Ranking college football's top 50 players.
Kickoff for the 2015 college football season is just around the corner. With fall camps underway, it won’t be long before teams are officially preparing for the opening week.
With the season countdown under 15 days until kickoff, it’s time to take a look at the best 50 players in college football for the upcoming year.
Ranking the best 50 players in college football is no easy assignment. Every aspect of a player was weighed in this evaluation: Pro potential, positional importance, college statistics and awards, projections for 2015 and coaching changes or personnel losses.
Just missed the top 50: Michigan State C Jack Allen, Virginia Tech DE Dadi Nicolas, Clemson CB Mackensie Alexander, Ohio State DT Adolphus Washington, Ohio State OG Pat Elflein, Arkansas TE Hunter Henry, Oklahoma LB Eric Striker, Ohio State S Vonn Bell
* Florida State RB Dalvin Cook was removed due to the uncertainty of his status for 2015.
College Football's Top 50 Players for 2015
50. Maliek Collins, DT, Nebraska
In his first full season as a starter, Collins was a force on the interior for the Cornhuskers. He recorded 14 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks and 13 quarterback hurries in 13 games.
49. Rashard Higgins, WR, Colorado State
Higgins was one of the top players from the Group of 5 ranks last season, catching 96 passes for 1,750 yards and 17 scores. New coaching staff and quarterback could have an impact on his statistics in 2015.
48. DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon
Buckner is a physically imposing lineman at 6-foot-7 and 290 pounds, and the Hawaii native is starting to scratch the surface of his potential. He earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors last season after recording 81 tackles (13 for a loss), four sacks and one forced fumble.
47. Jared Goff, QB, California
Goff had a breakout campaign last season directing coach Sonny Dykes’ Bear Raid offense. In 12 games in 2014, Goff threw for 35 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. Here’s a scary thought for the Pac-12: He’s only going to get better in 2015.
46. Taysom Hill, QB, BYU
Hill is recovering from a season-ending leg injury sustained in the 35-20 loss to Utah State. When healthy, Hill is one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks. Hill threw for 2,938 yards and 19 scores in 2013 and also rushed for 1,344 yards and 10 touchdowns.
45. Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor
300-pound tackle developed into one of the Big 12’s most underrated players last season. Billings recorded 37 stops (11.5 for a loss) and one forced fumble in 2014. The Texas native will team with end Shawn Oakman to form one of the nation’s top defensive lines.
44. Anthony Zettel, DT, Penn State
When he’s not tackling trees, Zettel is attacking opposing Big Ten quarterbacks. In 13 games in 2014, Zettel recorded 42 tackles (17 for a loss), eight sacks and three interceptions. The senior was a big reason why Penn State held opponents to just 18.6 points a game last year.
43. Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn
All signs point to Johnson as college football’s breakout star for 2015. Johnson completed 28 of 37 passes for 436 yards and three touchdowns in limited action last year.
Related: SEC Predictions for 2015
42. Duke Williams, WR, Auburn
Williams could easily rank much higher on this list by December. In his first year with the Tigers, he averaged 16.2 yards per catch and grabbed 45 receptions in 10 games. Williams has been in coach Gus Malzahn's doghouse this falll, but he should be the go-to target for quarterback Jeremy Johnson.
41. Pharoh Cooper, WR, South Carolina
Cooper is arguably the top all-purpose threat in college football. He averaged 108.5 total yards per game last season and needs to be South Carolina’s top playmaker once again in 2015.
40. Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma
In addition to setting the FBS single-game rushing record (427 yards), Perine finished 2014 with 1,713 yards and 21 scores as a true freshman. Even with Oklahoma changing offensive schemes and coordinators, Perine and the rushing attack is still a major focal point for the Sooners.
Related: Big 12 Predictions for 2015
39. Su’a Cravens, LB/S, USC
With the high-powered offenses in the Pac-12, having a player with the versatility of Cravens is huge for USC. The hybrid linebacker/safety has recorded 120 stops and seven interceptions in two years with the Trojans. Cravens was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection last season.
38. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
Hackenberg struggled behind an inconsistent offensive line last season. However, the junior has all of the necessary talent to be a first-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft.
37. Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
Starting as a true freshman in the SEC at left tackle is no easy assignment, but Robinson anchored the line for Alabama for all 14 games in 2014. The Louisiana native is already one of the top offensive linemen in the nation.
36. Adoree’ Jackson, CB/WR, USC
Expect to see plenty of Jackson in 2015. The sophomore will line up on both sides of the ball and is a dynamic threat on special teams. Jackson recorded 49 tackles and caught 10 passes for 138 yards and three scores. He also averaged 29.7 yards per kickoff return and took two for a touchdown.
35. Max Tuerk, C, USC
Tuerk is a versatile lineman for USC and was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection in 2014. Over the last three years, Tuerk has started games at guard, tackle and center. The senior is considered one of the top draft prospects in the trenches for the 2016 NFL Draft.
34. James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh
Conner was the ACC’s Player of the Year last season after rushing for 1,765 yards and 26 scores in 13 games. In conference-only matchups, Conner averaged 6.2 yards per carry and posted 16 rushing touchdowns.
Related: ACC Predictions for 2015
33. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
2015 will be Henry’s time to shine. After working in a backup/No. 2 role to T.J. Yeldon over the last two seasons, Henry will be Alabama’s go-to option. He led the Alabama offense with 990 yards and 11 rushing scores last year.
32. Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State
Lee was one of the top freshmen in the nation last season. In 15 starts for Ohio State, he recorded 81 tackles (16.5 for a loss) and 7.5 sacks. Lee was also a key cog in the playoff run, recording two tackles for a loss and two sacks against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
31. Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State
Decker enters 2015 with 29 consecutive starts and is regarded as one of the NFL’s best tackle prospects for 2016. Over the last three games of 2014, the Buckeyes averaged 292.7 rushing yards per game – a clear sign of just how dominant the offensive line can be for Ohio State.
30. Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State
From walk-on to one of the Big Ten’s top offensive linemen. That’s Conklin’s story entering 2015, as he’s started 26 games over the last two years for the Spartans. He earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2014 and will be the anchor for Michigan State’s line this season.
Related: Big Ten Predictions for 2015
29. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
Treadwell’s 2014 season was cut short by injury, but all signs point to the junior returning to full strength this fall. After catching 72 passes for 608 yards and five scores as a freshman in 2013, Treadwell grabbed 48 receptions for 632 yards and five touchdowns last season.
28. Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh
Boyd has been Pittsburgh’s No. 1 receiver since stepping onto campus in 2014. Over the last two seasons, Boyd has recorded 163 catches for 2,435 yards and 15 touchdown catches. With quarterback Chad Voytik returning, along with new coordinator Jim Chaney calling the plays, Boyd should be a lock for his third consecutive 1,000-yard season.
27. Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame
Notre Dame’s defense has to improve if the Fighting Irish want to make a run at a playoff spot in 2014. Smith is one of the impact defenders for coach Brian Kelly, starting all 26 games in his career. In 13 contests last season, Smith recorded 112 tackles, 3.5 sacks and one forced fumble.
26. Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama
Is Ragland the next first-round pick at linebacker for the Crimson Tide? It’s certainly possible. The senior was steady as the leader for Alabama’s linebacker corps in 2014, recording 95 tackles (10.5 for a loss) and one forced fumble.
25. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
The No. 2 recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite lived up to the hype as a freshman. In 13 games, Garrett recorded 53 tackles (14 for a loss) and 11.5 sacks. He’s only going to get better as a sophomore in 2015.
24. Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State
Ogbah was underrated nationally last season, but Big 12 offenses know just how good this junior is for Oklahoma State. The Texas native won the Big 12’s defensive lineman of the year award in 2014 after recording 49 tackles (17 for a loss) and 11 sacks.
Related: Big 12 Predictions for 2015
23. Spencer Drango, OT, Baylor
Drango is the anchor for Baylor’s offensive line, which is one of the best in college football. The senior has 35 career starts and is a first-team Athlon Sports All-American for 2015.
22. Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
Tennessee is a team on the rise entering 2015, and coach Butch Jones is starting to put all of the pieces together to build one of the SEC’s top defenses. Barnett was an impact freshman in 2014, recording 72 tackles (20.5 for a loss) and 10 sacks. The Nashville native was at his best in SEC games, recording all 10 of his sacks in conference action.
21. Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
With Eric Kendricks off to the NFL, Jack is now the unquestioned leader of UCLA’s defense. And in addition to his production on defense, Jack remains a threat to steal a few carries on offense and continue as a two-way threat. In 13 games last season, Jack recorded 88 tackles and rushed for 113 yards and three scores.
Related: Pac-12 Predictions for 2015
20. Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State
Calhoun has been a consistent force off the edge for coach Mark Dantonio. After recording only six stops in 2012, Calhoun has posted back-to-back seasons of at least 37 tackles and has 15.5 sacks in that span. The senior is a big reason why Michigan State should have one of the nation’s top defensive lines in 2015.
19. Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor
Oakman is physically one of college football’s most impressive players. At 6-foot-9 and 280 pounds, Oakman has all of the tools to be a top selection in next year’s draft. And Oakman’s talent is starting to match his production. In 13 games last season, Oakman recorded 51 tackles, three forced fumbles and 11 sacks.
Related: Big 12 Predictions for 2015
18. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Even though play-caller Chad Morris left Clemson to be the head coach at SMU, the Tigers hope the offense won’t miss a beat behind Watson. Before suffering a torn ACL against Georgia Tech, Watson threw for 1,466 yards and 14 scores. Assuming Watson stays healthy, he should make a push for All-American honors this year.
Related: ACC Predictions for 2015
17. Cody Kessler, QB, USC
USC is loaded for a run at the playoffs this year, and if the Trojans are going to reach the top four, they will have to do it on the strength of an offense that averaged 35.8 points per game in 2014. Kessler threw for 3,826 yards and 39 scores in 13 games last season.
16. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Fournette might have the most overall talent of any running back in college football. After rushing for 1,034 yards and 10 scores on 187 attempts last year, the sophomore should easily exceed those totals with more opportunities in 2015.
15. Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame
Stanley has blossomed into the one of the nation’s top tackle prospects over the last two years. After starting 13 games on the right side in 2013, Stanley shifted to the left tackle spot and started every contest (13) for Notre Dame in 2014. He’s an Athlon Sports All-American for 2015.
14. Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State
Cook won’t post the monster statistical numbers of some quarterbacks on this list, but the senior has developed into a top NFL prospect and is 23-3 as a starter in East Lansing. Over the last two seasons, Cook has passed for 46 touchdowns to just 14 interceptions.
13. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
No running back in college football was performing at a higher level than Elliott at the end of 2014. Elliott delivered in some of Ohio State’s biggest games, including 154 yards against Michigan State, 220 against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship, 230 against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and 246 in the national title win over Oregon.
12. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
It’s a close call between Chubb and Elliott for the No. 1 spot among running backs on this list. After Todd Gurley was lost to a suspension and ACL tear last season, Chubb kept Georgia’s rushing attack among the best in the SEC. He finished 2014 with 1,547 yards and 14 scores, averaging 7.1 yards per attempt.
11. Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
Tunsil is recovering from a leg injury suffered in the Peach Bowl loss against TCU. However, all signs point to Tunsil returning to full strength by the fall. The junior has 20 career starts and earned first-team All-SEC honors last year.
10. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State
Prescott was a big reason why Mississippi State reached double-digit victories for the third time in program history in 2014. In addition to earning first-team All-SEC honors, Prescott threw for 3,449 yards and 27 scores, while rushing for 986 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Related: SEC's 2015 All-Conference Team
9. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
Boykin was one of college football’s most improved players in 2014, and the senior has TCU among the favorites to earn a playoff spot in 2015. Under the guidance of new co-coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie, Boykin led all Big 12 quarterbacks with 3,901 passing yards and 33 scores. He also added 707 yards and eight scores on the ground.
Related: Big 12 2015 Predictions
8. A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama
Robinson’s contributions to the Alabama defense go beyond the box score. As a nose tackle/end in the Crimson Tide’s 3-4 alignment, the Texas native isn’t going to produce huge numbers in the defensive scheme. However, Robinson anchors one of the nation’s top defenses up front and recorded 49 tackles last season.
Related: SEC 2015 Predictions
7. Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss
Nkemdiche helped to anchor the defensive line for the “Landshark” defense, as Ole Miss limited opponents to 16 points a game in 2014. The Georgia native has recorded 69 tackles and four sacks over the last two years and earned first-team All-SEC honors last season.
6. Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Fuller is a lockdown corner for coordinator Bud Foster and is an Athlon Sports first-team All-American for 2015. The Baltimore native started all 13 games and earned second-team all-conference honors as a true freshman in 2013. Fuller started all 13 games again in 2014 and was a third-team All-American by Athlon Sports. With Brandon Facyson returning, Virginia Tech should have one of the nation’s top cornerback tandems.
5. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
Just like Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller, Hargreaves III has been an impact defender since the first day on campus. The Tampa native started the final 10 games in 2013 and earned All-SEC honors as a true freshman. Hargreaves III elevated his game even higher in 2014, earned Associated Press All-America honors and leading the SEC with 13 pass breakups.
Related: SEC 2015 All-Conference Team
4. Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona
Wright wasn’t a huge prospect on the recruiting trail, but the California native has blossomed into one of college football’s best defenders. The 6-foot-1 linebacker started 12 games as a freshman in 2013 and recorded 83 stops. Wright was even more dominant in 2014, posting a whopping 163 tackles (29 for a loss), 14 sacks and six forced fumbles.
3. Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State
A strong case could be made for Ramsey to rank No. 1 on this list. After a standout debut in 2013 (49 tackles, one interception), the Tennessee native was a versatile and prolific defender for coordinator Charles Kelly. In 14 games, Ramsey recorded 79 stops (9.5 for a loss), three sacks, two interceptions and 12 pass breakups. With the departure of cornerbacks P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby, Ramsey is expected to play cornerback in 2015.
2. Cardale Jones/J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State
Yes, we are cheating just a bit here. Instead of ranking J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones separately, let’s group the duo in one spot. Both players – Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett – are worthy of Heisman consideration if any can start a full season of games. But here’s the big question: Who will coach Urban Meyer pick?
1. Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Dominant. That’s the best way to describe Bosa’s play for Ohio State over the last two years. As a true freshman in 2013, Bosa recorded 44 tackles (13.5 for a loss) and 7.5 sacks. The Florida native continued to wreak havoc against offensive lines as a sophomore, recording 21 tackles for a loss, 13.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. Bosa’s play in the trenches sets the tone for Ohio State’s defense, and the junior has been projected by some as the top overall draft prospect for 2016.