Ranking the Top 100 College Football Players for the 2016 Season

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistAugust 22, 2016

Ranking the Top 100 College Football Players for the 2016 Season

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    The FBS level has more than 10,000 players, each of whom is considered good enough to play college football at the highest level. To be part of the top 1 percent of that field is a significant achievement.

    That's what we're looking at with this top-100 list; these players have the speed, strength, smarts and athleticism that separate them from the rest of the pack. To be part of this elite group means their exploits to this point have exceeded those of everyone else in the college game, and that's worthy of recognition.

    Bleacher Report college football writers Justin Ferguson and Barrett Sallee have weighed in one some of these players, the ones you'll be seeing and hearing about the most when the 2016 season gets underway in less than two weeks. Until then, get yourself acquainted (or reacquainted) with the best players in the game. 

Honorable Mention

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    With so many great college football players to choose from, cutting down to the top 100 meant plenty of worthwhile candidates had to be left off. Below are some of the names that were considered for this list but ultimately just missed out.

    • Zach Banner, OT, USC
    • Ben Boulware, LB, Clemson
    • Marcus Cox, RB, Appalachian State
    • Quinton Flowers, QB, South Florida
    • Janarion Grant, WR, Rutgers
    • Elijah Hood, RB, North Carolina
    • O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
    • Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State
    • Eddie Jackson, CB, Alabama
    • Dorian Johnson, OG, Pittsburgh
    • Keith Kelsey, LB, Louisville
    • Elijah Lee, LB, Kansas State
    • Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma
    • Nick Mullens, QB, Southern Mississippi
    • Ethan Pocic, C, LSU
    • Fred Ross, WR, Mississippi State
    • Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State
    • Zach Terrell, QB, Western Michigan
    • Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford
    • KaVontae Turpin, WR, TCU

Nos. 100-91

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    Oklahoma State WR James Washington
    Oklahoma State WR James WashingtonSue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    100. Marlon Mack, RB, South Florida: South Florida won seven of eight games at one point in 2015, with Mack's hard running leading the charge. He finished with 1,381 yards and eight scores and is set to become the Bulls' career rushing leader this fall.

    99. Demarcus Walker, DE, Florida State: Walker's production has gone up each year at FSU, and his 2015 numbers (10.5 sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles) were among the best in program history.

    98. Larry Rose III, RB, New Mexico State: Rose ran for 1,651 yards and 14 touchdowns last season with three 200-yard games. He has 2,753 yards and 23 scores in two years at NMSU.

    97. Trey Hendrickson, DE, Florida Atlantic: Lacking much national attention because his team went 3-9, Hendrickson was second in FBS in 2015 with 13 sacks that included two against SEC East champion Florida.

    96. Ronald Jones II, RB, USC: Jones ran for 987 yards and eight touchdowns in 2015, the best effort by a freshman running back for a USC program that has had five rushers go on to win the Heisman Trophy.

    95. Montravius Adams, DT, Auburn: His numbers don't show it, but Adams has been a staple of Auburn's interior defense throughout his career. He's started 23 games the past two seasons.

    94. Mike Warren, RB, Iowa State: Warren was the top-gaining freshman running back in the country in 2015 with 1,339 yards. He scored only five times but topped the 150-yard mark on four occasions.

    93. Austin Rehkow, P, Idaho: Rehkow is set to go down as the most effective punter in FBS history. His 47.24-yard average is ahead of the 46.3 produced by West Virginia's Todd Sauerbrun from 1991 to 1994.

    92. Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson: He's not eligible for the NFL draft until 2018, but based on how his college career started, he's going to go early that year. Hyatt started all 15 games at tackle for the Tigers in 2015.

    91. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State: The only player in the country with four catches of 70 or more yards last season, Washington is the ultimate home run threat. He scored 10 touchdowns and averaged 20.5 yards on his 53 receptions.

Nos. 90-81

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    Virginia Tech WR Isaiah Ford
    Virginia Tech WR Isaiah FordMichael Shroyer/Getty Images

    90. Daeshon Hall, DT, Texas A&M: Somewhat overshadowed by Myles Garrett next to him, Hall deserves his own recognition. He has recorded 11 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss in three seasons, including seven sacks and 14.5 TFL in 2015.

    89. Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington: Last year, Gaskin's 1,302 yards and 14 touchdowns established school freshman records, even though he started only six games.

    88. Jake Browning, QB, Washington: A national record-holder in high school, Browning started 12 games as a true freshman and finished with 2,955 yards with 16 touchdowns.

    87. Marquis Haynes, DE, Ole Miss: Robert Nkemdiche is gone, but Haynes is still around to hold down the Rebels' front line. Last year, his 10 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss were tops on the team.

    86. Ejuan Price, DE, Pittsburgh: Given a sixth year of eligibility due to injuries early in his career, Price is hoping to replicate his 2015 season when he had 11.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss.

    85. Budda Baker, S, Washington: The most well-regarded of Washington's talented young defenders, Baker is just as strong against the run as he is against the pass.

    84. Jordan Westerkamp, WR, Nebraska: The passing game has traditionally not been a big part of Nebraska's offense, but Jordan Westerkamp has helped change this. After gaining 918 yards in 2015, he's 742 shy of the school career mark.

    83. Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida: One of three Gators who had 90-plus tackles in 2015, Davis added 3.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss and four pass breakups.

    82. Matt Breida, RB, Georgia Southern: Breida is the main attraction of a triple-option run game that has led FBS in rushing each of the past two seasons. Last year he had 1,608 yards and 17 touchdowns on only 203 carries.

    81. Isaiah Ford, WR, Virginia Tech: Ford is coming off the most productive season ever for a Hokies pass catcher. He hauled in 75 catches for 1,164 yards and 11 touchdowns and is 1,012 yards shy of the school career record.

Nos. 80-71

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    Alabama LB Reuben Foster
    Alabama LB Reuben FosterKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    80. Tre'Davious White, CB, LSU: Another of the Tigers' talented defensive backs, White is as dangerous in coverage as he is on special teams. He has scored on a punt return each of the past two seasons.

    79. Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech: With 85 catches and 13 touchdowns in his first two seasons, Hodges has operated more like a wide receiver than someone who is 6'7”, 245 pounds and a converted quarterback.

    78. Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan: Davis enters his senior season with 3,778 receiving yards, the most of any active FBS player. With another 1,228 (a number he surpassed in 2014 and 2015), he'll become the all-time FBS receiving yardage leader.

    77. Rashan Gary, DT, Michigan: The only freshman on our list is also the top-rated recruit from 2016. Look for him to be in the mix early and often for the Wolverines.

    76. Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas: Jefferson was the centerpiece of Charlie Strong's second recruiting class and lived up to the hype, registering 61 tackles and seven tackles for loss in 2015.

    75. Chris Wormley, DE, Michigan: A fifth-year senior whose involvement on the defensive line has grown each year, Wormley is one of the biggest defensive ends in the country at 6'6” and 302 pounds.

    74. Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss: He's on the smaller side for a tight end at 6'3” and 227 pounds, but that makes him harder to guard by slower linebackers. This has enabled him to grab 97 catches for 1,394 yards in his career.

    73. Jehu Chesson, WR, Michigan: A dynamic athlete who shines on both offense and special teams, Chesson scored 12 touchdowns in 2015 with nine on receptions, two on rushes and one on a kickoff return.

    72. Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame: The 6'7”, 310-pound junior heads into his second year as a starting tackle with plenty of scouts watching. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller rates him No. 27 overall on his 2017 big board.

    71. Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama: A bit player for the Crimson Tide most of the last three seasons because of the team's amazing depth, Foster is set for a breakout senior season after recording 73 tackles in 2015.

Nos. 70-61

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    Tennessee QB Joshua Dobbs
    Tennessee QB Joshua DobbsMike Carlson/Getty Images

    70. Luke Falk, QB, Washington State: Falk led FBS in passing last season with 380.1 yards per game while throwing a school-record 38 touchdowns. Most impressive? He completed 69.4 percent of his 644 attempts.

    69. Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama: Humphrey had to wait to get on the field, redshirting in 2014, but last season he erupted for three interceptions, two forced fumbles and eight pass breakups.

    68. Carlos Watkins, DT, Clemson: The lone returning starter from Clemson's stout defensive line, Watkins is the veteran presence the Tigers will lean on to pressure opponents.

    67. Roderick Johnson, OT, Florida State: The 6'7”, 311-pound junior has started the last 18 games for FSU at left tackle. His presence on the line will be valuable with the Seminoles turning to redshirt freshman Deondre Francois at quarterback.

    66. Taywan Taylor, WR, Western Kentucky: Taylor is the top returning player in the country in terms of receiving yards and touchdowns, collecting 1,467 yards and 17 scores on 86 catches in 2015.

    65. Kendell Beckwith, LB, LSU: Good enough to have turned pro last winter, Beckwith returned for his senior year to give LSU one of its most experienced defenses ever. He recorded 84 tackles including 10 for loss in 2015.

    64. Jordan Leggett, TE, Clemson: One of four tight ends in FBS to catch at least eight touchdown passes last season, Leggett had 40 receptions including five in the national title game against Alabama.

    63. Armani Watts, CB, Texas A&M: The last line of defense for A&M, Watts rarely lets anyone get past him. In 2015 he had 126 tackles, 45 more than any other Aggie.

    62. Harold Landry, DE, Boston College: BC led the nation in total defense in 2015 thanks to standouts like Landry, who had 4.5 sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles.

    61. Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee: A starter for parts of the last three years (and all of 2015), Dobbs has been key to the Volunteers' annual late-season surge. This fall he's hoping to get them to rise from the start.

Nos. 60-51

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    Baylor WR KD Cannon
    Baylor WR KD CannonTony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    60. Gabe Marks, WR, Washington State: Marks led the Pac-12 with 104 catches and 15 touchdowns last season. With 227 receptions for his career, he needs 68 to become the conference's all-time leader.

    59. Justin Jackson, RB, Northwestern: The epitome of a workhorse running back, Jackson carried the ball 312 times in 2015 and 557 times in his first two seasons. That's produced more than 2,600 yards and enabled the Wildcats to control the ball and keep the sticks moving.

    58. C.J. Beathard, QB, Iowa: Beathard piloted Iowa to a 12-0 start last year, finishing with 2,809 yards and 17 touchdowns with only five interceptions on 362 attempts. He also scored six rushing TDs.

    57. Jalen Hurd, RB, Tennessee: The bruising 6'4”, 240-pound junior ran for 1,288 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2015the most yards for a Tennessee back since 2009.

    56. Donnel Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State: The active FBS rushing leader with 4,272 yards, Pumphrey is close to passing Marshall Faulk for SDSU's career rushing mark. He could become just the sixth player in FBS history to top 6,000 yards.

    55. Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State: Inserted into the lineup late in his true freshman season, Rudolph has thrown for 4,623 yards and 27 touchdowns in 16 career games.

    54. Wayne Gallman, RB, Clemson: Gallman is coming off a 2015 season in which he ran for a school-record 1,527 yards with 13 touchdowns. That included nine 100-yard games.

    53. Thomas Sperbeck, WR, Boise State: Sperbeck set several school records last season, including receiving yards (1,412), single-game receptions (20) and single-game yards (281), and he tied the Boise mark with 88 receptions. With another 735 receiving yards, he'll be the Broncos' career leader.

    52. Marcus Maye, S, Florida: One of the best run-stopping safeties in college football, Maye had 45 of his 82 tackles on rushing plays, according to Pro Football Focus. He also had two interceptions and forced five fumbles.

    51. KD Cannon, WR, Baylor: Overshadowed somewhat by Corey Coleman, Cannon still managed to catch 50 passes for 868 yards and six touchdowns in 2015. He's had 50 receptions apiece in both of his college seasons.

50. DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Year: Redshirt sophomore

    Height, weight: 6'4”, 230 lbs

    Any movie that's made about DeShone Kizer will have to include his cold-off-the-bench collegiate debut. After Malik Zaire was hurt in Notre Dame's second game of 2015, Kizer had to come in and lead the Fighting Irish on the road. He threw a touchdown pass on that first drive and another in the final minute for the game-winner—the start of a tremendous freshman season.

    Kizer went well above and beyond what is expected of any backup quarterback by stepping in for Zaire and almost leading Notre Dame to a playoff berth," Bleacher Report's Justin Ferguson said. "His game is all power, and it's so much fun to watch in the spread system the Fighting Irish have in place."

    Kizer threw for 2,880 yards and 21 touchdowns and added 10 rushing TDs, though with Zaire returning, the Irish have a major quarterback battle. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly recently announced he plans to play both in the Sept. 4 opener at Texas.

49. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

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    Mark Wallheiser/Associated Press

    Year: Sophomore

    Height, weight: 5'11", 223 lbs

    The struggles of Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg—and whether they were due to coach James Franklin's influence—overshadowed an impressive freshman season from Saquon Barkley last year. This fall will be his chance to shine, as the Nittany Lions move to a more wide-open offense that should enable Barkley to get more touches.

    Last year, Barkley ran for 1,076 yards, setting the freshman school record, and scored seven touchdowns on only 182 carries. He was given the ball 20-plus times in five contests and less than 10 in two others, while he also missed two games because of injury.

    Penn State has loaded up on ball-carriers, signing the No. 1 running back from the 2016 class in Miles Sanders. That could again keep Barkley's touches down, but not if he makes the most of the ones he gets early on.

48. Cam Sutton, CB, Tennessee

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 5'11”, 186 lbs

    Cam Sutton has started all 38 games of his Tennessee career at cornerback. He's been a consistent force in the secondary who has logged six interceptions, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries over three seasons. But Sutton has made his biggest mark on special teams, developing into one of the most deadly return men in FBS.

    He led the nation in punt return average in 2015. His two touchdowns contributed to an 18.68-yard average, and the 467 yards he gained set a school record.

    Sutton's scores haven't been cheap either. Last year he brought back one for 84 yards against Kentucky. He also notched an 85-yarder against Vanderbilt, scoring from 76 yards out in 2014.

47. Malachi Dupre, WR, LSU

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    Bob Levey/Associated Press

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'4”, 195 lbs

    LSU doesn't throw the ball much, and when it does, the results aren't always positive. The exception has been when the ball heads toward Malachi Dupre, who despite limited opportunities has managed to make notable contributions.

    Dupre has 11 touchdowns the past two seasons on just 57 receptions, converting five of 14 catches as a freshman into scores and six more in 2015. He's averaged 17.8 yards for his career, going for 25 or more yards 16 times.

    If LSU indeed puts more emphasis on the aerial game this fall, Dupre stands to benefit the most.

46. Tim Williams, LB, Alabama

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 6'4”, 252 lbs

    If Tim Williams starts Alabama's season opener against USC in a few weeks, it will be the first start of his career. You'd never guess that based on the numbers he's put up, though, particularly those in 2015 as part of the Crimson Tide's national championship team.

    His 10.5 sacks were second-most on the team, even though he was listed third on the depth chart at his position. Williams was basically a pass-rushing specialist, and boy did he specialize, getting 12 sacks the last two years on just 256 total snaps thanks to a first step that Pro Football Focus ranked as the fourth-most unstoppable move in college football.

    Williams will need to spread this performance over all downs this season, not just when passing seems obvious. This might result in him getting into the backfield so quickly that ball-carriers have no chance.

45. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

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    Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Sophomore

    Height, weight: 6'4”, 218 lbs

    Anointed by many as one of the greatest players in UCLA history before ever suiting up, Josh Rosen had little trouble meeting the lofty expectations placed on him. Now comes the harder task: getting better after a big first season.

    Rosen debuted last September with 350 yards and three touchdowns on 28-of-35 passing against Virginia; it was the first of six 300-yard games for him. He finished with 3,669 yards and 23 TDs but also threw 11 interceptions, with seven of those coming in the Bruins' five losses.

    Last year he had the luxury of being surrounded by experienced players at the skill positions, but this fall Rosen is the veteran. How he handles being a leader will have an impact on UCLA's chance to contend in the Pac-12.

44. William Likely, CB, Maryland

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    Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 5'7”, 175 lbs

    Don't let the diminutive frame fool you. Give William Likely an inch and he's going to take a mile, whether it be on offense, defense or special teams. He's shown he can stand out in all areas, and Maryland is looking for much more of that in 2016.

    Likely broke up 11 passes and forced three fumbles last season, and toward the end of what was a disappointing 3-9 campaign, he began to get touches on offense. But his main impact was as a return man, as he brought back punts for touchdowns in each of the Terrapins' first two games and added a kickoff return score later on.

    At 18.22 yards per punt return, Likely was second in FBS.

43. Pat Elflein, OL, Ohio State

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 6'3”, 300 lbs

    If new offensive line positions are ever created, don't be surprised if Pat Elflein is one of the first people to try them out. He's already shown he can handle tackle and guard, and for his senior year he is moving to center to solidify Ohio State's young line.

    He has done most of his work to this point at guard, where he's started the Buckeyes' last 28 games on either the left or right side. In those two years OSU's ability to run the ball up the middle has been second to none, gaining more than 264 yards per game in 2014 and more than 245 last season.

    The switch to center will make for a veteran presence in the middle of the offense, as he and quarterback J.T. Barrett are the most experienced members of that unit.

42. Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'4”, 230 lbs

    Vanderbilt has gone through consecutive losing seasons under coach Derek Mason, logging only two SEC victories in that span. If the Commodores hope to break through and contend in the East Division, or at least return to bowl eligibility, they will need another strong year from rising star Zach Cunningham.

    Cunningham moved into the starting lineup in the fourth game of 2015, after Nigel Bowden was injured and couldn't return. In those nine starts, he had 94 of his team-best 103 tackles as well as all of his 4.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss, the most for a Vandy player since 1999.

    With fellow linebacker Stephen Weatherly graduating, look for Cunningham to take on an even greater role while not compromising what CBS Sports' Rob Rang calls his "aggressive and powerful" approach.

41. Artavis Scott, WR, Clemson

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    Associated Press

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 5'10”, 190 lbs

    Key contributors in the receiving game aren't just limited to those who stretch the field. A good passing offense needs targets who can haul in short passes to convert third downs and turn little gains into big ones.

    That's how Artavis Scott managed to assert himself in 2015, becoming Clemson's No. 1 receiver after Mike Williams was injured but staying true to his role as the possession receiver. That resulted in 93 catches for 901 yards and six touchdowns.

    Scott converted 89 percent of his third-down catches into an extended possession or a TD, averaging 13.67 yards on those receptions.

40. Anthony Walker, LB, Northwestern

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'1”, 245 lbs

    Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald played linebacker for the Wildcats in the 1990s and was a part of the program's last Rose Bowl team in 1996. If they manage to make a return trip to that prestigious game this winter, it's likely going to be thanks to Northwestern's next great man in the middle.

    Anthony Walker is coming off a breakout season in 2015, when he had 20.5 tackles for loss and 120 tackles. Never willing to settle, he is more concerned with the players he didn't take down, as he told Cleveland.com's Ari Wasserman:

    I think I had 120 tackles, but I can recall the ones I missed pretty well because they were big moments in the game. You want to be a complete linebacker, and that's blitzing, pass-coverage and being able to play in the box against the run. I want to be a three-down linebacker who can cover on third down. That's big for me.

    Walker was integral in Northwestern winning 10 games and ranking 12th nationally in scoring defense last year.

39. Shock Linwood, RB, Baylor

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    Associated Press

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 5'9”, 200 lbs

    As wide-open and high-flying as Baylor's offense has been the last few years, running the ball is just as important to the attack as passing. Shock Linwood's production is evidence of this, as he's close to becoming the Bears' career rushing leader.

    Linwood has run for 3,462 yards in three seasons, including 1,329 in 2015 despite missing the bowl game and having only four games in which he had 20 or more carries. He's averaged more than six yards per rush for his career, scoring 34 times, and needs 213 yards and two scores to claim both school records.

    Strong enough to break tackles, Linwood's best attribute is making opponents miss. According to Pro Football Focus, he caused more missed tackles in 2015 than any other returning running back in the Big 12.

38. Greg Ward Jr., QB, Houston

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 5'11”, 185 lbs

    Greg Ward is probably too small to play quarterback in the NFL, but those dimensions don't mean the same in college. Height isn't what's enabled him to become one of the most dangerous dual-threat passers in FBS and one who could help Houston crash the playoff party this season.

    Last year, Ward threw for 2,828 yards and 17 touchdowns (on 67.2 percent passing) and ran for 1,108 yards and 21 TDs. He was responsible for at least three TDs in eight different games, including key victories at Louisville and against Florida State in the Peach Bowl.

    Houston went 13-1 last season, with its only loss coming when Ward was too hurt to play more than a few snaps. With him working the offense yet again, the Cougars are a legitimate threat against every team they'll face (including Oklahoma in the season opener).

37. Jamal Adams, S, LSU

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'1”, 213 lbs

    The ongoing debate between Florida and LSU over which school deserves to be known as “DBU” will probably never end, though Jamal Adams is an exhibit the Tigers can use to tilt opinion in their favor.

    As adept against the run as he is protecting the back line, Adams had 67 tackles (47 solo) with five for loss as well as four interceptions in 2015. He also broke up six passes, which according to Pro Football Focus was among the best of any returning safety in the country.

    Adams seems destined to be the latest LSU defensive back to make the NFL, following in the footsteps of Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Morris Claiborne.

36. Devonte Fields, LB, Louisville

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 6'4”, 242 lbs

    Devonte Fields could end his college days with Defensive Player of the Year awards from two different conferences depending on how the 2016 season goes. This wouldn't be a product of realignment but rather a career that began with such promise but took a major detour before getting back on track.

    As a freshman at TCU in 2012, Fields had 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss and was the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year. Then, after being injured much of 2013, TCU dismissed him for an off-field incident, and he spent 2014 at a junior college.

    He returned to FBS with Louisville last season, moving from defensive end to linebacker, and that resulted in 11 sacks and 22.5 TFL. He's caught the eye of Bleacher Report NFL draft expert Matt Miller, who tweeted that Fields "has such fluid hips and feet" that make him a natural pass-rusher.

35. Teez Tabor, CB, Florida

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'0”, 201 lbs

    To understand Teez Tabor takes more than watching how he shines on the field. You also have to hear why he opted to switch from his given name of Jalen to his childhood nickname for this season.

    "If you call me Teez, you know me," he said, per FloridaGators.com. "If you call me Jalen, you just know of me."

    Most players couldn't get away with such a change, but Tabor isn't the average cornerback. He's a physical defender who rarely gets beaten and has logged five interceptions and 22 pass breakups in his career. He's also someone whose emotions can get the better of him, resulting in a one-game suspension in 2015 and another to start this season after reportedly being involved in a fight with a teammate during practice, per ESPN's Edward Aschoff (via Greg Ostendorf of ESPN.com).

34. Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn

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    Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'2”, 253 lbs

    Carl Lawson is an amazing talent whose body has struggled to keep pace with his football instincts. This has resulted in an injury-plagued career—one that's fun to watch when he's healthy, but that hasn't happened much.

    A strong freshman season (four sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss) set the stage for big things, but then Lawson missed all of 2014 with a knee injury. He returned last season, quickly grabbed a starting job and exploded out of the gates with a sack and two TFL in the 2015 opener, but then he missed the next six games with a bum hip.

    Lawson returned and finished out the season but wasn't at 100 percent. The Tigers are hoping this fall can be when he's finally able to stay on the field and show everything he's capable of on a weekly basis.

33. Quin Blanding, S, Virginia

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'2”, 205 lbs

    One of the highest-rated players to sign with Virginia in quite some time, Quin Blanding came to Charlottesville in 2014 as a 5-star prospect who was being looked at as someone who could help the Cavaliers return to prominence. The team results have yet to occur, but not for a lack of effort from Blanding.

    He's recorded 240 tackles in his first two seasons, collecting four interceptions along the way. He's had 10 or more tackles in 12 games, including six of the Cavs' last seven contests.

    "Quin Blanding is so good that most of the college football landscape knows a Virginia player by name. That doesn't usually happen," Bleacher Report's Justin Ferguson said. "But his abilities as a ridiculously productive tackle magnet and a rangy free safety would be a perfect fit for any program. He's going to be key to getting [head coach] Bronco Mendenhall off to a strong start at UVA."

32. Seth Russell, QB, Baylor

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    Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 6'3”, 220 lbs

    Seth Russell was putting together a Heisman-worthy season in 2015—he had the second-best odds to win, according to Odds Shark—before he suffered a neck injury last October that required surgery and ended his junior year. Before getting hurt, he had piloted Baylor to a 7-0 start and more than 61 points per game.

    On just 200 pass attempts, he'd thrown for 2,104 yards and 29 touchdowns, with five or more on three occasions, while also scoring six rushing TDs. And that was often in only two or three quarters of action due to the frequent blowouts the Bears were involved in. After he went down, though, Baylor's passing offense quickly fizzled out, and the team lost three of its final six games.

    "I wish college football would've gotten a full season out of Seth Russell last year," Bleacher Report's Justin Ferguson said. "At the time of his injury, he was averaging 10.5 yards per attempt and 8.2 yards per carry. Stretch those stats out to a full slate, and eyeballs start popping out of heads."

    Healthy again, Russell is ready to pick up where he left off.

31. Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee

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    John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'3”, 265 lbs

    Tennessee coach Butch Jones has made major inroads on the recruiting trail since coming on board in 2013, but Derek Barnett wasn't one of his most highly rated gets. Instead, he's become one of the most effective pass-rushers in the country despite not getting much attention, either nationally or even in the SEC.

    "Derek Barnett is one of the most underrated players in the conference," Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee said. "He's quicker than people realize, is a monster against the run and a big reason why the Vols have been great on third downs over the last two seasons."

    Barnett has had 10 sacks each of his first two years, collecting 33 tackles for loss along the way. His 69 tackles in 2015 were the most of any defensive lineman in the SEC.

30. Dan Feeney, OG, Indiana

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    Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 6'4”, 305 lbs

    Interior offensive linemen have the double duty of blocking for the run and holding the pocket so the quarterback has time to throw. Dan Feeney has mastered both of these responsibilities, as evidenced by the massive offensive numbers Indiana put up in 2015.

    The Hoosiers led the Big Ten in total offense and passing while also producing a pair of 1,000-yard rushers. Feeney started all 13 games, not allowing one sack. The season before, he yielded one sack in 12 games while paving the way for Tevin Coleman to rush for more than 2,000 yards.

    All told, the fifth-year senior has given up just two sacks in three seasons while playing more than 2,800 snaps—nearly 1,900 of them since coming back from a knee injury that wiped out his 2013 season.

29. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Year: Sophomore

    Height, weight: 6'1”, 188 lbs

    Alabama's produced two Heisman Trophy winners in the past decade, both of them running backs, but in between Amari Cooper finished third in the 2014 voting after a monster junior season. Calvin Ridley is coming off a freshman year that was better than what Cooper managed in his first go-around.

    Ridley hauled in 89 catches for 1,045 yards and seven touchdowns last year, far and away the most of any Crimson Tide receiver in all three categories. Cooper had 58 catches for 999 yards in his freshman campaign.

    Ridley compiled those numbers relatively quietly, though, as he had only four 100-yard games but never had fewer than three receptions in any game. He was most productive on non-passing downs, with 45 catches and four TDs on first down.

28. Patrick Mahomes II, QB, Texas Tech

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'3”, 230 lbs

    In a ranking of recognition among college football quarterbacks, Patrick Mahomes finds himself low on the list. But when you judge them on production and importance to the team, Mahomes might be the top dog by a wide margin.

    Last season he led FBS in total offense, averaging 393 yards per game that came via 4,653 passing yards and 456 rushing yards. He accounted for 46 touchdowns, and every one of them was needed to keep pace with Texas Tech's porous defense. Mahomes helped the Red Raiders score 50 or more points six times, but they went only 4-2 in those games, as they allowed 43.6 points per contest.

    This sometimes led Mahomes to extend a play that should have resulted in a throw away, since he knew Tech had to score on every possession. He was intercepted 15 times and contributed to the team's eight fumbles. If he eliminates those miscues, his value will skyrocket.

27. Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'6”, 276 lbs

    Malik McDowell's signing at Michigan State in 2014 provided a dose of drama due to a disagreement with his parents about which school he should attend. That caused him to turn in his national letter of intent at the last minute. But since arriving, any excitement he's created has been through his play.

    A key reserve as a freshman who moved into a starting role last season, McDowell had 4.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and one interception in 2015. Most of that came on the inside as the Spartans nose tackle, but McDowell's quickness makes it possible for him to play on the edge as well.

    McDowell is the only returning starter from MSU's defensive line, so expect to see him line up in every position depending on the down and distance.

26. Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami (Florida)

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    Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'4”, 215 lbs

    Brad Kaaya managed to win Miami's starting job as a true freshman despite only having arrived on campus a few months earlier, and since then he's become a fixture in the Hurricanes backfield. Save for an absence midway through 2015 while he recovered from a concussion, the Miami passing game has revolved around him.

    This has produced consecutive 3,000-yard seasons with 42 total passing touchdowns, and last year he was intercepted just five times in 389 attempts.

    As good as Kaaya has been to this point, the arrival of Mark Richt as head coach is expected to boost Kaaya's performance to another level. Richt helped develop numerous standout quarterbacks during his 15 seasons at Georgia, including a No. 1 overall pick in Matthew Stafford.

25. Jalen Reeves-Maybin, LB, Tennessee

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 6'0”, 230 lbs

    Tennessee's starting "Will" linebacker the last two seasons missed time in spring and summer because of a shoulder injury, one that required surgery but won't keep him out when the Volunteers get to work on what they hope will be their first SEC East title since 2007. He's confident in his return and in his own abilities.

    "If I ain't the greatest then I'm headed for it," Jalen Reeves-Maybin tweeted recently.

    Reeves-Maybin has topped the 100-tackle mark each of the past two years, and another season of that will match A.J. Johnson's feat of three consecutive 100-tackle outputs from 2012 to 2014. Reeves-Maybin also had six sacks, 14 tackles for loss, four pass breakups and two forced fumbles in 2015, getting involved in every way imaginable.

24. Jake Butt, TE, Michigan

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 6'6”, 250 lbs

    Save the giggles about his last name for a player who doesn't have as much of an impact on his team's offense. Jake Butt's 51 receptions last season were second-most on the team, and he was one of only four tight ends in FBS to top the 50-catch mark.

    Butt, who had only 41 catches in his first two seasons, was the kind of player that Michigan could turn to in all situations and everywhere on the field. Not as much of a red-zone weapon as most players at his position, Butt was most effective in between the 20s, where he had 41 of his receptions and managed 25 first downs on those catches.

    Though receivers Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh are also important for the Wolverines, Pro Football Focus graded Butt as one of the top receiving threats in the Big Ten this season.

23. Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'2”, 243 lbs

    Much has been made about the lack of experience on Ohio State's roster, particularly on the defensive end after a mass exodus of talent left for the NFL draft in the winter. But Raekwon McMillan is still around, and he's good enough to make up for the loss of several of his former teammates.

    In two seasons, McMillan has quickly risen up the ranks of great Buckeyes linebackers, of which there have been many. He had a team-high 119 tackles in 2015, getting at least eight in 10 of 14 contests.

    McMillan is also notable from an analytics standpoint, according to Pro Football Focus. The site noted his performance last season "ranks him eighth in the country among returning FBS inner linebackers, and he is near the top of nearly every tackling metric we have."

22. Charles Harris, DE, Missouri

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    Associated Press

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'3”, 255 lbs

    Missouri may as well be called Defensive Line U with the great players it has produced in the past 15 years. Charles Harris is among the latest group of standout defensive linemen the Tigers have at their disposal and was one of the few bright spots from last year's disappointing team that went 5-7.

    Harris had seven sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss in 2015, helping fill the void created when Harold Brantley was injured in a car accident the previous summer and missed the entire season. Harris' coming-out party came in a road win over Arkansas State when he had two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss—the most by a Mizzou player since 2008.

    The Tigers will need Harris even more this fall with the recent dismissal of both Brantley and Walter Brady, who had a strong freshman season in 2015.

21. Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss

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    Associated Press

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 6'2”, 224 lbs

    Chad Kelly received a second chance to turn around a college career that hit a few bumps along the way, and he's made the most of it. Ole Miss has been the beneficiary, seeing Kelly put up arguably the best season by a quarterback in school history in 2015.

    Booted from Clemson in the spring of 2014 and then spending a season at a junior college, Kelly didn't win the Rebels' starting job outright until a few games into the fall but still ended up setting school records for passing yards (4,042), total offense (4,542), passing touchdowns (31) and total TDs (41). Oh, and he also helped them beat eventual national champion Alabama for a second consecutive year.

    Kelly has a bit of a gunslinger mentality, which enables him to escape trouble—which he's sometimes puts himself in. He is also blessed with a strong and accurate arm as well as good enough mobility to score 10 times on the ground and take only 18 sacks last year.

20. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

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    Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Sophomore

    Height, weight: 5'11”, 200 lbs

    As exciting a first-year player as there's been in college football in some time, Christian Kirk was the one thing about Texas A&M's offense that didn't struggle in 2015. And that's only part of how he contributed in a masterful freshman year.

    Kirk had a team-high 80 catches for 1,009 yards and seven touchdowns, and he also scored twice on punt returns (including one in his collegiate debut last September). His 24.36-yard average on punt returns would have led FBS had he had a few more attempts, but he returned only two kicks in A&M's final six games and none in its last two.

    The Aggies are facing a critical season in 2016, and Kirk will be a major part of what they accomplish this fall.

19. Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 5'10”, 235 lbs

    Samaje Perine isn't so much a running back as he is a battering ram with legs. He's also the FBS single-game rushing record holder after rumbling for 427 yards in November 2014 as a true freshman.

    It hasn't been a one-game wonder for Perine, who had three 200-yard games that season and another last year despite Oklahoma moving to a more pass-oriented offense. His overall sophomore numbers were down, from 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns to 1,349 and 16, but not by much.

    Perine is part of a thunder-and-lightning backfield with Joe Mixon that no other team can throw out there. But make no mistake: Perine is the one whose production matters most to the Sooners.

18. Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 6'3”, 291 lbs

    The NFL will still be there a year from now, which is among the many reasons Jonathan Allen opted to come back to college rather than jump to the pros after helping Alabama win its fourth national title since 2008. The chance to give the Crimson Tide another crown also factored into that decision.

    Allen was the leading sack man on a stacked Alabama defense in 2015 despite not being a full-time starter. He stood out as someone big enough to play inside but also handle edge-rusher duties normally fielded by smaller defenders.

    "Jonathan Allen doesn't get enough credit for what he does for that Alabama defensive line," Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee said. "He's tremendous as a north-south defensive end in Saban's 3-4 scheme but has the speed and quickness to stretch plays out against teams that use more exotic offense. I'll never forget watching him as a true freshman track down Auburn running back Tre Mason 30 yards downfield. That's not human."

    Allen was once a 180-pound wide receiver in high school and now is a massive defensive lineman who still moves like a skill-position player.

17. Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'3”, 225 lbs

    Mike Williams likely would be in an NFL training camp right now if not for a scary neck injury suffered last September, one that knocked him out for the rest of the 2015 season and nearly ended his career. Now he has major motivation to return to the form that previously made him one of the best wideouts in the country.

    In 2014, Williams had 57 catches for 1,030 yards and six touchdowns, averaging more than 18 yards per reception while going for at least 25 yards on 15 occasions.

    Williams is healthy again and drawing great praise, not just from teammates and opponents but also scouts. Bleacher Report NFL draft expert Matt Miller has referred to him as his "wide receiver man crush for this season."

16. Derwin James, S, Florida State

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    Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

    Year: Sophomore

    Height, weight: 6'3”, 211 lbs

    No true freshman was more dominant and essential to his team's defense in 2015 than Derwin James, a highly regarded recruit who managed to stand out in a secondary that featured eventual first-round draft pick Jalen Ramsey. And that was just the start of what he's capable of.

    James registered 91 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles while recovering two others. The tackle tally was the third-most ever by a Florida State freshman and most of any since Jimbo Fisher took over as coach in 2010.

    A minor foot surgery this summer hasn't slowed James down, as he returned to practice Tuesday and is primed to anchor the back line once again.

15. Jabrill Peppers, LB, Michigan

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    Tony Ding/Associated Press

    Year: Redshirt sophomore

    Height, weight: 6'1”, 205 lbs

    Put another 50 or so pounds on Jabrill Peppers and he might end up becoming one of the top defensive linemen in the country. Until that happens, though, he'll have to settle for being a stud in the secondary who's now set to show his talents at linebacker.

    Moved up a level by new Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown, Peppers will get to show off his versatility by impacting both the run and pass defense. Last year, his first full season after injuries cut short the 2014 campaign, Peppers had 5.5 tackles for loss and 10 pass breakups.

    Peppers has also shown his value as an offensive and special teams threat, scoring twice on runs and hauling in a few passes while also handling punt and kickoff return duties.

14. Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'6”, 310 lbs

    Offensive linemen normally don't get singled out unless they've done something wrong such as commit a penalty or give up a sack. But it's easy to notice Cam Robinson for his ability to make it look easy for his teammates on offense.

    A starter since the first game of his true freshman season—a rarity for offensive linemen overall but even more so under Alabama coach Nick SabanRobinson rarely gets beaten and hardly ever is penalized. In 2015, according to his online bio, he allowed only 2.5 sacks and thus enabled first-time starter Jake Coker to have a huge season. He also was integral in opening holes for Heisman winner Derrick Henry, who set a school record with 2,219 rushing yards.

    Robinson is an anchor who means as much to the Crimson Tide's offense as any other player, even though he never gets to touch the ball.

13. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 5'10”, 228 lbs

    If not for a horrific knee injury last October, Nick Chubb would have been a contender for the top spot on this list. The fact he's still this high despite uncertainty about his status for the 2016 season shows just how good he was before getting hurt.

    Prior to tearing multiple ligaments on his first carry against Tennessee, Chubb had run for 745 yards and seven touchdowns in five games. He'd topped 100 yards in each contest, just as he did in the final eight games of 2014 after taking over for an injured Todd Gurley.

    If you count his 2,068 yards over that 13-game span as a season, it would have broken Herschel Walker's school record of 1,891 yards and would have been second-best in SEC history behind the 2,219 that Alabama's Derrick Henry gained in 2015.

    Chubb has been a full participant in preseason practice and is in line to return for Georgia on Sept. 3 against North Carolina in Atlanta. Any contributions he can provide will be key for the Bulldogs and welcomed by college football fans.

12. Desmond King, CB, Iowa

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 5'11”, 203 lbs

    Desmond King was the best defensive back in college football last season, at least in the eyes of those who vote for the Jim Thorpe Award. Not surprisingly, he's on the Thorpe watch list for 2016 and has a chance to be the first two-time winner.

    The unanimous All-American intercepted eight passes, tied for second-most in the country, returning one 88 yards for a touchdown. He also broke up 13 passes and was among the nation's best punt and kickoff returners, averaging 14.18 and 24.41 yards, respectively.

    King had at least 10 games with five or more tackles, earning the second-best tackling efficiency in FBS in 2015, according to Pro Football Focus.

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

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    Mel Evans/Associated Press

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'2”, 222 lbs

    J.T. Barrett's last two seasons have had a career's worth of ups and downs, yet through it all he's remained one of the best and most consistent players in college football.

    Thrust into action as a redshirt freshman to start the 2014 season, Barrett shook off a shaky start and was in the Heisman conversation (while setting numerous school records) before a broken ankle kept him out of Ohio State's national championship run. A year later, he had to split time at quarterback with Cardale Jones, who replaced him during the previous postseason, and it wasn't until midway through 2015 that he managed to win back his job.

    Now the Buckeyes are looking at Barrett as the key piece of a talented but young and inexperienced unit. As someone who can dominate with his arm or legs, there's no better player for coach Urban Meyer to rely on.

10. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'2”, 220 lbs

    Great receivers have been a staple of USC's offense this century, but JuJu Smith-Schuster might be the best of the group. That's significant since 10 Trojans wideouts have been drafted in the first three rounds since 2000.

    According to SB Nation's Bill Connelly, Smith-Schuster is the only wideout in the country in 2015 who ranked in the upper tier nationally in catch rate, yards per catch, yards per target and target rate. He finished with 89 catches for 1,454 yards and 10 touchdowns, shaking off a broken hand midway through the season without missing any time.

    Smith-Schuster was the best friend of USC quarterback Cody Kessler last season and figures to be the go-to target for the Trojans' new passer this fall.

9. Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'0”, 229 lbs

    The Oregon teams of the past decade have been known for their flashy uniforms and even flashier style of play on offense—an uptempo attack that spreads the ball around and can seemingly score at will. It's not the kind of system you'd expect to find someone of Royce Freeman's size to be at the center of.

    But Freeman isn't your ordinary big bruising running back. While he'll bowl over defenders if they try to take him head on, he's just as capable of faking them out or just running past them. It's how he became the Ducks' first true freshman to rush for 1,000 yards. In 2015, he upped that production to 1,836, another school record.

    Freeman is also one of the most adept pass-catching running backs in the game, having made 42 receptions for 506 yards and three touchdowns.

8. Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan

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    Tony Ding/Associated Press

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 5'11”, 186 lbs

    The best cornerbacks tend not to post big statistics because opposing quarterbacks learn quickly to avoid them. Either most of Michigan's foes didn't get that memo in 2015, or they foolishly thought they could exploit Jourdan Lewis.

    Lewis registered two interceptions last year, returning one for a touchdown, but it was what he did on other defensive plays that show his value. According to Pro Football Focus, Lewis' assignments were targeted 90 times last year but managed only 33 receptions and one TD.

    Michigan's opponents attempted 381 passes last year, which means Lewis essentially shut down one side of the field. This helps explain how the Wolverines ranked third nationally in pass defense.

7. Adoree' Jackson, CB, USC

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 5'11”, 185 lbs

    The only things keeping Adoree' Jackson from handling more positions for USC is the lack of girth needed to play on the offensive and defensive line and the willingness to allow his teammates to get a chance to play. Even still, it seems like this dynamic athlete is everywhere and capable of doing anything.

    Jackson has started for the Trojans at both cornerback and wide receiver—including in the same game—and he's also USC's featured punt and kickoff returner. He's scored touchdowns on receptions, punt and kickoff returns and on an interception, and he's even attempted field goals in practice if the Trojans want to add to his duties.

    This spring Jackson attempted to make the U.S. Olympic team as a long jumper but finished 10th at the trials. Even without making it to Rio de Janeiro, he showed just how athletic he is, which will be on display quite often for USC this fall.

6. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

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    Associated Press

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'1”, 210 lbs

    Baker Mayfield isn't the prototypical quarterback from a physical standpoint, which might be why he had to walk on at Texas Tech. But his unlimited energy and drive also enabled him to be the first true freshman walk-on to start at quarterback for a power-conference team in its season opener in 2013.

    That all-out approach to the game has continued since he transferred to Oklahoma, where after sitting out the 2014 season he picked up right where he left off and helped the Sooners win the Big 12 and make the playoffs. He did it through the air (3,700 yards, 36 touchdowns) and on the ground (405 yards, seven TDs) but also with an unwillingness to give up on any play.

    "Baker Mayfield might be the most fun player to watch in college football since Johnny Manziel left Texas A&M," Bleacher Report's Justin Ferguson said. "He's just going to find a way to move the chains time and time again, and he'll put his body on the line to get it done. Whether it's with his arm or with his legs, Mayfield is a highlight reel waiting to happen."

    The closest thing college football has had to Brett Favre in some time, Mayfield is worth checking out just to see how he might improvise on a broken play.

5. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

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    Mark Wallheiser/Associated Press

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 5'11”, 213 lbs

    Just give Dalvin Cook the ball and watch him go. Chances are he's going to get the first down and then some, as he's shown numerous times during his first two college seasons.

    Cook ran for a freshman school-record 1,008 yards in 2014 and followed that up with 1,691 yards last year, obliterating Warrick Dunn's single-season Florida State mark of 1,242. His overall numbers came despite missing one game and having only two carries in another due to injury.

    Shoulder surgery limited him this spring, but don't expect Cook to be rusty when the Seminoles get to work on Labor Day against Ole Miss. With a 6.76 yards-per-carry average for his career, once the ball is in his hands, the results are almost guaranteed.

4. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M

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    Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'5”, 262 lbs

    Texas A&M's fans are known as the 12th Man, because their support is so strong it's as if the Aggies have an extra player on the field. But when Myles Garrett is coming off the edge on defense, it's as if A&M has 13 or 14 guys at its disposal even before you account for the crowd.

    Garrett set the SEC freshman sack record in 2014, with his 11.5 sacks topping the previous mark of South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney (who went on to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft). Expect Garrett to be in the running for that same honor when he turns pro, which figures to be after this season.

    "Myles Garrett established himself as a three-down defensive end as a true freshman and hasn't let up," Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee said. "He's got the bend of a pro in pass rush situations and the power to be a force against the run. He's the best defensive lineman in a season that includes studs all over the college football map."

    Garrett isn't a one-man defense for the Aggies, but he is the player opponents always have to account for. Even if he doesn't get to the quarterback or the ball-carrier, he has a way of affecting the game, either through a rushed throw or a lineman jumping early in an effort to block him.

3. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

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    Associated Press

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'1”, 235 lbs

    Leonard Fournette was the top-rated player in his recruiting class in 2014 and has managed to more than live up to that ranking. Actually, he took those expectations and blew them out of the water.

    "Fournette is an absolute beast," Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee said. "Whether it's in traffic while he's running over people, in space when he's making defenders look foolish or as a receiver out of the backfield, there's nobody else in the game as dangerous as Fournette."

    He's set numerous LSU rushing records including most yards by a freshman (1,034) and most in a single season (1,953); he is 1,571 yards from becoming the school's career rushing leader. Considering how much the Tigers lean on him on offense, that figure shouldn't be hard to reach so long as he stays healthy.

    A minor ankle injury this preseason has rekindled the debate over whether players as good as Fournette should sit out their junior seasons and prepare for the NFL. He has no interest in doing so, and college football fans are better off because of it.

2. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'3”, 215 lbs

    The best player on a loaded offensive unit, Deshaun Watson is coming off arguably the greatest season ever for a quarterback. In leading Clemson to the national championship game, he became the first player in FBS history to throw for more than 4,000 yards and also rush for more than 1,000.

    And that was a year removed from a knee injury that knocked him out of the tail end of the 2014 season, when as a true freshman he was already showing his worth.

    "Nick Saban said he's the most dominant college football player since Cam Newton, and I would have to agree with him," Bleacher Report's Justin Ferguson said. "Watson has patience and precision in the pocket that you just don't get with college quarterbacks who also can beat you on the ground."

    Watson finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2015 and enters this year as one of the favorites, according to Odds Shark. If he gets the Tigers back into the playoffs, that should make him a lock to claim the hardware.

1. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

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    Associated Press

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'0”, 197 lbs

    Good college football players are able to excel in a certain part of the game. Great ones can do well in multiple areas. And then there's Christian McCaffrey, who has shown there's nothing he can't handle or be one of the best in the country at.

    Last year,  McCaffrey broke Barry Sanders' long-standing single-season FBS record for all-purpose yards, collecting 3,864 yards as Stanford's leading rusher (2,019), top receiver (645 on 45 catches) and best return man. He scored eight times on runs and five times on receptions and had both a punt and kickoff return TD.

    Oh, and he also threw two TDs, just in case Stanford wants to run the Wildcat and have McCaffrey throw the ball this season. All that is missing from his resume are a few reps on defense, where he'd probably make a decent cornerback.


    All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports, unless otherwise noted. All statistics provided by CFBStats, unless otherwise noted.

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.


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