Top 10 players in college football
Heading into rivalry weekend, here is our updated ranking of the 10 best players in college football, based on our PFF grades and data – with a new name taking over the No. 1 spot:
1. DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon
He didn’t have his best game of the season in the Ducks’ win over USC, but he still earned a good grade, and the fact is he has been a dominant force all season long. His lead in our PFF grades among interior defenders is similar to (if not greater than) Joey Bosa’s among edge defenders, so with Bosa earning a rare negative grade in the loss to Michigan State, we’ll move Buckner into the top spot here. Few interior linemen have been better against the run, and none have been better as a pass-rusher. His 59 total pressures far exceeds the total posted by the next-best inside player on the list, and in fact, only three edge rushers have produced more so far this season. That is remarkable.
2. Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Bosa was a positive force as a pass-rusher in the Buckeyes’ loss to the Spartans, but he earned a negative grade overall because of his performance against the run and the penalties he picked up during the game. Still, though, it’s important to remember that this list is meant to reflect season-long performance, not just the most recent week, and he has been one of if not the very best defensive player in the country this season. He is No. 1 in our edge defender grades by a good margin, posting the highest pass-rush and run-defense grades at the position. Don’t be surprised if he has a huge game versus Michigan this week and moves back up to the top of this list.
3. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Mayfield was on his way to a really impressive performance in the Sooners’ win over TCU Saturday before being knocked out with a concussion. He still made enough of an impact to maintain his top spot in our PFF quarterback grades. He also is first nationally in yards per attempt and QB rating, along with fourth in deep-ball accuracy (he’s completing 55 percent of throws of 20-plus yards, including 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions). He is also contributing to the Sooners’ success as a runner. His play has the Sooners in the playoff mix heading into this weekend’s showdown with Oklahoma, and has him in the Heisman mix.
4. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
As colleague Sam Monson wrote earlier this week, McCaffrey has taken over the top spot in our PFF grades and established himself as the best running back in college football. There isn’t a bigger receiving threat out of the backfield in the country – he ranks No. 1 in our grades and his yards per route run average would make a lot of wide receivers jealous. He’s a dynamic return man as well, ranking second in our grades after returning a kickoff for a touchdown in Stanford’s win over Cal this week. He may not be quite the same level of runner as LSU’s Leonard Fournette and FSU’s Dalvin Cook, but he’s still plenty effective between the tackles and in the open field, and his all-around game is a differentiating factor for him. Side note: His guard Joshua Garnett, who ranks No. 1 at his position and absolutely destroyed Cal’s defensive front in the running game last week, deserves some credit for McCaffrey’s success as well.
5. Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State
Ogbah has established himself as the second-best edge rusher in the country after Bosa, and he put together another strong performance last week in the Cowboys’ loss to Baylor – including one play in which he sacked Bears QB Jarrett Stidham, forced a fumble and then recovered it on his own. He is a good run defender – not a great one – but he is outstanding at getting to the quarterback. His 66 total QB disruptions ranks No. 1 in the country, and his 11 sacks rank second only to Penn State’s Carl Nassib. He’ll have to play a key role in getting to Sooners QB Baker Mayfield in this weekend’s Bedlam game.
6. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Fournette earned his first negative grade of the season in LSU’s loss to Ole Miss, largely due to his two fumbles. However, this list is based on the best players in the country over the course of the entire season, and Fournette has been the most dominant runner we’ve seen. He still ranks No. 1 in PFF rushing grade, even after his down week, and no Power-5 running back has forced more missed tackles. The Tigers’ season has gone off the rails a bit the last few weeks, including speculation as to whether head coach Les Miles will be fired, but Fournette is not to blame for the downturn.
7. Sheldon Day, DT, Notre Dame
Buckner has made the race to be PFF’s top-ranked interior defender a one-man show, but Day is the clear-cut No. 2 player on that list, as well as a key force in Notre Dame’s one-loss season and potential playoff bid. He has been very good as a run defender all year, but where he has excelled most is as a pass-rusher, producing the season-most total pressures among defensive tackles with 41. He hasn’t had a bad game all year, and was exceptional against the Fighting Irish’s two toughest opponents in Clemson and Temple.
8. Steven Daniels, LB, Boston College
Daniels is another first-timer on this list, but he is long overdue for making it. He is far and away PFF’s top-ranked linebacker. He has a top-20 grade in coverage and a top-10 grade as a pass-rusher, having recorded seven sacks, six hits and eight hurries on the season, but make no mistake: His best work coms as a run defender. His 45 defensive stops is the highest total among Power 5 players. Boston College has had a rough season, but Daniels has been a standout, recording good grades in every game and excellent grades against top opponents like Florida State and Notre Dame.
9. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
It was very tempting to replace Boykin, who missed last week’s Oklahoma game with an ankle injury, with Jared Goff, who had a great game in Cal’s loss to Stanford and ranks fourth in our QB grades versus Power 5 competition despite not having a great team around him. However, Boykin is still our No. 1 QB versus the Power 5, even after missing the OU game, and he is still the nation’s leader in accuracy rate at 73 percent. He’s also still a big-time running threat, despite improving considerably as a passer this year. It’s unclear whether he’ll be healthy enough to play Friday versus Baylor.
10. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
It was tough to go away from Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, who is having an outstanding season of his own. He still ranks No. 1 in PFF’s elusive rating and breakaway percentage. But what Henry has done over the latter part of the season has been really impressive. He’s struggled a bit as a pass-catcher and in pass protection, but purely as a runner he has been fantastic, and he is the Crimson Tide’s best playmaker on offense. When adjusting just for games against Power 5 competition, he ranks No. 5 in rushing grade, No. 3 in elusive rating and No. 2 in both yards after contact per attempt and broken tackles.
Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan
Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma
Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State