CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2017: Top 50 Players
Who are the best players coming into the college football season? Here are the projected 50 top guys
Preview 2017: Top 50 Players
Who are the best and most important players coming into the 2017 season? This isn’t a list of the most talented players – although talent, of course, plays a big role – and these aren’t the top 50 pro prospects. These are the stars to watch and the guys who’ll be the most important, impactful, and valuable once the campaign kicks off.
50. DE Dorance Armstrong, Jr. Kansas
The Jayhawks need as many playmakers as possible, and the ten-sack All-Big 12 star will be a force to help try salvage something positive.
49. LB Malik Jefferson, Jr. Texas
The Texas defense needs to be tougher and nastier, and it has a fantastic star to build around in the guy who came up with 123 tackles and seven sacks in his first two seasons.
48. LB Jerome Baker, Jr. Ohio State
The big-hitting tone-setter for the linebacking corps, he’ll rise up and be one of the stars of another great Buckeye D.
47. LB Travin Howard, Sr. TCU
The Horned Frog 4-2-5 defensive alignment has a killer twosome with Howard – the team’s leading tackler over the last two seasons – combining with Ty Summers.
46. LB Shaquem Griffin, Sr. UCF
The one-handed All-American Athletic playmakers does everything to get all over the field, coming ip with 11.5 sacks and 92 tackles last season.
45. Bo Scarbrough, Jr. Alabama
Now the 6-2, 228-pound force will start getting the ball more – as long as his broken leg is fine. If he’s healthy, the talent and toughness are there to potentially be No. 1 on the post-season version of this list.
44. Nick Chubb, Sr. Georgia
The big numbers might not be there in a rotation with Sony Michel, but that’s a positive to stay fresh for a devastating ground game.
43. S Marcus Allen, Sr. Penn State
An ideal NFL safety, he’s back for one more season as one of the Big Ten’s top-tackling defensive backs, but he needs a few interceptions to help his draft stock rise.
42. LB Kendall Joseph, Jr. Clemson
The defensive linemen might be the stars of the defensive show, but Joseph will clean everything up coming off a 108-tackle season with 12.5 tackles for loss.
41. RB Kamryn Pettway, Jr. Auburn
He’s not going to have to carry offense with Jarrett Stidham in at quarterback, but there will be times he will in a statistically dominant season.
40. QB Logan Woodside, Sr. Toledo
There are several bigger-name quarterbacks from bigger-name schools out there, but it was Woodside led the nation in touchdown passes last year with 45, and he should come close again for the MAC’s best team.
39. WR Christian Kirk, Jr. Texas A&M
One of the nation’s top return men, Kirk will also build off his 83-catch season to once again the star of an Aggie offense that needs to be more consistently explosive.
38. OG Tyrone Crowder, Sr. Clemson
While everyone will focus on the loss of the Tiger offensive stars, the infrastructure is strong on the incredible lines, with the 340-pound Crowder the dominant power force for the O line.
37. S Nate Andrews, Sr. Florida State
If he’s back to form after being hurt over the last two seasons, he’ll combine with Derwin James to give the Seminoles a special safety tandem that’s more than ready for the NFL.
36. OT Mitch Hyatt, Jr. Clemson
One of the former star recruits has lived up to the hype and more over the last two seasons, and now he and Tyrone Crowder form the base for another great Tiger attack.
35. LB Azeem Victor, Sr. Washington
Expect another massive year from the Washington defense with a great line, and an All-Pac-12 star in Victor to eat up everything after a 95-tackle season.
34. QB Luke Falk, Sr. Washington State
It’s a loaded year for quarterbacks in the Pac-12, and Falk should throw for more yards than all of them – again – by a mile.
33. QB Josh Allen, Jr. Wyoming
While he might be seen as a franchise-making top five overall NFL Draft prospect, first he has to be the best quarterback in the Mountain West – and lead Wyoming back to the conference title game.
32. QB Brett Rypien, Jr. Boise State
After leading the Mountain West in passing yards, completion and passing efficiency on the way to First Team All-Mountain West honors, now he should take Boise State to the conference title.
31. DT Derrick Nnadi, Sr. Florida State
The FSU secondary might be the star of the loaded defense, but Nnadi is the rock in the middle of a line that should be even stronger against the run.
30. WR Courtland Sutton, Jr. SMU
If you don’t know the 6-4, 215-pound unstoppable deep threat now, you will once the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft comes around.
29. Quinton Flowers, Sr. USF
Exactly the right quarterback for what Charlie Strong will want to do on offense, Flowers is a devastating runner and efficient playmaking passer who can do it all.
28. DE Bradley Chubb, Sr. NC State
The NC State defensive front should be fantastic, and the 6-4, 260-pound Chubb will be the one who camps out behind the line coming off a ten-sack, 21.5 tackle-for-loss season.
27. DT Christian Wilkins, Jr. Clemson
Flip a coin on whether or not it’s Wilkins or Dexter Lawrence who’ll have the better year for the Clemson defensive interior, but it’s the 6-4, 315-pound Wilkins who’ll be the leader of another great front seven.
26. DT Dexter Lawrence, Soph. Clemson
Lawerence is more explosive and a better NFL prospect than Christian Wilkins as a brick wall of a run stopper who can also get behind the line. The two will take turns being the Tigers’ top tackle.
25. RB Saquon Barkley, Jr. Penn State
One of the best do-it-all offensive weapons in college football, now he has to do it all for a full season by staying healthy and being ready to deal with being focused on by every D.
24. RB Royce Freeman, Sr. Oregon
The future franchise NFL back who took off for 1,836 yards and 17 scores two years ago should be back to form under head coach Willie Taggart.
23. QB Josh Rosen, Jr. UCLA
The production has to come both statistically and in the win column, but that’ll only happen if he’s back to 100% healthy and back to his Rosen One form.
22. OG Quenton Nelson, Sr. Notre Dame
A devastating 6-5, 329-pound future NFL blocker, Nelson will be the battering ram for a good Irish ground game and more dangerous offense.
21. QB Jalen Hurts, Soph. Alabama
Yeah, he can run, but he’s a decent passer who looked sharp enough this offseason to potentially take the already punishing offense to another level.
20. QB Nick Fitzgerald, Jr., Miss State
Freakish, the 6-5, 230-pounder has the size and the 1,375-yard, 16-touchdown rushing skills to rise up into a bigger national, Dak Prescott-level star.
19. DE Harold Landry, Sr. Boston College
The type of pass rusher everyone is looking for, the 6-3, 250-pounder is coming off a 16.5-sack season with seven forced fumbles for an outstanding defense – and now expect even more.
18. CB Tarvarus McFadden, Jr. Florida State
It’ll help to have a safety tandem in Derwin James and Nate Andrews to take the pressure off, and now all McFadden will have to do is be among the best all-around corners in college football again.
17. S Minkah Fitzpatrick, Jr. Alabama
Not just 6-1, 203-pound big, and not just fast, he’s a proven playmaker when the ball is in the air taking four career interceptions for scores.
16. LB Micah Kiser, Sr. Virginia
One of the nation’s top tacklers over the last few seasons, the 6-2, 240-pounder should crank up his third straight 100-stop season and a big-time factor in the backfield.
15. OT Mike McGlinchey, Sr. Notre Dame
The very big, very smart tackle would’ve been a sure-thing first rounder in the 2017 NFL Draft, but he’s back for one more year as a rock for an Irish offense that’s about to be faster and more dangerous.
14. OT Connor Williams, Jr. Texas
The prototype, the one-time super-recruit has been great from the start with 6-6, 320-pound size, blasting run blocking power, and the upside to be even better – at least that’s the new coaching staff’s hope.
13. WR James Washington, Sr. Oklahoma State
After two straight ten-touchdown seasons and averaging almost 20 yards per catch, the nation’s most consistently devastating deep threat should do it all again with Mason Rudolph back to keep on bombing away.
12. QB J.T. Barrett, Sr. Ohio State
It only seems like he’s been around since the John Cooper era, but he’s back for another year of doing whatever’s needed for the Buckeye attack after running for 845 yards and nine scores and hitting 62% of his passes with 24 touchdowns and seven picks.
11. QB Jake Browning, Jr. Washington
Darnold, Rosen, Falk, Herbert – they’re all fantastic Pac-12 quarterbacks, and Browning was more efficient than all of them, throwing 43 touchdown passes with just nine picks while rushing for four scores.
10. S Quin Blanding, Sr. Virginia
Along with LB Micah Kiser, the Cavaliers have a fantastic tandem of NFL defenders to work around, with the 6-2, 215-pound Blanding good enough to come up with a fourth-straight 100-tackle season.
9. DE Tyquan Lewis, Sr. Ohio State
Ohio State has an NFL starting defensive end back for one more season on the line – but that’s nothing new. He might not be a top tackler, but he’s the leading pass rusher in the nation’s best group of defensive ends.
8. DT Ed Oliver, Soph. Houston
An NFL-ready defensive tackle even as a true sophomore, he’s a lightning-quick 6-2, 290-pound interior pass rusher who finished fourth on the team with 66 tackles and 23 tackles for loss.
7. QB Mason Rudolph, Sr. Oklahoma State
With a loaded receiving corps to throw to again, and the NFL size, arm and skills to be a possible top ten overall pick after throwing for close for 8,000 yards with 49 touchdown passes and just 13 picks over the last two seasons.
6. RB Derrius Guice, Jr., LSU
In a great year for running backs nationally, as well as the SEC, it’s Guice who’ll stand out now that he’s the true No. 1 man with Leonard Fournette gone. If he’s able to hold up after being fed the ball over and over again, he’ll be a legitimate threat for 2,000 yards.
5. QB Baker Mayfield, Sr. Oklahoma
The numbers are starting to get ridiculous. Throwing in his partial season at Texas Tech in 2013 – before walking on at Oklahoma – Mayfield has thrown for 9,980 yards and 88 touchdown passes, doing it with flair, and a whole lot of attitude. This year, he might be the starting quarterback of a three-peat Big 12 champion.
4. S Derwin James, Soph. Florida State
Back from missing last year with a knee injury, the 6-3, 212-pound prototype NFL safety should be be back to the 91-tackle, 4.5-sack, form from his freshman season that made the scouts drool. An almost certain top ten draft pick next year if he comes out – and the top player in a phenomenal FSU secondary – first he has to prove that he’s still the same player.
3. QB Lamar Jackson, Jr. Louisville
The only concern is the way last year ended, struggling over the final few games before getting stuffed by LSU. Have defenses figured out how to bottle up the Heisman winner? Nah – the O line was struggling. Jackson is still going to be his regular dynamic self – and he’ll have an even bit of a chip on his shoulder.
2. DE Arden Key, Jr., LSU
Even though he’s a dream of a pro pass rusher with no reason to play a single down this year – especially after beefing up a bit to start filling out his 6-6 frame a little more – he’s back to prove that he could be this year’s Myles Garrett and be a gamechanging disruptive force game in and game out. Everyone will key on him more than ever to keep him from taking over games, he’s too good not to hit double-digit sacks again.
1. QB Sam Darnold, Soph. USC
There’s a reason why he’s being hailed as the surest-thing NFL franchise quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck was taken No. 1 overall in 2012. He’s a rock-solid 6-4, 225-pound athlete who can run a bit, has good movement in the pocket, and has every next-level throw in the arsenal after throwing for 3,066 yards and 31 scores with nine interceptions.
While better ball security is a must, and he needs a more compact throwing motion, there isn’t anything that can’t be tweaked a bit. The pressure is on to lead the Trojans to a Pac-12 title and a spot in the College Football Playoff, but he’s got the makeup and maturity to not have any problem with the pressure.