The 25 Best College Football Athletes in 2016

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJune 9, 2016

The 25 Best College Football Athletes in 2016

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    College football is full of athletes. In fact, every single college football player is an athlete. How else would he have reached this level?

    But there's no question some possess more individual talent than a strong majority of their competition. Physical dominance and versatility—whether on the field or in a different sport—make these players special pieces of a team.

    Stats are not necessarily important, but the numbers help describe why players have earned this status.

    Arguments can be made for hundreds—yes, literally hundreds—of others, but the following list (which is organized alphabetically by school) highlights 25 of the best athletes in college football. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments section.

Bo Scarbrough, Alabama

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    We haven't seen much of Alabama's Bo Scarbrough at the college level, but the early returns are fantastic.

    Scarbrough picked up 69 yards on 10 carries in garbage time against Charleston Southern, and he bowled over a few Michigan State defenders during the Cotton Bowl.

    The 6'2", 230-pounder will be Alabama's featured back this season. If the spring was any indication—132 yards and three touchdowns in a scrimmage, per John Talty of AL.com—Crimson Tide fans won't be missing Derrick Henry for long.

Tim White, Arizona State

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    A 5'11", 185-pound receiver, Tim White caught 57 passes for 633 yards and eight touchdowns during his first season at Arizona State. The junior college transfer also averaged 27 yards as a kick returner.

    "He's a big-time player, and when he gets his hands on the ball, he can make something big happen," wide receivers coach Jay Norvell said, per Jeff Metcalfe of AZCentral, later adding "some of my best players have been track athletes."

    White advanced to the outdoor national championships in the triple jump after recording a 53'11" leap.

Cameron Echols-Luper, Arkansas State

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    Cameron Echols-Luper made a small impact as a punt returner at TCU before transferring to Arkansas State.

    After arriving in Jonesboro, he switched to quarterback. However, the transfer of Chad Voytik will keep Echols-Luper at receiver, where he should be the Red Wolves' leading option.

    Echols-Luper also posted a 7.68-meter long jump during the indoor season, which ranked third in the Sun Belt Conference and tied for 22nd nationally.

KD Cannon, Baylor

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    One of many versatile athletes on the Baylor football roster, KD Cannon is best recognized for his speed.

    The 6'0", 180-pounder set school freshman records with 58 catches, 1,030 yards and eight touchdowns two years ago. He collected a 50/868/6 line last season, boasting a career per-catch average of 17.6.

    Cannon also ran for track in 2015, helping the 4x100-meter relay team finish second in the Big 12.

Khalfani Muhammad, Cal

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    Khalfani Muhammad isn't an imposing player, but the 5'9", 170-pounder is a productive one.

    He's picked up 1,246 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, tallying 38 receptions for 439 yards and three scores through three seasons at Cal. As a freshman, Muhammad was one of just six players to eclipse 1,000 kick-return yards.

    On the track, he's a regular contender in 100- and 200-meter runs. Muhammad claimed several titles at meets this spring and then had a pair of seventh-place finishes during the Pac-12 outdoor championships.

Isaiah Oliver, Colorado

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    Playing defensive back and competing in the decathlon at the Division I level is in Isaiah Oliver's blood.

    According to B.G. Brooks of CUBuffs.com, the cornerback's father, Muhammad, was a corner at Oregon and All-American decathlete. The younger Oliver recorded 22 tackles and six pass breakups during his first season with Colorado.

    This spring, Oliver registered the fifth-highest point total (6,952) by a freshman decathlete during the outdoor season. He secured a seventh-place standing in the Pac-12 championships.

Derwin James, Florida State

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    Most young players contribute at a couple of spots while breaking into the lineup. But both safety and defensive end? Florida State's Derwin James is a unique talent.

    "When he comes off the edge, he's coming like a missile," left tackle and potential first-round NFL draft pick Roderick Johnson said, according to Safid Deen of the Tallahassee Democrat. "I've got my hands full over there."

    Last season, James amassed 91 tackles with 9.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks. The freshman All-American broke up four passes, forced two fumbles and recovered one.

    James—a 6'3", 213-pounderwill be terrorizing every position on offense for two more seasons.

Nick Chubb, Georgia

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    Nick Chubb was a fan favorite well before he even arrived in Athens, and that wasn't limited to Georgia supporters. Remember the track meet picture? Yeah, you probably know the one.

    Although the running back has focused on football since then, Chubb hasn't stopped showing off that explosiveness.

    During a 13-game stretch as the starter, he racked up 2,068 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns. Plus, Chubb snared 19 passes for 214 yards and two more trips to the end zone.

    Hopefully, his knee injury doesn't steal much of that burst, because Chubb is a tremendous, NFL-caliber athlete.

Greg Ward Jr., Houston

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    Greg Ward Jr. is technically a quarterback, but he's really a playmaker who is legally allowed to throw the ball forward.

    The 5'11", 185-pound talent switched from wide receiver midway through 2014 and led Tom Herman's dynamic offense last year. Ward completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 2,828 yards, 17 touchdowns and just six interceptions.

    But that's not his specialty.

    Ward scampered for 1,108 yards—which trailed only Keenan Reynolds for most by a quarterback—and 21 touchdowns, the fifth-highest total of anyone in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Leonard Fournette, LSU

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    A 6'1", 230-pound person is not supposed to wreck football players like Leonard Fournette does on Saturdays.

    But he's also ridiculously fast. Last year, Fournette scampered an imperfectly straight 40 yards in less than four seconds against South Carolina. In other words, the definition of unfair.

    "That dude is one gifted individual," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said, per Matt Hinton, then of Grantland (RIP). "His size-speed combination, the way he runs behind his pads, makes him a unique, difficult back to defend against. You've got to hit him before he gets going. Don't let him get going."

    Few teams have managed to accomplish that.

    In two seasons at LSU, the future first-round NFL draft pick has recorded 3,992 total yards and 34 touchdowns while shattering dozens of defenders' egos.

David Njoku, Miami

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    David Njoku is a potential breakout star for Miami football in 2016, but he's an established competitor elsewhere.

    As a senior in high school, Njoku won the high-jump national championship at the 2014 New Balance Nationals Outdoor. More recently, his 2.09-meter leap ranked first among college football players during the indoor track season, according to the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.

    Njoku snagged 21 passes for 362 yards and one touchdown last year. Mark Richt's history of developing tight ends should only increase Njoku's impact on the football field.

Jabrill Peppers, Michigan

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    Jabrill Peppers occupied each of these positions in 2015: strong safety, cornerback, nickelback, wide receiver, running back, Wildcat quarterback, punt returner and kick returner.

    Next season, his primary spot will be outside linebacker. Michigan had a significant void at the position, so the creative option was to utilize the ultra-versatile redshirt sophomore.

    "The unique thing about Jabrill Peppers is athletic ability and instincts at a very, very high level," head coach Jim Harbaugh said, per Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press.

    Peppers tallied 45 tackles with 5.5 for loss, 10 pass breakups, eight receptions and two rushing touchdowns, as well as 27.9 yards per kick return and an average of 11.4 on punts.

Ryan Switzer, North Carolina

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    Ryan Switzer wasted no time making an impression at North Carolina.

    During his freshman season, Switzer tied an NCAA record with five punt-return touchdowns. He also snagged 32 passes for 341 yards.

    The next year, he notched a team-best 61 catches and 757 yards. Switzer has 147 receptions, 1,791 yards and 13 touchdowns heading into his final college campaign.

    "I believe I'm a first-round talent," Switzer said, per Zac Ellis of Sports Illustrated. "I believe I have the opportunity this year to show that."

Tarik Cohen, North Carolina A&T

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    Whether he's flipping to catch footballs or shaking defenders, Tarik Cohen is simply fun to watch.

    Checking in at just 5'6" and 173 pounds, the North Carolina A&T running back atones for his small stature with speed, speed and more speed. Cohen has sliced defenses for 4,031 yards and 38 touchdowns on the ground, adding 61 receptions for 606 yards.

    According to his school profile, Cohen was also a part of a state championship-winning 4x100-meter relay team in high school.

Nyheim Hines, North Carolina State

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    Following Matt Dayes' season-ending injury, North Carolina State needed a new face in the backfield. Nyheim Hines stepped into the backup role and averaged 44 yards per game.

    He ended the year with a 26.3-yard kick-return average, ranking 23rd nationally. Hines also snagged 20 passes for 256 yards while serving as a complement on offense.

    But this spring, he entered the spotlight.

    Hines was a part of the country's 20th-fastest 4x100-meter relay team, which won the ACC outdoor championships. He also finished fifth in the ACC's 100-meter-dash final, per the conference.

Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame

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    Mike McGlinchey might be a first-round NFL draft pick, but the Notre Dame left tackle hasn't always been a lineman.

    Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune noted McGlinchey played almost every position except the secondary before his time in South Bend—including quarterback. That's especially notable because Atlanta Falcons signal-caller Matt Ryan is McGlinchey's cousin.

    And they had a memorable encounter on the basketball court.

    "He'll probably be mad that I told you this," the 6'7", 310-pounder said, per Hansen. "But when I was in high school, we were at a graduation party. And we were playing a pickup game, and I dunked on his head. That's my glory right now."

Torrance Gibson, Ohio State

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    Torrance Gibson has the skill set to play quarterback at any program, but that's not even his best position.

    A 6'4, 205-pounder, Gibson is a potentially dominant wide receiver. Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod wrote the redshirt freshman "looks like college football's next superstar."

    Per Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com, head coach Urban Meyer said:

    I love Torrance Gibson. I love his talent. I love the fact he did well academically. I think his future, I use this comment sometimes, I don't see a ceiling. I would love to use him as a quarterback-slash, because he's that good of an athlete.

Samaje Perine, Oklahoma

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    Samaje Perine bench-pressed 225 pounds 100 times in one session last summer. The running back accomplished the feat in 10 sets of 10, according to Brady Vardeman of the Oklahoma Daily.

    "His strength is very impressive," former teammate Eric Striker said, per the school. "At the age of 15, he was 34."

    Quarterback Baker Mayfield said Perine "looks like he's about 40." He added, "He plays around and tries to be gentle, but he's not very gentle. He doesn't know his own strength. He'll try to rub your neck and your shoulders, and it hurts really badly. He needs to calm down."

    Perine holds the FBS single-game record with 427 rushing yards and has accumulated 3,062 in two seasons. He's scored 37 touchdowns, which already ranks seventh in program history.

Devon Allen, Oregon

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    Devon Allen caught 41 passes for 684 yards and seven touchdowns during Oregon's run to the national championship in 2014, but he's even better on the track.

    Allen recorded a nation-best 7.60-second 60-meter indoor hurdle, as well as top-four Pac-12 times in each of the 100, 200, 110-meter hurdle (13.32 seconds, best in nation) and 400-meter hurdle outside.

    No wonder his focus currently lies somewhere other than football.

    "His No. 1 goal right now is to go to the Olympics," offensive coordinator Matt Lubick said, per Daniel Uthman of USA Today. "I would never bet against that guy to not only make the Olympics but to do something there. Whenever we can get him back, we'll be jacked, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Charles Nelson, Oregon

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    Oregon's Charles Nelson is also a member of the track team, but he's included primarily for his on-field skills.

    As a freshman, the speedster had 23 receptions for 327 yards and five touchdowns. He also returned kicks, taking two punts for scores and finishing with 1,017 all-purpose yards.

    Nelson transitioned to a larger defensive role last year, notching 47 tackles and grabbing two interceptions. He averaged 26.6 yards per kick return, tallied 115 yards on six carries and snared 17 passes with three touchdowns, scoring once each as a returner and rusher.

Kemoko Turay, Rutgers

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    As a freshman, Kemoko Turay soared to block three kicksthe last of which helped Rutgers stun Michigan. He also registered 7.5 sacks.

    "They call me a 'freak athlete' now," Turay said before the 2015 season, per Steve Politi of NJ Advance Media. "But what if I know a lot more about the game? What are they going to call me next?"

    Unfortunately for the defensive end, he encountered injury problems all year. Turay also recently missed spring practice while recovering from a couple of shoulder surgeries.

    But when he's healthy, Turay can be an invaluable weapon for the defensive line and special teams.

Christian McCaffrey, Stanford

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    Christian McCaffrey did everything in 2015.

    The Stanford running back reached the end zone eight times on the ground. He also caught five touchdowns, threw two, returned one punt and housed one kickoff for a total of 17.

    McCaffrey set the single-season all-purpose yardage record. He finished second in the nation with 2,019 rushing yards and third with 1,070 on kick returns. Only one running back (Taquan Mizzell, Virginia) had more receiving yards than McCaffrey (645).

    "You sit there, and you run out of adjectives to describe him," head coach David Shaw said, per Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News. "You just sit there and say 'Wow.' He's that good that he can take over any game we play."

Myles Garrett, Texas A&M

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    Myles Garrett is a physically imposing defensive end with an absurd amount of athleticism.

    "He's 6'5", 265 pounds. He runs a 4.46. What are we talking about? That is ridiculous," ESPN analyst Tim Tebow said. "He broad jumps a 10-foot-9. That is ridiculous. Oh by the way, his vertical jump is 38.5 inches. He can leg-press 1,100 pounds."

    Comparing those numbers to defensive linemen at the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine, Garrett would've registered the fastest 40-yard dash, best broad jump and second-highest vertical leap.

    In just two years, Garrett has collected 132 total tackles with 33.5 for loss and 24 sacks, as well as 20 quarterback hurries.

Jalen Hurd, Tennessee

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    Like almost every running back, Jalen Hurd is dangerous in the open field. But with a 6'4", 240-pound frame, the Tennessee standout is more than happy to destroy a defender.

    Jake Rowe of 247Sports noted former Georgia linebacker Jordan Jenkins said Hurd's combination of speed and power "sort of reminds me of Todd [Gurley] a little bit."

    After two seasons in Knoxville, Hurd has tallied 2,184 rushing yards and 17 scores. He's caught 57 passes for 411 yards, too.

Adoree' Jackson, USC

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    The alphabetical listing places Adoree' Jackson at the end. If this were a ranking, he'd occupy the same spot.

    Jackson's on-field success is spectacular. The cornerback already has 84 tackles, 17 pass breakups and a pick-six. He returned two kicks for touchdowns in 2014 and a pair of punts in 2015, also securing 37 passes for 552 yards and five scores.

    But the potential first-round NFL draft pick is also a track star.

    The 4x100-meter relay team Jackson was on finished second at the Pac-12 championships, and he claimed the conference crown with a 7.71-meter leap in the long jump.

    Lindsey Thiry of the Los Angeles Times noted Jackson is on pace to qualify for the Olympic trials.

    Football can wait. Rio might come calling first.


    Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. All track and field results from TFFRS unless otherwise noted. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.