Selecting college football's most underrated players
The start of the 2019 college football season is officially 50 days away. With the start of the upcoming season approaching on Aug. 24 and to mark 50 days until kickoff, Athlon Sports decided to pick 50 players we felt were underrated going into the upcoming season. Every college football team has players most would consider underrated. However, defining underrated players is no easy assignment, as that term varies in meaning between fans and experts. In addition to shining a spotlight on some players that are underrated, we wanted to raise the profile of a few Group of 5 standouts to fans on a national level. While some of these names aren't underrated to some fanbases, this list approaches from a national perspective and to point out 50 players that deserve more overall attention going into 2019.
CFB's Top 50 Underrated Players for 2019
Hakeem Adeniji, OT, Kansas
Adeniji has started all 36 games in his career and returns to Lawrence for his senior campaign after earning second-team All-Big 12 honors in 2018.
Jack Anderson, OL, Texas Tech
Anderson has started every game for the Red Raiders since he stepped onto campus prior to the 2017 campaign. The Texas native should rank among the Big 12’s best linemen this fall.
Markus Bailey, LB, Purdue
Bailey has started all three years in his Boilermaker career and enters 2019 as one of the top linebackers in the Big Ten. The Ohio native doesn’t get much credit nationally, but he’s accumulated 301 stops (26 for a loss), 12.5 sacks and six interceptions since 2016.
Raheem Blackshear, RB, Rutgers
Blackshear didn’t have many opportunities a game (12 carries on average) but ran for 586 yards and three scores and caught 44 passes for 367 yards and two touchdowns. With more balance on offense, a push for All-Big Ten honors is within reach for the junior.
Lynn Bowden, WR, Kentucky
After a solid freshman season in 2017, Bowden was even better last fall. He emerged as one of the nation’s top all-around players, catching 62 passes for 728 yards and five scores, averaging 21.9 yards on kickoff returns and taking two punts back for a score.
Shaun Bradley, LB, Temple
Bradley is the anchor for a Temple linebacker unit that should be among the best at the Group of 5 level this season. The New Jersey native collected 85 stops (10 for a loss) in 2017 and delivered another standout year in ’18. He played in all 13 games, recording 78 tackles (four for a loss), one sack and two interceptions.
Aaron Brewer, C, Texas State
Brewer enters 2019 as one of the Sun Belt’s top centers. He’s started 35 games in San Marcos, and according to Texas State’s sports information department, the senior allowed just one sack last fall.
Antoine Brooks, S, Maryland
Darnell Savage will be missed in Maryland’s secondary, but coach Mike Locksley still has an All-Big Ten performer in place with Brooks. The Maryland native had a strong junior year, recording 62 tackles (9.5 for a loss), 2.5 sacks, one interception and three pass breakups.
Myles Bryant, DB, Washington
The Huskies are losing four key members of last year’s standout secondary, but the cupboard isn’t empty for coordinator Jimmy Lake. Bryant has the skill set to play corner or safety and returns to anchor the defensive backfield after recording 61 tackles (4.5 for a loss), 3.5 sacks and six pass breakups in 2018.
Matt Bushman, TE, BYU
Bushman had to deal with injuries in 2018 but still led the BYU offense in catches (29) and receiving yards (511). As a freshman in 2017, Bushman recorded 520 receiving yards on 49 receptions. He has five touchdown catches over the last two years.
Cam Bynum, CB, California
Bynum is a big reason why California should have one of the best defensive backfields in the nation this season. According to Pro Football Focus, Bynum’s passer rating when targeted was just 76.1 last season. Additionally, Bynum recorded 48 tackles (2.5 for a loss), picked off two passes and broke up 10 throws.
Cohl Cabral, C, Arizona State
Cabral started 13 games at left tackle in 2017 but showed off his versatility by sliding to center prior to last season. The California native went on to emerge as one of the Pac-12’s top centers after starting all 13 contests last fall and clearing running lanes for running back Eno Benjamin.
Ty Chandler, RB, Tennessee
With more consistency up front and opportunities to touch the ball under new coordinator Jim Chaney, Chandler should have a shot at recording 1,000 all-purpose yards. As a sophomore last season, Chandler accounted for 630 yards and four touchdowns (5.5 ypc) on just 115 attempts. He also caught 19 passes for 183 yards.
Alvin Davis, S, Akron
Fans of MACtion know all about Davis. However, the rest of college football should take notice. The Florida native has earned All-MAC honors in back-to-back seasons and enters 2019 with 241 career tackles, five interceptions and three forced fumbles.
Trey Dishon, DT, Kansas State
Dishon has been a solid performer over the last three years on the interior of Kansas State’s defense. The Kansas native has started 37 games and recorded 65 tackles (10 for a loss) and five sacks.
Jalen Elliott, S, Notre Dame
Teammate and fellow safety Alohi Gilman was preseason All-American for Athlon Sports, but Elliott shouldn’t be overlooked. He’s made significant strides over the last two years and delivered a breakout 2018 campaign. Elliott recorded 67 stops and four picks, defended 11 passes and forced a fumble as part of Notre Dame’s run to the CFB Playoff.
Dez Fitzpatrick, WR, Louisville
Fitzpatrick caught 45 passes for 699 yards and nine touchdowns as a freshman in 2017 but watched his totals drop (31 receptions for 422 yards) due to inconsistent play at quarterback last year. New coach Scott Satterfield should help the passing game improve this season, allowing Fitzpatrick to push for All-ACC honors as the No. 1 target for the Louisville offense.
Reggie Floyd, S, Virginia Tech
With 10 returning starters in place, Virginia Tech’s defense should rebound in 2019. Floyd is one of the few seniors expected to contribute on defense and his leadership should be crucial for coordinator Bud Foster. Floyd had a solid 2018 campaign, recording two interceptions and 88 tackles (9.5 for a loss). He enters 2019 with five career picks.
Christopher Fredrick, CB, Syracuse
Fredrick has been a key cog in the development and overall improvement of Syracuse’s secondary the last three years. The Georgia native enters 2019 with 31 consecutive starts and has recorded 121 stops (five for a loss), five interceptions and 13 passes defended since 2016.
Antonio Gandy-Golden, WR, Liberty
Look for Gandy-Golden to thrive under new coach Hugh Freeze. He’s recorded back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and enters 2019 with 23 career touchdown catches.
Joe Gaziano, DL, Northwestern
The Big Ten features a deep collection of talent in the trenches this season, and Gaziano is one of the names that deserves a little more attention going into 2019. He’s recorded 25 tackles for a loss, seven forced fumbles and 16.5 sacks over the last two seasons.
Charlie Heck, OT, North Carolina
With William Sweet off to the NFL, Heck is slated to flip from right tackle to the left side in 2019. The Missouri native has started 22 games over the last two seasons and enters the fall as one of the ACC’s top linemen.
Isaiah Hodgins, WR, Oregon State
The Beavers quietly own one of the Pac-12’s top receiving corps for 2019. Hodgins is the No. 1 target for quarterback Jake Luton after grabbing 59 passes for 876 yards and five scores last fall.
Darnay Holmes, CB, UCLA
Holmes – a former five-star prospect – has quietly lived up to the hype in his first two years with the Bruins. The California native has 87 tackles (two for a loss), three picks, 20 passes defended and two forced fumbles in that span.
Juju Hughes, S, Fresno State
Fresno State led the Mountain West in pass efficiency defense last season and allowed only 15 passing scores over 14 games. Hughes has been a key member of this defense over the last two years, as the California native has posted back-to-back seasons of 70-plus tackles. Additionally, he’s picked off five passes and defended 20 in that span. He should be among the Mountain West’s top defensive backs once again in 2019.
Jason Huntley, RB, New Mexico State
Huntley earned a spot on Athlon’s All-America team for 2019, and his all-around ability is a huge asset for coach Doug Martin. He rushed for 505 yards and seven touchdowns, caught 47 passes for 529 yards and three scores and averaged 27.8 yards per kickoff return (with three touchdowns).
Mustafa Johnson, DE, Colorado
Johnson came to Boulder after spending one season at Modesto Junior College. The California native created plenty of havoc for the Buffaloes, as he collected 57 stops and 8.5 sacks. Johnson’s 15.5 tackles for a loss tied for the most among Pac-12 linemen last fall.
Tyler Johnson, WR, Minnesota
If Minnesota gets consistent play from one of its quarterbacks, Johnson should make a run at All-America honors. The Minneapolis native has been one of the Big Ten’s top receivers over the last two years and capped a strong 2018 season (78 catches for 1,169 yards and 12 TDs) by earning second-team All-Big Ten honors.
Javon Kinlaw, DL, South Carolina
South Carolina fans know all about Kinlaw, but the senior is likely to raise his profile on a national level with a huge senior year. The South Carolina native recorded 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and 10 tackles for a loss in 2018. He’s one of the league’s top interior defenders going into 2019.
Rashard Lawrence, DL, LSU
Safety Grant Delpit and cornerback Kristian Fulton are the headliners on this side of the ball for coordinator Dave Aranda, but Lawrence passed on the NFL for a chance to wreak havoc in the SEC this fall. He returns to Baton Rouge after recording 10.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks and 54 tackles in 2018.
Benny LeMay, RB, Charlotte
LeMay returns as one of the top playmakers in Conference USA after rushing for 1,243 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. The senior should push for a spot among the top 25 running backs in college football this fall.
Shane Lemieux, OL, Oregon
The Pac-12’s best offensive line resides in Eugene, with tackles Calvin Throckmorton and Penei Sewell earning a spot on Athlon’s All-America squad. Lemieux graded out as the best run blocker among interior linemen in the Pac-12 according to Pro Football Focus in 2018 and has started all 38 games in his career.
Sage Lewis, LB, FIU
If you follow Conference USA, Lewis' all-around ability isn’t a secret. But the rest of college football should take notice of the Florida native entering his senior year. Lewis recorded a whopping 132 tackles (3.5 for a loss) and broke up nine passes in a prolific junior campaign. He should be among the top defenders at the Group of 5 level this season.
Ray Lima, DL, Iowa State
Lima’s impact in the trenches goes beyond the box score. The nose guard anchors Iowa State’s line and played a key role in a rush defense that ranked first in the Big 12. The California native has recorded eight tackles for loss and 59 stops over the last two years and is one of the league’s top returning linemen for 2019.
Darnell Mooney, WR, Tulane
It’s a deep year for receivers in the AAC, and Mooney enters 2019 as an underrated playmaker at the Group of 5 level. He played in all 13 games for the Green Wave and caught 48 passes for 993 yards and eight touchdowns last fall. Mooney led all AAC receivers in yards per catch (20.7) and is primed to take his numbers even higher with the addition of coordinator Will Hall.
Jimmy Morrissey, C, Pitt
The ACC’s top center for 2019 resides in the Steel City. Morrissey joined the program as a walk-on prior to 2016 but has been a key cog in the line the last two years. The Pennsylvania native started 12 games in 2017 and 11 contests prior to suffering a season-ending injury in ’18.
Cheyenne O’Grady, TE, Arkansas
The SEC has two All-America candidates at tight end with the return of Jared Pinkney at Vanderbilt and Albert Okwuegbunam in 2019. However, O’Grady is another star at the position, leading the Razorbacks with six touchdown catches last season and also collecting 30 receptions for 400 yards.
Alex Palczewski, OL, Illinois
Palczewski should be one of the Big Ten’s top linemen in 2019 after earning honorable mention all-conference honors after starting all 12 games last season. Palczewski’s emergence helped the Fighting Illini rank second in the conference by averaging 5.91 yards per rush in 2018.
Mike Panasiuk, DT, Michigan State
Panasiuk won’t post huge statistics working alongside Raequan Williams on the interior of Michigan State’s defense. However, the Illinois native plays a huge role in stuffing the run and has recorded nine tackles for a loss over the last three years.
Matt Peart, OL, UConn
Peart – a native of Jamaica – has started all 36 games over the last three years. He’s one of the leaders for a UConn team looking to rebound after finishing 1-11 last fall.
Jackson Pittman, NG, Navy
Navy’s defense enters 2019 with several new faces stepping into starting roles. However, Pittman – a player with 39 career appearances – is one of the three returning starters for new coordinator Brian Newberry. The Tennessee native has recorded 66 tackles (7.5 for a loss) and four forced fumbles in his Navy career.
David Reese, LB, Florida
Reese has been a key cog on Florida’s defense over the last two years. He started all 12 games in 2017 and recorded 49 tackles. Despite missing three contests due to injury in ’18, finished the season with 77 stops (2.5 for a loss).
Elijah Riley, CB, Army
According to Pro Football Focus, Riley allowed only a 45.4 completion percentage on passes thrown his way in 2018. The New York native played in all 13 games for the Black Knights last fall, collecting 55 tackles (7.5 for a loss) and 10 pass breakups.
Nathan Rourke, QB, Ohio
Rourke has assembled a prolific resume in just two years with the Bobcats. The junior college transfer threw for 2,203 yards and 17 touchdowns and ran for 912 yards and 21 scores in 2017. He was even better as a junior last fall, throwing for 2,434 yards and 23 touchdowns and rushing for 860 yards and 15 scores. Rourke already ranks second in Ohio’s program history for the most career touchdowns (76).
Colin Schooler, LB, Arizona
Despite finishing second in the Pac-12 with 21.5 tackles for a loss last fall, Schooler did not earn a place on the postseason all-conference team. Expect that to change in 2019, as the junior should rank among the Pac-12’s top defenders. Schooler recorded 119 tackles, recorded two picks and broke up four passes last season.
JD Spielman, WR, Nebraska
With Stanley Morgan out of eligibility, quarterback Adrian Martinez will have to find a new go-to receiver. However, the sophomore won’t have to look far, as Spielman has established himself as one of the top all-purpose players in the Big Ten. After catching 55 passes for 830 yards and two scores as a freshman in 2017, Spielman grabbed 66 receptions for 818 yards and eight touchdowns last fall.
Erroll Thompson, LB, Mississippi State
Thompson was a key cog on Mississippi State’s standout defense last fall and is set to anchor a group that returns only three starters for 2019. The Alabama native recorded 87 stops (nine for a loss), 3.5 sacks and two interceptions in 2018.
Michael Warren, RB, Cincinnati
With Gerrid Doaks sidelined due to injury, Warren emerged as the go-to back for Luke Fickell in Cincinnati. Warren powered his way for 1,329 yards and 19 touchdowns (second among AAC running backs) over 244 attempts. He also caught 25 passes for 232 yards and a score.
Nick Westbrook, WR, Indiana
After catching 54 passes for 995 yards and six scores in 2016, Westbrook didn’t have a chance to build on those totals after suffering a torn ACL against Ohio State in the first game of ’17. However, Westbrook rebounded by catching 42 passes for 590 yards and four scores last fall. With another offseason to return to 100 percent, a push for All-Big Ten honors should be within reach.
Logan Wilson, LB, Wyoming
It’s a deep year for talent at linebacker in the Mountain West, and Wilson should be mentioned among the best defenders in the conference going into 2019. The Wyoming native has led the Cowboys in tackles in back-to-back years and recorded 19 of those stops for a loss. Wilson also has three sacks, two forced fumbles and three picks over the last two seasons.