25 Best Overall Position Groups for 2016 College Football Season

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJune 16, 2016

25 Best Overall Position Groups for 2016 College Football Season

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    Superstars grab the most attention, but a select group of college football teams stocked their rosters with outstanding talent at one position.

    These programs either boast an elite starter complemented by excellent backups—such as at quarterback, for exampleor built a dangerous starting unit composed of a few players.

    Four schools placed two units on the list, which is organized alphabetically and factors in a team's competition, so "Group of Five" squads are not shut out.

    Being included doesn't necessarily mean the units will be the most productive in 2016, but their talent levels are unmatched on paper.

Alabama Linebackers

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    Opening this list is arguably the best positional unit in the nation: the Alabama linebackers.

    Reuben Foster, who amassed 73 tackles last year, will assume Reggie Ragland's role as the leader in the middle. Rashaan Evans and Shaun Dion Hamilton will compete for the weak-side spot next to Foster.

    What really makes the Crimson Tide linebackers a burden to face, though, is the edge-rushing duo of Tim Williams (10.5 sacks in 2015) and Ryan Anderson (six).

    Two 5-starsBen Davis and Lyndell Wilson—round out a talented reserve unit with Christian Miller, among others.

Alabama Secondary

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    As if the linebacking corps weren't good enough, the 'Bama secondary is loaded with players who could start anywhere.

    Marlon Humphrey (CB) and Eddie Jackson (SS) are returning starters. Minkah Fitzpatrick (CB) served as the nickelback last season. Ronnie Harrison (FS) should enter the starting lineup. They combined for 13 interceptions in 2015.

    Behind them, the Tide will lean on Maurice Smith (Star) as long as Tony Brown is suspended, former 5-star Kendall Sheffield and 4-star Deionte Thompson for depth.

    And a trio of 4-star signees just arrived, too. Alabama, quite simply, is loaded in the secondary.

Baylor Quarterbacks

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    Injuries decimated Baylor's quarterback depth in 2015, but the odds of that happening again seem low.

    Seth Russell threw for 2,104 yards and 29 touchdowns compared to just six interceptions during seven appearances, adding 402 rushing yards and six scores. Jarrett Stidham registered a 68.8 completion percentage with 12 touchdowns and only two picks.

    Neck and ankle injuries, respectively, kept the players from finishing their campaign. Chris Johnson—who has since moved to receiver—was slowed by a concussion, too.

    However, most coaches would envy this depth. Russell should start, while Stidham is a high-quality backup in front of 3-star Zach Smith.

Clemson Wide Receivers

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    It's almost unfair how many weapons Deshaun Watson will have at his disposal. Charone Peake (50/716/5) used up his eligibility, but his replacement is even more effective.

    Mike Williams piled up a 57/1,030/6 line two years ago, but he essentially missed the entire 2015 season because of a neck injury. Williams was cleared to participate in spring practice.

    Additionally, the Tigers boast Artavis Scott—who has two straight 900-yard campaigns—Deon Cain, Hunter Renfrow and Ray-Ray McCloud as well as tight end Jordan Leggett.

    You won't find a better set of offensive players in the country.

Florida Secondary

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    The Gators just lost two NFL draft first-round picks in the secondary. Good thing they might have two more.

    Bleacher Report's Matt Miller currently ranks Jalen Tabor as the No. 1 cornerback and Marcus Maye as the No. 7 safety on his 2017 NFL draft big board.

    Filling out the secondary are corner Quincy Wilson, safety Nick Washington and nickelback Duke Dawson, who nabbed a pair of interceptions during the spring game.

    Chauncey Gardner—a top-50 recruit nationallyenrolled early. The 4-star should work his way into the rotation immediately.

Florida State Secondary

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    Replacing the impact of the No. 5 pick in the NFL draft shouldn't be easy. Derwin James isn't your average player.

    A playmaking safety who moonlights as a defensive end, he amassed 91 tackles with 9.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks. James added four pass breakups, two hurries and a pair of forced fumbles.

    Marquez White, Tarvarus McFadden, Nate Andrews and Trey Marshall figure to surround the superstar sophomore.

    In addition to A.J. Westbrook and Marcus Lewis as possible starters, the 'Noles can lean on Ryan Green and 5-star cornerback Levonta Taylor for depth.

Georgia Running Backs

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    The one-two punch of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel is an absolute treat to watch—and a nightmare to defend.

    Chubb is still recovering from a season-ending knee injury, but he should return at some point. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, they don't need to force the 100-yard machine into the lineup.

    Michel registered 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground last season, also hauling in 26 passes for 270 yards and three scores. He averaged 7.6 yards per touch as a freshman, too.

    Even if Chubb is fully healthy, though, Georgia will find carries for 4-star Elijah Holyfield.

Georgia Southern Running Backs

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    Matt Breida is a model of both major production and elite efficiency. He scampered for 1,485 yards with an 8.7 average and 17 touchdowns in 2014, then 1,608 at 7.9 per carry and 17 scores last year.

    And that's far from all the Eagles have to offer.

    L.A. Ramsby tallied 816 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2015, while Wesley Fields posted 682 and seven, respectively. Even Chaz Thornton managed a 6.9-yard average in limited action.

    If you'd like to include quarterbacks Kevin Ellison and Favian Upshaw—a combined 1,295 yards and 14 scoreshere because of Georgia Southern's run-first style, you won't hear an argument from us.

LSU Offensive Line

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    LSU consistently puts together a powerful offensive line. The unit should be among the strongest in 2016.

    Ethan Pocic, a top NFL draft prospect at his position, headlines the group. He's a two-year starter up front and earned second-team All-SEC honors last season.

    Will Clapp and Maea Teuhema are returning starters at guard, though Teuhema may officially shift out to tackle if K.J. Malone and Toby Weathersby don't lock down those spots.

    Josh Boutte, Garrett Brumfield and a cast of young talentincluding massive 4-star Donavaughn Campbell (6'4", 347 lbs)will be the backups.

LSU Secondary

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    The LSU secondary is loaded with NFL-caliber players.

    Tre'Davious White, Rickey Jefferson and Jamal Adams will be headed to the pros soon. Kevin Toliver II, Donte Jackson and Ed Paris shouldn't be far behind. Dwayne Thomas struggled at the end of 2015, but he's an experienced depth piece.

    Although the unit ranked just 65th nationally last season, an improved defensive line with a new coordinator in Dave Aranda will make the secondary look even better.

    Five-star Kristian Fulton as well as 4-star and spring standout Saivion Smith only further that belief.

Michigan Defensive Line

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    The Wolverines lost a couple of notable pieces up front, but the additions are almost certain to outweigh the departures.

    Chris Wormley, Taco Charlton and Maurice Hurst Jr. accumulated 29.5 tackles for loss and 15 sacks combined. Ryan Glasgow was an integral part of the nation's No. 16 rush defense.

    However, staff favorite Bryan Mone missed the 2015 season because of an ankle injury. Michigan signed top-rated recruit Rashan Gary and moved Chase Winovich to defensive end during the offseason.

    Matt Godin rounds out the group, which will be aided by the aggressive philosophy of first-year coordinator Don Brown.

Michigan Secondary

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    In the secondary, Michigan returns second-team All-American cornerback Jourdan Lewis and four experienced players.

    Delano Hill (SS) and Jeremy Clark (CB) each started seven games in 2015. Dymonte Thomas (FS) opened five contests, and Channing Stribling (CB) started four. They combined to tally 108 tackles, 15 pass breakups and five interceptions.

    Versatile superstar Jabrill Peppers has moved to outside linebacker in 2016, but he'll also contribute as the nickelback.

    Tyree Kinnel is the top backup at safety, while 4-stars David Long and Lavert Hill may leap Brandon Watson and Keith Washington as the next pieces of the rotation at cornerback.

North Carolina Wide Receivers

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    As long as the Tar Heels can replace big-bodied possession target Quinshad Davis, their receiving corps will have everything a quarterback needs to excel.

    Mack Hollins is an elite deep threat. He amassed a Football Bowl Subdivision-best 24.8 yards per catch, hauling in 30 passes and leading the team with 745 yards and eight touchdowns.

    Ryan Switzer—who is also a dangerous punt returner—has two straight seasons of at least 55 receptions, 697 yards and four scores. Bug Howard posted 455 and 466 yards in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

    UNC needs Mitch Trubisky to settle into a full-time role at quarterback, but the receivers and an excellent offensive line should ease that transition for the junior.

Notre Dame Quarterbacks

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    The saying "if you have two quarterbacks, you have none" more applies to teams with a pair of questionable options under center. Notre Dame, on the other hand, has two excellent choices.

    However, the problem is deciding which one to use. Malik Zaire initially won the competition last year, but DeShone Kizer led the Irish to the Fiesta Bowl and a 10-3 final record after Zaire's injury.

    But we're not determining that battle in this space.

    While the only one-two option arguably better than Notre Dame's is Baylor's, nobody is topping the overall depth in South Bend.

    Waiting in the wings—and barring injury, likely taking a redshirt—is Brandon Wimbush, the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback and No. 47 player in the 2015 class.

Oklahoma Secondary

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    In the pass-happy Big 12, pairing an explosive offense with a respectable defense might be all that's needed to win the conference. Oklahoma should have that covered.

    Quite literally, actually.

    Three starters—Jordan Thomas, Steven Parker and Ahmad Thomasreturn in the Sooners secondary. Will Johnson and Dakota Austin were regular contributors last season, too.

    P.J. Mbanasor, Will Sunderland, 4-star Jordan Parker and 3-star early enrollee Chanse Sylvie should see playing time for a unit that had multiple interceptions against each of Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and West Virginia in 2015.

Oregon Running Backs

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    Most college football fans know the name Royce Freeman. He gashed defenses for 1,838 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, improving on a 1,365-yard, 15-score campaign in 2014.

    Even after the medical retirement of Thomas Tyner, though, Oregon remains loaded at running back.

    Taj Griffin piled up 570 yards and three touchdowns as a true freshman. Kani Benoit added 364 yards and three scores. Tony Brooks-James managed 288 and earned three trips to the end zone. Each reserve tallied at least seven yards per carry.

    Despite issues at quarterback and on the offensive line, the Ducks finished with the nation's fifth-best rushing attack. A more stable offense will lead to comparable production, if not a similar ranking.

Stanford Running Backs

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    Unrealistic pressure will follow Christian McCaffrey in 2016. Still, the versatile back's sophomore campaign was legendary.

    His 2,019 rushing yards ranked second nationally, and McCaffrey grabbed 45 passes for 645 yards and five scores. Meanwhile, Bryce Love registered 7.8 yards per carry as a reserve.

    Stanford must replace short-yardage back Remound Wright, who scored all 13 of his touchdowns from two yards or closer. If McCaffrey doesn't assume that role, look for 6'1", 216-pound Cameron Scarlett.

    Fullback Daniel Marx is the unsung hero of the power-run offense. He secured a Pac-12 honorable mention last season.

Tennessee Special Teams

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    Kickers enter in clutch moments. Punters are often asked to flip the field. Big returns on special teams can change the game.

    Last year, Aaron Medley connected on 21 field goals but missed a handful of important kicks. Otherwise, Tennessee was excellent.

    Evan Berry tallied 38.3 yards per kick return, and Cameron Sutton averaged 18.7 on punts. Both marks led the nation, while Berry returned three for touchdowns and Sutton took back two. Alvin Kamara also housed a punt.

    Despite his shaky moments, Medley nailed all 55 extra points and hit 12 of his last 14 kicks. Punter Trevor Daniel notched 45.7 per attempt, eighth best in the FBS. The kick-coverage unit ranked 14th, too.

    The Vols will again have the most well-rounded special teams, especially if Medley buries a few important field goals.

Texas A&M Defensive Line

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    After bursting onto the college football scene with 14 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks in 2014, Myles Garrett improved to 19.5 and 12.5, respectively. But he was still disappointed.

    "I felt like I did have a sophomore slump," Garrett said, according to Cavender Neutze of Gridiron Now. "I didn't reach my goals of 15 sacks and 20 tackles for loss, so I just have to work harder to achieve them this season."

    Whether or not he reaches those marks doesn't matter much. We know Garrett will be a terror up front.

    Besides, he's far from alone. Daeshon Hall collected 14.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. Daylon Mack contributed 9.5 tackles for loss, and Zaycoven Henderson chipped in three sacks.

    Kingsley Keke could be a starter, and the Aggies will likely find reps for 4-star Justin Madubuike.

Texas A&M Wide Receivers

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    The Texas A&M receiving corps is jam-packed with high-potential targets. All they need is a quarterback.

    Christian Kirk snatched 80 passes for 1,009 yards and seven touchdowns as a true freshman, adding a pair of punt-return scores. Josh Reynolds had 51 receptions, 907 yards and five touchdowns.

    Ricky Seals-Jones has a pair of 45-catch seasons to his credit, and Speedy Noil is a hyper-athletic specimen with huge potential as an all-purpose contributor. Damion Ratley gathered 15 passes for 200 yards and two scores last year.

    The Aggies are hoping the combination of Oklahoma transfer quarterback Trevor Knight and new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone will make use of all those weapons.

Tulsa Wide Receivers

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    Keyarris Garrett led the FBS with 1,588 yards last season, but he exhausted his eligibility. That would be an issue, except that accolade probably would've belonged to Keevan Lucas anyway.

    Lucas already had 409 in three-plus games before a knee injury ended his season. He accumulated 101 receptions, 1,219 yards and 11 scores two years ago.

    Josh Atkinson is back, and he filled the No. 2 role wonderfully with 76 catches and 1,071 yards. Justin Hobbs snared 32 passes for 551 yards during his freshman campaign.

    How will they fare against major competition with 4,000-yard passer Dane Evans? We'll find out on Sept. 10 against Ohio State in Columbus.

USC Offensive Line

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    Though staying on the field—for various reasons—is a concern, experience is not an issue for the USC offensive line.

    Chad Wheeler missed games in 2014 and 2015 because of injury and an off-field incident, but he's a three-year starter up front. Toa Lobendahn has 20 career starts but is recovering from a knee injury, and key reserve Khaliel Rodgers (shoulder) is also working back.

    Still, the Trojans have three returning starters in Zach Banner—a top draft prospect at tackleDamien Mama and Viane Talamaivao.

    USC's new quarterback should be well-protected, while Justin Davis and Ronald Jones II will have plenty of room to run.

Washington Secondary

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    Washington's pass defense ranked a purely average 68th in 2015, but the team ceded just 11 scores while snatching 15 interceptions.

    Sidney Jones (CB), Kevin King (CB) and Budda Baker (FS) accounted for nine of those. Each member of that trio has the potential to hear his name called on Day 1 or 2 of a future NFL draft.

    Darren Gardenhire (NB) registered 45 tackles, six pass breakups and two picks. Third-year sophomore JoJo McIntosh (SS) will move into the lineup after accruing 38 stops and three breakups.

    Although we'll miss the shenanigans of #Pac12AfterDark, the Huskies secondary deserves the prime-time attention it will receive.

Washington State Wide Receivers

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    Head coach Mike Leach and quarterback Luke Falk are prepared to throw the ball 60 times per game. Led by Gabe Marks, Washington State has the receiving corps to keep up.

    After redshirting in 2014, Marks led the Cougars with 104 receptions, 1,192 yards and 15 touchdowns. He never had fewer than five catches or 51 yards in a game last year.

    Behind him is River Cracraft, an unspectacular yet consistent wideout. He's tallied between 46 and 66 catches, 614 and 771 yards, and three and eight touchdowns during each of his three seasons.

    Robert Lewis has consecutive years of 40-plus receptions, and Tavares Martin will fill Dom Williams' role on the outside.

    Kaleb Fossum, Kyrin Priester, Kyle Sweet and 3-star early enrollee Isaiah Johnson will each contribute in Washington State's deep receiving corps.

Wisconsin Linebackers

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    Aranda's departure stings, but the Wisconsin defense shouldn't see much of a drop-off thanks to a veteran front seven. A versatile, experienced linebacking corps leads the way.

    T.J. Edwards racked up a team-best 84 tackles in 2015. Vince Biegel notched 66, including 14 for loss. Jack Cichy (60) and Chris Orr (46) finished fifth and sixth on the team, respectively.

    Cichy is a versatile piece who can substitute at any spot, which will allow T.J. Watt to join the starting lineup opposite a pass-rushing specialist in Biegel.

    The linebackers will likely cause Badgers opponents to become one-dimensional offenses this fall.


    All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.