a junior and shocked many in Bloomington when he opted to return for his senior season.
43. Braden Smith, OT, Auburn
He’s moving back to tackle after two years at guard and anchors a Tigers’ offense with a proclivity to ground and pound.
42. Ronald Jones II, RB, USC
With game-breaking speed, Ronald Jones II is a threat to take the ball to the house every time he touches the ball. The Texas native rushed for 1,082 yards on 177 carries (6.1 ypc) and 12 touchdowns in 2016 and should take on a heavier load as a junior.
41. Frank Ragnow, C, Arkansas
Bret Bielema loves to run the football. Preseason All-American Frank Ragnow loves to facilitate that activity.
40. Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
One byproduct of the Crimson Tide’s revolving door on defense is the difficulty for some players to build up eye-popping numbers. So Evans’ 53 tackles in two years don’t seem impressive, but the tape tells a different tale. The versatile 6’3″ 231-pounder should make NFL coordinators salivate as he can fill that lusted-after hybrid role.
39. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
Showed signs of regression last season, but Nick Chubb has one final NFL audition. Another year of 5.0 yards per carry isn’t going to cut it.
38. Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State
Expect a breakout year for the 6’5″ 266-pound junior. Has the athleticism to play linebacker and excels in space.
37. J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State
There’s a bit of Jekyll and Hyde in J.T. Barrett’s game. At one time he appeared one of college football’s best quarterbacks. Shaky performances have dulled the hype, but the on-field results speak for themselves.
36. Vita Vea, DL, Washington
Runs a 4.8 40 at 346 pounds. Alliterative name. So much to like. Had six tackles for a loss and five sacks last year while eating up unknown servings of space.
35. Deondre Francois, QB, Florida State
We will know right away how much Deondre Francois has progressed from his freshman year Week 1 against the Crimson Tide. Francois struggled against elite teams last year and needs to improve his accuracy, but has all the physical gifts.
34. Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington
Has put together two straight years of 1,300-plus yards for an underrated Huskies offense and will come in hungry after an underwhelming performance against Alabama in the playoff.
33. Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State
A former five-star recruit, Nick Bosa made an impact during his freshman season in 2016, racking up five sacks. He got markedly better every game and is primed for a breakout as a sophomore.
32. Josey Jewell, LB, Iowa
So committed to the program that he proposed at Kinnick. Eats tackles for breakfast, then eats more tackles — 250 of them over the last two years.
31. Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
Will a move to the outside pay immediate dividends? The Longhorns sure hope so. Look for Jefferson to improve upon his 6.5 sacks and show some shades of Derrick Johnson.
30. Tarvarus McFadden, CB, Florida State
A former top recruit, Tarvarus McFadden was stellar as a sophomore in 2016, recording eight interceptions. He was a first-team All-ACC pick, made several All-American teams and was a Bronko Nagurski Trophy finalist.
29. Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
With prototypical size (6’5″ 233 pounds) and arm strength, Josh Allen has NFL scouts drooling. As a sophomore in 2016 he threw for 3,203 yards and 28 touchdowns. The former Juco standout will have a chance to prove himself against Power 5 competition in matchups against Oregon and Iowa this season.
28. Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
The next in a long line of stellar Crimson Tide interior defensive linemen, junior Da'Ron Payne is a former five-star recruit and name you should know for 2017.
27. Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State
As a junior in 2016, Bradley Chubb finished the season ranked fourth in FBS in tackles for loss (22), while adding 10.5 sacks.
26. Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama
At 6’2″ and 235 pounds, Bo Scarbrough is a bruising back who punishes defenders. He ran for 812 yards on 125 carries (6.5 ypc) and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2016. He’s in line for far more carries as a junior.
25. Quin Blanding, S, Virginia
A returning senior, Quin Blanding was first-team All-ACC and on several All-American teams in 2016. The 6’2″ 215-pound safety finished his junior season with an astounding 120 total tackles in 12 games.
24. Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
At 6’8″ and 345 pounds, Orlando Brown is a massive offensive tackle. A second-team All-American in 2016 and first-team All-Big 12 selection, he was also the first sophomore ever named Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year.
23. Cameron Smith, LB, USC
A stout (6’2″ 250), all-around middle linebacker with incredible instincts, Cameron Smith led USC in tackles in 2016 after being named Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2015.
22. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
Calvin Ridley broke Alabama freshman records with 89 receptions and 1,045 receiving yards in 2015, then regressed a bit as a sophomore (72-769). Expect a return to form as a junior.
21. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
An elusive game-breaker with the ball, Christian Kirk is also a fantastic receiver and led the SEC with 83 receptions as a sophomore in 2016. He had 1,418 all-purpose yards and is major threat as a return man. Was named first-team All-SEC at three different positions (receiver, all-purpose player, return specialist).
20. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
A shoulder injury robbed Josh Rosen of much of his sophomore season, but he appears to be fully healthy. As a freshman he threw for 3,670 yards and 23 touchdowns in 13 starts.
19. Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
An aggressive, shutdown corner, Jaire Alexander had five interceptions and nine pass breakups as a sophomore in 2016. You’ll be hearing his name on Sundays for a long time.
18. Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
A two-year starter entering his senior season, Mason Rudolph threw for 4,091 yards and 28 touchdowns, with just four interceptions in 2015.
17. Iman Marshall, CB, USC
A big, physical corner (6’1″ 200) with 17 career pass breakups and six interceptions, Iman Marshall is ready to move out of Adoree’ Jackson’s shadow as a junior.
16. Azeem Victor, LB, Washington
A prolific tackler, Azeem Victor is the heart and soul of a stout Huskies defense. Should be 100 percent for his senior season after suffering a broken leg in November.
15. Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson
A returning first-team All-American, junior Christian Wilkins had 56 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks for Clemson as a sophomore.
14. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
Chose to return for his senior season after averaging 19.4 yards per catch. James Washington also piled up 71 receptions for 1,380 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior.
13. Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson
At a monstrous 6’5″ and 340 pounds, Dexter Lawrence somehow managed to rack up 79 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss as a freshman. Expect him to be even more dominant in his second season.
12. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
More than a Leonard Fournette sidekick, Derrius Guice led the SEC in rushing (1,387 yards) as a sophomore in 2016. Expect more of the same, as the 212-pounder has averaged 7.8 yards per carry during his two seasons in Baton Rouge.
11. Connor Williams, OT, Texas
Equally effective in both the running and passing games, the 6’6″ 320-pound junior has another year to showcase his talents.
10. Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
Possesses devastating 4.39 speed and magnets in his hands. Returned two of his SEC-leading six interceptions last year for touchdowns. Knows how to rile up hated Auburn by negging them.
9. Harold Landry, DE, Boston College
Apparently racking up a nation-leading 16.5 sacks and 22 TFL wasn’t enough for the 6’2″ 250-pound monster. He’s been a gym rat all offseason, dreaming up new ways of blowing up plays in the backfield.
8. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Sooners fans will likely cry that he’s undervalued here and, on the face, they may have a case for the two-time Heisman finalist. Baker Mayfield is undoubtedly exciting, but lacks the consistency needed on the next level and turns to freelancing too often. But let’s not be stupid. Mayfield is a legitimate threat to win college football’s top individual award and, gasp, improve on a season in which he threw for nearly 4,000 touchdowns and 40 touchdowns. So get your hate mail ready.
7. Rashan Gary, DT, Michigan
Rashan Gary came to Ann Arbor as one of the nation’s best recruits and showed flashes of brilliance. His playing time will increase this year, providing him ample opportunity to show his freakish athleticism. The 6’5″ 295-pound Gary posted the fastest 40 time among the Wolverines’ front seven, leaving linebackers in the dust. Scary.
6. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
A workout warrior with immense physical gifts and remarkable vision, Saquon Barkley has a legitimate shot to become the Nittany Lions’ all-time leading rusher and catapult them into the College Football Playoff.
5. Arden Key, OLB, LSU
Coming back from an injury, Arden Key is above his playing weight. Once he finds his stride, he’ll use it to destroy opposing quarterbacks at a blistering pace.
4. Derwin James, S, Florida State
Suffered an injury early in 2016 and was granted a medical redshirt. As a freshman he racked up 91 tackles and 4.5 sacks. His 6-foot-3 frame presents a problem for opposing quarterbacks and, if you ask him, he’ll tell you his skills are unmatched.
3. Ed Oliver, DT, Houston
As a freshman, over a third of his tackles were for a loss. Ed Oliver’s 290-pound frame is NFL-ready and he now has some experience under his belt.
2. Sam Darnold, QB, USC
A 453-yard, five-touchdown performance in an instant classic Rose Bowl win took Sam Darnold from on the radar, to the top of virtually every 2018 NFL Draft board. The redshirt sophomore led USC to nine consecutive wins to end the 2016 season and the Trojans will have national title aspirations in 2017. Darnold will be firmly in the Heisman mix from Week 1.
1. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
If healthy, Lamar Jackson will replicate his astounding 410 total yards per game average set last year and win another Heisman Trophy. It will be interesting to see if he focuses more on in-pocket passing to propel his NFL Draft stock even higher. As casual fans, we hope not.