College Football Rankings

Top five players by position entering the 2017 college football season – Offense edition:

This is not a scouting report for the pro level, but rather just based on how I’d rank them heading into this college football season according to what I saw last year and in week one just now. I obviously haven’t quite watched as much tape on them as I did on the draft prospects a few months ago, but I’ve watched a lot of college football over the last several years and couldn’t help but already take a look at a couple of games of all those guys. This list will also be interesting to look at the end of the season and when really scouting the prospects, to compare it with what I come up then.

Check in next week again for the edition on defense.


 

Quarterbacks:

 

Sam Darnold

 

1. Sam Darnold, USC

This young man is just coming off his freshman year, but I have no doubt he is the real deal. When Darnold took over the starting job after week three of last season he transformed the program, leading the team to ten straight wins, highlighted by a 453 yard and five touchdown performance in the Rose Bowl versus Penn State. The USC signal-caller is the total package with the athleticism to run option plays and the presence in the pocket to carve up defenses all day long. He has the arm to make all the throws, but more importantly the confidence to do so too. He failed to throw a TD and was picked off twice in their first game of 2017, but he led his team to victory against a Western Michigan team that went undefeated in the MAC last regular season.

 

2. Josh Rosen, UCLA

I think Rosen is the best true pocket passer in the country. He has complete control of his offense, is very accurate on all levels and can light up opposing defenses. The UCLA signal-caller missed half of last season with a shoulder injury, but he’s back at 100 percent. When I watch him, I see underrated mobility inside the pocket and that he doesn’t need his feet to be set perfectly to deliver the pass on target. Early on in the season opener against Texas A&M Rosen didn’t have any receivers open and was put on his back a lot, before leading one of the greatest comebacks in college football history. This reminded me once again of how obvious his will to win is and that he will do whatever it takes to do so.

 

3. Lamar Jackson, Louisville

Jackson is probably the most dynamic dual-threat quarterback in college football since Mike Vick. With 51 total touchdowsn a year ago and an unheard or 3500+ yards passing plus 1500 on the ground, he earned the first Heisman trophy in Louisville history. Nobody really talked about him this offseason because of how he ended his campaign, but he was sacked 22 times over the last three games. With more focus on protecting him and 13 pounds of added muscle he was ready to go in the season opener versus Purdue and reminded us of what a special talent he is.

 

4. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

This guy is a gun-slinger, who runs a very explosive offense. The OU quarterback’s style looks like it’s more turnover-prone than it actually is, especially considering his 10.2 yards per attempt over his two years as a starter at Oklahoma, but during that stretch he has completed 69.5 percent of his passes with a TD-to-INT rate over five-to-one (76-15). I was a little worried if he’d be the same guy without their star RBs and Dede Westrbrook and I wasn’t quite sure about how good Oklahoma would be, but Mayfield posted a ridiculous 19-20 for 329 yards and three touchdowns, showing me he plans on picking up right where he left off with the confidence and swagger he has always shown.

 

5. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State

Rudolph’s numbers might not be quite as profilic as Mayfield’s, but I basically have those two guys as 4a and 4b. Similar to the Oklahoma QB, the Cowboys front-man operates a super-explosive offense. The reason I ranked one after the other is the fact OSU probably has the best receiving corp in the country, while Mayfield lost a lot of talent. His 28-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio last season was unreal though. Much like his play on the field. While the spread-scheme produces many wide-open targets and doesn’t demand a lot of pre-snap adjustments, Rudolph has displayed tremendous accuracy, touch and command of the offense.

 

Best of the rest: J.T. Barrett (Ohio State), Trace McSorley (Penn State)


 

Running backs:

 

Saquon Barkley

 

1. Saquon Barkley, Penn State

To me Barkley clearly is one of the top three overall players in college football. His agility, breakaway speed and absolute electricity are amazing. Those traits are even more eye-dropping considering he weighs in at 230 pounds. That means he can do all those crazy things in the open field, but if it’s not there he can not only shake defenders in the hole, but also pound into the line of scrimmage and make run plays work to keep his offense on schedule. To me what’s most impressive about Barkley is how he works his way through traffic and then just make a cut without losing any speed. While I think he’s too passive in pass-protection, he is a huge weapon as a receiver out of the backfield as well.

 

2. Derrius Guice, LSU

Much like fourth overall pick Leonard Fournette, Guice runs angry. He’s not the kind of physical freak the new Jaguars back is, but he tries to punish defenders on every play and never quits. At 5’11’’, 220 pounds the new LSU star is quite a load to bring down combined with the effort he displays. So many times you think the play is dead and he just doesn’t pushing and spinning out of tackles, falling forward to gain an extra two or three yards. In week one, BYU just wasn’t ready for Guice’s physicality, as every time he ran the ball it was like a gut-punch for them and at some point it felt like they couldn’t show any resistance anymore.

 

3. Nick Chubb, Georgia

Ever since Todd Gurley went down for the Bulldogs in 2014 I’ve been a big fan of this big banger. Chubb packs a mean stiff-arm and loves to run defenders over, but he also has excellent short-area quickness and better pull-away speed than people think. His style of running puts a pounding on opposing defenses, which has a cumulative effect on them and leads to big runs in the fourth quarter. Two years ago, the Georgia back tore all ligaments in his knee and wasn’t quite the same player he was before the injury. Now with another full offseason of recovery and gaining confidence in his knee I expect him to be back to the guy who averaged 7,4 yards per attempt in his career before having surgery.

 

4. Ronald Jones, USC

Sam Darnold’s best friend in the SC backfield couples breakaway speed with vision on inside runs. Even though I think he sometimes makes that one side-step too much and gets caught by the ankles, he can shake defenders in the hole. Jones has the lateral agility to stretch a play towards the sideline, stick his foot in the ground and immediately accelerate north. He just doesn’t really lose any speed when making cuts, forces defenders to fall in the open field when he stutter-steps in a one-on-one situation and is extremely dangerous when catching the ball in the flat with room to operate. My only real problem with him is the fact he right now is still a liability in pass protection.

 

T.-5 Myles Gaskin, Washington

Gaskin is a tall, lean runner with unbelievable lateral movement and shiftiness. The Washington junior can make people miss in tight quarters and is constantly fighting and twisting through contact for extra yardage. Moreover, he probably has the best spin move by any running back in the country. In the Huskies’ season-opener, he recorded five catches for 79 yards after bringing it just 25 passes over his first two seasons at Washington, showing me he should take on a bigger role in the passing game this year. He might not be a household-name at this point, but he is a very effective runner, who constantly makes that one man miss, who is unaccounted for.

 

T.-5 Justin Jackson, Northwestern

The only senior among those names, Jackson can get through tight spaces by getting skinny, sometimes jumping through the hole. He has outstanding lateral quickness, plows ahead through contact with great lean and seems to always fall forward. While he isn’t a sprinter, who will just run away from defenders, he constantly gets to the edge. The Wildcats star just understands blocking and how to use head-fakes to his advantage. In addition, he works his off-arm very well to keep opponents off of his body. Jackson has been an absolute workhorse ever since arriving at Northwestern and is close to beating all major school records. He carried them to a win once again in last year’s bowl game versus Pittsburgh with 224 yards and three touchdowns, putting his name on the map.


 

Wide Receivers:

 

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Oklahoma State

 

1. James Washington, Oklahoma State

Washington is a big-play threat at all times due to his speed to go over the top or catch a short pass and take it to the house, displayed by the 19.2 yards a catch over his first three seasons at OSU. But he also presents a muscular physique and plays bigger than the 6’1’’ would indicate. The Cowboys star could have easily been a first round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, but he decided to come back with his quarterback Mason Rudolph. Washington seems to find the voids in coverage, fakes out defenders with head and leg movements and works his way back to the football. What stands out to me is not just his ability to make plays on his own, but also how he comes up big when his team needs him most.

 

2. Calvin Ridley, Alabama

Alabama’s number one receiver since Amari Cooper’s move to the NFL has turbo speed, is very dynamic in and out of his breaks and doesn’t mind throwing his body around in traffic. Every game there’s a couple of occasions where he lays out to make tough catches. Ridley is shifty in the open field, has terrific ball-skills and adjusts his body mid-air to bring in the pass. He catches a bunch of quick screens and hitches, where the Alabama coaches just let him make things happen. He likes to use his talents to dance around and make people miss, but what separates him from the pack is the way he immediately turns upfield after the catch before trying to make moves.

 

3. Courtland Sutton

This guy is a big, physical target at 6’4’’, 215 pounds, who dominates in jump-ball and back-shoulder situations on the outside. He has the speed to stress coverages, which helps him be very effective on deeper inside-breaking routes and he doesn’t mind taking a hit in that area. When running with the ball he tries to throw tacklers off. Sutton uses his body well to create separation and shield the ball in the air. He definitely needs to refine his technique of catching the ball, as he has to keep his hands closer together and have the palms facing the arriving pass, because the way he does it right now will lead to some drops, trying the clap on the ball, and open up opportunities for defenders to knock the ball loose. What I really like about him is the fact he has an attitude about him.

 

4. Christian Kirk, Texas A&M

The Aggies little dynamite can line up all over the formation and make an impact. He’s a true playmaker who just needs the ball in his hands and go to work. He has the ability to make quick screens, sweeps and other gadget plays look good even if they’re not blocked perfectly. Kirk possesses great body-control and balance to bounce off tacklers, in addition to not being afraid of lowering his shoulder into contact. Moreover, he’s a dangerous return-man with all those tools and will be A&M’s true threat in the passing game with some other wideouts off to the pro game.

 

5. Antonio Callaway, Florida

Callaway combines excellent footwork and shake on his routes to set up defenders. For most of last season he had the disadvantage of having to deal with a bunch of off-target throws due to below-average quarterback play, but he still found ways to impact the offense, as he used that electric ability when catching short passes and taking them downfield. But not only did he leave a mark on that side of the ball, he is also one of the best return-men in the country. Callaway might not have the softest hands among wide receivers, but he tracks the ball exceptionally well and definitely has the speed to stretch the field and burn defenses.

 

Best of the rest: Deion Cain (Clemson), Dante Pettis (Washington)


 

Tight-ends:

 

Mike Andrews

 

1. Mark Andrews, Oklahoma

Andrews is a big red-zone target with nice speed and wiggle for a guy his size. He can line up in tight and out wide. He certainly has the ability to stretch the seams, but can also sit down against zone or work towards the sideline on out-routes. The Sooners Y receiver makes a bunch of would-be-tacklers miss and if they do have an angle on him he often just pushes or shrugs them off. I like how Andrews plays the ball at the highest point. He only caught 50 balls over his first two seasons at OU, but 14 of those were touchdowns and he has averaged over 16 yards per reception. I’m confident with putting him on top of these rankings, because he showed up big-time in the season opener versus Indiana, with seven catches for 134 yards and a score.

 

2. Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin:

This guy is former walk-on at Madison and he still plays with that chip on his shoulder. Fumagalli is a very secure catcher of the football with huge hands to snag it out of the air. He’s no flashy athlete, but he gets the job done, finding a way to keeping a step on his defender and box him out for the catch. The 250-pounder was the best and by far the most consistent part of the 2016 Wisconsin offense, coming up with huge catches on third downs to keep drives moving. I expect him to take on the same role once again this season, as the Badgers will lean heavily on their ground attack, which he is an important asset of, and make their TE the primary target when it counts most.

 

3. Hayden Hurst, South Carolina

The Gamecock standout plays with great effort and hand-placement as a run-blocker. He comes out of the H-back spot to be a lead blocker, loop around and kick out the end or run underneath routes. To show his versatility – he returned punts in 2016 at 250(!) pounds. That’s unheard of. Hurst is much bigger than he looks at first sight when you see him on TV, as he has more of the body physique of a defensive end. Unfortunately, he put up a stinker in the season opener versus N.C. State as he caught just one pass for minus two yards, after returning to South Carolina off a 48 catch, 616 yard campaign.

 

4. Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State

Goedert presents a great body-type for the position. He has unbelievable hands, displayed by a crazy one-handed snag versus Villanova a year ago. What I really like about him, outside of his huge frame and natural pass-catching skills, is the fact secures the ball right after the catch before rumbling downfield. Moreover, he puts the effort in as a blocker and will only get better in that department with better technique, in terms of keeping a wide base, bending his knees and keeping his hands inside the frame of the defender.

 

5. Dalton Schultz, Stanford

If you play for Stanford you’re going to have to put the work in as a blocker and Schultz has a great understanding of angles and how to shield defenders from getting to the ball-carrier. He works the middle of the field very well on curl routes or other stuff back towards the QB, where he uses his body to push off and create separation, opening up a throwing windows for his passer. Stanford has brought out quite a few tight-ends in recent years and I believe that’s in large to being a part of a run-heavy pro offense.

 

Best of the rest: Mike Gesicki (Penn State), Adam Breneman (UMass)


 

Offensive Linemen:

 

Connor Williams

 

1. Connor Williams, Texas

Williams has prototype size with outstanding athleticism for it. He’s a true technician, who rolls his hips into the block in the run game and moves smoothly as a pass protector with the punch to stand up his rusher. The Longhorn standout has quite a nasty streak when opening holes for his ball-carriers, but also plays with good sink and balance as a pass protector. He just makes the job look easy and that’s when you know you have a great offensive lineman. His tape is so consistent and I have no doubt he’ll be the a top ten pick in next year’s draft.

 

2. Cody O’Connell, Washington State

Last season O’Connell only allowed one sack and another QB hit despite the Cougars throwing 649 passes, which led to him being named a unanimous All-American at guard. What’s remarkable to me is the fact his job is made way harder due to the wide splits on Washington State’s offensive line. O’Connell has good lateral mobility and always stays under control with his feet beneath him. He understands the idea of squaring up his target, gets into the frame of the defender and doesn’t give him any way to go. Another thing is he stays involved if he doesn’t have a man to block right across from him.

 

3. Billy Price, Ohio State

After starting the last three seasons for the Buckeyes at guard, Price is looking to make the same transformation as his teammate from a year ago – Pat Elflein. With a thick frame and high football IQ he looks to add another All-American campaign to his resume. Price likes to get after it in the run game and doesn’t mind if things get a little chippy, even though he’s more of a body-turner than driver. In pass protection he uses a wide base and tight grip to keep his defender in front of him. In his first start at center I didn’t see anything that would make me think he won’t be a great player at that position as well.

 

4. Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame

Nelson possesses great power in his thighs and combines that with the adequate leg drive. He makes sure he pushes his guy out of the hole, plays until the whistle blows. The Irish guard loves to put defenders on the ground and bury them. He has explosiveness and quickness out of his stance, shows football smarts when working blitz-pickups or finding unblocked defenders on the second level after releasing from combo-blocks. He’s an important piece of the Notre Dame offense, as he has been used as the primary pulling man.

 

5. Orlando Brown, Oklahoma

The Sooners left tackle is an Imposing tower of a man at 6’8’’, 345 pounds. He’s not very mobile, but he also doesn’t get caught out of position very often, mainly because it feels like he has superglue on the palms of his gloves by looking at how hard it is for rushers to get off of him. Last year I thought his length saved him a lot against better edge guys, but he encouraged me by shutting down the talented Auburn guys in the Sugar Bowl. More importantly, he looked much better at converting some of his strength into power when blocking down against UTEP in week one and he showed a little more attitude at finishing his blocks. I still think he needs agility work to be a better at protection and getting in front of linebackers on the second level.

 

Best of the rest: Trey Adams (Washington), Mike McGlinchey (Notre Dame), Frank Ragnow (Arkansas), Jonah Williams (Alabama), Tyrone Crowder (Clemson)

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One thought on “Top five players by position entering the 2017 college football season – Offense edition:

  1. Pingback: Top five players by position entering the 2017 college football season – Defense edition: | Halil's Real Footballtalk

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