PFF’s non-Power-5 Dream Team: Best players at every position

Don't sleep on these players -- Zoltan Buday names the top talent outside of the Power-5 conferences in a new edition of our Dream Team.

| 2 years ago
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

PFF’s non-Power-5 Dream Team: Best players at every position

There are so many games on Saturdays that teams and players outside the Power-5 conferences are often overshadowed by the games played in the SEC, Pac-12 and other prominent conferences. With only the bowl games left from the 2015 season, we decided to collect the best players who you probably were not paying close attention to this fall.

It is necessary to note that, obviously, these players did not face the same level of competition as those who play week in, week out in the Power-5 conferences. However, as the saying goes, you can only play the teams on your schedule and these players not only played, but really impressed against their opponents.


Brandon Doughty, Western Kentucky +45.2

This one came down to the wire as Johnson was ahead of Doughty all season, but his average performance in the MAC Championship Game did him in. Although the two players have exactly the same overall grade, we go with Doughty because of his higher passing grade and consistency since he graded out above +1.0 in 11 of his last 12 games.

Key stat: Doughty has the second highest PFF QB rating (101.70) in the nation behind Baker Mayfield.

Honorable mention: Matt Johnson, Bowling Green

Running backs

Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State +19.0

After a slow start, Pumphrey reached 100 rushing yards in all of his last eight regular season games and graded below +1.0 in only one of his last nine games. He also proved to be a threat as a receiver out of the backfield and became a nightmare for defenders to tackle. He was at his best against Utah State in Week 8 where he averaged 4.7 yards after contact and forced nine missed tackles en route to 181 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

Key stat: Pumphrey forced 76 missed tackles, second to only Leonard Fournette in the nation.

James Butler, Nevada +18.2

Similarly to Pumphrey, Butler also had a slow start to his season, but he graded positively in 10 of his last 11 games. He earned almost his entire overall grade by his rushing performance as he was limited as a receiver. Butler’s most impressive game came against Hawaii when he forced 11 missed tackles on 27 carries.

Key stat: Butler’s 4.41 yards after contact per attempt leads the nation.

Ito Smith, Southern Miss +21.1

Smith was one of the most elusive running backs in the nation and stood out both as a runner and as a receiver. Although, he dropped three passes in his last four games, he still earned the fourth-highest receiving grade among running backs. His receiving skills were on full display in Week 4 against Nebraska when he caught all five of his targets and averaged 16.2 yards after the catch and forced four missed tackles as well.

Key stat: Smith has the second highest elusive rating (124.9) in the nation as he forced 61 missed tackles on 194 touches.

Honorable mention: Jeremy McNichols, Boise State; Travis Greene, Bowling Green; Marlon Mack, USF

Wide receivers

Daniel Braverman, Western Michigan +25.8

A true slot receiver, Braverman ran 96.4 percent of his routes from the slot and was the most targeted slot receiver in college football with 124 targets. He was our third highest-graded wide receiver in the nation and he earned a grade above +1.0 in 8 of his 12 games.

Key stat: He was second in the nation with 3.15 yards per route run from the slot.

Corey Davis, Western Michigan +24.8

It wasn’t not enough for teams to worry about Braverman in the slot, but Western Michigan had the ability to attack opponents with another outstanding receiver on the outside as well. Davis really came on strong in the last month of the season and he earned a grade above +3.0 in four of his last five games as he caught 40 of the 53 passes going his way for 688 yards in the last five weeks.

Key stat: Davis was seventh in the nation with 3.27 yards per route run.

Tajae Sharpe, Massachusetts +22.2

Sharpe was one of the most consistent wide receivers in college football this year as he did not have a single negatively graded game all season. He was by far the most targeted player in the nation with 178 targets, 30 targets clear from second place. He saw the most targets in Week 3 against Temple when 21 passes went his way.

Key stat: Sharpe had the sixth-best drop rate (2.63) in the nation as he dropped only three of his 114 catchable targets.

Honorable mention: Shaq Washington, Cincinnati; Demarcus Ayers, Houston; Richie James, Middle Tennessee; Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky

Tight end

David Morgan II, UTSA +36.6

Morgan was the best tight end in all of college football in 2015, not only outside the Power-5 conferences. Although, he was solid in catching the football too, he earned his place on this team with his exceptional run blocking. Those looking for the best pass-catching tight end, should turn to our honorable mention, Tyler Higbee.

Key stat: He dropped only two of his 46 catchable targets.

Honorable mention: Tyler Higbee, Western Kentucky

Offensive tackles

Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky +39.5

Excelling in pass protection and run blocking too, Forrest Lamp had an outstanding season as he graded out above +2.0 in 11 of his 13 games. Lamp had the third highest pass block and fifth highest run block grade among tackles. His Pass Blocking Efficiency (98.4) was the sixth in the entire nation as he allowed only 11 total pressures and no sacks.

Key stat: Among tackles who did not allow a single sack, Lamp played the most snaps with 529.

Evan Plagg, Tulsa +29.8

Plagg was less impressive in pass protection than Lamp, but he earned his place on this team with his run block grade of +20.0, which was the sixth-best in the nation. This is especially impressive since while Plagg graded out above +1.0 in all of his first eight games, he struggled in the last four weeks of the season.

Key stat: Plagg played 1,068 snaps this season, the most among tackles who played 12 games.

Honorable mention: Colton Jackson, Arkansas State; Rashod Hill, Southern Miss


Chase Roullier, Wyoming +39.4

Roullier has been constantly featured in our national Dream Team, so it is no surprise he made this team as he was the second-highest graded guard in college football this season behind only Joshua Garnett. Roullier was our ninth-highest graded guard in pass protection and third-highest in run blocking.

Key stat: He surrendered only five total pressures all season.

Aidan Conlon, Northern Illinois +30.9

Conlon got the nod over Gossett – the nation’s highest graded run blocking guard – because of his work in pass protection. He earned the sixth-highest pass blocking grade in the nation among guards and was impressive in run blocking as well.

Key stat: Conlon did not allow a single sack or hit on 446 pass block snaps.

Honorable mention: Colby Gossett, Appalachian State; Roscoe Byrd, Georgia State


Jesse Chapman, Appalachian State +38.8

By the end of the season Chapman took over Duke center Matt Skura and had the highest grade among all centers in college football. While he was solid in pass protection too, he had no competition when it came to his performance in run blocking.

Key stat: His grade is more than 20.0 clear of the second-highest graded center outside the Power-5.

Honorable mention: Jacob Richard, Ball State

Edge rushers

Kyler Fackrell, Utah State +39.7

Fackrell is one of the most truly versatile edge defenders in the nation. He has been equally dominant in both rushing the passer and stopping the run, while also flashing ability in coverage. His best game came against Boise State in Week 7, where he recorded one quarterback hit, four hurries and six total defensive stops. In addition, he tackled the receiver for a loss on the only reception he allowed in that game.

Key stat: Fackrell’s Pass Rushing Productivity rating of 15.0 is sixth among 3-4 outside linebackers in the nation as he recorded 33 total pressures on 168 pass rush snaps.

Jamal Marcus, Akron +36.6

While Marcus is solid against the run, his real strength has been going after the quarterback, which he does 98.6 percent of the time from the left side. To see what the former Ohio State player is capable of, just watch his tape against Miami (Ohio) where he racked up nine hurries and three hits in addition to his sack.

Key stat: He recorded 48 total pressures on 283 pass rush snaps, which was good for a Pass Rushing Productivity rating of +13.2.

Honorable mention: Eddie Yarbrough, Wyoming; Jason Neill, UTSA

Defensive interior

Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech +43.7

Although, Butler’s Pass Rushing Productivity rating is 16th in the nation among defensive tackles, he is still mainly known for his work in defending the run. Butler did not play all that well in the first game for Louisiana Tech, but he graded out above +2.0 in each of his last 11 games, which is a very impressive feat. His run defense grade of +31.0 was higher than that of DeForest Buckner, which says a lot knowing how well the Oregon defensive lineman played this year.

Key stat: Butler recorded a defensive stop on 9.2% of his run snaps, which was good for the sixth best ratio in college football among defensive tackles.

Will Anthony, Navy +43.2

Similar to Butler, Anthony also stood out mainly because of the way he played against the run. Just like Butler, Anthony was really consistent as he graded out above +1.0 in all the 11 games he played in. Despite constantly being in the backfield, Anthony has missed only two tackles all season.

Key stat: His 34 defensive stops are tied for fifth-most among interior defenders outside the Power-5 conferences.

Honorable mention: Ronald Blair, Appalachian State; Kennedy Tulimasealii, Hawaii


Jatavis Brown, Akron +36.5

While Brown was not outstanding against the run, he received our highest grade among linebackers for rushing the passer, and was also one of the best when it came to dropping into coverage. His best game came in Week 11 against Miami (Ohio) when he recorded three sacks, one hit, two hurries and had eight defensive stops altogether without a single missed tackle. To prove his versatility, he also recorded two pass defenses and an interception in that game.

Key stat: His 13 sacks lead all linebackers, while his 12 hits are good for second place in his position group.

Calvin Munson, San Diego State +32.7

Munson was one of the most exceptionally versatile linebackers in college football. He ranks among the best 25 linebackers in the nation in rushing the passer, coverage and run defense as well. He did, however, have a brief slump in Weeks 2 and 3, he graded out above +1.0 in 8 of his last 10 games. He recorded three sacks, two hits and two hurries in Week 7 against San Jose State.

Key stat: He allowed a passer rating of 42.7, the second lowest in the nation among linebackers who were targeted at least 20 times.

Tyler Gray, Boise State +27.3

It says a lot about Gray’s season that he was our 12th highest-graded linebacker in the nation despite playing fewer snaps than anyone else in the top 35. Although he played only a limited role on the Boise State defense, Gray did not have a single negatively graded game in 2015. Furthermore, he earned his highest grade in Week 3 against Idaho State when he played only 29 snaps of the possible 94.

Key stat: Gray has the best tackling efficiency among 4-3 outside linebackers in the entire nation as he did not miss a single tackle on 388 snaps.

Honorable mention: Boomer Mays, Northern Illinois; Tyler Matakevich, Temple; Hunter Kissinger, Louisiana-Monroe


Jamar Summers, Connecticut +15.7

Summers had a really slow start to his season as he earned a negative grade in three of his first four games and also did not play entire games. However, he graded out positively in all of his last eight games and played all but one snaps in the Huskies’ last six outings. Starting from Week 5, Summers was our highest-graded cornerback in the entire nation.

Key stat: Summers allowed a completion percentage of 41.7 percent and there were three games when he was targeted at least three times, but did not allow a single reception.

DeAndre Scott, Akron +13.9

Although six penalties make Scott’s overall grade a bit worse than a couple of other players’, he had the third highest coverage grade among cornerbacks in the entire nation and the highest among players outside the Power 5. Despite being targeted 64 times, Scott allowed only one touchdown all season while he picked off six passes and defended another seven.

Key stat: Scott allowed a passer rating of 30.6 for quarterbacks targeting him, which was the fourth-lowest in college football.

Michael Egwuagu, UTSA +20.0

Egwuagu finished the season strong as he graded out above +1.0 in eight of his last ten games. He made this team mainly for his brilliant performance in the slot. He was targeted only once for every ten cover snaps in the slot, which was the second best ratio in the nation. It was not without reason that quarterbacks avoided him: Egwuagu picked off two passes and allowed zero touchdowns when lining up in the slot.

Key stat: He allowed a passer rating of 63.9 as a slot cornerback, the tenth-lowest figure in college football.

Honorable mention: Kalan Reed, Southern Miss; Deatrick Nichols, USF; Shawun Lurry, Northern Illinois


Okezie Alozie, Buffalo +24.9

Alozie was the best safety against the pass this year as he earned the highest coverage grade in the entire nation. He allowed only one touchdown all season and quarterbacks had a passer rating of 71.0 when targeting him. His coverage skills were on full display in Week 8 against Ohio when he intercepted two passes and defended another two, resulting in a passer rating of 31.7.

Key stat: Alozie did not allow a reception longer than 20 yards all season.

Nate Holley, Kent State +22.7

Next to Alozie, we have a true run stopper, as Holley earned the second-highest run defense grade among safeties in the entire nation. Holley was one of the more consistent safeties in college football, grading out above +1.0 in 9 of his 12 games. Despite being a safety, Holley led the Kent State defense in defensive stops with 36.

Key stat: Holley recorded a stop on 7.4 percent of his run snaps, the eighth-best ratio among safeties in college football.

Honorable mention: DeJuan Rogers, Toledo; Weston Steelhammer, Air Force

  • Jason

    Not to say you got it wrong, but Tyler Matakevich has won the 2 most prestigious college football defensive player of the year awards, over all of the power 5 defenders, and is a unanimous first team all american. How does your system not have him as more than honorable mention in this list? Please explain.

    • Zoltan

      He was very impressive when he could make the tackle, but he missed too many to make this team. He missed the 15th most tackles among 274 linebackers and missed nine tackles altogether in two games against USF and Houston. He was really impressive, but the others were more consistent.