CFB Player Bracket: McCaffrey edges out Garrett for No. 1 spot
We’ve reached the finals of the 2016 PFF College player bracket and it’s time to announce the best player in college football heading into 2016. Few players dominated at their respective positions quite like Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett last season as McCaffrey earned a trip to New York as a Heisman finalist while Garrett has put together as impressive of a two-year start to a career as you’ll find from a defensive end. Unfortunately, only one man can come out on top in the PFF College player bracket — and PFF’s 101 best players in college football — so let’s take a look at the arguments for both and the best player as we head into the 2016 season.
To see the entire bracket and read every matchup breakdown, click here.
The Case for Christian McCaffrey
The most obvious argument for McCaffrey starts with our voting for him for the Heisman Trophy last season. He was the most versatile player in the nation in 2015, capable of affecting the game as a runner where he posted the No. 2-overall grade among running backs or as a receiver where he led the way with the top grade. Throw in his work on special teams and McCaffrey was the nation’s best all-around player last season, and a big reason for Stanford’s Pac-12 championship and domination of Iowa in the Rose Bowl.
But we’re looking ahead to this season, and there are some concerns as to whether McCaffrey can match his exceptional 2015. Stanford is losing three offensive linemen, including the nation’s No. 2-graded run blocking guard in Joshua Garnett and last year’s No. 4 center in Graham Shuler. So while McCaffrey is an electric player, it’s going to be difficult to duplicate the running room he had a year ago.
However, it’s McCaffrey’s ability to create from multiple spots on the field, combined with Stanford’s creativity on offense, that should give him plenty of opportunities to prove his worth as the nation’s best player. Stanford’s creative formation usage often puts defenses in a bind and with McCaffrey’s slot receiver skills, we may see even more of him in the passing game as the Cardinal look to create mismatches. We even saw McCaffrey take his fair share of direct snaps as they tried to out-gap the defense behind their staple “power” play. So even with a few key pieces moving on, McCaffrey may become an even bigger part of Stanford’s offense and he has the skills to produce no matter how they get the ball into his hands.
The Case for Myles Garrett
Few defensive linemen can step right in and put up dominant production right out of high school and doing so in the SEC is even more of a challenge. Garrett has exceeded expectations for even the mostly highly-decorated recruits as his overall grade as a true freshman ranked fourth in 2014 before improving to second last season.
Garrett combines a long, athletic frame with good burst and hand usage that allows him to get after the quarterback and he finished second and fourth in the nation as a pass rusher the last two years respectively. In his two seasons, he’s compiled 22 sacks, 20 QB hits, and 69 hurries on his 651 pass rushes — numbers most players would be content with for a career. Garrett’s pass rushing production, combined with his frame and athleticism will have the NFL calling early in the draft, most likely within the first five picks.
The other part to Garrett’s game that shouldn’t go unnoticed is his work against the run. He could use a little more power when attacking blockers, but that’s to be expected for a lanky-framed defensive end as a freshman and sophomore. But last year’s improvement is important to note as new defensive coordinator John Chavis helped Garrett take the next step, improving his run grade from +0.4 to +8.2. Chavis has always had success teaching his defensive ends how to play the run and they usually have a good feel for taking on blocks, so another big step from Garrett in his junior season will make him a complete player and the nation’s most dangerous defensive player.
The sky is the limit for Garrett as he continues to improve his game, both as a pass rusher and as a run stopper. Garrett is more than just tools as his two-year production shows, and both he and Texas A&M’s defense appeared primed for their best season yet.
The verdict: McCaffrey wins.
The nation’s best offensive player edges the nation’s best defensive player by a narrow margin. McCaffrey’s ability to win from anywhere on the field is too much to ignore and even with the loss of three offensive linemen, it won’t take away those skills even if the overall production takes a slight hit. McCaffrey is likely a top-100 player as a slot receiver alone, but when combined with his vision and shiftiness as a runner, he becomes the most dynamic offensive player in the country. Garrett is right there with McCaffrey, and perhaps another big step as a run stopper could make this race even tighter, but McCaffrey’s production and versatility win out.