Best team at every position group entering 2016
Christian McCaffrey gives Stanford a slight edge at the running back group.
Best team at every position group entering 2016
We are now at the start of the 2016 college football season, and if you haven’t yet caught our 2016 All-America team, it’s a must-read to get you prepped for opening kickoff.
As a slight variation on that article, we went through every position group and found the best overall team units at each.
Here is the best team at each position group heading into 2016:
Quarterback: Clemson Tigers
Colleague Steve Palazzolo gave Watson the nod in the PFF All-America team over Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, so we’ll go with the Tigers as well over the Sooners. That’s a tough call, given that Mayfield led all of college football in PFF quarterback grades last season, but Watson is a true dual-threat playmaker at the position, earning the second-highest rushing grade among QBs and the second-best adjusted completion rate versus Power-5 opponents. His one weakness last year was his performance against pressure – an area in which Mayfield excelled outside of his playoff loss to Clemson – so that’s one way in which he can improve in 2016.
Running backs: Tennessee Volunteers
We have spent the entire offseason here at PFF telling fans how ridiculously good Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey (our No. 1-ranked player entering the season) is, and how his all-around game gives him a slight edge over the nation’s best pure runner in LSU’s Leonard Fournette. But the Volunteers get the nod here for their two-headed monster of RBs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. Hurd came up short of Fournette’s broken tackle total (Hurd had 65, sixth among returning RBs, compared to Fournette’s nation-leading 85 as a runner), but he was still one of the top-graded power runners in the country. Kamara, meanwhile, graded even better than Hurd, was one of the nation’s leaders in elusive rating, and ranked second behind only McCaffrey in yards per route run. Add in QB Josh Dobbs, one of the nation’s best runners at the position, and the Vols’ backfield is loaded.
Runners-up: LSU, Stanford, Oklahoma
Receiving corps: Texas A&M Aggies
There isn’t as much returning production at receiver as there is at many other position groups, but the Aggies look to have a stacked unit entering 2016 surrounding transfer QB Trevor Knight. They have a dynamic slot weapon in Christian Kirk, who caught 80 passes for 1,019 yards as a true freshman, excelling as a return man as well. His seven TD catches from the slot led the nation among returning WRs. They also have a deep threat in Josh Reynolds, whose deep-ball catch rate was fourth-best among returning receivers. They round out the group with a talented pair in Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil, who graded just average in 2015 but had a much better 2014.
Offensive line: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The Fighting Irish earned the third-best pass-blocking efficiency score last season, and despite losing a pair of stars in Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin to the NFL, they should again have one of the best units in the country this season. The left side of the line is in very good shape with tackle Mike McGlinchey and guard Quenton Nelson, and new starting right tackle Alex Bars (taking over for McGlinchey, who is sliding over to replace Stanley at LT) graded well in his limited action last season. Check out more about Notre Dame and the rest of the nation’s best O-lines here.
Runners-up: USC, Washington State, West Virginia
Defensive line: Michigan Wolverines
It might feel sacrilegious not to go with an SEC team for the nation’s best D-line, whether that be Jonathan Allen-led Alabama or Myles Garrett-led Texas A&M, but the Wolverines return a starting front four that can stack up with any unit in the country. All four graded well versus the run last season, but it is their work as pass-rushers that really stands out. This year’s DEs Chris Wormley and Taco Charlton, and DT Maurice Hurst all ranked first or second in the nation, respectively, in pass-rush productivity at their position groups last season, while DT Ryan Glasgow ranked 18th. That is a ridiculously efficient group at getting pressure. None of those guys individually can stack up to Garrett, the highest-graded pass-rusher of the past two seasons among returning players, but collectively they are an absolute force.
Runner-up: Texas A&M
Linebackers: Alabama Crimson Tide
Our pick for the top position group in all of college football, the Crimson Tide are absolutely loaded at linebacker. Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson form the best edge-rushing duo in the country, ranking first and fifth, respectively, in pass-rush productivity among 3-4 outside linebackers last season. Williams’ 52 total pressures led the position group, despite having less than half the pass-rushing snaps of second-place Devonte Fields of Louisville. Teammate Reuben Foster ranked fifth in PFF grades among returning off-ball linebackers last season, meaning Bama is strong up the middle as well.
Secondary: Florida State Seminoles
This was another category in which it was difficult not to go with Bama, given the Tide’s outstanding cornerback duo of Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick and one of the country’s best safeties in Eddie Jackson. But the presence of star true sophomore safety Derwin James puts the Seminoles over the top. He has the chance to be the nation’s best defensive player this season, after a 2015 campaign that saw him grade well as a pass-rusher, in coverage and against the run, earning the top grade among returning safeties. While he plays something of a hybrid role, occasionally moving into the slot and even serving as an edge rusher on occasion, he’ll be backed up by a free safety who graded well last season in Nate Andrews and play alongside new No. 1 corner Marquez White, whose 0.46 yards per coverage snap allowed average is the lowest among returning players.
Jeff Dooley | Editor-in-Chief
Jeff is the Editor-in-Chief of PFF, and a regular contributor to The Washington Post's NFL coverage. He previously worked as the editor for ESPN Insider's NFL, Fantasy, and College Football coverage.