Ranking the Top 50 College Football Players for the 2019 Season

Ian Wharton@NFLFilmStudyFeatured Columnist IVAugust 29, 2019

Ranking the Top 50 College Football Players for the 2019 Season

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    The 2019 college football season kicked off Saturday with two thrilling games, setting the tone for what should be another great year. Though another championship showdown between Clemson and Alabama seems most likely, the journey to that point is as important as the final result. 

    The stars who emerge along the way will bring joy to fanbases and fuel rivalries. Many household names already exist across the nation, and more will break out as the season progresses.

    We've ranked the top 50 college football players for this season in anticipation of Week 1's arrival. Past production and future opportunity both factor into these rankings. They'll surely be turned upside down within weeks, but let's jump into the cream of the nation's crop for the 2019 season.

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    50. Paddy Fisher, LB, Northwestern

    The Big Ten produces talented, stat-padding linebackers unlike any other conference. Paddy Fisher quickly established himself as a freshman in 2017, racking up 111 total tackles. He bested that mark in 2018 with 116 and now reigns as an elite run-stuffer with enough coverage range to persuade offenses to avoid the middle of the field. 

         

    49. Ke'Shawn Vaughn, RB, Vanderbilt

    The only player within 2018's top 23 rushers to have fewer than 200 carries was Ke'Shawn Vaughn. He finished with 1,244 yards on 157 carries, almost 50 fewer attempts than his nearest peer in that elite group. His average of 7.9 yards per rush speaks for itself considering the competition and lack of surrounding cast on the Commodores.

         

    48. Alaric Jackson, OT, Iowa

    Especially compared to recent years, the country is deep with quality offensive tackles, and Alaric Jackson is one of the most brutal downhill blockers of them all. The 6'7", 320-pounder was named second-team All-Big Ten in 2018 after anchoring the Hawkeyes line. He has impressive agility in the open field and foot speed while pass-blocking, which makes him an impactful lineman.  

         

    47. Evan Weaver, LB, Cal

    Evan Weaver was one of 2018's biggest breakout performers. As a junior, he notched an incredible 155 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. He ranked first in the Pac-12 with just 8 percent of his tackle attempts resulting in a miss, per Pro Football Focus. He's an elite linebacker for a defense that has desperately needed such a presence.

         

    46. Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson

    A hybrid defender who perfectly encapsulates how football has spread out, Isaiah Simmons brings rare value to the Clemson Tigers. The 6'4", 225-pound safety/linebacker is often tasked with defending the slot despite carrying a frame that would indicate weakness in coverage. That's not a weakness, as Pro Football Focus had him earning a Power Five-leading nine incompletions forced when he was targeted.

    His importance will grow after the Tigers lost significant talent to the NFL.

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    45. Bradlee Anae, Edge, Utah

    The leader of Utah's elite defensive front, Bradlee Anae is in line for a massive senior campaign. The All-Pac-12 rusher has led the Utes in sacks each of the last two seasons and is tied for 11th in school history. His 26 career tackles for loss and four forced fumbles highlight his playmaking ability.

         

    44. D'Andre Swift, RB, Georgia

    Georgia once again boasts a deep backfield, but D'Andre Swift should earn bell-cow status this year. Coming off a terrific sophomore year with 1,346 total yards and 13 total touchdowns, he's a well-rounded playmaker with the ball in his hands. He has excellent power and speed, making him as dangerous as almost any back in the country.

         

    43. Mike Danna, Edge, Michigan

    The Wolverines needed a new star edge defender to emerge after they lost several to the NFL over the last few years. Mike Danna, a graduate transfer from Central Michigan, is exactly that. He was a Pro Football Focus favorite thanks to his 55 quarterback pressures and 19 combined sacks and hits. 

           

    42. Shaquille Quarterman, LB, Miami

    An example of consistency and reliability at the linebacker position, Shaquille Quarterman is the unquestioned leader of the Miami Hurricanes defense. He's averaged 83 tackles over his first three seasons and has 31 tackles for loss to go with 11 sacks. The 6'1", 240-pound man in the middle has great athleticism to affect passing lanes, as well. 

            

    41. Calvin Throckmorton, OT, Oregon

    Calvin Throckmorton's "5 Things to Know" in his Ducks bio explains his importance as well as anything or anyone could. He headlines arguably the best offensive line in college football this season, in part because of his experience across four different positions and also because he went 15 games without committing a penalty. He's an ace pass protector for quarterback Justin Herbert.

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    40. Cole Van Lanen, OT, Wisconsin

    Wisconsin's stellar run of manufacturing dominant offensive linemen continues with Cole Van Lanen. He finished ahead of 2019 first-round NFL draft pick Jonah Williams and second-round pick Dalton Risner as Pro Football Focus' top tackle. It's easy to see why because of his dominance in the Badgers' powerful run game.

    Though Lanen only played 560 snaps last year, his importance and role elevate him as we project to this season. 

            

    39. Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas

    Sam Ehlinger is arguably the most important player in the Big 12 this season. He blossomed under head coach Tom Herman in his second season with the Longhorns, making a marked jump in completion percentage, average yards per attempt and touchdown-to-interception ratio.

    Ehlinger must be the best quarterback within the Big 12 for the Longhorns to overtake Oklahoma in the race for the playoff, which won't be easy considering Jalen Hurts' presence in Norman. 

           

    38. Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU

    Former teammate Greedy Williams received more press than Kristian Fulton in 2018, but it was the first-year starter who performed better. Now a senior, Fulton is ready to continue improving as an elite coverage man. He finished the season with nine pass deflections, one interception and one forced fumble, all while limiting offenses to a 65.3 passer rating when targeted, per Pro Football Focus

            

    37. Eno Benjamin, RB, Arizona State

    Benjamin finished fifth nationally in rushing yards, third in carries and tied for ninth in touchdowns. The raw totals: 300 carries, 1,642 yards and 16 touchdowns. He's a grinder, as none of his runs were longer than 49 yards. But he rarely left meat on the bone and served as a constant presence for the offense.

            

    36. Jeffrey Okudah, CB, Ohio State

    One of the elite athletes at his position across the nation, Jeffrey Okudah looks like he'll be the next first-round corner to come from the Ohio State program. He's stoutly built at 6'1", 200 pounds, but he's light on his feet with an impressive ability to change directions or run straight downfield. Confirming his status as a lockdown corner, he had the lowest catch rate allowed of any Big Ten corner returning this season.

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    35. Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU

    A premier Big 12 defender who bounced back from a disappointing 2017 season, Jeff Gladney is a force for whom opposing offensive coordinators must game-plan. With only 27 receptions allowed to 15 plays on the ball in 2018, he's set himself apart from most peers as a dangerous corner. His 6'0" frame allows him to compete at the catch point and challenge receivers to finish through contact and disruption.

          

    34. Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson

    The Clemson offense is a juggernaut that could have as many as three receivers with the skill set to be a No. 1 option. Tee Higgins has been a big-play factory through two seasons, earning 1,281 yards and 14 touchdowns while averaging 16.9 yards per catch. His ability to win jump balls and make plays after the catch is a crucial element for the defending national champs' offense. 

          

    33. Mason Fine, QB, North Texas

    Standing at 5'11" and 190 pounds, Mason Fine is an unassuming star quarterback. Yet the gunslinger runs one of the most fun offenses in the nation at an extremely high level. Fine has 64 career touchdowns and 9,417 yards entering his senior season. He's a must-watch passer as he can thread the needle to all levels of the field. 

          

    32. Kenny Willekes, Edge, Michigan State

    If you love consistency and production from an edge defender, then Kenny Willekes must be considered among the best in the nation. He's a powerful yet technical rusher who forces offenses to send help to his blocker in hopes of slowing him. With 150 tackles, 13.5 sacks and six pass deflections in the last two years, Willekes must be mentioned with the best defensive ends in the loaded Big Ten. 

          

    31. Pooka Williams Jr., RB, Kansas

    Pooka Williams Jr. was dominant in his first year, averaging 7.0 yards per carry despite playing for the lowly Jayhawks. He totaled 1,125 yards in just 11 games. Most impressive was his ability to make the defenses of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas inferior to his talent. He compiled 452 yards and four touchdowns on the ground against those three teams.

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    30. Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State

    The Oklahoma State offense will have a new look as the quarterback situation needs to be fleshed out, but it's a safe bet that Tylan Wallace will have another big season for the Cowboys. He has some of the best hands in the country and is an outstanding route-runner. He's a headlining talent among a deep set of receivers in the Big 12. 

           

    29. Tyler Johnson, WR, Minnesota

    The second-best receiver in the Big Ten resides in Minnesota.

    Tyler Johnson surprisingly returned to school for his senior year after a breakout season. He had six 100-yard performances in the first eight games last year before he suffered a leg injury in the fourth quarter of the Week 8 matchup against Indiana. He was still productive the rest of the campaign, though, tallying 362 yards and four touchdowns in his final five games. 

             

    28. Raekwon Davis, DT, Alabama

    Looking for the next great Alabama defensive tackle? Raekwon Davis has already shown he's capable of elite production, notching 10 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks in 2017. But it's his turn to be the star interior rusher now that Quinnen Williams is in the NFL. Davis' massive 6'7", 312-pound frame makes him impossible to move backward, and he's often in the lap of the ball-carrier before they can blink twice. 

             

    27. Kennedy Brooks, RB, Oklahoma

    The arrival of transfer quarterback Jalen Hurts may take a few scripted carries away from Kennedy Brooks, but his efficiency should allow him to be the primary ball-carrier over Trey Sermon. He tied for the nation's lead at 8.9 yards per carry on 119 attempts, totaling 1,056 yards and 12 touchdowns. He had only one game with eight or more carries in which he gained fewer than 107 yards.

             

    26. AJ Dillon, RB, Boston College

    Boston College's offense was significantly hampered when battering ram AJ Dillon suffered an ankle injury against Temple. He still amassed over 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns while serving as the clear top option for the Eagles. Now, he's in line to repeat his 1,500-yard 2017 season if healthy.

    Dillon's bruising style and immense power make him a rare talent at the collegiate level.

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    25. Xavier Thomas, Edge, Clemson

    Standing out as a true freshman despite being stuck in a rotation filled with quality NFL prospects is a tough task. But Xavier Thomas accomplished the feat in 2018, immediately showing excellent speed and flexibility as an edge-rusher on passing downs. The part-time rusher had 8.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, and he figures to fully break out as a starter this season. 

         

    24. Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn

    An absolute force in the middle of Auburn's defense, Derrick Brown makes coaches and film analysts drool with his quickness at 318 pounds. He can break down pockets quickly, opening sack opportunities for teammates by demanding double-teams. He has 21.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks in his career. 

          

    23. CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma

    Marquise Brown was a first-round pick last draft, but CeeDee Lamb is an even better receiver than the supreme speedster. Lamb's 6'2", 192-pound frame gives him an advantage at the catch point against smaller defenders. His focus and elite body control on the sideline is what separates him from his peers. He's as reliable as they come and has an explosive downfield skill set. 

         

    22. David Woodward, LB, Utah State

    Another linebacker who had a massive tackle count in 2018 after playing sparsely in 2017, David Woodward is one of the top second-level defenders in the nation. His 134 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles show he's a true playmaking 'backer. It's rare to see his production, and he was Pro Football Focus' top-graded coverage player at his position. 

         

    21. Tyler Biadasz, C, Wisconsin

    Easily the best center in the nation after his dominant two years with Wisconsin, Tyler Biadasz is an elite run-blocker and pass-blocker. He's earned All-Big Ten status twice while being key to running back Jonathan Taylor's rushing spree. Pro Football Focus attributed just 17 quarterback pressures on 692 pass-protection snaps in his career.

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    20. Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon

    Which Justin Herbert will we see this year now that he's healthy and inheriting one of the strongest pass-blocking offensive lines in the nation?

    His performance dipped considerably in 2018 as he struggled under pressure and I charted a 5 percent dip in adjusted accuracy on passes beyond the line of scrimmage. But his 2017 was fantastic, and a return to that level could elevate Oregon to College Football Playoff contender.

          

    19. Jordan Love, QB, Utah State

    The departure of head coach Matt Wells and running back Darwin Thompson loom large over the Aggies' season, but retaining quarterback Jordan Love is significant for the program.

    The 6'4", 220-pound quarterback has a picturesque delivery and terrific accuracy on short and intermediate throws. He'll be challenged in a new system and with tough road matchups at LSU and Fresno State, but he has the talent to be an elite quarterback. 

           

    18. Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado

    There wasn't a hotter name at wide receiver than Laviska Shenault Jr. in the first half of the 2018 season. The Colorado playmaker torched defenses en route to 51 receptions, 708 yards and six touchdowns in the first five weeks. He's a dynamic and powerful receiver who can win with the ball in his hands or when tracking deep passes. His availability is the only thing that can slow him.

          

    17. C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida

    The Florida Gators continue to have an impressive pipeline of cornerbacks. C.J. Henderson was a star the moment he stepped onto the field in 2017, and his sophomore campaign continued his coverage dominance. Henderson is leading a talented Gators defense by filling up the stat book. He has 62 tackles, three sacks, six interceptions and 10 passes defended in his career.

           

    16. Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia

    To this point, Jake Fromm has built an outstanding career guiding the Georgia Bulldogs. He improved each of his statistics from his freshman to sophomore season and is known for his superb efficiency. He's good enough to win a national championship at his current level, but he can reach a new one if his creation outside the offense's structure improves. 

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    15. Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia

    Already an All-American, junior lineman Andrew Thomas has the blend of physical traits and technical refinement of which NFL scouts dream. He was an excellent left tackle in his first season at the position in 2018, and another year of experience could catapult him into the conversation about the best tackle from the recent past. 

           

    14. D'Eriq King, QB, Houston

    A torn meniscus ended D'Eriq King's 2018 season prematurely, but not before he established himself as a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. The uber-athletic deep-throwing savant is now paired with head coach Dana Holgorsen in Houston, making a repeat of his absurdly productive junior year likely. He has a chance to create early Heisman buzz as the Cougars go to Oklahoma in Week 1. 

            

    13. Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama

    A former 5-star recruit with one of the best athletic profiles seen at the linebacker position, Dylan Moses quickly established himself as a first-year starter in 2018. Nick Saban's defense often features a star man in the middle, and Moses earned a Butkus Award finalist distinction after racking up 86 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. He'll again be in the spotlight for the Crimson Tide on their latest title quest. 

             

    12. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

    Etienne's emergence as a freshman was notable as he accumulated 823 total yards and 13 touchdowns. His 7.2 yards per carry were stellar, but that number was either supposed to stagnate or decrease as his workload grew. That didn't happen; instead, it swelled to 8.1 yards per carry on 204 attempts in 2018. He'll again be dominant in 2019.

             

    11. A.J. Epenesa, Edge, Iowa

    Not even a starter in 2018, A.J. Epenesa broke out as a rotational edge player for Iowa with 10.5 sacks. His 6'6", 280-pound frame is nimble yet powerful, fast yet strong. Iowa has a much more difficult schedule this season, giving him a chance to continue his development and blossom into a true playmaker at his position.

    This ranking is both optimistic about his growth and telling about his importance to the Hawkeyes unit. 

10. Chase Young, Edge, Ohio State

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    The best pure pass-rusher in the nation last year as he led the country with 76 quarterback pressures, Chase Young has the spotlight all to himself after Nick Bosa jumped to the NFL. He has an incredible physical skill set that allows him to get around blockers with ease. Paired with legendary defensive line coach Larry Johnson, he should continue to blossom in his junior season.

    The opportunity is certainly there for Young as the Buckeyes defense is under new leadership and lacking other established edge options. Last year, he accumulated 14.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks and five pass breakups despite the rest of the defense struggling with basic principles.

    Now, he'll again be the catalyst for this unit. For this defense to reach its potential, it's his responsibility to demand double-teams whenever possible and win any single-blocker matchup he does end up seeing.

    Young is the most disruptive front-seven defender in the nation.

9. Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford

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    An All-America second-team member and All-Pac-12 first-teamer, Stanford's Paulson Adebo is the best cornerback west of the Mississippi.

    The first-year starter was astonishingly effective in 2018, allowing zero receptions of more than 28 yards, per Pro Football Focus. He's able to thrive with terrific athleticism and length for a 6'1", 190-pounder.

    Adebo is a fierce run defender to go with his accolades in the passing game. He finished third on Stanford with 64 tackles, 46 of which were solo. His most impressive display of physicality came against Notre Dame when seven of his eight tackles were solo stops.

    His clutch performances continued beyond South Bend, though. He had two pass breakups apiece at Arizona State and Cal, as well as another four on the road against Oregon. He had a whopping four interceptions and 17 total pass breakups, making him one of the nation's elite playmakers at the cornerback position.

8. Justyn Ross, WR, Clemson

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    Thought to be destined to land with his home-state Alabama Crimson Tide instead of the Clemson Tigers, former 4-star recruit Justyn Ross has clearly shown expectations were too low. Already an elite receiver, he towers over defenders with his 6'4" frame and "my ball" mentality. He's silky smooth as a route-runner, owning polish few collegiate players have. 

    His impact can't be understated. His 21.7 yards-per-catch average on 46 receptions allowed Ross to hit 1,000 yards to go with his nine touchdowns. He saved his best performances for the final two games of the year with 12 catches for 301 yards and three scores.

    This is the tip of the impact iceberg for Ross. He's asserted himself as the best playmaker on Clemson with his playoff performance and has another year to grow with quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

7. Bryce Hall, CB, Virginia

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    The best cornerback in the nation is Virginia's Bryce Hall.

    The senior was responsible for an incredible 21 passes defended to go with 62 tackles and two interceptions last year. His return gives him a chance to become an all-time-great ACC cornerback.

    Hall isn't the type to risk it all for the ball, though.

    He's an outstanding technician in coverage who's able to stick to his assignment in man schemes. His performance against Duke caught the eyes of the many who were watching for quarterback Daniel Jones, as Hall dominated the matchup. He logged five tackles, one interception and three pass breakups against the Blue Devils.

    He consistently performed at that lofty level throughout the season. Per Pro Football Focus, he was the highest-graded corner in the nation and forced the fourth-highest incompletion rate.

6. Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue

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    A tremendous athlete in every sense, Purdue's Rondale Moore torched the Big Ten as a true freshman in 2018.

    He finished with 114 receptions and 2,215 all-purpose yards, making him an undeniable superstar. He also became the Big Ten's first true freshman to be named a consensus All-American.

    His rare field vision and ability to shed tacklers create a nightmare situation for defenders. Though his 5'9", 180-pound frame doesn't look intimidating, Moore is the closest reincarnation of Percy Harvin we've seen yet. He's capable of creating a highlight moment every single time he touches the ball.

    Key matchups against TCU's Jeff Gladney, Nebraska's Lamar Jackson and Penn State's Tariq Castro-Fields will be fascinating battles. Moore already torched talented Ohio State and Auburn secondaries last year. 

5. Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama

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    Alabama star receiver Jerry Jeudy has an unstoppable blend of pure speed, ability to change directions without dropping gears, great hands, route-running skill and catch radius. He's the complete package, and being paired with an elite anticipation thrower like Tua Tagovailoa maximizes his effectiveness. 

    His production was already fantastic. But imagine what it'd be like if the Tide played their starters in the second halves of blowouts, or if they didn't have Henry Ruggs and Jaylen Waddle to take targets away from him.

    Nevertheless, there's no need to be greedy. His 68 receptions, 1,315 yards, 19.3 yards per catch and 14 touchdowns speak for themselves. He routinely scurries behind defenders for huge chunk plays. 

    The reigning Biletnikoff Award winner as the best receiver in the country, he's in line for another massive year. Alabama has three critical showdowns this season, including road trips to Texas A&M and Auburn. Jeudy will again be looked upon to create scoring opportunities in the biggest moments.

4. Grant Delpit, S, LSU

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    The most disruptive and prominent defensive player in the country is Grant Delpit. It's impossible to miss the versatile safety when LSU is playing because of his full-field range and ability to do everything at a high level. He takes over games and sets the tone for the Tigers defense.

    His production leaped to 74 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, five interceptions and nine pass breakups as a sophomore. He's a momentum-changer with hard hits. But more importantly, he flips the field with game-breaking plays and turnovers. 

    Delpit is far from just a box safety who excels against the run. He's as good in coverage as he is blitzing, and he's similarly skilled at remaining disciplined in the run game.

    LSU's defense runs hot with Delpit's influence and rare skill set.

3. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin

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    The nation's leading runner in 2018 should be the heavy favorite to retain his crown in 2019.

    Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor averaged over seven yards per carry on 307 attempts as he finished with 2,194 yards in his sophomore season. He'll now look to make it to New York for the Heisman ceremony in addition to climbing the collegiate rushing record books.

    Taylor is a supremely gifted athlete running behind a dominant offensive line in a scheme that will feed him as often as he can handle the ball. While they lost three offensive line starters to the NFL and a fourth to retirement (Jon Dietzen), the Badgers have proved more than capable of developing their replacements.

    It's hard to envision anything stopping Taylor from maintaining the incredible rate of production he's established to this point.

    Another 2,000-yard season would put him among the elite in college football history. With 4,171 career rushing yards, he can crack the all-time top five with another 1,856 yards. At that point, he'd be behind only Donnel Pumphrey, Tony Dorsett, Ricky Williams and Ron Dayne.

2. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama

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    Bursting onto the scene in the 2018 national championship game, Tua Tagovailoa boasts a special set of physical and mental traits. Few quarterbacks of the last decade are as cerebral. His mastery of the Crimson Tide offense spans from making pre-snap reads to anticipating passing lanes post-snap.

    His anticipation and willingness to throw receivers open is second to none across the nation.

    Tagovailoa made almost every defense look inadequate last season until an ankle injury zapped his mechanics against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. His game has few weaknesses and features terrific accuracy and ball placement to nearly every part of the field.

    His career production is fantastic, as he's completed over 68 percent of his passes while earning 10.7 yards per attempt. His ability to produce touchdowns (54) without turning the ball over (eight) would normally mean he's easily the best player in college football.

    However, there's an even more impressive talent who edged out Tagovailoa on the biggest stage last season.

1. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

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    Already worthy of being deemed the next generational talent due to rapid growth from his first start in Week 5 to the end of his freshman season, Trevor Lawrence is the real deal.

    He has exceptional arm talent with more velocity on his passes than Tua Tagovailoa and similar accuracy to all levels of the field. He's also in an unprecedented situation to continue succeeding considering the age and talent of his supporting cast at Clemson.

    The 6'6", 215-pounder is a dual-threat quarterback who can maximize any offensive philosophy. The Tigers regularly ask him to attempt difficult, contested sideline throws, and he hits them with more effectiveness than even Deshaun Watson could. Clemson's receiving corps is supremely talented, but it immediately performed better with Lawrence than Kelly Bryant due to the former's precision.

    Even if Lawrence's development doesn't continue, the baseline talent shown in 2018 is enough to keep him perched at No. 1 until he's eligible for the draft in two years. He and Tagovailoa should have a riveting battle as the favorites for the 2019 Heisman Trophy.