Ranking the Top 100 College Football Players for the 2017 Season

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistAugust 22, 2017

Ranking the Top 100 College Football Players for the 2017 Season

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    Where does Florida State's Derwin James fall in the Top 100?
    Where does Florida State's Derwin James fall in the Top 100?Associated Press

    In celebration of college football's August 26 return, Bleacher Report has ranked the top 100 players for the 2017 season.

    The order is not based solely on individual skill. Expected contributions are the primary factor, so a superstar such as Lamar Jacksoneasily a top-three talentis a few spots lower because we're not projecting him to repeat a Heisman Trophy-winning season.

    Additionally, NFL draft stock is not considered. Professional-bound players often put together the best seasons, but pro prospects in less favorable situations can be hindered, too.

    While some players are not household names, their inclusion in the Top 100 may serve as a reminder for viewers to seek them out.

               

    Note: Unless otherwise specified, All-American references reflect the Associated Press' list, and all-conference mentions reflect coaches' teams.

100-91: Harding-Marshall

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    Miami's Mark Walton
    Miami's Mark WaltonAssociated Press

    100. Heath Harding, CB, Miami (Ohio)

    A first-team All-MAC performer in 2016, Heath Harding is entering his fourth season as a starter. He totaled 67 tackles with 6.5 stops for loss, four interceptions and 11 pass breakups last year.

          

    99. Marquis Haynes, DE, Ole Miss

    Ole Miss may stumble this season, but Marquis Haynesand Benito Jones, pending his healthwill still be a menace up front. Haynes has collected 36.5 tackles for loss and 24.5 sacks during his three seasons with the Rebels.

            

    98. Nick Fitzgerald, QB, Mississippi State

    Nick Fitzgerald took over following the team's shocking loss to South Alabama to open the 2016 campaign and starred. The dual-threat quarterback might not match his totals of 3,798 combined passing/rushing yards and 37 touchdowns, but he'll lead Mississippi State to bowl season again.

             

    97. Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State

    Once quarterback Nick Stevens entered the starting lineup, Michael Gallup averaged 126.3 receiving yards and caught at least one touchdown in every game. The senior wideout could be in the All-American conversation when November arrives.

            

    96. Mark Walton, RB, Miami

    As long as he stays healthy, Mark Walton will be a heavily featured player. The versatile back posted 1,357 yards from scrimmage and 15 total touchdowns last season while sharing snaps. Given Miami's suspect depth at running back, those numbers should rise.

        

    95. Skai Moore, ILB, South Carolina

    Skai Moore is set to return after missing the 2016 campaign due to a neck injury. From 2013 to 2015, though, he led South Carolina in tackles each season. Expect a repeat from Moore, who will headline an impressive back seven.

         

    94. Mike White, QB, Western Kentucky

    Western Kentucky has won two straight Conference USA crowns, and Mike White is the primary reason the streak can continue. Even after the departures of Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris, White will be a highly efficient, productive passer.

            

    93. Daniel Carlson, K, Auburn

    In addition to never missing an extra point in 141 attempts, Daniel Carlson has connected on 85-plus percent of his field goals in two straight years. The two-time Groza Award finalist is the favorite to hoist the hardware in 2017.

              

    92. Quadree Henderson, WR/KR, Pitt

    Quadree Henderson was one of 2016's breakout stars, notching the 11th-most all-purpose yards in the country and scoring in four different ways. He will contribute as a receiver more often in 2017 while reprising his special teams roles.

            

    91. Iman Marshall, CB, USC

    With 118 stops in two seasons, Iman Marshall has proved himself as a tackler. His next step is refining above-average coverage skills, but six interceptions and 17 pass breakups suggest Marshall is close to that breakthrough.

90-81: Webb-Wishnowsky

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    Washington's Taylor Rapp
    Washington's Taylor RappRobert Reiners/Getty Images

    90. Ralph Webb, RB, Vanderbilt

    Ralph Webb is a steady player on an otherwise inconsistent offense. Barring a surprise, he'll lead the Commodores in rushing for the fourth consecutive season and eclipse the 1,000-yard barrier for the third time.

               

    89. Justin Jones, DT, NC State

    While Bradley Chubb makes life miserable for blockers on the outside, Justin Jones and B.J. Hill constantly wreck the middle. Jones has recorded back-to-back seasons of 6.5 tackles for loss and is a principal run-stopper for a sneaky good Wolfpack squad.

           

    88. Mike McGlinchey, LT, Notre Dame

    The foundation of Notre Dame's hope for a bounce-back season is located in the trenches. Mike McGlinchey, who is entering his third year as a starter, is an outstanding run-blocker. Improvement in pass protection could rocket McGlinchey up the list.

                

    87. Duke Dawson, CB, Florida

    Florida's pipeline of top-tier corners should continue with Duke Dawson in 2017. Last season, he posted the eighth-best opposing quarterback rating (64.6) among nickelbacks, according to Pro Football Focus, and defended eight passes.

               

    86. Taylor Rapp, S, Washington

    Washington lost a trio of elite defensive backs, but Taylor Rapp is ready to fill one void. During his freshman campaign as a nickelback, he tallied 52 tackles and four interceptions. Rapp will shift to safety alongside JoJo McIntosh in 2017.

              

    85. Braden Smith, RT, Auburn

    After spending three years as a guard, Braden Smith has moved to right tackle. Auburn must address a few O-line questions around him, but Smith is a superb pass-blocker and reliable run-blocker.

           

    84. Godwin Igwebuike, S, Northwestern

    Godwin Igwebuike is the best player on a promising Northwestern defense. The rising senior is coming off a terrific season where he notched 108 tackles, seven pass breakups and two interceptions.

             

    83. Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

    Given his NFL draft hype, Josh Allen's low ranking might be surprising. But in truth, it would be an achievement for Allen to finish 2017 at this spot. He'll keep Wyoming competitive despite the loss of its leading rusher and top three receivers.

              

    82. Andre Dillard, LT, Washington State

    Washington State has the best offensive line in the country. Andre Dillard, a 6'5", 306-pound tackle, is a dominant pass-blocker. If he can overcome a penchant for penalties, Dillard will push for All-Pac-12 honors along with two teammates.

             

    81. Mitch Wishnowsky, P, Utah

    Mitch Wishnowsky, the reigning Ray Guy Award winner, is carrying on a tradition of specialist excellence at Utah. The Aussie-style punter paced the Football Bowl Subdivision with 44.3 net yards per kick last season, per Pro Football Focus.

80-71: Vea-Smith

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    UCLA's Josh Rosen
    UCLA's Josh RosenAssociated Press

    80. Vita Vea, DT, Washington

    Vita Vea is a monster. The 6'5", 340-pounder put together a second-team All-Pac-12 campaign last season with 39 tackles, 6.5 stops for loss and five sacks. Now the featured player in the middle, Vea will be the best defensive tackle on the West Coast.

              

    79. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

    The Crimson Tide are expected to open up the offense for quarterback Jalen Hurts in 2017. Calvin Ridley, who has 70-plus receptions in both of his college seasons, will handle an even larger target share for an Alabama team that remains a College Football Playoff favorite.

                

    78. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

    "Josh Rosen is on his third offensive coordinator in three years." The veracity of that oft-made statement cannot be disputed, but it's frequently been framed as a negative. It's more likely Jedd Fisch will help Rosen regain his efficient form and status as a top NFL draft prospecteven if the box score totals aren't overwhelming.

              

    77. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

    Gone are first-round selections Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore, but Denzel Ward was basically a starter in 2016 anyway. He broke up nine passes as a sophomore and will assume the role of lockdown corner for Ohio State this season.

               

    76. Da'Shawn Hand, DE, Alabama

    Rashan Gary and Nick Bosa have attracted most of the attention as reserves who are ready to break out, but Da'Shawn Hand fits an identical mold. The former top prospect has starred in a backup role and will be an All-SEC performer as a starter.

                

    75. Ahmmon Richards, WR, Miami

    Miami needs a new quarterback, but he already has a go-to target in Ahmmon Richards. During his freshman year, Richards set a program freshman record with 934 yards, breaking Michael Irvin's previous mark. Not a bad start to a college career, huh?

               

    74. Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn

    The hype is deserved. Jarrett Stidham doesn't need to win a Heisman and be a top-20 player for the season to be a success, though. He'll elevate a passing game that has lacked diversity since Nick Marshall was in town, and he'll lead Auburn to double-digit wins.

            

    73. Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State

    NFL teams certainly would prefer if Mike Gesicki developed his blocking ability, but there's no doubting his receiving skills. Gesicki, who grabbed 48 passes for 679 yards and five touchdowns last year, is Penn State's leading returner in all three categories.

              

    72. Ronnie Harrison, FS, Alabama

    Although the spotlight follows Minkah Fitzpatrick, Ronnie Harrison is a main reason Alabama can afford to showcase Fitzpatrick's versatility. As a sophomore, Harrison gathered 85 tackles, broke up seven passes and nabbed three takeaways with two defensive scores.

             

    71. Cameron Smith, ILB, USC

    Cameron Smith followed an injury-shortened freshman season with a strong sophomore year. He's a well-rounded linebacker who excels in run support and is solid in coverage. Smith has 161 tackles over 23 career appearances.

70-61: Richardson-Allen

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    SMU's Courtland Sutton
    SMU's Courtland SuttonBrandon Wade/Associated Press

    70. Steven Richardson, DT, Minnesota

    Steven Richardson might be the best-kept secret in the Big Ten. Despite being undersized for the position (6'0", 292 lbs), the rising senior has elevated his level of disruption every year. Richardson tallied 11 stops for loss with seven sacks last season.

            

    69. Deondre Francois, QB, Florida State

    A talented player worthy of a higher individual ranking, Deondre Francois will guide a respected yet flawed Florida State offense, thus his lower standing. The blocking unit ceded 36 sacks in 2016 and allowed dozens more hits, but Francois will again help the 'Noles overcome that weakness to compete for ACC and national crowns.

            

    68. Ja'Von Rolland-Jones, DE, Arkansas State

    Ja'Von Rolland-Jones amassed 21 tackles for loss and 13 sacks last year. Transition on the defensive front may result in a production drop, but he's a premier Group of Five player. Rolland-Jones will have a chance to stand out on the national stage when Arkansas State travels to Nebraska and hosts Miami in early September.

                 

    67. Micah Kiser, ILB, Virginia

    The first of two Top 100 defenders for Virginia, Micah Kiser returns after racking up the nation's third-most tackles (134) last year. He is also a legitimate playmaker, having gathered 23 tackles for loss, 14 sacks and eight forced fumbles in two seasons as a starter.

                  

    66. Dalton Risner, RT, Kansas State

    Dalton Risner started 13 games at center in 2015 before moving to right tackle in 2016 and earning first-team All-Big 12 recognition. Most importantly, Risner is balanced in his excellence. He's a heady blocker on the ground and is elite in pass protection.

               

    65. Trenton Thompson, DT, Georgia

    Have fun trying to run on Trenton Thompson. The 6'4", 295-pounder racked up 56 tackles from his interior position last year. Thompson still needs to progress as a pass-rusher, but as his three-sack performance in the Liberty Bowl showed, the tools are there.

               

    64. Dorance Armstrong Jr., DE, Kansas

    No returning Big 12 player had more sacks than Dorance Armstrong Jr. (10) in 2016. He added 10 more tackles for loss, as well as three forced fumbles. Kansas won't be a major factor in the Big 12, but Armstrong is a bona fide star.

              

    63. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

    A converted defensive back, Courtland Sutton has developed into an NFL-caliber wide receiver. After making 49 catches for 862 yards and nine touchdowns in 2015, he collected 76 passes for 1,246 yards and 10 scores last year.

                 

    62. Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon

    Oregon's frustrating 2016 plagued Royce Freeman, but he's poised for a resurgent 2017. And although the Ducks' deep group at the position will cut into his production, stabilityand experiencealong the offensive line will allow Freeman to solidify his place among the country's top running backs.

            

    61. Marcus Allen, S, Penn State

    Marcus Allen brings the boom. He finished third in the Big Ten with 110 stops last season, adding six tackles for loss and a forced fumble. The rising senior must improve in coverage, but Allen is an energetic leader and fearless tackler.

60-51: Okoronkwo-Hernandez

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    Toledo's Logan Woodside
    Toledo's Logan WoodsideRey Del Rio/Getty Images

    60. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, DE, Oklahoma

    Baker Mayfield and the offense have received the most acclaim in recent seasons, but Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is a dominant Big 12 rusher. Per Pro Football Focus, his 59 total pressures from 2016 leads all returning players in the conference.

            

    59. Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson

    The third member of Clemson's ridiculous defensive line could be a featured player for dozens of teams. Clelin Ferrell collected 44 tackles with 12.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage and six sacks as a redshirt freshman.

         

    58. Sean Welsh, RG, Iowa

    Iowa's run-first offense is successful because of players like Sean Welsh, who is set to become a four-year starter. Welsh initially impressed thanks to his effectiveness in pass protection, but the senior has developed into a powerful run-blocker.

               

    57. Quin Blanding, S, Virginia

    Quin Blanding is a master at cleaning up messes in Virginia's secondary. In his three seasons with the Wahoos, he's posted 123, 115 and 120 stops. Another campaign with 100-plus would make Blanding a top-10 tackler in college football since 2005.

             

    56. Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington

    Washington's experience on the offensive line should translate to a more efficient year for Myles Gaskin. Considering he's notched two seasons with at least 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns, that's an unappealing thought for opposing defenses in 2017.

           

    55. Tyquan Lewis, DE, Ohio State

    The reigning Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, Tyquan Lewis is the first of three Ohio State standouts in the trenches to appear on the list. Yeah, there's a little bit of top-shelf talent in Columbus. Lewis claimed the award after registering 10.5 tackles for loss with eight sacks and three forced fumbles.

              

    54. Logan Woodside, QB, Toledo

    Toledo must replace three key offensive players, but Logan Woodside is a major part of why the Rockets were so explosive last season. The senior dismantled school records with 4,129 passing yards and 45 touchdowns, tossing just nine interceptions.

          

    53. Richie James, WR, Middle Tennessee

    Brent Stockstill and Richie James have formed a lethal combination, making the latter a preseason All-American candidate. During his freshman and sophomore years combined, James pulled in 213 receptions for 2,971 yards and 20 touchdowns.

               

    52. Troy Fumagalli, TE, Wisconsin

    Wisconsin is a borderline contender for the College Football Playoff. While that ceiling will only be realized if the offense finds a consistent passing game, Troy Fumagalli will provide an all-around impact regardless. In addition to leading the Badgers with 47 receptions last season, he's a willingand improvingblocker.

           

    51. Will Hernandez, LG, UTEP

    Running back Aaron Jones' departure absolutely stings, but UTEP's running game should retain its effectiveness behind mauler Will Hernandez. The senior is seeking his second straight AP All-America nod, and it would be a surprise if he didn't achieve that.

50-41: Nnadi-Browning

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    Texas' Malik Jefferson
    Texas' Malik JeffersonTim Warner/Getty Images

    50. Derrick Nnadi, DT, Florida State

    Derwin James is FSU's most recognizable defenderand for good reasonbut don't overlook Derrick Nnadi. The senior-to-be has two straight seasons of 40-plus tackles, and he recorded 10.5 stops for loss with six sacks last season.

             

    49. Luke Falk, QB, Washington State

    Luke Falk has guided Mike Leach's club to the brink of Pac-12 contention. Falk's performance against top competition will determine if Wazzu can take that final step, but he's a lock for a high completion percentage, 4,000 yards and 35 touchdowns.

            

    48. Tegray Scales, ILB, Indiana

    Indiana's defense is talented enough to be the catalyst of an upset, and Tegray Scales is the undisputed leader. Last year, he paced the FBS with 23.5 tackles for loss, finishing the campaign with 126 total stops, seven sacks and an interception.

               

    47. Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis

    The nation's No. 2 returning receiver, Anthony Miller picked apart secondaries for 95 catches, 1,434 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2016. Since quarterback Riley Ferguson returns behind a more experienced offensive line, Miller seems destined for another huge year.

             

    46. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan

    Maurice Hurst is safely below the national radar, but he's a significant reason Rashan Gary can be expected to have a breakout season. In two years as a rotational piece, Hurst gathered 18 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and nine hurries. He'll finally be a starter in 2017, and major production will follow.

             

    45. Jerome Baker, OLB, Ohio State

    What a difference one year makes. Jerome Baker has ascended from seldom-used reserve to All-American candidate. Last season, he tallied 83 total stops with 9.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmageincluding 3.5 sacksand accounted for three takeaways.

            

    44. Malik Jefferson, OLB, Texas

    Despite the team's overall struggles in 2016, Texas averaged 7.6 tackles for loss per game. Under the aggressive eye of defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, Malik Jefferson has moved from inside to outside linebacker, which should best feature his disruptive abilities.

                 

    43. Quinton Flowers, QB, South Florida

    The burden of expectation is chasing Quinton Flowers and USF, but he could outrun those. Last year, he scampered for 1,530 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground. Flowers also completed 62.5 percent of his attempts for 2,812 yards and 24 scores, and his progression as a passer may vault the Bulls into a New Year's Six game.

        

    42. Jonah Williams, LT, Alabama

    Jonah Williams broke into the lineup as a true freshman in 2016 and played like a veteran. Per CFB Film Room, he surrendered just two sacks in 452 pass-blocking snaps. Williams and center Bradley Bozeman give Alabama a dominant duo up front.

               

    41. Jake Browning, QB, Washington

    Washington was so dominant in 2016 that Jake Browning only attempted 59 passes during the fourth quarter all season. Matching his efficiency will be a formidable task without John Ross III on the outside, but Browning is the stabilizing force for a CFP contender.

40-31: Victor-Jackson

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    Georgia's Nick Chubb
    Georgia's Nick ChubbWesley Hitt/Getty Images

    40. Azeem Victor, ILB, Washington

    Looking back, an interesting "what if" question is how much better Washington would've fared against Alabama in the CFP with Azeem Victor (and Joe Mathis) available. Victor, who collected 95 tackles as a sophomore, had tallied 67 stops before a leg injury ended his 2016 campaignyet still earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors.

            

    39. Trace McSorley, QB, Penn State

    Penn State won't sneak up on anyone in 2017. Saquon Barkley is the obvious star, but the pressure to meet those expectations rests mostly on Trace McSorley. He'll try to improve on a season that included 3,979 total yards, 36 touchdowns and a Big Ten title.

          

    38. Josh Sweat, DE, Florida State

    Although knee injuries limited Josh Sweat during his first two seasons, he often showed 5-star potential in bursts. Now healthy (it appears), Sweat can finally take on a featured role and be the full-time dominant edge-rusher long expected.

              

    37. J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State

    J.T. Barrett's tenure in Columbus has been a roller coaster ride, and he's back for one final time. The closing stretch of 2016 was undeniably rough, but Barrett has twice guided the Buckeyes to the College Football Playoff. That experience will show as Ohio State chases another trip to the sport's grand stage.

           

    36. Dante Pettis, WR/PR, Washington

    Through three years in Seattle, Dante Pettis has steadily elevated his contributions as a receiver. All the while, he's been exciting on special teams with five career punt-return touchdowns. Pettis had 53 catches for 822 yards and 15 scores last year, and he'll be Browning's No. 1 target in 2017.

               

    35. Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State

    It'll be another year before Nick Bosa is the leader of Ohio State's defensive line. That doesn't mean he's not going to be tremendously efficient and destroy blocking this season. Bosa had 38 pressures on 196 rushes as a freshman last year, per Pro Football Focus.

               

    34. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

    Georgia would've been a preseason favorite in the SEC East regardless, but Nick Chubb's decision to stay in Athens solidified the projection. In his return from a terrible knee injury, Chubb ran for 1,130 yards and eight touchdowns. A more consistent offensive line will result in a more productive year for Chubb.

              

    33. Tremaine Edmunds, OLB, Virginia Tech

    Tremaine Edmunds spent much of 2016 where offenses didn't want him. He accumulated 18.5 tackles for loss, assisting on at least one stop behind the line of scrimmage in 13 of Virginia Tech's 14 games. Edmunds should contend for All-American recognition.

               

    32. Kamryn Pettway, RB, Auburn

    Tackling Kamryn Pettway is a business decision. Listed at 6'0" and 235 pounds, Pettway is an absolute burden to bring down at first contact, which is reflected by seven 100-yard showings in nine healthy 2106 games. Pettway's simply staying on the field could lead to a special season.

               

    31. Justin Jackson, RB, Northwestern

    Justin Jackson hasn't received the credit he deserves for being a reliable workhorse. Since arriving in Evanston, Illinois, he's recorded three 1,000-yard seasons and totaled 31 touchdowns. Jackson doesn't have game-breaking speed, but he's a decisive runner who is adept at powering through contact.

30-21: Madison-Washington

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    30. Cole Madison, RT, Washington State

    Dillard and Cole Madison comprise the nation's premier tackle duo. Madison, who is entering his third season as a starter, has previously been named an All-Pac-12 honorable mention lineman twice. He's a stingy pass protector for an efficient offense.

           

    29. Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville

    Louisville gave up 29 passing touchdowns in 2016, but Jaire Alexander showed promise as a lockdown corner. The speedster nabbed five interceptions and broke up nine passes, also returning one punt to the house. He'll fully assume that role this season.

             

    28. Josey Jewell, ILB, Iowa

    Though the offense is addressing a major question at quarterback, the Hawkeyes can be confident their defense will provide a chance to win. Josey Jewell isn't a flashy athlete, but two years of 120-plus tackles reinforce the top-notch mental acuity he displays on the field.

              

    27. Billy Price, C, Ohio State

    Billy Price could pull off the unique achievement of being an All-American at two positions. He garnered second-team recognition in 2016 as Ohio State's right guard and will slide over to center and replace Pat Elflein, who was a first-team honoree last year.

                

    26. Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama

    In a matter of 12 months, Jalen Hurts went from mimicking Deshaun Watson as the scout team quarterback to standing opposite him in the national championship game. Hurts has flaws, yes, but he was sensational as a freshman. He'll enjoy a more expansive role in 2017, and his production will likely soar because of it.

            

    25. Tarvarus McFadden, CB, Florida State

    Florida State took the good with the bad from Tarvarus McFadden early in 2016. His personal turnaround coincided with FSU's collective surge, and he grabbed five interceptions during the Seminoles' 8-1 finish. McFadden ended the year with an FBS-best eight picks.

           

    24. Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama

    Can he stay healthy? While it's a reasonable concern, there's no doubting Bo Scarbrough's football abilities. During the final four games of 2016, he piled up 454 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Scarbrough could be a consistent 100-plus-yard runner if he avoids injury.

           

    23. Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State

    In high school, Sam Hubbard was a safety. Now, the redshirt junior is one of the nation's most effective defensive linemen. Hubbard is solid in run support and a constant pain to deal with as a pass-rusher. He enters 2017 with 16 tackles for loss and 10 sacks.

              

    22. Christian Kirk, WR/PR, Texas A&M

    Christian Kirk can handle a high volume of targets at receiver and still make opponents pay on special teams. He caught at least 80 passes in 2015 and 2016leading Texas A&M in the category both timesand returned a total of five punts for touchdowns. Given the offense's departures, Kirk may have an even larger workload in 2017.

             

    21. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State 

    Over the last two seasons, James Washington has recorded seven receptions of 70-plus yards. Defenders know they need to contain him, butamong other reasonsMarcell Ateman's return and Tyron Johnson's transfer should keep extra attention away from Washington, who had 1,380 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2016. He's primed for another massive season.

20. Arden Key, LB, LSU

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    By the numbers: After a promising freshman campaign with five sacks, Arden Key more than doubled his output in 2016. The edge-rusher posted 14.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks.

    Best attribute: Put simply, he gets to the quarterback. Key is still growing as a run defender, which is evident in only 2.5 tackles for loss not coming from sacks last season. Regardless, few edge-rushers can wreak havoc on a passing down like Key.

    Why he's here: Not only is Key an excellent player, he's also consistent. The soon-to-be junior at least assisted on a sack in nine of his 11 appearances last season. Having elite skills is great, but they actually show up every time Key takes the field. His potential is evident in production.

19. Orlando Brown, LT, Oklahoma

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    By the numbers: Orlando Brown did not surrender a sack in 390 pass-block snaps last season, according to CFB Film Room. Additionally, he allowed just four hurries and three hits.

    Best attribute: Listed at 6'8" and 345 pounds, Brown plays exactly like you'd expect from someone his stature. He must improve in space, but Brown is an authoritative blocker when he has a sturdy base.

    Why he's here: Brown was a second-team All-American in 2016. Any development in the running gameand he's already pretty good therewould establish Brown as a complete force. Baker Mayfield doesn't need to worry about his blind side.

18. Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    By the numbers: Christian Wilkins' future is at defensive tackle, but the rising junior showed off his run-stuffing prowess from the edge last season anyway. He tallied 48 total stops, making 13 tackles for loss with 3.5 sacks. Wilkins added an impressive 10 pass breakups.

    Best attribute: Sometimes, a player's uniqueness is thanks to a combination of skills rather than a singular asset. Wilkins is particularly explosive for his size (6'4", 310 pounds) and translates that burst into power in both run support and as a pass-rusher.

    Why he's here: Though his versatility proved valuable for Clemson in 2016, Wilkins will return to a more natural position this season. It should be nearly impossible to run up the middle on him and Dexter Lawrence, and Wilkins will notch a handful of sacks, too.

17. Quenton Nelson, LG, Notre Dame

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    By the numbers: Few defenders have managed to elude Quenton Nelson. During the last two seasons combined, Notre Dame's left guard has logged 693 pass-block snaps and ceded a meager six sacks, per CFB Film Room.

    Best attribute: Nelson plays with a mean streak but is always under control. Quickness off the ball helps him gain leverage, which then allows his aggressiveness to reveal itself in punishing blocks.

    Why he's here: Enjoy trying to find a true weakness in Nelson's game, because there isn't one. Sure, he doesn't have amazing athleticism, but the junior is an assertive, efficient guard who rarely makes a mistake. And the only D-tackles we think could cause an error from Nelson aren't on Notre Dame's schedule.

16. Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State

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    Brody Schmidt/Associated Press

    By the numbers: Mason Rudolph completed 63.4 percent of his 448 attempts during year No. 2 as a full-time starter. He eclipsed the 4,000-yard barrier and tossed 28 touchdowns while throwing just four interceptions and running in six more scores.

    Best attribute: Perhaps the most common criticism of college quarterbacks in spread systems is they're "one-read-and-panic" throwers. Rudolph, however, has demonstrated a clear ability to scan the field and go through a progression all while avoiding mistakes.

    Why he's here: Rudolph is a skilled quarterback who puts up gaudy numbers on successful teams. What more can you ask for? He will spearhead a dynamic offense that is certain to propel a Big 12 contender and potentially a national threat.

15. Cody O'Connell, LG, Washington State

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    Young Kwak/Associated Press

    By the numbers: Cody O'Connell is a perfect fit on Washington State's aerial-focused offense. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed six total pressures in 648 pass-block snaps last season.

    Best attribute: He will not be overpowered. NFL-caliber rushers might finesse their way around the 6'9", 368-pounder, but O'Connell atones for his lack of quickness with a long reach and potent drive.

    Why he's here: Strangely enough, O'Connell only received Pac-12 honorable mention status in 2016 despite being a unanimous All-American. That oversight will be corrected in 2017 when O'Connell puts together a second dominant season of blocking.

14. Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    By the numbers: In a second-team All-ACC campaign, Bradley Chubb amassed 21.5 tackles for loss with 10 sacks. He also provided seven hurries and three forced fumbles for the Wolfpack.

    Best attribute: Chubb uses a blend of flexibility and strength to win battles in traffic, but his burst has steadily improved. The 6'4", 275-pounder shoots into gaps, then stays balanced into his finish.

    Why he's here: No matter if he's defending the run or rushing the quarterback, Chubb flat-out finds the football. He unquestionably benefits from having teammates that compose a top-tier line, but his presence creates opportunities for them, too.

13. Rashan Gary, DE, Michigan

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    By the numbers: While playing rotational snaps behind four NFL-bound defensive linemenplus HurstRashan Gary gathered 24 tackles with five stops for loss and six hurries.

    Best attribute: "He's an athlete" can be such lame analysis. You don't become an FBS player without being an athlete. But 6'5", 287-pound defensive linemen shouldn't move like Gary does.

    Why he's here: Gary is the least established player at this stage of the list. Don't worry; he's about to change that and fully unveil All-American potential. The leap from Chubb to Gary will be modest yet apparent in their consistency of individual success against blockers.

12. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    By the numbers: Even though Leonard Fournette's existence limited Derrius Guice to five carries or fewer in four games last season, the then-sophomore paced the SEC with a 7.6-yards-per-carry average and 1,387 yards. He made 16 trips to the end zone.

    Best attribute: Guice is a decisive runner, so there's little wasted movement in his effort. What stands out most, however, is his ability to stay balanced in traffic, shake a tackler (or two) and pick up 10 extra yards that the majority of backs rarely gain.

    Why he's here: No other running back can say they've twice led a conference in yards per attempt before taking the reins as a full-time starter. Guice was a model of efficiency in backup and shared roles, so a larger volume of touches will result in even greater contributions.

11. Frank Ragnow, C, Arkansas

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    Samantha Baker/Associated Press

    By the numbers: Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen seemed to have a defender in his face on every play last season, but it rarely happened because of Frank Ragnow. In 487 pass-block snaps, he surrendered a mere 12 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Best attribute: Ragnow has a perfect understanding of his responsibilities. He knows the destination, arrives quickly and finishes powerfully. Awareness isn't a glamorous trait, but Ragnow won't often be caught out of position.

    Why he's here: The Razorbacks expect Ragnow to cover much of the field. He'll pull, sweep around the edge, climb to the second level and jump out on screens. For a center, that's no easy task. To execute like Ragnow, that's special.

10. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    By the numbers: During his Heisman Trophy-winning campaign, Lamar Jackson threw for 3,543 yards and 30 touchdowns with only nine interceptions. Plus, his 1,571 rushing yards ranked 10th nationally, and Jackson scored 21 times on the ground.

    Best attribute: The junior is improving as a complete quarterback, but his greatest passing skill is velocity. Overall, Jackson's acceleration and agility are sensational. He regularly puts together highlight-reel moments, especially on designed runs.

    Why he's here: Jackson will again be a nightmare to contain. However, just once has a returning Heisman winner defended his title. It's acceptable for him to be really, really good yet not lift the trophy in a second straight year. From Ragnow to Jackson, we've reached a new tier of projected excellence.

9. Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    By the numbers: Dexter Lawrence broke onto the college football scene in convincing fashion. The ACC's Defensive Rookie of the Year tallied 62 stops with nine tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.

    Best attribute: Per Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated, Clemson says Lawrence ran a 40-yard dash in 4.9 seconds. Like Staples said, "...adjust for college campus 40-time deflation. It doesn't matter." Who cares if it's actually 5.0 or 5.1? That is a mind-boggling level of explosiveness for a 6'4", 340-pound man.

    Why he's here: Lawrence transitioned quickly to the college game, but now he has a year of experience plus an offseason of development. He's already Clemson's best player and should only improve. He'll stand out as a greater force next to Wilkins, who will be a major burden with a little less pressure on the quarterback.

8. Connor Williams, LT, Texas

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    Michael Thomas/Associated Press

    By the numbers: According to Pro Football Focus, Connor Williams surrendered four total pressures in 423 pass-block snaps last season. Just one of those pressures resulted in a sack.

    Best attribute: Williams blends celerity and strength into his commanding blocks. In both run and pass situations, he's rarely beaten to a spot. Getting there efficiently allows Williams to gain the leverage advantage and consistently win the rep.

    Why he's here: No college lineman has a better set of balanced skills than Williams. He's powerful and mobile as a run-blocker, and the toughest edge-rushers Texas face struggle to turn the corner.

7. Harold Landry, DE, Boston College

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    Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

    By the numbers: Best labeled an edge-rusher, Harold Landry is the premier troublemaker of the Football Bowl Subdivision. Last season, he accumulated 22 tackles for loss while leading the country with 16.5 sacks and a ridiculous seven forced fumbles.

    Best attribute: Landry, a second-team All-American as a junior, displays a special combination of explosiveness and bend. He's remarkably quick out of a stance and can dip below tackles on the edge while maintaining his balance.

    Why he's here: "Havoc" and "Landry" may as well be synonymous. Boston College finished the 2015 and 2016 campaigns with a top-10 defense, and Landry's disruption is a critical part of that success.

6. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

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    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    By the numbers: Saquon Barkley sliced and diced to 1,496 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground last year. He also contributed 28 receptions, 402 yards and four scores.

    Best attribute: Trying to corral the elusive back in space is regularly a futile effort. Barkley paced the country with 60 forced missed tackles against Power Five teams in 2016, per Pro Football Focus.

    Why he's here: Even after a season with nearly 2,000 all-purpose yards, the room for statistical growth might be surprising. Penn State's offensive line had a handful of poor performances in 2016, and the experienced gained up front should benefit him this year. Barkley represents the start of college football's top-tier players in 2017.

5. Sam Darnold, QB, USC

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    By the numbers: Sam Darnold, who as a redshirt freshman started 10 of USC's 13 games, posted a 67.2 completion percentage with 3,086 yards and 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He picked up 250 yards and two scores on the ground. 

    Best attribute: Occasionally to a fault, Darnold is poised in the pocket when pressure is coming. That can result in hesitant decisions and off-balance passes, but the calm in Darnold's head is far tougher to teach than correcting how long a quarterback waits to throw.

    Why he's here: Darnold was the missing piece USC needed for a resurgence. He took an average offense and turned it into a scoring machine. The expectations are borderline unfair, but Darnold has already proved he's a program-changing quarterback.

4. Derwin James, S, Florida State

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    By the numbers: A knee injury limited Derwin James to two games in 2016. Two years ago, however, the safety made a superb impression with 91 tackles, 9.5 stops for loss, 4.5 sacks, four pass breakups and two forced fumbles.

    Best attribute: James always knows where to be. It certainly helps to have elite athleticism to get there, too. That mixture of skills affords him the ability to be a takeaway artist, which we haven't totally seen but is likely on the horizon.

    Why he's here: During the spring game, James showed no lingering effects of his surgery. He's ready. As a freshman, James recorded at least nine tackles in each of FSU's final six contests. That type of production tethered to his versatility and potential for game-altering plays is worth everyone's attention.

3. Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    By the numbers: Minkah Fitzpatrick split time between cornerback and safety in 2016. He gathered 66 tackles, six interceptions, seven pass breakups and two defensive touchdowns.

    Best attribute: Need a lockdown nickelback? Fitzpatrick is your guy. Want a rangy safety? You got it! His versatility affords Alabama flexibility in the first-string base, nickel and dime defenses. The Tide can plug in Fitzpatrick wherever the need is greatest.

    Why he's here: There's no question Fitzpatrick is a ball hawk. In only two seasons, he's snatched eight interceptions and returned four to the house. That playmaking ability plus elite coverage skills amount to an exceptional college playerand, yes, draft prospect.

2. Ed Oliver, DT, Houston

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    By the numbers: Ed Oliver was everything you'd expect a 5-star prospect would be. En route to earning All-America honors as a freshman, he accumulated 66 tackles with 22.5 stops for loss, including five sacks. He had nine pass breakups, seven hurries and three forced fumbles.

    Best attribute: Forced to pick between Oliver's quickness, strength and mental awareness, the answer is yes. He translates stellar burst into striking power, and once he sheds a lineman (or linemen), Oliver is a reliable tackler and knows when to get his hands up.

    Why he's here: We all read those numbers, right? Oliver is amazing to watch, especially given his age. Sure, Houston doesn't play in the Big 12 or SEC, but he recorded four of his five sacks against Oklahoma and Louisville. Oliver is an extraordinary talent.

1. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    By the numbers: After finishing fourth in the 2015 Heisman Trophy voting, Baker Mayfield climbed to third last year. His 70.9 completion percentage topped the country, and he accounted for 4,142 yards of total offense with 46 touchdowns.

    Best attribute: Mayfield is elusive with a purpose. He'll bounce around in the pocketalbeit sometimes too active on his feetescape when necessary and reset his blocking while looking for an opportunity to throw the whole time.

    Why he's here: Oklahoma has earned a pair of Big 12 titles under his guidance. Winning a third straight conference crown despite losing Samaje Perine, Joe Mixon and Dede Westbrook would be Mayfield's most impressive season yet. And it might just be enough for the two-time Heisman finalist to leave New York with the trophy.

            

    All recruiting info via Scout. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.