Top 10 players outside the Power-5 conferences
Early in the year, we took a look at some of the best players from smaller conferences around the country. It’s time to make an update, featuring some carryovers from our original list that continued to impress and the emergence of a few new names.
Note: Players from big independent schools like Notre Dame have been excluded.
1. Matt Johnson, QB, Bowling Green: +44.0
Key Statistic: Has thrown 18 touchdowns without an interception when throwing 20+ yards downfield.
Matt Johnson has slowly emerged as one of the better players in college football. He leads all quarterbacks both overall and purely as a passer (+43.0). So far this season he’s completing 67.7 percent of his passes for 4,218 yards, 39 TDs and just six picks. As illustrated above, his numbers on downfield throws are absurd. He’s also shown an ability to deal with pressure, with ten touchdowns and just one interception when disrupted in the pocket. One area where Johnson could improve is on avoiding that pressure in the first place. Awkward pocket presence has drawn pressure onto Johnson on occasion, resulting in nine sacks charged to Bowling Green’s quarterback.
2. Forrest Lamp, LT, Western Kentucky: +31.8
Key Statistic: Has graded positively in 23 straight games.
Lamp has been amongst the most consistent players in the FBS since we started grading college games in 2014. He has not graded negatively in that time, finishing with just three grades below +1.5. Lamp has top-five grades both in pass protection and as a run blocker. In the passing game, he’s yet to allow a sack this season and has otherwise given up just five hits and five hurries. Lamp’s combined for a 98.2 pass blocking efficiency rating which puts him sixth amongst tackles. With the fifth-best run blocking grade to go with it, Lamp deserves his spot on this list.
3. Daniel Braverman, WR, Western Michigan: +24.6
Key Statistic: Second in FBS with 22 broken tackles.
A new entrant on the list, Braverman has elevated his game from a good year in 2014. There have been some exceptional performances this season against Murray State and Miami (Ohio) in particular. Overall he has 99 receptions for 1,188 yards and 12 touchdowns. Braverman has a QB rating when targeted in the top ten (130.2) and is also in the top ten for yards per route run (3.0). His biggest strength however is his elusiveness in the open field, as the 22 broken tackles suggests. Braverman has a little room to improve his hands though, where he has six drops from 102 catchable passes.
4. Boomer Mays, ILB, Northern Illinois: +27.2
Key Statistic: The only ILB who grades in the top six in both coverage and run defense.
Mays returns to the list after a quiet middle of the season gave way to two of his better performances of the year, agaist Buffalo and Western Michigan. He’s currently our third overall inside linebacker, with grades better than +10.0 in both coverage and run defense. Mays is a particularly efficient tackler, having missed just four of 68 attempts. In coverage, he’s graded second overall amongst inside linebackers, allowing just 0.52 yards per cover snap. With just four negatively graded games in two years, Mays is one of the more intriguing inside linebacker prospects for 2015.
5. Chase Roullier, LG, Wyoming: +37.0
Key Statistic: The only guard with pass protection and run blocking grades in the top eight.
Roullier has become one of the most complete lineman in all of FBS this season. The Wyoming Cowboy has a +8.9 pass protection grade (8th) having allowed just a sack, hit and two hurries in 344 dropbacks. Those numbers give him a pass block efficiency of 99.1 which is fifth overall. It is as a run blocker however where Roullier stands out, recording a +25.8 grade which is third at the position. Roullier has also committed only a single penalty this season, an underrated requirement in offensive lineman.
6. Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis: +31.9
Key Statistic: Has been accurate on 71.8 percent of his passes under pressure.
Lynch returns to the list despite the hype dying down a little. Outstanding performances against Ole Miss and Tulsa have been followed up with indifferent games against Tulane, Navy and Houston where he’s combined for a -1.5 passing grade. Still, Lynch remains our seventh-graded quarterback with good numbers in overall accuracy percentage, deep passing and passing under pressure. Lynch is in the top six in all three of those categories. The buzz around Lynch continues to build but he needs a good end to the season to ensure he’s seen as a franchise quarterback.
7. Kyler Fackrell, OLB, Utah State: +35.8
Key Statistic: Remains our highest graded 3-4 outside linebacker.
Fackrell, like Lynch, has not had his best stretch of games recently. Having said that, he still has positive grades as a pass rusher in each of the past four weeks. With the third best pass rushing grade to go with the third best run defending grade, Fackrell is a complete player too. Despite accumulating only three sacks, he has 11 hits which is the second most at the position. Combined with 17 hurries, he has a pass rush productivity of 15.4 which is good enough for seventh. Fackrell is versatile too, able to play inside standing up in the nickel package, giving him the option to rush or drop into coverage. That versatility will make him a more attractive proposition come April.
8. Jesse Chapman, C, Appalachian State: +35.6
Key Statistic: Tied for the league lead with a +32.7 run blocking grade.
Chapman has carried a strong finish to his junior year over to his final year in college. He’s been amongst the best centers in college this season with ten straight positively graded games. Overall he’s allowed just a sack and four hurries this season with only two negatively graded games in pass protection. Chapman’s biggest strength however is as a run blocker, where his grades have him tied at the top of the league. He hasn’t graded negatively in any game so far in 2015, which is why he’s our second graded overall center.
9. Will Anthony, DE, Navy: +36.4
Key Statistic: Is currently third overall amongst 3-4 DEs.
Anthony played well as a run defender in 2014 but needed to add the ability to push the pocket to his game as a senior. He’s done just that with 23 combined pressures through ten games and a cumulative pass rush grade of +11.8. He’s graded negatively just once as a pass rusher all season. A 5-technique needs to stop the run first and foremost however and Anthony is especially adept at that, holding the third best grade in that facet amongst 3-4 DEs (+23.2). 31 stops and just a single missed tackle is good return so far this season.
10. Okezie Alozie, SS, Buffalo: +22.3
Key Statistic: Allowing just 7.6 yards per reception.
Alozie earnt his spot on this list by displaying the cover skills necessary to play the safety position. He has been amongst the most targeted players at the position. From 40 targets he’s allowed 30 completions, for one TD, two picks and three pass deflections. Despite the high percentage of completions he’s allowed, he’s come up quickly to make tackles limiting yards after the catch. Alozie could still improve in run defense, where he’s missed eight tackles and made a modest 24 stops. Still he offers threat as a blitzer, with four sacks, a hit and seven hurries from just 47 rushes. Although he’s not a complete player yet, Alozie has been amongst the best safeties in college this season.