B/R's College Football All-Decade Team
Every 10-year period in college football includes a legendary group of talent, and the 2010s featured some of the most productive players in the history of the sport.
As the country has embraced up-tempo systems and committed to spread attacks, quarterbacks are putting up massive numbers with historic efficiency. Running backs are hitting 2,000 yards at the fastest rate ever, and the list goes on. And, as a result, defensive players are getting more opportunities for bigger stat lines.
Identifying the best of the decade is not easy. Your opinions will unquestionably differ from ours. They might be better in some of the arguments too!
Still, while we focused on career production, individual awards and factored in both team success and multiple seasons of elite contributions, the final decisions were ultimately subjective.
After a promising freshman year with 14 touchdowns to only two interceptions, Deshaun Watson became a superstar.
In 2015, the dual-threat quarterback recorded the first season with 4,000 passing and 1,000 rushing yards in college football history. He totaled 47 touchdowns while guiding Clemson to an ACC title and the national championship. Alabama hoisted the trophy that time, but Watson and the Tigers exacted revenge in 2016.
Watson threw for 4,593 yards and 41 scores as a junior, adding 629 yards and nine scores on the ground. He earned a second finalist nod for the Heisman Trophy and guided the program to its first national championship in 35 years.
Honorable mentions: Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma), Marcus Mariota (Oregon), Lamar Jackson (Louisville)
Throw a dart and you'll probably hit a Wisconsin running back. The last decade has provided three excellent choices in Montee Ball, Melvin Gordon and Jonathan Taylor.
We're going with the last along with Alabama's Derrick Henry.
In 2019, Taylor became the first player to ever hit 6,000 rushing yards in three seasons. He finished sixth, ninth and fifth in Heisman Trophy voting during his time in Madison. Taylor won the Doak Walker award in both 2018 and 2019.
Henry claimed the Heisman, Doak Walker and Maxwell Award honors in 2015 when he rumbled for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns. Alabama won the national title that season. Henry also topped 1,000 scrimmage yards in 2014.
Honorable mentions: Montee Ball (Wisconsin), Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin), Saquon Barkley (Penn State), Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State), Donnel Pumphrey (San Diego State)
Justin Blackmon kicked off the decade with consecutive Biletnikoff Awards and unanimous All-American honors. After catching 111 passes for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2010, he amassed 122 receptions, 1,522 yards and 18 scores as a junior.
Amari Cooper earned both accomplishments in his career-best 2014 season that included 124 catches for 1,724 yards and 16 touchdowns. The Alabama star also registered a 1,000-yard freshman campaign and added 736 as a sophomore.
Neither player matched Corey Davis' total production, though.
As a freshman at Western Michigan, he reeled in 67 passes for 941 yards and six scores. Davis never had fewer than 78 receptions, 1,408 yards or 12 touchdowns during his next three seasons, and his 5,278 career yards stand as the all-time record.
Honorable mentions: Stedman Bailey (West Virginia), Marqise Lee (USC), Justin Hardy (East Carolina), James Washington (Oklahoma State), Taywan Taylor (Western Kentucky)
The definition of a tight end has started to evolve, and Evan Engram is an ideal example of that. While at Ole Miss, he was basically a glorified wide receiver.
Nothing wrong with that!
In four years, Engram notched 162 receptions for 2,320 yards―the most by a tight end since 2010―and 15 touchdowns. He garnered first-team All-SEC recognition in both 2014 and 2016, earning first-team AP All-America as a senior.
Honorable mentions: Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Washington), Tyler Eifert (Notre Dame) and Mark Andrews (Oklahoma)
Offensive line is the most difficult position group to determine because what can be quantified―sacks or pressures allowed―is only now becoming a mainstream statistic. The last decade has helped us take valuable steps in improving this tracking.
That's the long way of saying arguments are likely here. Nevertheless, no reasonable person would argue the eye-test dominance of these players throughout their college careers.
Barrett Jones' first two seasons at Alabama technically don't count, yet he has a pair of consensus All-America honors, the 2011 Outland Trophy and 2012 Rimington Trophy to his credit. Jones played a full season at tackle, guard and center for the Tide.
Luke Joeckel also won the Outland, taking home the award in 2012. He started 39 games for Texas A&M while blocking for Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. Brandon Scherff earned the hardware in 2014 and twice represented Iowa on All-America lists.
Stanford's David DeCastro and Notre Dame's Quenton Nelson, who both landed on All-America teams twice, complete the quintet.
Honorable mentions: Spencer Drango (Baylor), Cam Robinson (Alabama), Billy Price (Ohio State), Pat Elflein (Ohio State), Garrett Bradbury (North Carolina State), Jake Matthews (Texas A&M), Taylor Lewan (Michigan), David Yankey (Stanford)
Being limited to four players is entirely unfair.
Jadeveon Clowney became a college football legend with his crushing hit against Michigan. In three years at South Carolina, the future No. 1 overall draft pick of the Texans collected 47 tackles for loss with 24 sacks and nine forced fumbles.
Aaron Donald won the Bednarik and Lombardi Awards in 2013. He amassed 28.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks that season, ending his Pitt career with 66 takedowns in the backfield and 29.5 sacks.
Donald's final college year coincided with the arrival of Joey Bosa, who developed into a two-time All-America choice. While helping the Buckeyes post a 38-4 record and win a national title, Bosa piled up 51 tackles for loss and 26 sacks.
Derek Barnett wasted no time emerging as a star at Tennessee, posting 20.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks in his freshman season. Barnett totaled 52 and 32, respectively, in three years.
Like we mentioned above, the list of worthy candidates is ridiculously long. Enjoy this list of players who missed the cut―and have an argument for first-team inclusion.
Honorable mentions: Myles Garrett (Texas A&M), Bradley Chubb (North Carolina State), Jonathan Allen (Alabama), Sutton Smith (Northern Illinois), Christian Wilkins (Clemson), Chase Young (Ohio State), Ed Oliver (Houston)
The future 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Khalil Mack was an absolute nightmare to defend at Buffalo. Mack recorded four seasons of at least 14.5 tackles for loss, totaling 74.5 in his college career while forcing a record 16 fumbles.
Mack provided an unmistakable impact off the edge, but Boston College standout Luke Kuechly dominated in the middle. Even excluding his 158-tackle freshman year in 2009, Kuechly's in-decade seasons included 183 and 191 stops with six interceptions. He won the Lombardi, Nagurski and Butkus Awards in 2011.
C.J. Mosley also starred in the middle and played for two championship teams at Alabama. After collecting 104 tackles in his first two seasons, Mosley—a two-time All-America choice and the 2013 Butkus winner—had consecutive 100-tackle outputs.
Fellow SEC star Jarvis Jones transferred from USC and emerged as a premier edge-rusher in 2011 and 2012 at Georgia. He totaled 45.5 stops for loss and 28 sacks, garnering All-America honors twice.
Honorable mentions: Josh Allen (Kentucky), Manti Te'o (Notre Dame), Roquan Smith (Georgia), Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame), Hau'oli Kikaha (Washington)
Since we listed three receivers, it's only fair to identify a fifth defensive back. And the result is a group with a lot of versatility.
One of the most exciting players in the decade was Tyrann Mathieu, who incessantly found his way to the football. In two seasons for LSU, he collected 133 tackles with 16 for loss and six sacks, forced 11 fumbles, recovered eight and broke up 16 passes. Mathieu won the Bednarik Award in 2011.
Minkah Fitzpatrick began his Alabama career at cornerback but shifted to safety as an injury replacement. No matter where he was, he produced. A two-time All-American, he secured both the Bednarik and Thorpe Awards in 2017.
Florida State's Jalen Ramsey and LSU's Morris Claiborne both dominated in coverage as eventual first-round NFL draft picks. Ramsey defended 22 passes with three interceptions, and Claiborne—who played two seasons in the decade to Patrick Peterson's one—picked off 11 throws and captured the 2011 Thorpe Award.
Mark Barron garnered more praise for his hard-hitting ability than his ball skills, yet he registered 12 interceptions and 235 tackles. He was a three-time first-team All-SEC member and consensus All-American for Alabama in 2011.
Honorable mentions: Vernon Hargreaves III (Florida), Patrick Peterson (LSU), David Amerson (North Carolina State), Adoree' Jackson (USC), Desmond King (Iowa)
Kicker and Punter
Among players with at least 50 field-goal attempts, Roberto Aguayo owns the third-best percentage in FBS history. While at Florida State, Aguayo converted on 69 of his 78 field goals—never missing on 46 kicks inside of 40 yards—and all 198 extra points.
Winner of the 2013 Lou Groza Award, he also secured first-team AP All-America honors twice in college.
Another label for the recent decade is "The Rise of the Australian Punter." Many programs have looked overseas for the rugby-style kickers, but few have identified talent better than Utah.
Tom Hackett twice won the Ray Guy Award, which is given annually to the best punter. In both 2014 and 2015, he finished with per-kick averages that ranked among the top three nationally.
Honorable mentions: K Zane Gonzalez (Arizona State), P Ryan Allen (Louisiana Tech), P Michael Dickson (Texas)
Kick and Punt Returner
This one is simple: You match or break a record, you get a spot.
San Diego State star Rashaad Penny—who also posted a 2,000- and 1,000-yard season as a rusher—returned a record-tying seven kickoffs for touchdowns. He recorded 30.2 yards per return over his career, an average that stands as the third-best clip in FBS history.
Dante Pettis played at the same time as Penny, thriving as a receiver and punt returner for Washington from 2014-17. Pettis broke the career punt return touchdown mark, taking nine to the house.
Honorable mentions: KR Tony Pollard (Memphis), PR Ryan Switzer (North Carolina)
Perhaps the only thing that stopped Christian McCaffrey from winning the Heisman in 2015 was a bruising backup. Instead of running him at the goal line, Stanford would bring in Remound Wright—who totaled 15 scores to McCaffrey's 13.
Regardless, that season is legendary.
McCaffrey racked up 2,019 yards on the ground with 45 receptions for 645 yards. He gathered 1,070 yards as a kick returner and 130 on punts, shattering the single-season all-purpose yardage record with 3,864. McCaffrey even threw two touchdown passes.
Then as a junior, he accumulated 2,327 all-purpose yards and 16 touchdowns while earning a second top-10 Heisman finish.
Honorable mentions: Tavon Austin (West Virginia), Jabrill Peppers (Michigan)