Ranking the top 50 players in college football

Every year, we here in the college football corner of ESPN.com calculate, compile and construct our college football player rankings. But this isn’t every year, is it? It’s 2020. So, as we were nearing completion of this fall’s rankings, suddenly half of those players disappeared. It made no sense. And it was immediately obvious who the culprit was. No, not the commissioners of the Big Ten and the Pac-12. Half the players, gone in a snap? It had to be Thanos.

But if you know the Marvel Cinematic Universe. then you also know those who disappeared also eventually came back, suddenly reappearing in our lives as if they’d never left. They were out of place, but eventually readjusted and picked back up where they left off. With that in mind, yeah, we’re keeping everyone on this list, even if they opted out or their conferences postponed the season. We don’t know exactly when the missing will return to the College Football Cinematic Universe, but they will be on the field again.

It’s inevitable. Just like the big purple guy. No, not Thanos. Pat Fitzgerald. — Ryan McGee

1. Trevor Lawrence

QB, Clemson
Junior
Last year’s ranking: 1
Status: Playing

It seemed almost impossible for Lawrence to live up to his lofty recruiting hype, but two years in, he has thrown for nearly 7,000 yards, reached two national title games, lost only once and, this offseason, embraced his public role to help become a conscience for the sport. Consider the hype met.

2. Derek Stingley Jr.

CB, LSU
Sophomore
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Playing

He became LSU’s best cornerback the moment he set foot on campus as an early enrollee, competing during bowl practice in January. And eight months later, he staked his claim as the best cornerback in the country, ranking second in passes defended and being named a consensus All-American.

3. Penei Sewell

LT, Oregon
Junior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Fall season postponed

If it plays this spring, Oregon has a new quarterback and four-fifths of a new offensive line. That would be a bit scarier if the other fifth up front wasn’t one of the best offensive line prospects of the 21st century. Sewell nearly broke Pro Football Focus’ grading scale. He’s ridiculous.

4. Justin Fields

QB, Ohio State
Junior
Last year’s ranking: 49
Status: Fall season postponed

Fields threw for 3,273 yards and 41 touchdowns last season. If Fields played this fall, he would have been one of the best quarterbacks in the country. He’ll be a likely top-10 pick in the 2021 NFL draft.

5. Ja’Marr Chase

WR, LSU
Junior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Opted out

With all LSU has to replace on offense, it’s easy to forget that, oh, yeah, the Tigers had the best receiver in college football. (Chase opted out this week.) He combines aggressive hands with top-end speed, and he should be a top NFL draft pick next year.

6. Kayvon Thibodeaux

DE, Oregon
Sophomore
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Fall season postponed

You never quite know how long it will take a blue-chipper to reach his potential. It took Thibodeaux a couple of months, at most. The all-world freshman recorded 10.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks in the last six games of 2019.

7. Travis Etienne

RB, Clemson
Senior
Last year’s ranking: 8
Status: Playing

The two-time ACC Player of the Year stunned many when he decided to come back for his senior season. His return gives Clemson the top quarterback-running back duo in the nation for obvious reasons. In three years, Etienne already has school and ACC records in rushing touchdowns (56), total touchdowns (60) and points by a non-kicker (372). He also is the nation’s active leader in career rushing yards (4,038).

8. Marvin Wilson

DT, Florida State
Senior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Playing

Nobody expected Wilson to return for his senior season after he injured his hand last year and received first-round draft grades. But Wilson believes he has unfinished business at Florida State, starting with getting the program pointed in the right direction again. Wilson worked tirelessly this offseason to improve upon his injury-shortened junior year, in which he had 8.5 tackles for loss and five sacks as a first-team All-ACC selection.

9. Micah Parsons

LB, Penn State
Junior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Opted out/fall season postponed

Parsons led Penn State in total tackles last season with 109, and he also had 14 tackles for loss and five sacks. He was an integral part of the Nittany Lions’ defense, and he has lived up to his five-star rating out of high school. He will be a first-round draft pick after this season. His combination of size and speed made him a rare and valuable linebacker for Penn State.

10. Patrick Surtain II

CB, Alabama
Junior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Playing

A former SEC All-Freshman selection and possible future first-round draft pick, Surtain is well on his way to following in footsteps of his father, Patrick Sr., a three-time Pro Bowl selection with the Miami Dolphins. Surtain is working on 25 straight starts and is featured on the watch lists for the Chuck Bednarik, Jim Thorpe and Bronko Nagurski awards.

11. Chuba Hubbard

RB, Oklahoma State
Junior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Playing

Hubbard’s 2,094 yards in 2019 ranked only behind Barry Sanders’ legendary 1988 season in Oklahoma State history, and his dozen 100-yard games ties him with Sanders’ total. Hubbard led the FBS in rushing yards and 200-yard games (4) and had seven rushes of 50 yards or longer. He is just the fifth 2,000-yard rusher ever to return to school.

12. Gregory Rousseau

DL, Miami
Sophomore
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Opted out

Rousseau entered last season as a relative unknown, but that changed by the end of the year, when he won ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors after leading the league in sacks (15.5) and tackles for loss (19.5), ranking second and ninth in FBS, respectively.

13. DeVonta Smith

WR, Alabama
Senior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Playing

So much for being a one-hit wonder. The former national championship game hero bounced back from a so-so sophomore season to set a single-season school record with 14 receiving touchdowns last year. Rather than turn pro like Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III did, Smith returns as the most experienced pass-catcher in Tuscaloosa.

14. Najee Harris

RB, Alabama
Senior
Last year’s ranking: 43
Status: Playing

It all clicked for the former five-star prospect, as Harris turned into one of the country’s best and most complete running backs last year, rushing for 100 or more yards six times. All told, he found the end zone 20 times, including seven receiving touchdowns.

15. Rashod Bateman

WR, Minnesota
Junior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Opted out/fall season postponed

Bateman was Minnesota’s second-leading receiver last season with 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was a big play waiting to happen for the Gophers, but he decided to declare for the NFL draft and forgo his remaining eligibility. ESPN’s Todd McShay has Bateman as the second-best receiver in this draft class and believes he will be an immediate impact player once he gets to the NFL.

16. Trey Smith

OT, Tennessee
Senior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Playing

You can play the what-if game if you want, wondering how much better Smith would be if blood clots hadn’t caused him to miss so much time throughout his career, buy you’re missing the point. Despite a potentially career-threatening condition, he has proved to be one of the best interior lineman in the country after not allowing a single sack last season.

17. Tylan Wallace

WR, Oklahoma State
Senior
Last year’s ranking: 27
Status: Playing

Wallace is an explosive receiver who tore his ACL last season in Week 9 and finished with 903 yards. At the time of his injury, he led the Big 12 and was fourth in the FBS in receiving yards, averaging 17.0 yards per reception. In 2018, he had 200-yard games against Texas and Oklahoma.

18. Jaylen Waddle

WR, Alabama
Junior
Last year’s ranking: 24
Status: Playing

There might not be a more electrifying player in the country than Waddle, who is a standout receiver and return specialist. Now that Jeudy and Ruggs are gone, you might see even more of Waddle. If you want to glimpse his potential, go back to the Auburn game last year when he scored four touchdowns, including three receiving and one on a kickoff return.

19. Dylan Moses

LB, Alabama
Senior
Last year’s ranking: 22
Status: Playing

It’s no coincidence that Alabama’s defense took a step back last year when Moses was lost with a season-ending knee injury. And it’s no wonder that despite that setback, he is on a number of preseason award watch lists this year. The former five-star prospect and second team All-America linebacker is that talented with sideline-to-sideline speed that is the envy of NFL scouts.

20. Alex Leatherwood

OL, Alabama
Senior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Playing

The former five-star prospect is everything you want in a franchise left tackle: big, strong and nimble enough to stay in front of speedy edge rushers. He is the picture of consistency too, starting 28 consecutive games. Last season, he missed only seven assignments and allowed just two sacks and three quarterback hurries.

21. Shaun Wade

CB, Ohio State
Junior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Fall season postponed

Wade could have left Ohio State for the NFL last season, as he was projected as an early-round pick, but he chose to return, and he has the opportunity to have a major role in the Ohio State secondary.

22. Sam Howell

QB, North Carolina
Sophomore
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Playing

Howell entered North Carolina with high expectations as one of the top quarterback recruits in the nation, then delivered on the fanfare after setting the FBS true freshman record and school record with 38 TD passes en route to ACC Rookie of the Year honors. He threw for 3,641 yards total, and his return is a big reason the Tar Heels are receiving so much preseason hype.

23. Walker Little

LT, Stanford
Senior
Last year’s ranking: 34
Status: Fall season postponed

Stanford got wrecked by injury in just about every unit on the field last year, but both literally and metaphorically, the biggest loss was up front, where the All-America candidate was lost for the season one game in. While his fall season was postponed, his spring return could help the Cardinal’s offense rebound in a hurry.

24. Rondale Moore

WR, Purdue
Junior
Last year’s ranking: 12
Status: Opted out/fall season postponed

An injury last season prevented Moore from playing in all but four games, during which he had 387 receiving yards and two touchdowns. The year prior, Moore was healthy and played in 13 games, accumulating 1,258 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns, along with 213 yards rushing and two more scores on the ground.

25. Sam Ehlinger

QB, Texas
Senior
Last year’s ranking: 13
Status: Playing

The heart and soul of the Longhorns, Ehlinger has started 33 career games, and he totaled 39 touchdowns and 4,326 all-purpose yards last year, second in school history to Colt McCoy’s 2008 season. Against the eventual national champions, Ehlinger threw for 401 yards and three TDs and rushed for 60 yards plus another score.

26. Kedon Slovis

QB, USC
Sophomore
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Fall season postponed

Slovis wasn’t even supposed to play last season, but injuries created opportunity, and he was ready. He threw for 3,502 yards and 30 TDs in Graham Harrell’s Air Raid offshoot, and Slovis will have an experienced skill corps and a sturdy offensive line to work with this year — if a spring season happens.

27. Chris Olave

WR, Ohio State
Junior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Fall season postponed

The Buckeyes have had some excellent receivers over the past few seasons, and Olave is in that group. He led the team with 849 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in 2019, but he still didn’t get a ton of the national talk for his stats and ability. With K.J. Hill, Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack all gone, Olave could put up even better numbers in 2020 — if a spring season happens.

28. Creed Humphrey

OL, Oklahoma
Junior
Last year’s ranking: 44
Status: Playing

The Sooners (and new QB Spencer Rattler) got a big boost with Humphrey’s decision to return for his senior year. A Rimington Trophy finalist a year ago, Humphrey did not allow a sack in 799 plays, and he had 93 knockdowns. He is Mel Kiper’s No. 1-ranked center for next year’s draft, and he will anchor a solid Oklahoma O-line that has all five starters returning.

29. Tanner Morgan

QB, Minnesota
Junior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Fall season postponed

Morgan threw for 3,253 yards and 30 touchdowns last season and was a big part of Minnesota’s success on offense. If a spring season happens, he won’t have leading receivers Tyler Johnson or Rashod Bateman this season, as both are off to the NFL. And Morgan won’t have coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, who was hired at Penn State. Morgan has the experience and the talent, though, and is still one of the top quarterbacks in the conference.

30. Caden Sterns

S, Texas
Junior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Playing

In 2018 as a true freshman, Sterns made the All-Big 12 first team and was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award. But he sustained a knee injury following the season and started just eight games last year after another knee injury, as the Longhorns’ defense struggled. Now healthy, Sterns is looking for a return to form under new coordinator Chris Ash.

31. Wyatt Davis

OL, Ohio State
Junior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Fall season postponed

Davis was an All-American and an All-Big Ten selection last season at right guard for the Buckeyes. He is already considered one of the best offensive linemen in the country and is being projected as a potential first-round draft pick. He is a reliable, versatile, strong lineman whom Ohio State expects to produce.

32. Kylin Hill

RB, Mississippi State
Senior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Playing

Hill was one of the unsung stars of the SEC last season, rushing for 1,350 yards and 10 touchdowns. What he lacks in size at 5-foot-11, he more than makes up for with speed, quickness and surprising strength. He also has good hands, which could be a considerable advantage as Mike Leach brings the Air Raid offense to Starkville this season.

33. Kenneth Gainwell

RB, Memphis
Sophomore
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Opted out

Want to see the future in the present? Watch Gainwell line up in the backfield and take a handoff on one play, then line up in the slot and take a quick screen, then line up wide and find open space downfield. Mr. Versatility produced more than 2,000 yards combined rushing and receiving last year.

34. Pat Freiermuth

TE, Penn State
Junior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Fall season postponed

Freiermuth was second on the team in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns last season with 507 yards and seven scores. He trailed only wide receiver KJ Hamler, who is now with the Denver Broncos.

35. Hamilcar Rashed Jr.

LB, Oregon State
Senior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Fall season postponed

Rashed was a one-man havoc machine for a defense that really needed one. He logged 22.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks for a Beavers team that recorded its best record in five years. And if there is a spring season, he’ll line up around a much more experienced set of teammates.

36. Sage Surratt

WR, Wake Forest
Junior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Opted out

Surratt has everything you want in a receiver — height, speed and versatility to get after every pass thrown his way. In an injury-shortened junior season, Surratt still won All-ACC first-team honors with 1,001 yards receiving and 11 touchdown catches — the most at Wake Forest since Ricky Proehl had 11 in 1989.

37. Jaylen Twyman

DL, Pittsburgh
Junior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Opted out

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi prides himself on tough defenses, and Twyman fits the bill, emerging after a sophomore season in which he tied for a team-high 12 tackles for loss and led the Panthers with 10.5 sacks — the first interior defensive lineman to lead Pitt in sacks since Aaron Donald (11) in 2013.

38. Richard LeCounte

S, Georgia
Senior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Playing

A do-it-all safety, LeCounte was a big reason why Georgia boasted one of the top defenses in country last season. The senior not only ranked third on the team in tackles with 61, he also led the SEC in fumble recoveries (three) and ranked second in the conference in interceptions (four).

39. Shane Buechele

QB, SMU
Senior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Playing

The Texas transfer propelled SMU to its first 10-win season since 1984, passing for 3,929 yards, and led the American Athletic Conference with 34 TDs and passing yards per game (302.2). Buechele had three 400-yard games, and he threw six touchdowns against Temple. He ranked fifth nationally in completions of 20 or more yards (60).

40. Jabril Cox

LB, LSU
Senior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Playing

Not that the defending champs needed help, but they landed arguably the best player in the transfer portal anyway. Cox was a two-time FCS All-American at North Dakota State, including last season when he finished with 92 tackles and 5.5 sacks. In Bo Pelini’s defense, expect to see Cox all over the field.

41. Sam Cosmi

OL, Texas
Junior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Playing

The 6-foot-7, 309-pound junior has 26 career starts, with a full season at right tackle as a freshman before moving to the left side last year. In 926 snaps, he allowed pass-rush pressure on just 10 plays, with only one resulting in an incompletion. He is listed as the No. 10 overall prospect in Todd McShay’s most recent 2021 NFL draft rankings.

42. Brock Purdy

QB, Iowa State
Junior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Playing

As a sophomore, Purdy set 18 Iowa State school records, including for passing yards (3,982), passing TDs (27) and total offense (4,231). He passed for 354 yards and led the Cyclones on a three-minute, 63-yard drive for a winning field goal against Texas, just Iowa State’s third victory over the Longhorns since 1998.

43. Chazz Surratt

LB, North Carolina
Junior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Playing

The former quarterback turned so many heads last season, it’s a wonder it was only his first year as a full-time linebacker. Surratt seemed to always be around the ball, making one big play after another, with 115 tackles (second in the ACC), a team-high 15 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and 10 quarterback hurries.

44. Jamie Newman

QB, Georgia
Senior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Playing

If his first eight games at Wake Forest last season are any indication, Newman can be a superstar for Georgia this year, provided he wins the starting quarterback job. As a junior with the Demon Deacons, he threw for 2,868 yards and 26 touchdowns, though his production was hampered in the final month because of injuries to his top two receivers. In addition, he rushed for 574 yards and six touchdowns.

45. D’Eriq King

QB, Miami
Senior
Last year’s ranking: 40
Status: Playing

King is one of the most dynamic players in college football. In 34 games at Houston, he caught 59 passes for 1,421 yards and three touchdowns, ran for 1,925 and 31 TDs and threw for 4,925 and 50 TDs. He even returned a kickoff 99 yards for a score as a freshman. New Miami offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee will have plenty of options with King under center.

46. Carlos Basham Jr.

DE, Wake Forest
Senior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Playing

If you haven’t seen Basham play, make sure you do this season. Nicknamed “Boogie” by a family friend because of the way he would bounce up and down as a baby, Basham enters the season with a tackle for loss in 18 straight games, the longest streak in the country. His 112 quarterback pressures over the past two seasons is the most of any returning Division I player.

47. Asante Samuel Jr.

CB, Florida State
Junior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Playing

Those who have watched Samuel progress during his time at Florida State believe he is in for a big season. Samuel had 48 tackles and an ACC-leading 14 pass breakups last season. He was the only defensive player among the Power 5 conferences with at least 14 pass breakups and more than 45 tackles.

48. Tutu Atwell

WR, Louisville
Junior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Playing

Perhaps the fastest player in the ACC, Atwell burst onto the national radar a year ago with his penchant for big plays despite his relatively small size (5-foot-9, 165 pounds). Atwell led the ACC in receiving yards (1,276) and touchdowns (12), setting the school record in yardage and tying the school record for receiving touchdowns.

49. Amon-Ra St. Brown

WR, USC
Junior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Fall season postponed

A former all-world recruit and the brother of Equanimeous of the Green Bay Packers, St. Brown exploded late in 2019 — with 30 catches for 549 yards in the final four games — and he enters his junior season as USC’s leading returning receiver. Almost no one with the Trojans benefited more from the hire of Graham Harrell as offensive coordinator.

50. JaCoby Stevens

S, LSU
Senior
Last year’s ranking: NR
Status: Playing

It might seem as if LSU is starting from scratch, but not everyone from last year’s championship team bolted for the NFL. Stevens, a second-team All-SEC choice who finished last season with 85 tackles, five sacks and three interceptions, is back to anchor a revamped defense, whether that means playing in coverage or near the line of scrimmage.

ESPN’s Andrea Adelson, Bill Connelly, Alex Scarborough, Tom VanHaaren and Dave Wilson contributed to this story.

Source: Read Full Article