Top 10 players in college football
It’s never easy trying to rank the best players in college football, but our PFF grades do make things a little bit easier for us.
A couple of notes on our process:
— We limited this ranking to Power-5 players (we’ll have a separate list of the best players outside the five biggest conferences later)
— While we used our grades as a guide, we added context like strength of competition and track record in order to help us break some ties and put players in this order
Here are our top 10 college football players entering Week 7:
1. Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
There wasn’t a better defensive player in the nation last season, and despite missing the Buckeyes’ season opener versus Virginia Tech due to a team suspension, he is on pace to achieve the same distinction this year. He is currently our top-graded edge defender in overall and pass-rush grades, and ranks second in run defense. He has recorded 32 total pressures in just five games, and while he hasn’t yet faced the best competition yet, he proved during last season’s national title run that he can excel against even the best teams. The next two edge defenders on this list will push him all season long, but he’s college football’s most disruptive force right now.
2. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Fournette’s hype didn’t match his production level last season, but he has been close to unstoppable this season. There hasn’t been a defense that can slow him down, as he has had a carry of 60-plus yards in four of his five games, he has averaged 4.6 yards per carry AFTER contact, he has forced 33 missed tackles on 123 touches and ranks No. 1 in our running grades despite seeing considerably fewer snaps than some of his top competitors at the position. He has been most effective running straight up the gut, averaging 7.1 yards per carry on either side of the center and 6.8 yards per carry between the tackles. Florida and its stout defensive front will test Fournette this weekend, but so far, he’s been excellent.
3. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
Garrett has earned some Heisman buzz for his play through five games, and it’s been warranted based on his play so far (particularly in games versus Arizona State and Mississippi State). He has earned a top-5 pass-rushing grade at his position, including 7 sacks and 19 total pressures on just 123 pass-rush snaps, and he’s been much better versus the run this year than he was last season as a freshman. He clearly padded his grade last year against non-Power 5 competition, with his lowest grade of the season coming against Alabama, so this weekend’s matchup with the Crimson Tide is critical for him if he’s to challenge Bosa for the top spot in our edge defender grades. Not only is he a better player, but Bama’s pass protection looks far more vulnerable this season.
4. Jared Goff, QB, California
I know, I know, he is coming off a bad performance in his first real showcase game of the season versus Utah, recording his first negative game grade and throwing five interceptions. But he’s still our top-graded quarterback in the country, by a comfortable margin, and even when you factor in the loss to the Utes his numbers jump off the screen. He’s been great on downfield throws, completing 49 of 78 (63 percent) passes of 10-plus yards for 1,065 yards, 12 touchdowns and just five interceptions. His numbers against pressure took a hit after the Utah loss, during which he threw all five of his picks when facing pressure, but he has still demonstrated the ability to make difficult passes from the QB position.
5. Carl Nassib, DE, Penn State
It’s no fun having to choose between Bosa, Garrett and Nassib, because all three are having tremendous seasons. Nassib grades out just behind Bosa and just ahead of Garrett, but we’ve slotted him third of the three based on Penn State’s relatively weak schedule to start the year and the fact that he was more or less just an average player a year ago – not an elite edge rusher like Bosa and Garrett. He’s on their level this season, however, with 10 sacks among his 31 total pressures to go with an impressive 18 stops in the running game.
6. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
Last year, Boykin’s grades didn’t quite match up to his Heisman hype. This season, you could argue he deserves even more than he’s gotten so far (although he’s currently receiving 8-to-1 odds in Las Vegas – not bad). That’s how big of an improvement he’s made as a passer, going from a negative passing grade in 2014 and ranking No. 67 overall to the third-best QB grade overall and second behind only Cal’s Jared Goff this year. He’s gotten better on deep balls in particular, upping his completion percentage from 34 to 44 and improving his TD-INT ratio from 15-5 to 9-1 on passes of 20-plus yards. Posts and go routes make up 31 percent of his passes, compared to the NCAA average of 20 percent, and he’s excelled on both.
One part of his game that is down is his running ability — he ranked ninth in rushing grade a year ago, compared to just 29th this year, although he did lean more on his legs in TCU’s close win over Kansas State last week. Perhaps we could see more of that from him as the season progresses.
7. Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan
The Wolverines have had several defenders stand out this season, including defensive tackles Maurice Hurst and Chris Wormley and safety Jabrill Peppers, all of whom are top-10 players at their position. But Lewis might be the best on the whole team. He has PFF’s top coverage grade, a nation-leading 8 passes defensed, and opponents are an awful 11 for 34 for just 67 yards when targeted – that’s good for a passer rating against of just 26.8. He’s also added two interceptions. He should be tested this week by Michigan State’s Aaron Burbridge, who is one of our top-ranked wide receivers.
8. DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon
Buckner earned a very good grade last season, while staying somewhat in the shadows of first-round pick Arik Armstead — but he’s on a whole different level this year. He is our top-ranked 3-4 defensive end, earning a grade over two times that of the second-best player at the position. He’s the No. 1 interior pass-rusher in the country, and ranks second at his position in run-stop percentage. Just ask Colorado’s offensive line how much fun he is to block.
9. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
The award for college football’s most complete back goes to Elliott. We know he’s an excellent runner from his performance last year, and this year he’s back at it with a very impressive 4.34 yards after contact per attempt — good for fifth in the nation. He’s been asked to carry a heavy burden for the Buckeyes’ offense this year, given the struggles of QB Cardale Jones and the team’s skill-position weapons outside of WR Michael Thomas (although Braxton Miller showed last week against Maryland that he might have turned a corner in his transition to wide receiver). But he also helps out in the passing game as a receiver (he ranks No. 14 in receiving grade among RBs) and especially in pass protection. In 46 pass-blocking snaps this season, Elliott hasn’t allowed a single pressure against his QB. That’s remarkable, and better than any running back in the country.
10. Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA
Clark is the anchor of a very productive Bruins defense, and is the top-ranked interior run defender in the country. He has also made an impact as a pass-rusher, and was a one-man wrecking crew against both Arizona and Arizona State this year, earning off-the-charts grades in both games.
Just missed the cut:
LT Spencer Drango, Baylor
WR Josh Doctson, TCU
LG Joshua Garnett, Stanford
LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame
WR Corey Coleman, Baylor
DT Jarran Reed, Alabama
S Jeremy Cash, Duke
LB Darron Lee, Ohio State
S Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
WR Aaron Burbridge, Michigan State