The 50 Best College Football Players For 2016
By Ty Duffy
50. Eddie Vanderdoes [DT – UCLA] Vanderdoes suffered a torn ACL in UCLA’s 2015 opener and missed the entire season. A run-stuffing defensive tackle, Vanderdoes knows how to get into the backfield and disrupt plays.
49. Ethan Pocic [G/C – LSU] Leonard Fournette may be a beast, but he gets a lot of help up front from LSU’s offensive line. Pocic is the leader of that group and after an All-SEC showing during his first season as the Tigers’ center.
48. Malik Jefferson [LB – Texas] Jefferson was fantastic as a freshman, totaling 61 tackles, seven tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He earned freshman All-American honors while being named the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. He’s also a preseason All-American and will be on almost every defensive award watch list.
47. Malachi Dupre [WR – LSU] At 6’3″ and 190 pounds, the highly-recruited Dupre has the physical tools necessary to be a top-flight wide receiver. He led the Tigers in receptions (43), receiving yards (698) and receiving touchdowns (six) in 2015.
46. Corey Davis [WR – Western Michigan] Davis had a ridiculous 2015 season in which he hauled in 90 receptions for 1,436 yards and 12 touchdowns. At 6’3″ and 205 pounds, Davis has the size and ability to play on Sundays.
45. Seth Russell [QB – Baylor] Russell missed six games with a neck injury in 2015, but still threw for 2,104 yards and 29 touchdowns while averaging an absurd 10.5 yards per attempt. While Art Briles is gone, the senior quarterback should provide stability for Baylor’s wide open attack.
44. Reuben Foster [LB – Alabama] Foster is a physical freak at 6’1″ and 240 pounds. He is a sideline-to-sideline guy who posted 73 total tackles and eight for loss with two sacks as a junior. He saved one of his best games for the BCS championship against Clemson as he posted nine tackles.
43. O.J. Howard [TE – Alabama] Howard was mostly invisible in 2015 until he blew up during the BCS title game. He caught five passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns to help Alabama top Clemson for a national title. He passed on the NFL draft and should improve on his 38-catch, 602-yard junior season this year.
42. Mitch Hyatt [OT – Clemson] An imposing 6’5″ 295-pound tackle, Hyatt was listed as a first-team Freshman All-American by the Sporting News in 2015 and was named third-team All-ACC. That’s not bad considering the competition he faced. Hyatt started every game as a freshman and should be counted on to lead as a sophomore.
41. Budda Baker [DB – Washington] One of the nation’s best all-around defenders, Baker was a first-team All-Pac 12 pick as a sophomore and should repeat the feat as a junior. Baker is just 5’10” and 180 pounds, but manages to pack a lot of punch into his smaller frame. He’s a rangy, yet powerful safety who can punish ball-carriers and cover deep.
40. Pat Elflein [G/C – Ohio State] A two-time first-team All-Big Ten selection at guard, Elflein will move to center this season on an offensive line that lost three starters to graduation.
39. Derwin James [DB – Florida State] A freshman All-American in 2015, the 6’3″ and 211-pound former five-star safety lived up to his lofty recruiting rankings. He had 91 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and five pass breakups. Expect more of the same in 2016.
38. Chad Kelly [QB – Ole Miss] Kelly led the SEC in touchdown passes (31) and was second in yards per attempt (8.8) in 2015. He also broke 14 Ole Miss records including passing yards (4,042), total yards (4,542), completions (298), completion percentage (65.1) and total touchdowns (41). The rocket-armed quarterback is the SEC’s top returner at his position.
37. Raekwon McMillan [LB – Ohio State] McMillan led Ohio State with 119 tackles last season, including five for loss. One of only three starters returning to the team’s defense, he’ll be called upon to lead in his junior season. A first-team All-Big Ten selection and finalist for the Butkus Award in 2015.
36. Jamal Adams [DB – LSU] A second-team All-SEC pick in 2015 after a Freshman All-American season in 2014, Adams is a rock at safety for the Tigers. At 6’1″ and 211 pounds, the junior is a thumper at the back of LSU’s defense with great range.
35. Jourdan Lewis [DB – Michigan] Lewis heads into his final season in Ann Arbor as one of the best cornerbacks in the country. He had 20 pass breakups in 2015 to go with 52 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. Lewis will battle Desmond King for the title of Big Ten’s best cover man.
34. Wayne Gallman [RB – Clemson] DeShaun Watson got all the headlines, but Gallman may have been Clemson’s most indispensable player in 2015. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound beast rushed for 1,527 yards and 13 touchdowns. As a redshirt junior, Gallman will be called upon to do even more for the Tigers.
33. Tyquan Lewis [DE – Ohio State] Now free of Joey Bosa’s considerable shadow, the junior gets his chance to truly shine as the Buckeyes’ marquee pass-rusher. He had surgery to fix a torn labrum in January but has shown no ill effects.
32. Royce Freeman [RB – Oregon] Dynamic as a runner and pass-catcher, Freeman was fourth in the FBS with 1,836 rushing yards last season. Replicating that performance will give him a chance to break LaMichael James’ school rushing record. If you’re a betting man, consider him a solid long-shot Heisman pick.
31. Greg Ward Jr. [QB – Houston] Ward helped catapult the Cougars into the national spotlight with his devastating efficiency. The dual-threat quarterback values the football and runs Tom Herman’s offense to perfection.
30. Samaje Perine [RB – Oklahoma] Perine can become the Sooners’ all-time rushing leader this year. He says he’s fully recovered from a broken ankle suffered in the CFB semifinals last year.
29. Brad Kaaya [QB – Miami] Has thrown for over 3,000 yards in the last two seasons but the Hurricanes are 13-12 with him under center. Gets a new beginning with Mark Richt but this really needs to be the year his play translates into W’s.
28. Dan Feeney [OG – Indiana] Has allowed just one sack in his three years for a productive Hoosiers offense.
27. Devonte Fields [DE – Louisville] Improved exponentially as the season went on, returns more seasoned.
26. Calvin Ridley [WR – Alabama] His deep-ball prowess was on full display when it mattered most. As long as the Crimson Tide has a productive run game, Ridley will excel in play-action. Seems like a safe bet.
25. Zach Banner [OT – USC] Five different offensive line coaches have coached Banner in his five years. All have inherited a 6’9″, 345-pound stud. Good work, if you can get it.
24. Desmond King [DB – Iowa] King was the heart and soul of a Hawkeyes team that came within inches of playing for a national title. His greatness is no secret to Big Ten teams but perhaps underappreciated nationally.
23. Christian Kirk [WR – Texas A&M] Trevor Knight has found his new security blanket. Look for Kirk to surpass last year’s total of 80 catches and 1,009 yards.
22. Marlon Humphrey [DB – Alabama] Another in a long line of talented secondary players to maximize his potential under Nick Saban. Also a threat to secure a surprise onside kick.
21. Carlos Watkins [DT – Clemson] Plays both the pass and rush effectively. Perhaps more productive than basic stats suggest. Has a compelling personal story.
20. Derek Barnett [DE – Tennessee] Should pay rent for the amount of time he spends in opponent’s backfield. Another 10-sack year would help the Volunteers take that elusive “next step.”
19. Jalon Tabor [DB – Florida] Has allowed just one touchdown catch in two seasons. His 6’1” frame thwarts the jump ball. Should follow in Vernon Hargreaves’ footsteps and earn a first-round selection.
18. J.T. Barrett [QB – Ohio State] He’s the most accomplished and most forgotten returning quarterback. His one collegiate loss came in the pouring rain under a bizarre moon. No longer looking over his shoulder for 12-gauge.
17. Adoree Jackson [DB – USC] Still working on the cover corner skills. But, he was a return specialist and probably USC’s second-best receiver in 2015. Can now focus on football after just missing out on the Rio Olympics.
16. Nick Chubb [RB – Georgia] He ran for 1,500-plus yards after assuming the starting role in mid-October as a freshman. He was averaging 8-plus yards/carry as a sophomore, until being felled by a knee injury. His recovery appears to be going as scheduled.
15. Da’Shawn Hand [DE – Alabama] Former No. 1 overall recruit. Weight room monster. Solid contributor as a sophomore. Should be in line for a major step forward as a junior.
14. Baker Mayfield [QB – Oklahoma] The Sooners had a quarterback again in 2015. It worked out well for them. Mayfield was top 3 in yards/attempt and passer rating last year and led Oklahoma to the playoff. Not a Paul Finebaum fan.
13. Dalvin Cook [RB – Florida State] Cook has had some off-the-field troubles. There’s no doubt about him on the field. He struggled a bit with injuries last season. Still ran for almost 1,700 yards and 19 touchdowns averaging 7.38 yards/carry.
12. Tim Williams [LB – Alabama] A classic Nick Saban linebacker where the measurables don’t quite add up but he’s just really good at football. Was right behind Allen last year in sacks (10.5) and tackles for loss (12.5). Per reports, he nearly singlehandedly ruined Alabama’s spring game.
11. Malik McDowell [DT – Michigan State] He’s 6’6″ 280 pounds and one of the nation’s most dominant, versatile defensive lineman. He’s reason 1A not to write off the Spartans.
10. Juju Smith-Schuster [WR – USC] Quick, athletic, and physical, he’s the platonic ideal of a sub 6’4″ wide receiver. Came on strong with 1,454 yards and 10 touchdowns on 89 catches last year. Should ease the transition for USC’s new quarterback.
9. Jonathan Allen [DE – Alabama] Linebackers tend to make the plays in Nick Saban’s 3-4. Allen still led the Crimson Tide in sacks (12) and tackles for loss (14.5). Decided to return for his senior year.
8. Josh Rosen [QB – UCLA] Rosen had a solid, but inconsistent season as a true freshman. Still, he showed enough flashes of where he’s heading – No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft – to be excited. Precocious social media game.
7. Roderick Johnson [OT – Florida State] Physically imposing. Best lineman in the ACC last year. Could improve technique, but that will be more of a concern at the next level.
6. Cam Robinson [OT – Alabama] No charges, no problem. Robinson looks like the best tackle prospect entering the 2017 Draft. Fell off a bit after his stellar freshman season. Could really come on as a junior.
5. Jabrill Peppers [DB/LB – Michigan] Healthy last year, he showed why he was a top recruit. Too explosive for Michigan to limit to one position or side of the ball. Even being able to field punts other players can’t makes a decisive impact.
4. Myles Garrett [DE – Texas A&M] The next great NFL defensive end prospect. College players trying to block him is unfair. Garrett had 12.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss as junior.
3. Christian McCaffrey [RB – Stanford] Perhaps robbed in the Heisman race by late Pac 12 starts. Rushing, Receiving, Special Teams. Just get him the ball in space. Plays a mean harmonica.
2. Leonard Fournette [RB – LSU] Best traditional running back in college football. Compared to Adrian Peterson without hyperbole. He looked like the Heisman shoo-in for the first two months of last season.
1. Deshaun Watson [QB – Clemson] Watson threw for 4,100 yards last season, ran for 1,100 yards, and produced 47 touchdowns. He nearly led Clemson to the national title. He may be the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. He should finally have his sea legs as a junior.