Top 50 College Football Players Of The Decade
It's time for an All-Decade Top 50 list.
That's right, the best players from the years 2000-2009 in college football.
Because I'm simply awful at comparing players, I've devoted much more of my time to finding the guys most worthy of making such a list from a variety of different positions (though I am a sucker for a good offense), and much less time on how they rank against each other and why.
With that in mind, please read my list and let me know about the players I've missed who truly deserve recognition and why they deserve it.
After all, there's been a lot of great football players in the past 10 years. I shudder to think of the ones I've overlooked.
Anyway, here's my list.
Because all opinions are so very different, I'm sure that in reality, each and every single one of these guys probably deserves to be on this list. Unfortunately, I could only pick 50.
Here is my extensive list of the last guys left out, starting with best and ending with the rest:
Troy Smith (QB, Ohio State)
Carson Palmer (QB, Southern California)
Kevin Smith (RB, Central Florida)
Jarrett Dillard (WR, Rice)
Eric Crouch (QB, Nebraska)
Chris Weinke (QB, Florida State)
Shaun Andrews (OL, Arkansas)
Andre Smith (OL, Alabama)
Joe Thomas (OL, Wisconsin)
Gerald McCoy (DT, Oklahoma)
Tommy Blake (DE, Texas Christian)
Charles Rogers (WR, Michigan State)
John Henderson (DT, Tennessee)
DeAngelo Hall (CB, Virginia Tech)
Troy Polamalu (S, Southern California)
Rey Maualuga (LB, Southern California)
Aqib Talib (CB, Kansas)
Michael Huff (S, Texas)
Alex Barron (OL, Florida State)
D'Brickshaw Ferguson (OL, Virginia)
And many, many more.
Nos. 50 (Tie): Dan Sepulveda (P, Baylor), Mike Nugent (K, Ohio State)
I don't care what position you play. Two-time second team All-America plus one-time first team All-America plus two Ray Guy awards equals making the list.
Even if it is at a considerably low spot.
I suppose I have to mention Mike Nugent here as well. Anyone who boots 72 career field goals (that's 216 points without counting extra points, folks) must have been a pretty good kicker.
No. 49: Dan LeFevour (QB, Central Michigan 2005-2009)
It's wrong to justify putting LeFevour here over the available Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks, but his stats are astounding, and he was the definition of MVP to his respective team.
Plus, that's why he's one of the last guys in.
LeFevour has, like Vince Young, thrown for 3,000 yards and rushed for 1,000 more in the same season, he nearly pulled off the Tim Tebow 20/20 rushing and passing touchdowns in a single season and has scored more total touchdowns than any other player in Division I football history.
No. 48: Heath Miller (TE, Virginia 2001-2004)
If there's a single tight end around that deserves to be on this list not named Kellen Winslow, it's Heath Miller.
In his junior season, 'Big Money', a former quarterback, won both the Mackey Award and a spot on the All-American team.
Simply put, he was always one of the best difference-makers on the field, and he did it from a sometimes-thankless position.
No. 47: Paul Posluszny (LB, Penn State 2003-2006)
I admit that this pick is based highly on personal opinion, but Posluszny deserves to be here because I think he is one of the best linebackers (as a collegiate player) ever to touch the field at linebacker U.
His stats don't quite match up to some of the other linebackers here, but breaking the rotation at a place where linebackers are as thick as at Penn State, and doing so as a freshman, says a lot about a guy.
Plus, he captained the team not once, but twice, and even won the Bednarik Award twice.
No. 46: Calvin Johnson (WR, Georgia Tech 2004-2006)
Calvin Johnson's career wasn't completely and unheard-of-ly astounding, but he was one of the most dominant receivers in college football for three seasons.
Johnson's numbers at Georgia Tech, 178 catches, 2,927 yards and 28 touchdowns, were astounding, but most people, including me, just remember his physical dominance.
No one standing 6'5" and weighing 236 pounds should be able to run that fast or jump that high.
Here's to better luck for his Lions in the pros.
No. 45: Roy Williams (S, Oklahoma 1999-2001)
I admit that Roy Williams is not one of my favorite players. Not at all, actually.
Still, I cannot deny that he was one of the great college football safeties of the decade and his leap over the Texas line is one of the greatest plays in college football history.
It's hard to ignore that he was a two-time All-American, too.
No. 44: E.J. Henderson (LB, Maryland 1999-2002)
It's hard to keep a guy with three NCAA records under his belt off of an All-Decade list.
I admit, I'm biased in favor of linebackers, but this guy averaged 12.5 tackles per game and 8.8 solos per game over his entire career and he holds the single season total tackles record with 135 in 2002.
That sounds like a pretty good career.
No. 43: Mark Ingram (RB, Alabama 2008-Present)
So not every Heisman winner of the decade made the list, but I didn't want to overload it with signal-callers. Ingram gets the benefit of the doubt for what he'll do with the remainder of his career.
When Mark Ingram finishes up, he may end up being a good enough player for a top 50 in both decades he plays in.
For now, though, this sophomore will have to ride his 2009 Heisman Trophy (becoming only the third sophomore ever, all three of whom are on this list if I'm not mistaken) into my top 50 list.
Good luck, Mark Ingram, and watch out for that Richardson guy. I hear he's okay.
No. 42: Jason White (QB, Oklahoma 2000-2004)
I could've sworn he received a sixth year of eligibility, but I guess not. Either way, Jason White did great things in college football, and he did them for a long time.
A one-time Heisman winner and a two-time Davey O'Brien award winner (the third quarterback to do so in two consecutive years), Jason White has a slew of awards and stats under his belt.
White threw for 7,913 yards, 81 touchdowns, and just 24 interceptions in his storied career at the University of Oklahoma.
Sure great Sooner quarterbacks are just a gimme, but White was a gift to college football fans for quite some time.
No. 41: Sam Bradford (QB, Oklahoma 2006-2009)
Sam Bradford's Heisman season, 2008, is simply one of the greatest single seasons in the history of quarterback statistics.
323 of 483 for 4,720 yards and 50 touchdowns—a mere eight interceptions—and the initiator of 700+ total points (the most ever by one school in one season) and five straight games of 60 points or more. Sam Bradford is simply a spread-offense dream come true.
Imagine what he'd have done in a Red Raider uniform without having to even think about DeMarco Murray or Chris Brown.
That would be an incredible dream to have.
No. 40: Eric Berry (S, Tennessee 2007-2009)
How often does a redshirt freshman enter Heisman considerations? Especially a redshirt freshman safety?
Eric Berry did, and he would've been in it again next season had he chosen to stick around. I wonder how many picks he would've had (he nabbed 12 in two seasons) in a full career?
I'm not about to coronate Berry or anything, and I don't believe America saw quite enough of him to place him any higher than here.
Still, watching him in his two seasons on the field as a Volunteer was a joy to college football fans, and very rarely does such a vastly talented guy come along at his position.
No. 39: Terence Newman (CB, Kansas State 1998-2002)
He played in every single game in his Wildcat career, not counting his redshirt season, during the legendary (first) coaching tenure of Bill Snyder.
An All-American, Thorpe Award winner, and Nagurski finalist as a senior, Newman became one of the greatest defensive backs in Kansas State history.
No. 38-37: LaDainian Tomlinson (RB, TCU) Dan Morgan (LB, Miami)
Within this decade alone, Tomlinson (in his senior season, 2000) has 2,000 plus rushing yards, 22 touchdowns and 300 plus yards receiving.
Dan Morgan captured the Nagurski, Butkus and Bednarik Awards all in a single season (2000).
I wasn't sure if I should have these guys on the list at all because of their minimal impact within this actual decade, but those kinds of contributions are too much to ignore.
No. 36: Steve Hutchinson (OG, Michigan 1997-2000)
Steve Hutchinson just scratched the tip of the decade, and that may knock him in the overall rankings, but it certainly doesn't keep him from being one of the most individually important players on this list.
Get this: two-time team captain, four-time All Big 10, a consensus All-American as a senior, and he did not allow a sack in either of his final two seasons.
No. 35: Duke Robinson (OG, Oklahoma 2005-2008)
Robinson was one of the most vital and unsung pieces of the Oklahoma offensive juggernaut that posted an average of 51 points per game.
In fact, most Sooner fans may not have completely appreciated his abilities until last season's early struggles, the first time since 2005 that Robinson was not a starter.
Being a two-time first-team All-American barely does his great work justice.
No. 34: Rocky Calmus (LB, Oklahoma 1998-2001)
A two-time consensus All-American, the leader on a superb national championship defense and title of 'the most instinctive player I (Brent Venables) have ever seen' are very high regards, high enough to qualify Rocky Calmus as one of the greats of this decade.
He was also given the Butkus Award in his senior season and was the two-time defensive player of the year in the Big 12. Not to mention he has one of the greatest football player names ever.
No. 33: Julius Peppers (DE, North Carolina 1998-2001)
After redshirting his first season, Julius Peppers went on to start 33 of the 34 games he played in. In 2001, he won both the Lombardi and Bednarik Awards and became a consensus All-American and a finalist for the Nagurski Award.
Peppers is another one of those guys you can't truly appreciate until you watch him play. His insane athletic ability (remember, he played basketball at UNC, too, and was a sprinter in high school, I believe) simply allowed him to take over football games.
No. 32: Patrick Willis (LB, Ole Miss 2003-2006)
Willis may not quite match up to some of the other linebackers on this list statistically.
Not quite is a key phrase there, and take into account that this 'backer only started 22 games.
He made the most of every single one of them, though, doing in college what everybody loves watching him do in the pros today—tackle everything that moves. 355 tackles, 33 for loss and 11 sacks in those 22 starts seems like decent production to me.
No. 31-30: Dwight Freeney (DE, Syracuse) Elvis Dumervil (DE, Louisville)
I admit that given the choice, no one would be dumb enough to ever choose Dumervil over Freeney, at any level of play.
Still, I see their relative importance to college football and their respective teams as somewhat equal.
Both have held the Big East career sack record, and while Freeney pulled off 17.5 sacks in a single season, Dumervil once notched 6 in a single game.
That's an impressive pair of ends.
No. 29: Kellen Winslow (TE, Miami 2001-2003)
I'm going to be honest. I've always thought of true tight ends as athletic tackles in denial.
Kellen Winslow changed my mind. Even an idiot like me would not possibly waste a man like this on the offensive line, yet I'd be willing to bet my life's savings he could've been a fantastic defensive end or an athletic, pass-heavy offensive left tackle.
Either way, had there been no tight end position before the time of Kellen Winslow, Miami would have invented one just for this Hurricane.
How many receivers catch 11 balls for 122 yards in a single game, let alone in the National Championship game against one of the nation's top defenses?
No. 28: Jammal Brown (OT, Oklahoma 2001-2004)
Here's a guy who started off as a defensive tackle, then moved to the offensive side of the ball and secured a starting spot by his sophomore year at one of the great offensive line schools in this country, Oklahoma.
In 2004 he became just another Oklahoma lineman to win the Outland Trophy and make the All-American team.
No. 27: Derrick Strait (CB, Oklahoma 2000-2003)
Not many freshmen start on National Championship football teams. Even fewer start at cornerback, which is simply a difficult place for a freshman to make a true impact.
Strait not only made that impact his freshman year, but continued making an even bigger impact for his Sooners over his next three seasons as well.
In 2003, he won both the Nagurski and Thorpe Awards and became one of the most infamous corners in America. Not only would he take the ball from you; he'd take it all the way home, a talent that resulted in a school record 397 return yards off interceptions.
No. 26: Tommie Harris (DT, Oklahoma 2001-2003)
I think the Gerald McCoy-to-Tommie Harris comparisons are simply dead on.
Big bodied guys who can plug a hole as well as disrupt plays in the backfield are what have made Oklahoma's defense so great for so long.
The defensive tackle was rightfully named to three All-America teams as a sophomore and became a consensus All-American in his junior season before entering the NFL.
No. 25: Antoine Cason (CB, Arizona 2004-2007)
Not many teams were willing to throw at Cason after his first season on the field in which he picked off five passes, returned two for touchdowns, broke up 14 more, and forced two fumbles.
He even returned two punts for touchdowns that year. That's one of the best freshman seasons I have ever seen.
The rest of his career played out nicely too, but I'll always remember his first season.
No. 24: Jake Long (OT, Michigan 2003-2007)
The Big 10 always has its fair share of quality offensive linemen, and Jake Long was the best of them, twice.
In fact, he was an All-American at left tackle for two years and started a grand total of 40 games for the Wolverines.
My favorite thing about Long is his athleticism, which I find a little unappreciated. This guy dominated three sports in high school, and became among the most dominant players of the decade in college football.
No. 23: Ryan Clady (OT, Boise State 2004-2007)
There are so many good players to have come from Boise State this decade, but to be honest, I'm not sure any of those crack this list as being individually great.
That is except for Ryan Clady, my favorite member of any Bronco bunch since the turn of the millennium.
Clady may not have all the credentials behind his name, but he may just have been the most valuable player on his team in his three seasons on the field as the best left tackle in America.
No. 22: James Laurinaitis (LB, Ohio State 2005-2008)
Laurinaitis didn't get out of the blocks as quickly as some guys on this list and had a relatively slow freshman year.
Still, things picked up quickly for this linebacker who notched five sacks, five interceptions, three forced fumbles, and 115 total tackles in his sophomore season.
He thereafter compiled as much hardware as any other linebacker you'll find in college football, and even garnered some modest Heisman Trophy consideration early in his senior season.
No. 21: Derrick Johnson (LB, Texas 2001-2004)
Wait, did somebody say 458 career tackles? Well, it must have been some smart, sure-tackling, average-talent linebacker on a bad defense for Nowhere University.
What's that? It was Derrick Johnson and he did it at Texas?
Now that's not bad at all.
Neither is being a starter for four years at a prestigious university, being an All-American twice, and winning the Butkus and Nagurski awards in a single season.
No. 20: Sean Taylor (S, Miami 2001-2003)
The Meast. God rest his soul.
No one should ever be able to hit that hard and still play coverage so beautifully.
If LeBron James had played football, he'd have been the best receiver ever in the NFL. Period.
A wise football fanatic once told me that the only man who would ever have stood a chance against him athletically was Sean Taylor.
No. 19: Matt Leinart (QB, Southern California 2001-2005)
What is there to say?
The guy has an AP National Championship, a BCS Championship, a Heisman Trophy (and another third-place finish) and a slew of other awards and stats.
I feel like he was a better leader on better teams than Carson Palmer was, but perhaps I'm wrong there. Either way, both were astounding quarterbacks, and I chose Leinart.
No. 18: Ndamukong Suh (DT, Nebraska 2006-2009)
Name one other defensive tackle who has 212 tackles, 56 for a loss and 23 sacks in his career, or even one that leads a good team with a good defense in tackles during a single season.
None that I can think of at the moment. A good defensive lineman makes everyone else's job easier.
A great defensive lineman makes a great football team. Suh won the Heisman Trophy in this Big 12 North fanatic's head.
No. 17: Glenn Dorsey (Louisiana State, 2004-2007)
When one player is a two-time first team All-American, he immediately places himself in contention for this list.
When you consider the toughness it must take to play one of those two seasons on a bum knee in the best football conference in the nation, how could you leave that guy off?
Glenn Dorsey won the Nagurski, Outland, Lott, and Lombardi Trophies all in the same year (2007).
No. 16: Greg Eslinger (C, Minnesota 2002-2005)
When one guy wins both the Rimington and Outland Trophies in the same season, you know he's got something going for him.
That's on top of the fact that Eslinger was a four-year starter for a good football team in a good conference and spearheaded, literally, some of the best rushing attacks in the nation in front of the likes of Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney.
Not too many centers will appear on this list, but Eslinger may be the most deserving.
No. 15: Robert Gallery (OT, Iowa 1999-2003)
Iowa is where great college football linemen are made.
In my humble opinion, Gallery was the Hawkeyes' first or second best lineman. Ever.
He won the Outland Trophy in 2003, but started his career semi-successfully as a tight end. Gallery padded on a lot of muscle and used his agility and athletic ability to start mauling opposing defenses instead of dissecting them.
Gallery was just one of those guys you had to see play to truly appreciate.
No. 14: David Pollack (DE, Georgia 2001-2004)
Pollack, a staggering three-time All-American, totaled 34 sacks in his final three seasons at Georgia.
In his senior season alone, David Pollack was the SEC defensive player of the year and the Hendricks, Lombardi, Bednarik, and Lott award winner.
Not bad for a history major.
No. 13: DeAngelo Williams (RB, Memphis 2002-2005)
Having more all-purpose yards (7,573) and 100-yard rushing games (34) than anyone else in college football history is enough in itself.
Williams is also fourth on the All-Time rushing list with 6,026 yards and set a bowl record with 238 rushing yards in the last game (and victory) of his senior season.
That's more than enough for me.
No. 12: Michael Crabtree (WR, Texas Tech 2006-2008)
Sure Crabtree was produced by Mike Leach's beautiful spread offense system, but he produced numbers that would make any receiver, spread or no spread, do a double-take.
After a redshirt season (due to a transcript glitch and moving from quarterback to wide receiver), Crabtree went on to make freshman records: 134 catches, 1,962 yards, and 22 touchdowns.
His production dropped off in his sophomore season (if you call 97 catches, 1,165 yards and 19 touchdowns a drop-off), but still deserves as much as any receiver to be on this list.
No. 11: Bryant McKinnie (OT, Miami 1999-2001)
McKinnie is one of my favorite success stories, ever.
How many guys start out at a junior college and wind up a successful part of a great college franchise like Miami?
Get this, before he was an Outland Trophy winner in 2001, he was a JuCo defensive lineman. When he arrived at Miami, he took a redshirt year to transition to tackle, then dominated the rest of the way.
We're talking about a tackle who finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting. Wow.
No. 10: Terrell Suggs (DE, Arizona State 2000-2002)
Suggs is one of my favorite college football players of all time.
We're talking about one guy piling up 44 career sacks, 24 of those coming in a single season. We're talking about a guy notching 65.5 tackles for a loss and 14 forced fumbles in a career.
We're talking about a pass-rushing beast far ahead of the curve of what was expected from his position. Terrell Suggs was to college football defensive ends what Kevin Garnett was to NBA power forwards: the future.
No. 9: Vince Young (QB, Texas 2002-2005)
I had no idea the big VY had a redshirt season.
What I do remember is Vince Young alternating with Chance Mauck one season, leading Texas to an 11-1 record the next, and winning a national championship in his junior and final season.
Other than the fact that he was such a dominant dual threat, his stats weren't exactly mind-boggling (very great, yes, completely mind-boggling, not quite).
But still, Vince Young was the kind of exciting athlete and great leader that truly makes college football worth watching.
No. 8: A.J. Hawk (LB, Ohio State 1998-2001)
Everyone loves All-Americans. Everyone loves a two-time All-American even more.
What Americans love most is do-it-all, tackling-machine linebackers. A.J. Hawk fits every single category.
How does a career stat-sheet like 394 tackles, 41 for loss, 15 sacks and seven picks hit you? If I remember correctly, the defenses he led tended to anchor very successful Buckeye teams, too.
No. 7: Larry Fitzgerald (WR, Pittsburgh 2003-2005)
In 26 games at the University of Pittsburgh, Fitzgerald caught 161 passes for 2,677 yards and 34 touchdowns.
Not bad for a guy who originally enrolled in Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota.
Fitzgerald received a Biletnikoff, a Walter Camp, and a Chic Harley award for his magnificent efforts in the 2003 season when he finished just a shade behind Jason White in the Heisman Trophy voting as a sophomore.
Imagine if he'd stuck around a bit longer. He'd certainly be much higher on this list.
No. 6: Reggie Bush (RB, Southern California 2003-2005)
A Doak Walker, Walter Camp, and Heisman Trophy Award winner, not to mention a legitimate five-way threat eating up all sorts of ball-touch opportunities in the most athletically blessed football schools in the nation from the moment he stepped on campus, this list would be nothing without Reggie Bush.
Don't even get me started on the 2,611 and 6,541 all-purpose yards he amassed in his Heisman Trophy 2005 season and his career, respectively.
That's nothing short of absolutely Top-50-Players-Of-The-Decade-list-worthy.
No. 5: Ed Reed (S, Miami 1998-2001)
Just another one of those athletes Miami produced who proved to be the pioneer and innovator of all changes we now take for granted at his position.
Until Eric Berry, never have quarterbacks been so scared of a safety. Until Taylor Mays, no runningback had ever been so scared of a safety.
With the exception of Ed Reed. He was the best at both, and still is today. Freakishly athletic, devilishly smart and utilizing that unteachable football know-how, Reed will be one of the greatest safeties ever to play the game in college or the pros.
No. 4: Adrian Peterson (RB, Oklahoma 2004-2006)
First things first. 4,045 electrifying rushing yards. Three seasons. That's good for No. 2 on Oklahoma's storied list of all-time rushers, just 73 yards short of Billy Sims at No. 1.
Secondly, no other freshman running back has ever had as great a true freshman season as did Adrian Peterson, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting (the highest ever by a freshman).
Thirdly, when he was healthy, there was simply no runningback who could bust open a game or carry his whole team back like Adrian Peterson. He was an ideal, one-of-a-kind, team-leader of a runningback in a football world that shifts ever more into the two-back systems.
No. 3: Darren McFadden (RB, Arkansas 2005-2007)
The instigator of the Wildcat and the one-man Hog-back wonder, Darren McFadden truly was the heart and soul of his three Razorback teams.
4,590 yards and 41 touchdowns rushing in three years combined with the seven touchdowns on 20 passing attempts he threw in 2006, this guy is simply one of the best college football talents to have played the game.
McFadden is also one of few people to be invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremonies twice, and was actually the Heisman runner-up both times.
No. 2: Colt McCoy (QB, Texas 2005-2009)
I firmly believe that in some systems, absolutely any quarterback can be very good.
However, even in Texas' spread out offensive action, I doubt I'll see many quarterbacks nearly as great for nearly as long as Colt McCoy.
His 45 wins are the most by any quarterback in Division I history, he owns most of Texas' major passing records and his list of awards and recognitions are among the longest you'll ever see (check Wikipedia for yourself).
The only disappointing part of McCoy's career is the way it so unfortunately ended.
No. 1: Tim Tebow (QB, Florida 2006-2009)
Let me point out that I am not a Tim Tebow fan.
I never have and never will believe him to be a great quarterback, especially coming from a school that produces them with such great regularity at the college level.
However, as it has been said many times before, he is simply an astonishing football player, a great leader and a joy to watch in a college football game.
I can think of very few reasons he doesn't deserve to be right atop this list.
In fact, this list was practically invented for guys like Tim Tebow.