5 players that just missed our Top 50
In preparation for the season, PFF analyst Steve Palazzolo recently put out his list for the top 50 players in college football. As with any subjective ranking system, there are going to be disagreements and people who feel they were slighted.
Today, fellow analysts make the case for five college players they feel were snubbed from the top 50 ranking:
Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame
— Michael Renner
Steve is just flat out wrong for leaving the Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith off his list.
The important thing to remember is that the list is a projection, and while 2014’s numbers are important, they won’t fully predict 2015’s numbers. Smith’s main downfall a year ago was his grade against the run, where he struggled with missed tackles. Smith had whiffed on 18 tackles overall and 13 in the run game where he graded at right about average for the season. Anyone that watched him play could tell that it wasn’t so much a form and ability issue as it was a strength and physical maturity issue. As a sophomore, Smith played at 235 pounds and just looked like an oversized safety playing linebacker. This season he’s already reportedly up to 241 and with another year of development in a college weight room, I expect his missed tackle concerns to subside greatly.
There are two more reasons I am confident that Smith will see a huge boost in his grade this season. The first is his freakish athleticism. Few can match his explosiveness and ability to cover in space at the college ranks. The second reason is his ability to rush the passer. I’ve always believed that off-ball linebackers that show well as pass rushers also project well as run defenders because of the skillset that each takes — power, speed, body control and balance. Smith has pass rushing ability in spades and has the third-highest pass rushing grade of any returning off-ball linebacker in college.
Kareem Hunt, Toledo
— John Kosko
Flying under the college football radar is Toledo HB Kareem Hunt — a potential Heisman Trophy candidate in 2014 if he hadn’t missed four games due to injury, Hunt was arguably the nation’s best HB on a per-snap basis.
Hunt bested the likes of Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliot and Todd Gurley in elusive rating, yards after contact per attempt, and never fumbled. On just 205 carries Hunt forced 57 missed tackles, averaged 4.65 yards after contact, and gained 1628 yards. His 162.8 yards per game was third-best in the nation even though two of the games he only played one half.
While Toledo boasted one of the better offensive lines in 2014, Hunt has the vision, speed and power to overcome any drop-off in production from his offensive line. Look no further than his electric bowl game against Arkansas State, where he was able to hit small holes quickly and use his top end speed to pay dirt five times.
As long as Kareem Hunt stays healthy, don’t be surprised to see his name on several Heisman ballots come December.
DJ Foster, Arizona State
— Gordon McGuinness
One player admitted from Steve Palazzolo’s list that I feel worthy of a place on the list in 2015 is Arizona State playmaker D.J. Foster. I understand why he didn’t make the list, given that his grade as a runner was 206th out of 227 running backs in 2014, but the move to full-time receiver puts him in the best place to succeed. He may have ranked incredibly low based on his rushing grade, but only Louisiana’s Elijah McGuire had a higher receiving grade amongst all running backs. Foster put up 688 yards as a receiver last year, forcing 13 missed tackles and averaging 8.3 yards after the catch on 62 receptions.
At 5-11 and 203 pounds, Foster has the ideal size to play in the slot in that Arizona State offense. Obviously smaller than former Sun Devil Jaelen Strong, he is unlikely to win the ball in the air like he did, but his ability to create yards after the catch and make people miss makes him the key to the Arizona State offense. Foster will get plenty of opportunities with the ball in his hands in 2015, and if last year was anything to do by, that makes him very dangerous.
Dorian Johnson, Pitt
— Khaled Elsayed
Pittsburgh may have had two guys finish on Steve’s top 50 but there was one name whose omission caught my eye — Dorian Johnson. I’m going to blame it on Steve having a day where he woke up with a distain for offensive guards, because what other reason can there be for only featuring one on his list, and ignoring the talented Johnson.
While Tyler Boyd and James Conner rightfully get headlines, the Panthers offense has run through a bullying offensive line, and with T.J. Clemmings and Matt Rotheram gone, the stage is set for Johnson to follow up his CFF All-American nod with another big year. He goes into the year with the third-highest grade (86.7) of all returning guards and was extremely impressive in pass protection, allowing just two hurries all year (half the amount of first rounder Laken Tomlinson).
The nature of the Pittsburgh offense means we’ll get to see Johnson making plenty of big boy blocks this year. He won’t just be down blocking against interior lineman, but he’ll be displaying his athleticism pulling from the backside of the play in the Panthers pro-style offense. There are few prettier sights in football than that, and when you can execute like Johnson, that’s well worth a place on any college football top 50.
Elijah McGuire, Louisiana-Lafayette
— Kevin Connaghan
Creating a top 50 players list is tough — no matter how much time you put into it, many good players will miss out. One such player is Louisiana Lafayette’s electric running back, Elijah McGuire.
McGuire was one of the most productive players in the nation as a sophomore in 2014. He ranked third in the nation with 4.2 yards after contact per rushing attempt, gaining 1,248 yards at 7.5 yards per attempt.
McGuire is a defenders nightmare in space, using his speed and excellent balance to wrong foot opponents. He forced 65 missed tackles on 214 touches, giving him a nation leading 127.5 elusive rating. As good as he is running the ball, McGuire is even better in the passing game. His 94.6 rating as a receiver leads all running backs.
Of course the reason that McGuire misses out on a top 50 list is that he plays in the Sun Belt, which means that much of his production comes against some of the weaker teams in the nation. However, McGuire has been productive when facing tougher opponents. He was held scoreless against Ole Miss, but had 84 yards on just 12 touches. While against Boise State he finished with 137 yards and a touchdown from 17 touches.
Look for McGuire to continue to be one of the most dynamic and productive backs in the country in 2015.