Building the Perfect College Football Offense for 2019

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistFebruary 19, 2019

Building the Perfect College Football Offense for 2019

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    Entering the 2019 college football season, there are some truly dynamic offensive stars who should outfit the sport with exciting, prolific point-producers.

    When you consider Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the Heisman Trophy runner-up who led the race all year, may not even be the best signal-caller in the country, that's a testament to how deep the talent is across the nation.

    From elite pass-catchers to a running back who could be the cornerstone of any collegiate offense to a rising sophomore quarterback who took the country by storm and doesn't look like he's letting up any time soon, there are some stars coming to a television set near you.

    As far as who's blocking for them on this mythical all-star team, the offensive tackle talent is so good for 2019, we're going to roll with four tackles to go along with a true center on the offensive line. A gamble? Yes, but these guys are powerful enough to make it all work.

    If we were building the ideal offense from the ground up, this is how it would look because these are the 11 players who will be the best at their respective positions in 2019.

Quarterback: Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

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    You could put Alabama rising junior Tua Tagovailoa in this spot and have just as good of an argument. As a matter of fact, a lot of people thought the Crimson Tide signal-caller should have won the Heisman Trophy over Kyler Murray in 2018. If Tua can stay healthy, he should only improve in '19.

    There are so many talented playmakers around him, he's going to be tough to top.

    But Clemson's gunslinging rising sophomore Trevor Lawrence could do it. He was the better quarterback in the national championship beatdown of the Crimson Tide, and that just felt like a springboard into superstardom.

    As a true freshman, the Cartersville, Georgia, native had unseated Kelly Bryant for good by the end of September, and he went on to complete better than 65 percent of his passes for 3,280 yards, 30 touchdowns and four interceptions.

    You may think it's a reach to put him over Tagovailoa, but consider how good he's going to be with another offseason of strength and conditioning under his belt, and if you lean toward pocket passers, Lawrence is your guy. On this mythical all-star team with these receivers, he would show out.

    For the Tigers in '19, he'll be throwing to Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross, Amari Rodgers and freshmen Frank Ladson and Joe Ngata, among others. He isn't slowing anytime soon. This would be a dead-heat choice between Lawrence and Tagovailoa, but we're rolling with the former this time around.

    The 6'6" Lawrence is physically gifted and seems poised beyond his years; he was completely unfazed by the biggest stage in the sport. He's a special player.

    Lawrence is going to be lethal in his three collegiate seasons.

Running Back: Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

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    After a breakout freshman season where he was the best running back in all of college football, you would have thought Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor would come back to earth in 2018.

    Think again.

    Despite a disappointing season for the Badgers where they struggled for any offensive balance thanks to a sputtering passing game, Taylor was still the best running back in the country.

    He improved in every important category, including rushing yards (1,977 in 2017 to 2,194 in 2018), average (6.6 to 7.1) and rushing touchdowns (13 to 16). He played in one fewer game this past year, too. No matter what kind of defense you threw at him, Taylor ran through or around it.

    The 5'11", 221-pound bruiser wasn't the most highly recruited prospect out of New Jersey, but he is quietly one of the top players in the sport. If he can get help from the quarterback in 2019, coach Paul Chryst's team could be a prime candidate to rebound from a frustrating 2018 season that held so much promise.

    If the Badgers want Taylor to be a part of the turnaround, they'd better do it this year; this will likely be his final season in college football before he turns his talents to the NFL, where he has the potential to be a longtime star.

    Unbelievably, the disappointing Badgers are one of only two teams to feature more than one player on this list, so Chryst needs to do more with these guys than he did a year ago. Wherever the Badgers go, Taylor will carry them.

Wide Receiver: Jerry Jeudy, Alabama

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    There are probably a lot of irritated Alabama fans who are still fuming over Tagovailoa not being selected for the quarterback spot, but one guy who is a no-doubt inclusion is the quarterback's top target, Jerry Jeudy.

    The Crimson Tide morphed into a high-flying passing attack in 2018 with Tagovailoa transforming the offense, but he had help from one of the country's top pass-catching corps, which featured guys like Henry Ruggs III, Jaylen Waddle, Irv Smith Jr. and DeVonta Smith.

    But Jeudy was the stud, grabbing 68 passes for 1,315 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore. The 6'1", 192-pound pass-catcher was the Tide's biggest deep threat, but he also proved he can do anything you'd want from the receiver position.

    If you want to stretch the field, though, Jeudy is your guy. That's going to be one of his roles on this mythical offense, but at his size and speed, he can even find soft spots in zone coverage and do plenty with the ball after he catches it.

    It'll be interesting to see if this is Jeudy's final season in Tuscaloosa, but he could even improve on his gaudy numbers this season. Last year, he was so good he won the Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the nation's top overall receiver.

    If Tagovailoa breaks through and wins the Heisman Trophy this year (that he should have won in 2018), it'll be because guys like Jeudy returned and showed out.

Wide Receiver: Tee Higgins, Clemson

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    With Trevor Lawrence leading the way in this elite 11, it only makes sense to put rising junior receiver Tee Higgins on the list, too.

    The 6'4", 200-pound Tennessee native was one of the biggest recruiting coups of the past few years for coach Dabo Swinney, who went into UT's backyard and flipped the Vols' prize recruit in the 2017 cycle. All he did was step in and make an immediate impact.

    After a 345-yard campaign as a true freshman, it was his show in 2018. Higgins improved as the year progressed, finishing the season with 59 catches for 936 yards and 12 touchdowns. Nobody in the country high-points the ball like he does, and his athleticism is off the charts.

    Though he was the main man throughout the year in the passing game, the scary thing for Clemson opponents is Justyn Ross overshadowed Higgins in the College Football Playoff, looking nothing like a freshman.

    Ross had 12 catches for 301 yards and three touchdowns in the playoffs, while Higgins finished with seven catches for 134 yards and a pair of scores.

    Those two are going to be a dynamic duo for Lawrence in 2019, and it's going to be virtually impossible to shut down both those guys. When you throw in all the other talented Tigers, it's an embarrassment of riches.

    If you included Ross on this list, few should argue. He just missed the cut despite having 1,000 receiving yards to Higgins' 936, but it's because we expect Higgins to take the step toward becoming a complete receiver. NFL teams will be drooling over him if he elects to come out a year early.

Wide Receiver: Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State

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    Jerry Jeudy won the Biletnikoff Award, but it very easily could have gone to fellow finalist Tylan Wallace, another super sophomore.

    It probably hurt the 6'0", 185-pound pass-catcher that he played for a mediocre Oklahoma State team. It also probably didn't help that the Big 12 is known as a pass-happy league where receivers put up PlayStation-worthy numbers every Saturday.

    If you want those two points to mean the difference between Wallace winning the award or not, fine, but it shouldn't minimize his monumental accomplishments. He flourished for Mike Gundy under then-offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich's offense, grabbing 86 passes for 1,491 yards and scoring 12 touchdowns.

    Wallace did this after a quiet freshman season that saw him catch just seven passes for 118 yards. Of course, the Cowboys had a loaded receiving corps in 2017, with the Biletnikoff winner from that year, James Washington, leading the way for quarterback Mason Rudolph.

    Wallace's standout performance this past season surprised even him.

    "Coming in as a sophomore, I didn't expect to have the season I'm having," he told's Jenni Carlson in November. "I just wanted to come in, fill in my role and do what I can."

    But the out-of-nowhere season shows you just how good he is. Once he got his turn, he made the most of it, and his performance helped ensure the Cowboys didn't miss a beat without Rudolph and Washington. Though they just went 7-6, it wasn't because of Wallace.

    It's going to be fun to see what he does for an encore as a junior, but he'll have to do it with a new quarterback and offensive coordinator in Stillwater.

Tight End: Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri

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    If Albert Okwuegbunam can stay healthy, he's going to be the best tight end in the country in 2019.

    That's a huge "if."

    The past two seasons, the 6'5", 255-pound pass-catcher looked like one of the most complete players at the position as a top target for quarterback Drew Lock, but injuries limited him to just nine games each in both seasons.

    While Texas A&M's Jace Sternberger, Alabama's Irv Smith Jr., Stanford's Kaden Smith, UCLA's Caleb Wilson and Iowa's T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant had better seasons than Okwuegbunam in 2018, all those guys are headed to the NFL, while Okwuegbunam is staying at Mizzou. The bad news for him, though, is Lock is gone to the pros too.

    The good news for the tight end and the Tigers is they won the Kelly Bryant sweepstakes. The former Clemson starter will be the new quarterback in town in 2019, so if he meshes well with offensive coordinator Derek Dooley, the Mizzou offense still could be strong, despite being a little different.

    Bryant's dual-threat skill set will alter the scheme, but that may not be a bad thing for Okwuegbunam. Bryant isn't going to stretch the field the way Lock did, but that means he'll utilize players like the big, versatile tight end in the short and intermediate passing game.

    Rock M Nation's Pete Scantlebury also believes Bryant taking over could mean good things for Okwuegbunam.

    "Surely, Derek Dooley will scheme to get the ball to Okwuegbunam," Scantlebury wrote. "It’s also probably a boon for Bryant that his two leading returning receivers are Okwuegbunam and Johnathon Johnson—not similar in stature but two guys are work well getting the ball on short-to-intermediate passes and working from there."

Right Tackle: Andrew Thomas, Georgia

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    When a player is so good at a spot, it's hard to move him from there, but Georgia offensive tackle Andrew Thomas can slide from left tackle to the right side and not miss a beat.

    After all, it takes a special athlete to guard a quarterback's blind side, and rising junior Thomas is a massive, unsung part of the Bulldogs' ascent to the top of the college football world the past two seasons. 

    The Atlanta product was a big recruit for coach Kirby Smart in his first full class at UGA, and he's set the tone in living rooms and on the football field for the Bulldogs. Thomas took over and was a freshman All-American, starting all 15 games at right tackle.

    Last year, after shifting to the left side, he was a formidable force in helping pave the way for Georgia's running game that ranked 16th in the nation despite having to replace stars Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. 

    Thomas was named a first-team All-American by Sports Illustrated and a second-teamer by the Associated Press and Walter Camp.

    The former U.S. Army All-American is a 6'5", 320-pound trench man who looks like he could play anywhere along the front and be a star. He is dynamic at the point of attack, strong and has great leverage for his size. It's going to be fun to watch him develop, and he's a can't-miss NFL prospect.

    For this all-star team, he'll shift back to the right side.

Right Guard: Calvin Throckmorton, Oregon

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    When it comes to versatility, there are few elite offensive linemen in the nation more equipped to play all spots than Oregon lineman Calvin Throckmorton.

    As a junior in 2018, the 6'5", 318-pound big man started 10 games at right tackle and three games at guard for coach Mario Cristobal, a former offensive line coach who is proving he knows how to get the most out of the guys up front.

    Throckmorton's Ducks profile says he played 97 percent of the snaps last year and has a 25-game starting streak, but his move to guard broke the streak of 22 consecutive games at tackle. For these purposes, he'll move back to guard, where he probably projects on the next level.

    The Ducks had five games in '18 where they had at least 200 passing yards and 200 rushing yards, and with quarterback Justin Herbert back and a dynamic recruiting class coming in, 2019 could be even better. Throckmorton is a vital part of that growth.

    With Shane Lemieux (left guard) and Jake Hanson (center) joining Throckmorton as three-year starters, and with former elite recruit Penei Sewell protecting Herbert's blind side, Oregon could be one of the strongest teams in the nation up front.

    They will need to be if they're to finally break through and win the Pac-12, and of a strong group of linemen, Throckmorton is probably the best and most consistent of the bunch.

Center: Tyler Biadasz, Wisconsin

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    Just like running backs, it seems Wisconsin always has NFL prospect offensive linemen, and they do again in 2019 with center Tyler Biadasz.

    Coach Paul Chryst has a strong offensive lineman program at Wisconsin where they utilize redshirts and strength and conditioning as well as any team in the nation, and the 6'3", 319-pound O-line anchor was a beneficiary of that.

    He was a first-team All-Big Ten selection in '18 and also earned an honorable mention All-American nod from College Football News. Biadasz was a big reason why the Badgers rushed for more than 273 yards per game, and he has started in all 27 games he played.

    That's a big reason why it was thought he may turn pro after his redshirt sophomore season in '18, but it was huge news for the team when he decided to stay at least one more year.

    Just how much does Biadasz personify the rugged Wisconsin program? He's nicknamed "Badger." With Michael Deiter and Beau Benzschawel out of eligibility and David Edwards leaving early, Biadasz will have to help bring along some new guys and make up for some bumps in the road.

    Biadasz coming back got even more important last week when Jon Dietzen announced he was leaving football due to injuries, meaning the center is the only returning starter for Wisconsin.

    It's a big chore to lead a bunch of youngsters, but he's capable of doing just that.

    Right now, he looks like the nation's best returning center on paper, and if Wisconsin is going to have a rebound season, it'll be because he helps pave the way for Jonathan Taylor to tear up the B1G again.

Left Guard: Alaric Jackson, Iowa

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    Staying in the Big Ten, it's impossible to have a first-team offensive line without elite Iowa lineman Alaric Jackson, but there's one twist.

    Jackson is the only offensive lineman playing out of position, as he's never played anywhere in college besides left tackle, and at 6'7", he may be a reach to play inside. He's an elite talent who will someday make an NFL team very happy anchoring the quarterback's blind side.

    We'll keep him on Lawrence's blind side for these purposes but hope that he can fill the void at left guard and still allow dominant, 6'8" Trey Adams to stay home at left tackle. If not, the two can alternate and another left guard will be brought in.

    (Yes, this is a fictional list, but it's hard not to think out real-life scenarios in case experiments like this don't work out. At worst, we'll move Thomas over to the left to play guard, and Jackson can play right tackle. All good? Good.)

    Jackson and Tristan Wirfs are going to be stalwarts protecting Nate Stanley in 2019 for the Hawkeyes, and they've got the ability to be superstars. Really, those two are a big reason why everybody's excited about Stanley returning as a three-year starter.

    "Certainly he's built a good base. And the fact that he's back with a group of offensive coaches now that are in their third year together in a system that's three years into it, that's a nice place to start," coach Kirk Ferentz said, according to HawkCentral's Mark Emmert.

    Does Jackson have the bend and the pulling capability to move inside? Fortunately for the Hawkeyes, he won't have to in reality, only for our fake all-star purposes. Regardless, he has to be included on this team because his upside is too much not to.

Left Tackle: Trey Adams, Washington

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    When Trey Adams is healthy, there's not a better offensive lineman in the country.

    Unfortunately for the Washington Huskies and coach Chris Petersen, he wasn't in 2018, and now the NFL is going to be watching closely to see if he can return to his All-American form this season in Seattle.

    After the season-opening loss to Auburn in '18, Adams was forced to have back surgery because of two bulging discs. He told the News Tribune's Lauren Kirschman it felt like somebody was digging a coat hanger into his back and that by the end of camp, he couldn't even sit down.

    He was on track to return from a season-ending torn anterior cruciate knee ligament that came against Arizona State in October of 2017.

    "I've worked all year to get to this spot, to feel this way," Adams told Kirschman about returning for the Oregon State game and ultimately finishing out the season in the Rose Bowl. "It works out that we're going to the Rose Bowl and we got one game left. It's going to be amazing."

    His fifth season could be his best for the Huskies, and it's very important to a "new" team that he is his old self. With quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin gone, the Huskies are going to be a new-look team.

    If Georgia transfer Jacob Eason wins the job, as expected, Adams guarding his blind side will go a long way in determining how successful he can be in the Pac-12. Nobody is going to have any sympathy on the conference champions replacing that much talent, and if Adams is back, he can help cover many warts.

    There's no question he belongs among college football's best when he's on the field.


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of Sports Reference All recruiting information is from 247Sports, and rankings are from the 247Sports composite.

    Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.