Ranking the best college football players in the nation is an impossible task, but that’s exactly what Athlon Sports has set out to do with the start of the 2014 season less than 10 days away.
Florida State’s Jameis Winston takes the No. 1 spot in the player rankings, with Oregon’s Marcus Mariota a close No. 2. Winston and Mariota headline a deep group of quarterbacks in 2014, while there’s also a strong cast of options returning at defensive end, including USC’s Leonard Williams, Nebraska’s Randy Gregory and Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun.
The criteria for the top 50 player rankings includes a variety of factors. Performance from previous years, pro potential, recruiting rankings, projection on 2014 and value to a team. While running backs are a key part of any team, they are not as important as a standout quarterback, left tackle, defensive end or shutdown cornerback.
With the variety of factors in mind, it’s also important to consider what’s ahead in 2014. Every year is a different case study. Expecting a player to replicate his output from one year to the next is unlikely, as each team has personnel losses, scheme changes or new coaches on the staff.
As with any list, there will be plenty of disagreement about Athlon’s top 50 players for 2014. However, keep in mind, the criteria includes a variety of factors and is not strictly based on last year’s stats. Projecting what’s ahead in 2014, position importance and pro potential should be weighed more than stats from previous years.
Projecting CFB's Top 50 Players for 2014
Jameis Winston, QB
Tough to repeat '13 stats, but Winston the No. 1 QB in nation.
Marcus Mariota, QB
Back to full strength after late-season knee injury.
Todd Gurley, RB
Needs to stay healthy after limited 2013 season.
Andrus Peat, OT
Anchors rebuilt Stanford OL - top OL in CFB.
Leonard Williams, DL
Has 14 sacks over the last two seasons.
Bryce Petty, QB
Threw only 3 picks on 403 attempts last year.
Brett Hundley, QB
Still developing as passer, best yet to come.
Melvin Gordon, RB
Averaged nearly eight ypc on 206 carries in 2013.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB
Has earned back-to-back 1st team All-Pac-12 honors.
Vernon Hargreaves III, CB
Bright spot on Florida's disappointing 4-8 2013 season.
Cedric Ogbuehi, OT
Third straight A&M LT to be selected in first round of draft?
Brandon Scherff, OT
Expected to be a first-round pick in 2015.
Vic Beasley, DE
Last year's 23 TFL is No. 1 among returning defenders.
Randy Gregory, DE
Led Big Ten with 9.5 sacks last season.
Shilique Calhoun, DE
Earned Big Ten DL of the Year honors last year.
Christian Hackenberg, QB
Rising star in Happy Valley.
Myles Jack, LB
Expected to focus mostly on defense in 2014.
Amari Cooper, WR
Expected to bounce back after quiet 2013.
Landon Collins, S
Key presence with inexperienced Alabama CBs.
Ameer Abdullah, RB
Topped 100 yards in 11 out of 13 games last year.
Nelson Agholor, WR
Should have big season under new coach Steve Sarkisian.
Mario Edwards Jr., DE
The nation's most underrated defender?
Duke Johnson, RB
Suffered broken leg in early November last season.
Chris Jones, DL
Settled at DT last year and got better as year progressed.
Nick Marshall, QB
Expected to improve as a passer in second year under Malzahn.
Cameron Erving, OT
Converted DL is one of top offensive tackles in nation.
Eric Striker, LB
Primed for big season after recording three sacks vs. Alabama.
T.J. Yeldon, RB
No question about talent. Expect more Derrick Henry in '14.
Derrick Henry, RB
Expect a bigger role for Henry in 2014.
Kendall Fuller, CB
Intercepted six passes as true freshman.
Michael Bennett, DT
One of three potential All-Americans on OSU's DL.
Mike Davis, RB
Rushed for 100 yards in 6 out of first 7 games in 2013.
Jaylon Smith, LB
Started all 13 games as true freshman in 2013.
Robert Nkemdiche, DT
Ole Miss expecting big things from Nkemdiche this year.
Taylor Kelly, QB
Accounted for 4,243 total yards last season.
Stefon Diggs, WR
Electric all-purpose threat for Terps.
Tyler Boyd, WR
Caught 85 passes in standout freshman campaign.
Shaq Thompson, LB
Already All-Pac-12 LB. Could see time at RB.
P.J. Williams, CB
Nation's No. 1 secondary resides in Tallahassee.
Nick O'Leary, TE
Should see more passes his way in 2014.
O.J. Howard, TE
Averaged 19.2 yards per catch in 2013.
A'Shawn Robinson, DL
Versatile lineman coming off breakout freshman year.
Joey Bosa, DE
Teams with Noah Spence to form dynamic DE combo.
Tre Jackson, OG
Started 28 career games for Noles.
Tyler Lockett, WR
All-purpose threat is No. 1 WR in Big 12.
Rashad Greene, WR
Should be Winston's favorite target once again.
Antwan Goodley, WR
Averaged whopping 18.9 ypc in 2013.
Taysom Hill, QB
Dangerous dual-threat, improving passer.
Leonard Fournette, RB
Could have huge season behind stellar OL.
Rakeem Cato, QB
Has 91 TD tosses in three seasons.
Next Up:Florida State CB Ronald Darby, Florida State S Jalen Ramsey, Oregon C Hroniss Grasu, Texas DE Cedric Reed, Ole Miss OT Laremy Tunsil, Oregon State QB Sean Mannion, South Carolina OG A.J. Cann, Michigan State QB Connor Cook, Auburn C Reese Dismukes, LSU OT La'El Collins