Who are some of the underrated stars in the nation?
With 128 FBS teams and over 85 players on every college football roster, it’s easy for some talented prospects to slip through the cracks nationally. There’s no doubt about the talent or the amount of spotlight on LSU’s Leonard Fournette, TCU’s Trevone Boykin, Baylor’s Corey Coleman or Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, but there other plenty of under-the-radar performers this season.
With that in mind, Athlon Sports set out to look at 15 players having an underrated season or the best players no one is talking about prior to Week 10.
15 Best CFB Players No One is Taking About in 2015
Steven Daniels, LB, Boston College
The struggles of Boston College’s offense are no secret. However, even with an offense managing only 18.3 points per game, the Eagles are still holding opponents to 13.3 points a contest and 3.7 yards per play. Daniels is one of the leaders for Boston College’s defense, recording 67 tackles (14 for a loss), six sacks, one interception and two pass breakups. He’s a lock for first-team All-ACC honors this December.
Tyler Ervin, RB, San Jose State
Most college football fans would be able to guess LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook as the No. 1 and No. 2 leading rushers in the nation. However, No. 3 (Ervin) is a bit of a surprise. Ervin is having a career year for the Spartans, averaging 144.9 yards per game in 2015. Additionally, the senior has rushed for 12 scores through eight contests and caught 30 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns. Ervin rushed for 300 yards in a win over Fresno State and 263 in a 31-21 victory over New Mexico.
Dan Feeney, OL, Indiana
Indiana’s offensive line is quietly one of the better groups in the Big Ten. Feeney and fellow senior Jason Spriggs are the anchors up front for coach Kevin Wilson, as this duo helps the Hoosiers average 180.6 rushing yards per game and allowed only 10 sacks through eight matchups. Feeney has started all eight games for Indiana this season and has 32 career starts.
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Jakeem Grant, WR, Texas Tech
Most of the attention on Big 12 receivers usually revolves around the prolific Corey Coleman at Baylor or TCU’s Josh Doctson. While Doctson and Coleman are putting together first-team All-America seasons, Grant is quietly amassing some big totals for coach Kliff Kingsbury. The senior leads all Big 12 players with an average of 189.6 all-purpose yards per game and has 69 catches for 952 yards and five scores this season. With remaining games against West Virginia, Kansas State and Texas, Grant will have plenty of opportunities to add to those totals in November.
Marquis Haynes, DE, Ole Miss
Tackle Robert Nkemdiche headlines the Ole Miss’ defensive front, and there’s no shortage of talent in the trenches in the SEC. However, it’s time to pay attention to what Haynes is doing in Oxford. The sophomore leads the team with 11 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks, while also recording 29 tackles and two forced fumbles. In SEC games, Haynes has recorded five sacks, which is tied with LSU’s Lewis Neal and Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett for the top spot in the conference.
Brian Hill, RB, Wyoming
Hill is a key cog in second-year coach Craig Bohl’s rebuilding effort at Wyoming. The sophomore leads all running backs in the Mountain West with 1,262 yards through nine games, averages a healthy 6.2 yards per carry and ranks sixth nationally with an average of 140.2 yards per game. Hill’s 387 all-purpose yards against Fresno State was the most in the nation by any player in a single game last season.
Desmond King, CB, Iowa
King was picked as a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, but the junior still isn’t getting enough attention for his performance. King has played in all eight games for the Hawkeyes, recording 36 tackles and seven pass breakups. Additionally, King has recorded seven interceptions, which is tied for the most in the nation. Having a lockdown corner like King is a big reason why Iowa has allowed only three passing scores in Big Ten games this season.
Tyler Matakevich, LB, Temple
Matakevich is the heart and soul of an underrated Temple defense, and a player that deserves consideration for postseason All-America honors. The senior leads the Owls’ defense with 78 tackles (eight for a loss) and has also recorded four sacks, five interceptions and four pass breakups. Matakevich recorded at least 100 tackles in each of his first three seasons and is on pace to hit that mark once again in 2015.
Nick Mullens, QB, Southern Miss
Todd Monken inherited a major rebuilding project at Southern Miss. However, the third-year coach has the Golden Eagles at 6-3 and bowl eligible, largely due to an offense ranked second in Conference USA with an average of 35.7 points per game. Mullens has made steady improvement as a player over the last three seasons and is in the midst of a career year. The junior has 2,890 passing yards and 25 scores in 2015 and eclipsed over 300 passing yards in two games (Nebraska and Mississippi State) against Power 5 teams this season. Mullens also boasts a healthy 64.1 completion percentage.
Gionni Paul, LB, Utah
Paul is quietly putting together a strong resume for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. The senior leads the Utah defense with 75 tackles (10 for a loss) and has also recorded one sack, two picks and two forced fumbles in eight games in 2015. Paul is a sideline-to-sideline presence for the Utes and helps to anchor the Pac-12’s best run defense (113.1 yards per game).
Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville
Linemen in a 3-4 scheme will never record monster stats, as their job is usually to plug the gap and allow the linebackers to make plays. But in Rankins’ case, he’s been an active presence for Louisville’s defense around the line of scrimmage, recording 37 stops (7.5 for a loss), four sacks and returned a fumble 46 yards for a touchdown. He’s also a big reason why Louisville is limiting opponents to an average of 3.1 yards per carry this year.
Jarran Reed, DL, Alabama
Reed is another 3-4 lineman that deserves more attention. The 6-foot-4 lineman has the necessary beef to stuff the run at 313 pounds but also has the right amount of quickness to be a factor in wreaking havoc around the line of scrimmage. Reed has 39 stops (3.5 for a loss), one sack, two pass breakups and five quarterback hurries this season. He’s an underrated part of Alabama’s elite defense.
Larry Rose III, New Mexico State
The Sun Belt quietly has a nice collection of running backs, which includes UL Lafayette’s Elijah McGuire, Georgia Southern’s Matt Breida and Appalachian State’s Marcus Cox. Rose III is another rising star at running back, as the sophomore ranks second in the conference with 1,083 yards and 10 rushing scores through eight games. He also has two 200-yard games this season and recorded 1,102 yards as a true freshman in 2014.
Mike Warren, RB, Iowa State
Warren was picked as a breakout candidate for the Cyclones this season and has delivered in a big way for coach Paul Rhoads. Despite recording only nine carries in the first two games of 2015, the redshirt freshman is second in the Big 12 with 954 rushing yards. Warren has eclipsed at least 126 yards in five out of his last seven games.
Anthony Walker, LB, Northwestern
Northwestern’s defense has emerged as one of the Big Ten’s best in 2015. The Wildcats are holding opponents to 17.6 points a game and 4.5 yards per play, while only giving up one play of 40 yards or more. Walker’s breakout season is one of the driving forces behind this group’s improvement, recording 67 tackles (first on the team), one sack and two fumble recoveries. The sophomore’s 10.5 tackles for a loss are tied for fifth among Big Ten defenders.