Daily Focus: Grading the players from Bruce Feldmans' "Best Athletes" list
Grading the best athletes in college football: FOX Sports’ Bruce Feldman produces his “Freaks List” every year – a ranking of the best athletes in the country – and it is essential reading for fans.
We took a spin through the 21-person list and picked out the players whose weight-room and track athleticism translated into the best on-field performances, ranked here based on our PFF grades:
Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M: Our pick for the nation’s best defensive player entering 2016, Garrett bench-presses 485 pounds and runs a 4.45-second 40-yard dash – and that combination of speed and power has led to Garrett producing the nation’s second-best pass-rush grade from 2014-15, behind only No. 3 overall pick of the Chargers Joey Bosa.
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: The Tigers star has elite power, having broken a nation-leading 85 tackles last year as a runner, but Feldman reports that Fournette has gotten down to 228 pounds this offseason and is even faster than before, running a 4.42 40. He was already one of the best big-play threats in the country, with his 27 runs of 15-plus yards ranking fifth among RBs.
Jabrill Peppers, LB/S, Michigan: Our top-graded safety among returning players last year, Peppers is expected to play linebacker for the Wolverines on base downs while converting back to a coverage player on obvious passing downs. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then to hear that Peppers ran a 4.34 40 at Michigan practices, according to Feldman.
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State: He was a star as a true freshman, rushing for 1,076 yards and ranking No. 1 in PFF’s elusive rating metric, which measures how difficult a back is to tackle. Feldman reports that the Nittany Lions back squats 600 pounds and runs a 4.38 40, demonstrating Barkley’s explosiveness as a runner.
Adoree Jackson, CB, USC: The Trojans’ versatile weapon (he played offense and returned kicks last year in addition to his work at corner) won the Pac-12 long jump title and wants to playfor the USC basketball team at season’s end, according to Feldman. Jackson ranked No. 47 in our Top 101 rankings this offseason.
Elijah Hood, RB, North Carolina: Our pick for the most underrated back in college football, Hood led all returning Power-5 backs in yards after contact per rush with 4.1. That power shows up in the weight room, via his 635-pound squat and 375-pound bench press.
Takkarist McKinley, DE, UCLA: Feldman reports that McKinley, who ran a 10.6-second 100-yard dash in high school, has upped his weight from 250 pounds to 265, while maintaining his speed – a scary thought, given that he ranked fourth in both run-stop percentage and pass-rush productivity at his position last season. He is expected to play more on the edge in the Bruins’ new 4-3 defense.
DeAngelo Brown, DT, Louisville: A top-25 player in our run-defense and pass-rush grades among returning interior D-linemen, Brown is a key component of a very talented Louisville defensive front. His 21 reps of 315 pounds have Feldman calling Brown “arguably the strongest man in college football.”
Impact of T.J. Edwards injury on Wisconsin defense: Earlier this week, we ranked the Badgers linebackers as one of the top 10 returning units in the Big Ten. With the return of Vince Biegel, one of the nation’s leaders in pass-rush productivity, on the outside, and several productive returners at inside linebacker, they have the potential to be an elite unit.
However, the highest-graded of those inside backers, T.J. Edwards, is currently in doubt for the start of the season due to injury. There has been no timetable given for his return to the field.
Wisconsin certainly has the depth to overcome this injury, particularly if he doesn’t miss too much time. Of the two players likely to occupy the starting inside linebacker positions while Edwards is out, Jack Cichy graded considerably better than Chris Orr a year ago, excelling in coverage and producing five sacks as a pass-rusher.