College football is almost upon us, we’re just a week away from the schedule getting into full swing. With that in mind, here’s a look at The Big Lead’s ranking of the 50 best players in college football for the 2019 season.
50. Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC
St. Brown stepped right up and led USC in receptions during his first year of action and will be a tremendous complement to Pittman. He has solid chemistry with JT Daniels and could be looking at a 1,000-yard, 10-score encore.
49. David Woodward, LB, Utah State
The 6-foot-2, 235-pound linebacker does it all: tackles for loss, forced fumbles, interceptions, hurrying quarterbacks. Learn the name. Love the name. Woodward was a Third-team All-American after racking up 134 tackles with five sacks and 12 tackles for loss.
48. Kindle Vildor, CB, Georgia Southern
The reigning Sun Belt defensive player of the year is back for more. He’s intercepted seven passes and broken up 19 more over the last two years and is looking to repeat.
47. Ke’Shawn Vaughn, RB, Vanderbilt
Vaughn is electric and bustling with big-play ability. He’s overshadowed a bit by the SEC’s strong stable of running backs, though his 7.9 yards/carry should pop off the page in 48-point font.
46. Evan Weaver, LB, Cal
Weaver can play with his hand in the dirt or as a stand-up backer and has a nose for the ball-carrier. Can he improve on his absurd 155 tackles and take the next step? Don’t bet against him.
45. Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU
Playing defensive back in the Big 12 is a tough gig but someone has to do it. Gary Patterson has a gem in Gladney, who snared two picks and defended 15 passes for the Horned Frogs with a few tackles for a loss added in there. He’ll be tested early and often. So far, he’s been up to the task.
44. Tyler Johnson, WR, Minnesota
The Golden Gophers are not known for airing it out, yet Johnson was able to find the end zone 12 times and accumulate 1,169 yards in 2018. He makes up for pedestrian speed by hunting 50-50 balls and doing the savvy things when it matters.
43. D’Eriq King, QB, Houston
A rite of autumn is a Group of Five quarterback bursting on the scene, putting up video game numbers, and garnering Heisman Trophy consideration. This year, that role could be played by King, who accounted for over 3,600 yards in 10 full games for the Cougars before going down with an injury last year. It’s not a stretch to say he could get 5,000 total yards and 50 scores in this campaign.
42. Justin Madubuike, DL, Texas A&M
If the Aggies are going to survive and advance past a murderous schedule, their defensive line will have to be ferocious in a way similar to Alabama and Clemson in recent years. The good news is they have Madubuike, who powered his way to 10.5 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks last year. The 300-pounder needs to channel his passion and cut down on the egregious helmet-ripping-off, which definitely seems possible.
41. Ian Book, QB, Notre Dame
It’s an amazing sentence to type but the quarterback of the highly-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish is flying a bit under the radar as we enter 2019. He’s not flashy or particularly great in any one facet, yet he has the panache and poise it takes to play such a position at such a place.
40. Shea Patterson, QB, Michigan
Patterson has all the skills. His transfer from Ole Miss to Michigan was a god-send for Jim Harbaugh. The numbers don’t pop off the page but the dual-threat quarterback is the perfect fit for a system that asks him to share the load and be a coach on the field. His receiving corps should be healthier and more productive year, which would really help the Wolverines’ offense cook with gas.
39. Tyler Biadasz, C, Wisconsin
Close your eyes and think of the Most Wisconsin O-Lineman Name possible. Open them and, yeah, it’s Tyler Biadasz. He continues in the long tradition of hog-mollies who get great satisfaction in opening up holes for award-winning backs. He’ll add to his streak of 27 straight starts and could end up feted as the nation’s top center.
38. J.R. Reed, S, Georgia
Reed secured 66 tackles and one very important interception of Tua Tagovailoa last season, and is poised to play his way into the top-10 or even top-3 of the NFL Draft. He’s a Preseason All-American who is scary enough to dictate what a QB should do– namely, throwing the ball as far away from him as possible.
37. Walker Little, OT, Stanford
If there’s one thing David Shaw loves, it’s a conservative gameplan. If there’s a second thing, it’s a big, beefy offensive lineman. Little is very much so what Shaw loves, standing 6-foot-7 and weighing in at 320 pounds. He was once considered the top recruit in his class and has earned Pac-12 honors. If he played for a team further East, he’d be getting more pub. For now he’ll settle for making pancakes and keeping his quarterback upright.
36. Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas
Ehlinger was steady in his sophomore year with a 5-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Baker Mayfield considers him a worthy rival, and the quarterback has a real chance to bring Texas back in the truest Texas Is Back sense of the words. Big expectations, but he seems to have the shoulders to handle it.
35. Trey Adams, OT, Washington
Adams is a mountain of a man, standing 6-foot-8 and weighing in at 306 pounds. He missed essentially a season-a-half with a bulging disc in his back and a knee injury. Upon return, he starred for the Huskies down the stretch, showcasing the combination of lateral quickness and force that has scouts salivating.
34. Anfernee Jennings, LB, Alabama
A vital cog in the Crimson Tide’s downright scary defensive unit, Jennings posted 51 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks last year, putting a high-profile knee injury that took a great deal of rehabilitation behind him. He was also a heat-seeking missile in the passing game, racking up 11 pass breakups.
33. A.J. Dillon, RB, Boston College
Dillon racked up 1,589 yards on the ground his freshman season and was well on his way to replicating it last year if not for an injury. He’s a bit of an old-school runner, excelling between the tackles and brushing through contact with regularity. He’s more agile than one would expect a bruising 245-pound back would be, and stands to be a workhorse at the next level.
32. Michael Pittman Jr., WR, USC
Pittman has shown flashes with the Trojans but stands to take a huge step in this his senior year. He hasn’t maximized his potential in part due to injury and in part due to some larger offensive struggles. But at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds and with blazing speed, he could be a game-changing deep threat in the Pac-12 and sneak into the late first round come April 2020.
31. Joe Bachie, LB, Michigan State
Seventy-one percent of the Earth is covered with water. Bachie handles the rest. He’s reached the triple-digit tackle total in back-to-back years and been responsible for eight takeaways in that time. More than that, though, he rises to the occasion and makes the big plays when his team needs them most.
30. Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia
Fromm improved his completion percentage from 62.2 percent to 67.3 percent in his second year as a starter and got the essential seasoning of big-game play. A tad undersized at 6-foot-2, he doesn’t let that deter him from finding passing lanes and throwing judiciously, surrendering only six interceptions last year. Like previously stated, consider taking a flyer on him for Heisman.
29. Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State
Gross-Matos was ninth in the nation last year with his 20 tackles for a loss. James Franklin suspended him this summer for a violation of team rules. Perhaps he returns with a sharper focus and the knowledge that he can only improve his attractiveness to NFL teams by rounding into a more complete player.
28. Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
Thomas is the blindside tackle charged with keeping Heisman Trophy hopeful Jake Fromm upright. It is a big and tall task. Thankfully, this beefy Bulldog is 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds with long arms and quick feet.
27. Shaq Quarterman, LB, Miami
Quarterman has finished second on the Hurricanes in tackles for three straight seasons. This final senior campaign could be the one where he takes first. Manny Diaz is relying on him to put together another top-flight year and disrupt in the backfield (14 tackles for a loss last season). Look for a late explosion and a rocket up the draft boards should things remain on a healthy, productive track.
26. A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa
Joel Klatt has called him the most underrated player in the Big Ten. And maybe he’s right. How a player who notched 10.5 sacks and four fumbles last season doesn’t crack the top half of this list is appalling. Who wrote this thing anyway?
Perhaps the former five-star recruit will use it as extra motivation to put up a performance this season that puts him in the driver’s seat for some meaty postseason honors.
25. Justyn Ross, WR, Clemson
Ross was incredible as a freshman in 2018, topping 1,000 yards while notching 46 receptions and nine touchdowns. In Clemson’s two playoff games he combined to catch 12 passes for 301 yards and three touchdowns. An athletic freak at 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds and possessing excellent speed, the sophomore has a special bond with quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
A preseason All-American as a sophomore in 2019, expect another huge year from Ross.
24. Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
This might be a bit high for Sewell, but he was incredibly impressive in his seven games as a true freshman last year. ProFootball Focus rated him the top freshman offensive lineman in the nation in 2018 and the seventh-best tackle nationally. At 6-foot-6 and 325 pounds, he’s massive but also has good quickness and can fend off opposing pass rushers well. Expect him to expand on a stellar freshman campaign in 2019.
23. Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
Simmons led Clemson’s defense in tackles as a sophomore in 2018, racking up 97 stops, 9.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, 1.5 sacks and an interception. A redshirt junior in 2019, expect even more from Simmons. He’s a preseason All-American and should be the leader of Clemson’s stellar defense.
22. Paddy Fisher, LB, Northwestern
Don’t know who Paddy Fisher is? You probably should. An All-American and a First-team All-Big Ten pick as a sophomore in 2018, Fisher is a tackling machine. He’s coming off back-to-back 100-plus tackle seasons, and in 2018 he had 116 stops with five tackles for loss and four forced fumbles. He’s got great size at 6-foot-4 and 246 pounds and has become the face of Northwestern’s defense.
21. D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia
A human bowling ball at 5-foot-9 and 215 pounds, Swift is a tough, hard runner with outstanding speed in the open field. As a sophomore in 2018, he rushed for 1,049 yards and 10 touchdowns on 163 carries. He also racked up 297 yards and three touchdowns on 32 receptions. He posted 6.4 yards per carry in 2018 and enters 2019 as a preseason All-American.
Given Georgia’s recent history of developing running backs, it’d be wise expecting a big season out of Swift this season.
20. Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State
As a sophomore in 2018, Wallace was named First-Team All-American after catching 86 passes for 1,491 yards and 12 touchdowns. While he’s not a big receiver (6-0, 185), Wallace can go up and get the ball. He’s a tough receiver who snags balls with his hands, not his body. With great quickness and open-field speed, he’s poised for a huge campaign.
19. Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
Higgins exploded in 2018, racking up 936 yards and 12 touchdowns on team-high 59 receptions. The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder averaged 15.9 yards per reception and provided a big-time downfield target for Trevor Lawrence. Higgins has all the making of an NFL receiver: he has size, hands and speed and is a touchdown machine. Expect him to post more big numbers as a junior in 2019.
18. Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama
Diggs played in just six games in 2018 after suffering a foot injury, but he’s back as a senior and should be one of the nation’s top defensive backs. The 6-foot-2, 207-pounder is still developing into a shutdown corner, but his size and athleticism suggest big things are coming. Now that he’s focusing on defense full-time (he has played receiver and been a return specialist as well), expect Diggs to be an impact player this season.
17. Kenny Willekes, DE, Michigan State
An All-American and a First-Team All-Big Ten selection in 2018, Willekes saw his season end with a broken fibula in the Redbox Bowl. He came along slowly in the spring but should be ready to repeat his stellar 2018 as a senior in 2019. Willekes racked up 78 tackles off the edge as a junior, to go with an insane 20.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He’ll be one of the best defensive players in a loaded Big Ten in 2019. At 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, he has the size and motor to entice NFL teams in the 2020 draft as well.
16. Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama
Moses was arguably the leader of Alabama’s defense as a sophomore, so he’ll enter his junior season as its backbone. He’s an insane athlete with great size (6-foot-3, 235 pounds), and he racked up 86 tackles in 2018 as a Second-Team All-American. If anything, he should be even better this year as he continues to develop. Expect to see him around the ball all season.
15. CJ Henderson, CB, Florida
Henderson is an elite cornerback who will be a high draft pick in 2020. He put himself on NFL radars after turning in a stellar sophomore season. He’s snagged six interceptions in his first two seasons at Florida and has the size (6-foot-1, 202 pounds) and natural skills to be a shutdown cornerback. He’s a preseason All-American and eyes will be on him all season.
14. CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
Lamb is just flat-out fun to watch. The junior looks like a sure thing as an NFL wideout, standing at 6-foot-2 and 191 pounds with incredible playmaking ability. As a sophomore in 2018, Lamb had 65 receptions for 1,158 yards and 11 touchdowns. That was good enough for a ridiculous 17.8 yards per catch. His ability to make spectacular catches aside, Lamb is a really good receiver with incredible upside.
13. Bryce Hall, CB, Virginia
Hall was named First-Team All-ACC and a Second-Team All-American for Virginia and is a preseason All-American this year. A stellar cover corner with good size at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, Hall led the nation with 22 pass breakups as a junior. Hall also finished his junior year with 62 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Opposing teams are likely to avoid him altogether this season, and with good reason.
12. Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado
Shenault is an absolute physical freak. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder is built like a big running back, yet he’s got the speed of a wideout. He led the nation in catches per game as a sophomore (9.6) and enters his junior year after racking up 1,011 receiving yards and touchdown receptions, with five more rushing scores as a junior. Oh, and he had a punt return touchdown. Get all of that?
A preseason All-American, Shenault is hidden a bit at Colorado, but expect him to make noise this season. He’s coming off foot and shoulder surgery, but should be good to go when the season kicks off.
11. Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
Herbert could have been a first-round pick had he jumped to the NFL after the 2018 season. Instead, he opted to return for his senior campaign. He didn’t live up to massive expectations in 2018, completing just 59.4 percent of his passes for 3,151 yards with 29 touchdowns and eight interceptions. But at 6-foot-6 and 237 pounds with an ability to move and a big arm, he’s everything the NFL wants in a quarterback.
Herbert has all the tools to be a phenomenal quarterback and expectations will be high yet again. If he can live up to them, he’ll likely be a high pick in the 2020 draft.