Top 10 players outside the Power 5 conferences
Using PFF grades, John Breitenbach ranks the top 10 players in college football outside the Power 5 conferences.
Top 10 players outside the Power 5 conferences
While the top five conferences in the nation get a lot of publicity, there are a number of great players outside the big schools. It is said that smaller school players need to dominate their level of competition to get noticed by NFL evaluators, and below is a list of those prospects who have done just that.
Note players from big independent schools like Notre Dame have been excluded. This list was made from data up to and including Week 5.
1. QB Paxton Lynch, Memphis
Key statistic: One of only two quarterbacks to have thrown at least 10 touchdowns without throwing an interception.
Overview: Lynch holds the third overall grade among quarterbacks, having made plays through the air and on the ground. Overall he’s completed 103 of 145 attempts for 1,540 yards and 10 scores. Lynch’s QB rating of 128.5 is third-best in the nation. The rushing numbers are more modest; Lynch has carried 32 times for 141 yards and a score. But he’s also been elusive, breaking six tackles and picking up 51 yards after contact. Lynch has played a huge part in the Tigers’ unbeaten season, including the past three wins against Bowling Green, Cincinnati and South Florida — all of which were separated by a touchdown or less. It sets Memphis up for a big game at home against No. 13 Ole Miss.
2. WR Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky
Key statistic: Taylor has broken nine tackles in just 32 receptions and is averaging 10.6 YAC.
Overview: The numbers show the kind of playmaking ability that Taylor possesses. He currently holds the second-highest receiving grade out of 523 college receivers, despite playing just 187 snaps. With 338 yards after the catch and nine broken tackles, he’s done a lot of the work himself too. Taylor is currently second in yards per route run, averaging 4.59 yards per passing snap, a better mark than USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster. It’s not just the plays he’s made either, but the mistakes he’s avoided. Taylor is one of only eight players with over 20 receptions who is yet to drop a pass. After grading positively in every game this season, Taylor is emerging as one of the best receivers in the nation.
3. RT Colton Jackson, Arkansas State
Key statistic: Jackson has given up just a single knockdown in 148 dropbacks.
Overview: With a +15.3 grade, Jackson ranks second overall in our tackle rankings. In pass protection, the solitary hit and hurry he’s allowed in 148 snaps leaves him second in pass-blocking efficiency as well. He’s not faced the easiest opposition, either, recording shutouts against both USC and Missouri. As a run-blocker, Jackson’s +10.4 grade is third among tackles. Only his lack of discipline (three penalties, -1.8 grade) acts as a blot on his resume.
4. Greg Ward Jr., Houston
Key statistic: Holds the highest rushing grade among QBs (+14.9)
Overview: Although he has a positive grade as a passer, Ward’s greatest strength is his rushing ability. His basic numbers of 74 carries for 594 yards and 11 TDs are impressive, but he’s also breaking a tackle every four rushes with 308 of his yards coming after contact. If Ward was a running back, his 4.16 yards after contact per rush would rank him in the top 10. There have been some positive plays in the passing game, too. Ward has completed 15 of 27 deep attempts (20-plus yards) for 507 yards, 5 TDs and 1 INT.
5. OLB Kyler Fackrell, Utah State
Key statistic: Fackrell is currently fourth in pass-rush productivity.
Overview: Fackrell has raised some eyebrows with his performances this season. After suffering a torn ACL in Week 1 of 2014, Fackrell has shown no ill-effects as he attempts to make a comeback. The Utah State linebacker is currently our second overall OLB, having recorded grades above +4.0 in his first four games of the season. Fackrell has recorded positive grades as a pass-rusher in each of them, resulting in a top-five pass-rush productivity ranking. With the third-ranked run defense grade to go with it, Fackrell is one of the more complete edge defenders in this draft class. Only tackling (four misses from 16 attempts) looks like a weakness in his game.
6. QB Brandon Doughty, Western Kentucky
Key statistic: Doughty is second overall with a 77.8 accuracy percentage under pressure.
Overview: There’s a dearth of quality at the quarterback position in college, making Doughty’s performances more intriguing. He’s had some help from his teammates, with only 49.7 percent of his yards coming in the air, but Doughty has made his fair share of plays himself as well. Overall he’s completed 145-of-199 attempts for 1,939 yards, 14 TDs and two interceptions. Doughty has the second-highest accuracy percentage (81.4) and has thrown four touchdowns compared with only one interception on deep passes (20-plus yards downfield). With the second-highest passing grade in college (+13.4), Doughty is proving he can make plays at the most difficult position in football.
7. CB Jeremy Cutrer, Middle Tennessee State
Key statistic: Cutrer is third overall in our cornerback rankings.
Overview: Cutrer has graded positively in every game, recording impressive coverage statistics. Overall, he’s allowed just 16 completions on 34 targets for 203 yards, one TD, three interceptions and five pass deflections. Those eight plays on the ball are indicative of the aggressive style Cutrer plays with. His aggression is on display in the run game too, where he’s recorded 10 stops and a +3.0 grade. Curtrer has even graded positively as a pass rusher (two hits and a hurry) completing a trifecta of green grades in each facet of his play. With a pick and two pass deflections against Alabama on just seven targets, he’s performed against quality opposition as well.
8. ILB Boomer Mays, Northern Illinois
Key statistic: Mays currently holds top spot amongst inside linebackers with a +13.6 run defense grade.
Overview: Although he’s some way off top spot, Mays is still second overall in our inside linebacker rankings. He’s recorded five consecutive positively graded games including four green graded performances against the run. Mays has 21 stops, giving him a run stop percentage in the top 15. He’s also missed just two of 34 attempted tackles, resulting in a tackling efficiency inside the top 10. While he’s amongst the best in the nation in run defense, Mays isn’t as effective in coverage where he’s giving up a QB rating of 122.1, still he has a positive grade in that facet of his play (+1.5). With a combined +6.2 grade against Ohio State and Boston College, he’s performed against some quality opposition.
9. LT Evan Plagg, Tulsa
Key statistic: Plagg has accumulated his +15.3 grade in just four starts.
Overview: Plagg has impressed in his first year starting for Tulsa. He’s equaled Jackson’s grade, despite playing one game less, and shutout senior Oklahoma outside linebacker Devante Bond in their matchup in Week 3. That impressive performance is tempered somewhat by a poor game against New Mexico, where he graded negatively in pass protection giving up a hit and two hurries. Even so, allowing a sack, hit and three hurries in 185 snaps is not a bad return on the year. With a top six run blocking grade to go with it, Plagg should be considered amongst the better tackles in college.
10. DE Terrence Waugh, Kent State
Key statistic: Ranks in the top 10 for combined pressures among 4-3 defensive ends.
Overview: After five weeks Waugh is our third overall 4-3 defensive end. He’s racked up six sacks, three hits and 13 hurries in 138 snaps. Waugh’s been particularly productive from the left side, with an impressive 16 combined pressures in just 74 snaps. Although his statistics from the right side drag down his overall pass rush productivity, he still grades as our seventh 4-3 defensive end in terms of pass rushing alone. With a run defense grade that puts him inside the top five, Waugh is a balanced and productive edge defender who can contribute at the next level.