College football is a sport that has been around for nearly 140 years. The top 100 players of the 2021 season will be the most watched and analyzed list in history, with many wondering how these players will perform in their professional careers.
The top 100 college football players 2022 is a list of the top 100 players in college football for 2020.
8 a.m. ET
We’ve finally arrived. This week marks the start of the 2021 college football season. And, unlike last year, this fall’s conferences are all set to go straight away.
After that, it’s time to break out the top 100 players to keep an eye on. We polled our college football experts over the course of a few weeks to determine which players would be the greatest this season.
Is Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler destined to be the best player in the country? Should D.J. Uiagalelei of Clemson be rated higher?
This is the final ranking that was determined after all of the votes were tallied. We’ll have to wait and see what these 100 guys bring to the field once the games begin.
Methodology: A group of more than 20 people were given the opportunity to vote one-on-one. “Will Sam Howell or Kedon Slovis be better in 2021?” for example. These were the results after more than 13,000 votes.
Jump to: 1-10 | 11-20 | 21-30 | 31-40 | 41-50 51-60 | 61-70 | 71-80 | 81-90 | 91-100 | 51-60 | 61-70 | 71-80 | 81-90 | 91-100 | 51-60 | 61-70 | 71-80 | 81-90 | 91-100
Oklahoma sophomore quarterback NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Last season, Rattler struggled early on, committing six turnovers in ten quarters against Kansas State, Iowa State, and Texas, and was benched against the Longhorns. Last season, he rebounded to throw for 3,031 yards and 28 touchdowns against seven interceptions (three of which came in the last seven games) and complete 47 throws of 20 yards or more, which ranked seventh nationally. He’s trying to build his case for the Heisman Trophy like all the other OU quarterbacks before him, now that he’s more seasoned and surrounded by offensive skill.
Illustration by ESPN
Last year’s ranking: 2 CB, LSU Junior
Stingley has only been on school for two seasons but has already been named to the All-American and All-SEC teams twice. He has 65 tackles, 21 pass deflections, and six interceptions in 22 games. He’s also a danger in the return game and can play both receiver and running back if necessary.
Junior DE, Oregon Rank from the previous year: 6
Thibodeaux, a possible No. 1 overall selection in the 2022 NFL draft, has shown over the last two seasons why he was the top-ranked player in the 2019 class when he came in Eugene. He’s one of the most explosive pass rushers in college football, and the scene is set for a huge 2021.
Last year’s ranking: NR, Alabama Junior
6-foot-7, 350-pound linemen aren’t meant to be as quick as Neal, who just performed this insane box jump. The Florida junior was an All-American as a freshman at left guard before switching to right tackle last season, when he only allowed 1.5 sacks. With standout left tackle Alex Leatherwood going to the NFL, Neal is expected to take over as the offensive line’s cornerstone.
Junior quarterback from North Carolina The previous year’s position was 22.
Howell developed into probably the finest quarterback in the nation during his first two seasons at UNC, throwing for 76 touchdowns and more than 7,400 yards. More significantly, he has resurrected the Tar Heels’ program, instilling confidence in a squad that had won just four games in the previous two years before his arrival. Now that Howell is in charge of one of the most productive offenses in the nation, UNC supporters are thinking about the playoffs.
Sam Howell gives North Carolina a swagger and has the Tar Heels thinking about the playoffs. Gerry Broome/Associated Press
Last year’s ranking: 27 WR, Ohio State Senior
Last season, Olave recorded 50 catches for 729 yards and seven touchdowns in a truncated season, and he had 849 yards the year before. He’s a vital component of Ohio State’s offense and will be a valuable asset to the team’s next quarterback in 2021. Olave’s status as a top NFL draft prospect should be cemented if he has another strong season.
Junior, Notre Dame NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Hamilton begins his third (and presumably last) season at Notre Dame as one of the nation’s best defensive backs after receiving numerous All-America accolades in 2020. Despite the fact that his interceptions number fell from four to one last year, he’s constantly on the move and almost quadrupled his solo tackles total from the previous year.
Oklahoma sophomore wide receiver NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Mims had the most average yards per route ran among the 2021 returnees. Despite playing just around 25 plays each game, he caught 37 receptions for 610 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s a great punt returner as well. Imagine what he could accomplish if he had a complete slate of pictures at his disposal.
Last year’s ranking: NR, RB, Iowa State Junior
Last season, Hall led the country in carries (279), running yards (1,572), and yards after contact for Iowa State (820). He became the first FBS player since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2000 to rush for at least 75 yards and a score in every game of the season, and he earned the Cyclones’ first unanimous All-American in school history. Hall has run for more than 100 yards against every Big 12 team in his career, so opponents know what they’re up for.
Sophomore linebacker from Alabama NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Anderson, one of college football’s most dangerous pass rushers, started at outside linebacker as a rookie last season and earned All-SEC accolades after recording seven sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. And keep in mind that he accomplished all of this without even practicing in the spring. Anderson believes he’s comfortable now after a year and a half on the job, and he’s ready to take the next step toward being the greatest version of himself, which should scare SEC quarterbacks.
Clemson sophomore defensive tackle NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Bresee, a freshman All-American in 2020 who is primed for an even greater year for the Tigers, is the reason Clemson returns one of the finest defensive lines in the nation. Bresee has 33 tackles (6.5 for loss), four sacks, two pass breakups, a forced fumble, and a safety in 10 games last season.
Junior quarterback at USC The previous year’s rating was 26.
Slovis begins his junior season with hopes of being among the national leaders in every throwing metric after completing 70% of his passes for 5,423 yards the previous two seasons. He’s at his finest in the fourth quarter, when he’s thrown 14 touchdown passes to just one interception in his career.
Junior running back for Texas A&M NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Last season, the Texas junior quietly established himself as one of the finest rushing backs in the nation, ranking third in the SEC with 103.60 yards per game. He rushed for 1,036 yards on 188 runs and added another 193 yards on 20 receptions. The Aggies may have the greatest one-two punch at running back in the league if they pair up with Devon Achane.
Isaiah Spiller ran for over 1,000 yards last season. Lynne Sladky/AP Photo
Sophomore running back from Texas NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Robinson had a career-high 47 runs for 522 yards and four touchdowns in the last four games of his rookie season, as well as eight receptions for 129 yards and two more touchdowns. Steve Sarkisian’s first Longhorn offense may be led by the No. 21 prospect in the ESPN 300 for 2020.
Junior DE, Texas A&M NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Leal, who led Texas A&M with eight hurries as a sophomore last season, may be the most explosive defensive lineman in the SEC at 6-4 and 290 pounds. Mike Elko, the defensive coordinator for the Aggies, described him as a “special talent” who “can be a mismatch player, whether it’s an inside or outside person.”
Liberty Junior QB NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Under the tutelage of Liberty coach Hugh Freeze, the former Auburn quarterback has developed into perhaps the best dual-threat quarterback in the country. Last season, Willis led FBS quarterbacks with 944 running yards and 14 touchdowns, as well as 20 touchdown passes and a 17th-place finish in pass efficiency. Willis is a top prospect in the NFL draft.
Junior at Texas A&M, OG NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Green, like many other offensive lineman, is often ignored. He was selected an All-American last season after being a member of one of the finest offensive lines in the nation. The 6-4, 325-pound Texas native should be a household name heading into his junior season.
Junior quarterback for Ole Miss NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Meet one of college football’s most entertaining players. Corral, who was sixth in the FBS in passing yards per game (333.7) and eighth in passing touchdowns last season, is the kind of quarterback who will throw it deep in a game. He also led the SEC in completions of 40 yards or more with eight. He may be in the Heisman race if he can cut down on his picks (he threw six against Arkansas and five against LSU).
Last year’s ranking: NR (WR, Ohio State Junior)
Wilson joins Chris Olave as part of the finest receiving combination in the country for the 2021 season. Even though the Buckeyes have a quarterback with no collegiate experience, he caught 43 receptions for 723 yards and six touchdowns last season, and he is projected to make another jump in 2021.
Garrett Wilson is one of Mel Kiper Jr.’s top 25 overall prospects for the 2022 NFL Draft. Lynne Sladky/AP Photo
Last year’s ranking: NR (QB, Cincinnati Senior)
As Cincinnati’s starting quarterback, he’s 30-5, and his record should improve as the Bearcats begin the season as a top-10 club. Ridder is the reigning AAC Offensive Player of the Year, with 6,905 career throwing yards and 57 touchdowns, as well as three seasons of surpassing 580 run yards.
Sophomore quarterback, Alabama NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Last season, Young showed off some unique abilities, whether it was a fastball to a receiver or scrambling under pressure. However, due to a restricted schedule, the true freshman did not get the playing time that his coaches had hoped for him as a five-star recruit coming out of Mater Dei High School in California. Now he’ll be thrust into the fire as the presumed starter on a team chasing a title.
Last year’s ranking: NR (WR, Alabama Junior)
Metchie stepped up as a dependable target and big-play threat the minute standout receiver Jaylen Waddle went down. On 55 receptions, he averaged 16.7 yards per catch for a total of 916 yards and six touchdowns. Metchie will become an even larger emphasis of the passing game now that Waddle and Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith are gone.
Junior LB from Alabama NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
As a rookie, the Louisiana native was thrust into the starting lineup and had his ups and downs. Harris, on the other hand, showed what he was capable of last season, finishing second on the team with 79 tackles, including seven for a loss. He added 4.5 sacks, six QB pressures, two pass breakups, and an interception to his stat line.
Georgia Junior QB NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
So what if Daniels takes a bit longer than anticipated to make an impression at Georgia? After transferring from USC, he needed time to regain his bearings. But once he did, he demonstrated why he might become the Bulldogs a title contender, throwing for 401 and 392 yards in victories against Mississippi State and Cincinnati, respectively.
Clemson sophomore defensive end NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Murphy made an impact as a true freshman, garnering freshman All-America accolades with 51 tackles (including a team-high 12 for loss) and four sacks. He also became the first true freshman in Clemson history to force three fumbles in a season under coach Dabo Swinney.
Junior CB, Cincinnati NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
In 2020, the guy known as “Sauce” was selected to many first- and second-team All-America teams as a key member of Cincinnati’s trademark defense. Gardner has 20 pass deflections in 23 career games after intercepting three passes in each of his first two seasons with the Bearcats.
Auburn sophomore running back NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Bigsby, who exploded into the spotlight last season with 122.4 all-purpose yards per game and won SEC Freshman of the Year honors, may have been the most outstanding rookie running back in the nation. Now that last season’s top three receivers (Seth Williams, Anthony Schwartz, and Eli Stove) are all gone, the Georgia native is anticipated to be the focal point of the Tigers’ attack once again.
With a devastating stiff-arm before scoring the Auburn touchdown, Tank Bigsby lives up to his first name.
Clemson sophomore quarterback NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Clemson quarterbacks are always held to a high standard, and Uiagalelei, who replaces Heisman Trophy winner Trevor Lawrence, is no exception. While Lawrence was absent, Uiagalelei started two games as a true freshman in 2020. Uiagalelei finished 78-of-117 for 914 yards, five touchdowns, and no interceptions in 235 plays across ten games.
Relive D.J. Uiagalelei’s best moments from last season as the Clemson quarterback prepares to replace Trevor Lawrence.
Last year’s ranking: 42 QB, Iowa State Senior
Purdy’s record at Iowa State is unblemished: He has 25 school records, including being the all-time winningest quarterback. Purdy is returning with unfinished business after being voted MVP of the Cyclones’ Fiesta Bowl victory against Oregon. Last year, he passed for 322 yards and 68 percent completion against Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game, but his three interceptions were too much to overcome in a 27-21 defeat. Purdy has one more opportunity to lead Iowa State over the hump and to even higher heights, with 19 starters returning.
Last year’s ranking: NR, DL, Ohio State Senior
Garrett is taking advantage of the NCAA’s additional year of eligibility due to COVID-19. With 41 games under his belt, Garrett has the most game experience of any Ohio State defensive player, and despite getting shot in the face before to the 2020 season, Garrett participated in all eight games. Garrett, a possible All-American defensive lineman, will be one of the defensive line’s most important players in 2021.
Sophomore quarterback at Coastal Carolina NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
In 2020, the face of college football’s most unexpected squad returns to Conway, South Carolina’s teal grass. Last season, McCall threw for 2,488 yards, 26 touchdowns, and just three interceptions while completing almost 69 percent of his attempts. He seems to be a national award contender once again.
Junior offensive lineman from Iowa NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Linderbaum is one of the top centers in the nation as a junior this season. Last season, he was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy, which goes to the top center in college football. He’s the offensive line’s rock and provides the offense with a lot of steadiness and consistency up front.
Last year’s ranking: NR, QB, UCF Junior
The 2020 FBS passing average leader (357 yards per game) has already earned a spot among Daunte Culpepper, Blake Bortles, and other UCF legends. In two years, he has thrown for 300 yards 11 times, has a 61-11 career touchdown-to-interception ratio, and owns club records for yards per completion (14.9) and yards per attempt (8.91).
Sophomore WR at LSU NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
LSU has a history of producing dynamic receivers, and Boutte is the next in line after emerging as the Tigers’ go-to receiver last season when Terrace Marshall opted out in November. Boutte, a 6-foot, 190-pound rookie All-America pick, with five touchdown catches and averaged 16.3 yards per grab as a freshman.
Sophomore CB at LSU NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Ricks, a superb lockdown cornerback who might combine with All-American Derek Stingley Jr., was lost in a tough season for LSU in 2020. Ricks, a 6-2 former four-star recruit, started all ten games and had four interceptions to lead the team.
Last year’s ranking: 45 QB, Miami Senior
King moved to Miami after opting out of the 2019 season with Houston and immediately altered the Hurricanes’ attack. King passed for 23 touchdowns and 3,200 yards of offense while throwing just five interceptions. However, King’s season came to an end on a sad note when he hurt his knee in Miami’s bowl game, necessitating offseason surgery. He hardly slowed down throughout recovery. This summer, King was back running 7-on-7s, and he claims to be 100 percent healthy as he prepares for his senior season, when he hopes to win the ACC.
D’Eriq King’s first year at Miami has been a huge success, with the quarterback throwing for 22 touchdowns and running for four more.
Oklahoma’s OLB/DE Junior NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Only Bonitto (22.2%) and Michigan’s Kwity Paye (21.1%) had a pressure rate over 20% among players with at least 15 pass rush attempts per game. He has eight sacks and 21 forced incompletions this season, and he is the backbone of Alex Grinch’s defensive attack.
Last year’s ranking: NR, DB, Alabama Senior
Last season, Jobe played opposite Patrick Surtain II, the ninth overall selection in the NFL draft, as Alabama’s “other” cornerback. Jobe, who is entering his senior season, is a great player in his own right, and he provides the Tide with another another corner who can lock down coverage. With 11 pass breakups a year ago, Jobe was second only to Surtain.
Last year’s ranking: NR (WR, Clemson Junior)
Ross has been allowed to play for the Tigers after missing last season due to a congenital fusion in his spine. Clemson is hoping that his comeback will result in more explosive big plays downfield. Ross rushed for 865 yards and eight touchdowns in 2019, and he had 1,000 receiving yards as a true freshman in 2018.
Last year’s ranking: NR (CB, Florida Junior)
Last season, Florida’s defense had several issues, but Elam was outstanding. The 6-2, 190-pound junior is a dynamic coverage player with excellent instincts. After intercepting three passes as a freshman, he earned 17 career starts and intercepted two passes last season, becoming just the sixth Gator since 2010 to intercept three passes in his rookie season.
Georgia Junior DB NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Smith, who transferred from West Virginia after being named to the All-America team last season, helped the Bulldogs restock its secondary. The 5-10, 198-pound junior has made 17 career starts and should be a good fit for Georgia’s hybrid linebacker/slot cornerback/safety scheme. With eight tackles for loss a year ago, he was second on West Virginia’s squad.
Junior TE at Texas A&M NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Wydermyer is a strong run-blocker who can also play receiver and has the physical ability and hands to make difficult challenged receptions. And with his 6-5, 255-pound bulk, bringing him down is never simple. Wydermyer enters his junior season with a total of six touchdown receptions in his previous two seasons.
Sophomore defensive back from Alabama NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Moore, one of the country’s best true freshman, started 11 games at Alabama’s hybrid “star” position last season and led the team with four forced turnovers. He missed the College Football Playoff and spring practice due to injury, but he teams up with Josh Jobe to offer the Crimson Tide two of the finest defensive backs in the country.
Sophomore running back at Kansas State NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Vaughn may be tiny (5-6), but he put up huge numbers in his rookie season, becoming one of the country’s biggest shocks. Coaches named Vaughn the Big 12’s freshman of the year after he led K-State in running (642 yards) and receiving (434 yards). He was selected second-team all-conference, making him the only Wildcat freshman to be named to either the first or second team since the Big 12’s inception in 1996.
In 2020, Deuce Vaughn was awarded Big 12 Freshman of the Year. USA TODAY Sports’ Jerome Miron
Indiana Junior QB NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Penix is coming back from a torn ACL for the 2021 season, and Indiana coach Tom Allen says his rehabilitation is on track. In six games before to the injury, he passed for 1,645 yards, 14 touchdowns, and four interceptions. Penix will need to be the player he was before the injury, and then some, if the Hoosiers are to replicate their 2020 success.
Junior running back for Notre Dame NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Despite just having 20 touches in three games, Williams proved himself as a dependable and prolific ball carrier in 2020, ending with 1,125 yards running and 13 touchdowns. Williams, a second-team All-ACC pick, and teammate Chris Tyree will play important roles this fall in assisting a new quarterback (likely Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan).
Sophomore TE for Notre Dame NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Mayer is the next in line at Notre Dame, which has established itself as a national center for exceptional tight ends. Last season, the 6-4, 251-pound true sophomore was tied for second on the team with 42 catches, including 19 in the last three games. Mayer will play a prominent role for a club that lacks great pass catchers.
Junior LB from Alabama NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
To’o To’o joins an Alabama linebacker corps that was already one of the finest in the nation after leading Tennessee with 10 tackles for loss last season. Nick Saban has noticed To’o To’o’s production and leadership in preseason, which means the 6-2, 228-pound junior may be one of the most significant transfers in the nation.
Last year’s ranking: NR (OL, Ohio State Senior)
Munford is another Buckeye who will return in 2021, taking advantage of the additional year of eligibility. He has spent most of his career at left tackle, but Ohio State’s coaches may move him inside to left guard this season in order to have all of their top offensive lineman on the field at the same time. Over the last four seasons, he has appeared in 45 of Ohio State’s 50 games, the most of any Big Ten offensive guard. If he doesn’t move to a different position, that experience will benefit him, but in any case, he should be one of the best linemen in the nation.
Last year’s ranking: NR, WR, USC Junior
London came in and made an instant impact in his first two seasons despite playing in a deep and skilled receiver corps. With some of those guys departing for the NFL, the Trojans will be even more dependent on London, who has the kind of potential that may propel him into the first round of the draft.
This season, Drake London will be one of USC’s top targets. Kirby Lee is a sports reporter for USA TODAY.
Last year’s ranking: NR, TE, Iowa State Senior
Kolar is the ultimate security blanket for Cyclones quarterback Purdy and an Iowa State team carrying its highest expectations ever into 2021. Big enough to serve as a sixth lineman and nimble enough to do all sorts of pass-catching damage in the slot, Kolar is the ultimate security blanket for Cyclones quarterback Purdy and an Iowa State team carrying its highest expectations ever into 2021.
Sophomore at Mississippi State, OT NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
It’s no surprise that the Bulldogs had to beat off Auburn, Florida State, and LSU to retain Cross in Georgia. He played 720 snaps at left tackle last season, which was 630 more than any other rookie offensive lineman in the SEC. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he was pass blocking on almost every play in Mike Leach’s pass-happy system, surrendering five sacks and 13 pressures.
DL, Michigan Senior NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR,
Last season, Hutchinson’s season was cut short after three games due to a leg injury. The 6-6 defensive end recorded 68 total stops, 10.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks last season. Hutchinson will play a different role this season now that he’s completely healthy, according to new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald’s diverse system. Hutchinson will play a hybrid defensive end/linebacker position, which will provide him the opportunity to showcase his flexibility.
Last year’s ranking: NR, WR, Indiana Senior
Last season, Fryfogle led the Hoosiers with 721 receiving yards and seven touchdowns on 37 receptions. Now that fellow receiver Whop Philyor, the team’s leading receiver, has left for the NFL, Fryfogle’s numbers may rise even higher. D.J. Matthews, a transfer from Florida State, was brought in by the coaches, but Fryfogle has become a top target for Penix.
Last year’s ranking: NR, RB, Minnesota Senior
Ibrahim won the Big Ten Running Back of the Year award in 2020 after rushing for 1,076 yards and 15 touchdowns on 5.4 yards per carry. With 153.7 yards per game, he also established a school record. With Rashod Bateman gone, he’s now Minnesota’s offensive highlight as the team attempts to compete in the Big Ten West.
Mohamed Ibrahim has emerged as Minnesota’s shining star. Johnson, Jesse -Source: USA TODAY Sports
Last year’s ranking: NR (LB, USC Junior)
Jackson has already stated that this year will be his “money year” and that he will join the NFL draft in 2022. There’s a reason behind that. Jackson has 17 tackles for loss in 17 career games and will be one of the top pass rushers in the nation.
Clemson Junior Defensive Tackle Last year’s ranking: NR
Davis battled with injuries last season, appearing in just seven games and recording 17 tackles (five for loss), two sacks, and a pass breakup. Davis, now that he’s healthy, should be able to reclaim the form that made him one of the nation’s top young defensive tackles.
Last year’s ranking: NR, DE, Clemson Senior
Thomas is hoping for a strong year after being restricted to seven games in 2020 due to COVID-19 and strep throat issues. He is unquestionably capable. Thomas made an immediate impact as a rookie in 2018, earning All-America accolades with 43 tackles (10.5 for loss) and 3.5 sacks. Dabo Swinney sees a more focused Thomas going into the season after Thomas dropped 30 pounds this summer.
Junior LB from Florida NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
The one question mark around Cox is a foot ailment that necessitated surgery this summer, but coach Dan Mullen is confident that his greatest pass-rusher will be ready for the season opener. After starting his career at Georgia, the 6-4, 250-pound Cox led the team with 18 quarterback hurries and 9.5 tackles for loss in his lone season with the Gators.
Senior LB from South Carolina NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Last season, Enagbare recorded six sacks in eight games for the Gamecocks, another Georgia native who has excelled with the team. At 6-4 and 270 pounds, he has the size and strength to play linebacker in the NFL or defensive end in college. Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN rates him as the No. 18 prospect in the NFL draft class of 2022.
Last year’s ranking: NR, DL, Ohio State Senior
Ohio State has a history of producing NFL-caliber defensive lineman, and Smith is the next to graduate. Last season, he appeared in all eight of Ohio State’s games, with two solo tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack, one forced fumble, and one pass defense against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl. In 2021, before he switches to Sundays, expect more of the same.
Sophomore at Northwestern, S NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
It’s debatable if Northwestern can repeat its 2020 success, but Joseph’s skill as a safety is undeniable. He’s one of the best in the nation, as shown by his 52 tackles, six interceptions, and eight pass deflections, which earned him the Big Ten Freshman of the Year title last season. This season, he’ll make Big Ten offensive coordinators think twice about going deep.
Last year’s ranking: NR for TE, Alabama Junior
Billingsley, who stands 6-4 and weighs 230 pounds, had a strong finish to the season. In the last seven games, he had 17 of his 18 receptions and 274 of his 287 receiving yards. This preseason, Saban pushed Billingsley to be more dedicated. “He has a lot of ability,” Saban added, “but he also has to buy into the team’s beliefs and values.”
Junior RB from Oklahoma NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Losing top rusher Rhamondre Stevenson is a blow, but Brooks, who rushed for 1,000 yards in 2019, returns after opting out of the 2020 season. He’s just as explosive as Stevenson, and if his pass-catching skills improve, he’ll be one of college football’s greatest running backs.
Brooks is poised to make an impact for Oklahoma after missing the 2020 season due to COVID-19 issues. Kevin Jairaj is a sports reporter for USA TODAY.
Louisville Junior QB NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Cunningham took over as the starting quarterback for Scott Satterfield’s offense in the middle of the season two years ago, and he quickly established himself as one of the ACC’s top players, passing for 22 touchdowns, running for six more, and averaging 11.5 yards per pass. In 2020, his role became larger, but his output became less steady. Cunningham’s 2020 campaign was marred by turnovers, and both he and Louisville took a step back. Despite this, he’s one of the greatest deep-ball passers in the country, and his abilities make him a nightmare for opposing defenders. A return to his 2018 statistics may be just the beginning.
DE, Alabama Senior NR NR NR NR NR NR NR NR NR NR NR NR NR
Ray has been out this preseason due to a “very severe groin ailment,” according to Saban, and injuries have plagued the 6-5, 285-pound redshirt senior’s career. After missing most of 2019 due to a foot ailment, he participated in seven games last season. It would be a big help for Alabama’s defensive line if Ray could remain healthy.
Last year’s ranking: NR, Kentucky Senior
Kinnard, a 345-pound senior, is a fierce run-blocker for the Wildcats’ tough attack and an agile pass-protector, allowing just three sacks all season while incurring zero holding penalties.
Junior WR from Arkansas NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Burks, a 6-3, 225-pound slot receiver, is one of the country’s most dependable (75 percent catch rate) and explosive (16.1 yards per reception) receivers. He’ll also take a few of handoffs out of the backfield each game. He’s the muse of offensive coordinators.
Junior RB from South Carolina NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Shane Beamer’s formula for success may include finding more guys like Harris, who became the first Gamecock to lead the SEC in running last season with 1,138 yards in ten games. ESPN Recruiting ranked him as Georgia’s No. 93 prospect in 2019, and South Carolina was the only SEC school to give him a scholarship.
Junior RB/AP for Ole Miss NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Last season, Ealy, one of the finest all-around players in the country, scored touchdowns on the ground, in the air, and on a kickoff return. With his big-play potential, the 5-9, 190-pound junior will be one of the focal points of the Rebels’ attack this season. Lane Kiffin will come up with a variety of methods to send the ball to Ealy.
In each of the last two seasons, Jerrion Ealy has run for over 700 yards. USA TODAY Sports’ Christopher Hanewinckel
Last year’s ranking: NR, DL, Purdue Junior
Karlaftis didn’t able to play the whole season in 2020 because to an injury and COVID-19 at different times. Karlaftis finished third on the team with 54 total tackles as a freshman in 2019, and he led the team with 17 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. Purdue and Karlaftis are looking for similar results in 2021, as he has shown his ability to be a dominating force on the defensive line.
West Virginia, DT Senior NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Stills was a disruptive presence at tackle last year for a WVU defense that led the country in fewest passing yards allowed per game after a season in which he had seven sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss while starting just three games (159.6). Last year, Pro Football Focus ranked him second in the nation for run-stopping, claiming that his 15 tackles for loss or no gain were four more than any other Power 5 interior lineman.
Last year’s ranking: NR (CB, TCU Junior)
As a sophomore in his first year as a starter, Hodges-Tomlinson, who is the nephew of TCU great LaDainian Tomlinson, was a real lockdown corner. He earned the best coverage grade (90.6) in the country, according to Pro Football Focus, and he broke up more passes (14, also tops in the country) than he allowed all season (12, on 45 targets).
Junior WR from Georgia NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Pickens tore his ACL in March, and the Bulldogs are crossing their hopes that he can return sooner rather than later. When healthy, the 6-3, 200-pounder is one of college football’s most explosive receivers. Pickens was “still a ways away,” according to coach Kirby Smart, who stated in July that he was making excellent progress.
Last year’s ranking: NR, CB, Indiana Junior
Mullen is a key member of an Indiana defense that threw Big Ten opponents for a loop in 2020. He had 38 total tackles, 4.5 for loss, three interceptions, seven pass deflections, and a forced fumble in eight games. In 2020, he became the first Indiana cornerback to win first-team All-America honors, and he’ll be a crucial contributor if the Hoosiers want to repeat their accomplishment in 2021.
Last year’s ranking: NR (LB, Utah Junior)
Lloyd was a nominee for the Butkus Award, which is awarded to the nation’s finest linebacker, in 2020. He was a two-time All-Pac-12 player. He put the NFL on wait after a short Utah season to finish his collegiate career with something more memorable.
S, Auburn Senior NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR,
The fact that the 6-3, 199-pound Monday will return for his senior season was some of the greatest news for Auburn this summer. Monday, a powerful tackler, made his first start a year ago and finished fourth on the team with 73 total tackles and two interceptions, one of which he returned 100 yards for a score against Tennessee.
Last season, Smoke Monday was named to the SEC second team. Icon Sportswire/Jeffrey Vest photo
Last year’s ranking: NR, DE, TCU Junior
Mathis has now appeared in 26 games for the Horned Frogs, four of which were during his redshirt season in 2018. Last year, though, he had a breakout season with nine sacks (tied for sixth in the country) and 46 tackles from his edge rusher position. At 6-5, Mathis is a decent size, and he’s gained approximately 25 pounds since coming at TCU, bringing him to almost 260 pounds without sacrificing his explosiveness. Last season, he was third in the Big 12 with 14 tackles for loss.
WR, SMU Senior, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR,
SMU got a huge boost when Roberson chose to return after missing 13 games the previous two seasons due to injury. He finished the season with 65 catches for 1,277 yards and 11 touchdowns, giving him a total of 117 receptions for 2,079 yards in his career. SMU’s next quarterback will have a proven target in the national award winner.
Sophomore CB from North Carolina NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Grimes, a five-star prospect, was expected to be the highlight of Mack Brown’s 2021 signing class. Grimes reclassified, completed high school early, and enrolled at UNC in August when his native state of Virginia canceled the autumn high school football season due to COVID-19. He played little until November, when he developed into one of the ACC’s best corners, allowing just eight completions on 22 targets without a score. His best game came in the Orange Bowl, when he had three tackles, a sack, two pass break-ups, and didn’t allow a completion.
Senior LB from Wisconsin NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Sanborn has established himself as a defensive leader for the Badgers and has developed into one of the best linebackers in the country. Last season, he led the club with 52 total tackles, four tackles for loss, and one sack in only seven games. Sanborn is part of a solid linebacker group and a defense that is aiming to rebound from a hit-or-miss season in 2020. He’s on the watch list for the Bednarik Award, which is given to the top defensive player in college football, and he’ll be in line for one of his finest seasons ever.
Last year’s ranking: NR, LB, Iowa State Senior
Rose recorded 10 run stops at or behind the line of scrimmage in 12 games. On 25% of his blitzes, he created pressure. He was frequently dropping into coverage and intercepted five passes. Whatever he’s asked to do, he’s one of the greatest linebackers in the nation.
USA TODAY Sports’ Brian Powers
Last year’s ranking: NR, WR, Boston College Junior
Flowers’ second season at BC in 2020 was a considerable improvement over his rookie year. He has 892 yards receiving last season, second in the ACC, on 56 receptions, nine of which were touchdowns. He was selected to the All-ACC first team for his performances. This season, he’ll play a key role in the Eagles’ attack.
Last year’s ranking: NR (Defensive End, Iowa State Junior)
The 245-pounder from Pewaukee, Wisconsin, has 15.5 sacks in 16 games and provides defensive coordinator Jon Heacock with the perfect weapon for his fast and confounding 3-3-5 offense.
Senior LB from Texas NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Before last season, the 6-4, 223-pounder switched from defensive back to linebacker and ended the year as the Alamo Bowl’s defensive MVP, with six tackles, an interception, a fumble recovery, and two quarterback hurries. Overshown, known as “Agent Zero” for the number he wears, will be a focal point of new defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski’s system at inside linebacker after having offseason shoulder surgery and missing the spring.
Junior quarterback for Arizona State NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Daniels, who has been the starter since his first game as a true freshman in 2019, showed a lot of promise in his rookie season, tossing 17 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He didn’t have much time to create momentum last season with just four games, but he now has the chance to establish a name for himself on a national level.
NG, Georgia Senior NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR,
Davis’ numbers aren’t spectacular (16 tackles and one sack in seven games in 2020), but make no mistake: he’s a major reason the Bulldogs have topped the FBS in run defense for the last two seasons. Davis, who is 6-6 and weighs 340 pounds, usually needs more than one man to block him, allowing linebackers to make plays.
Senior LB from Arkansas NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Morgan, a former walk-on who has played for three different coaches since 2016 — Brett Bielema, Chad Morris, and Sam Pittman — has seen the Hogs’ problems firsthand. He matched for the FBS lead with 12.3 tackles per game in his first season as a starter in 2020, with 19 in two separate games, 7.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks.
Last year’s ranking: NR, TE, Washington Junior
Otton, who was named first-team All-Pac-12 in 2020, has been one of the most consistent tight ends in the nation the last two seasons. Over that time, he has 50 receptions for 602 yards and five scores in 17 games.
Georgia Junior RB NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Since White tore the ACL in both of his knees before ever carrying a ball for the Bulldogs, we may never know how good he might have been. The first happened during his final year of high school, and the second occurred before to his college freshman year. In his first two seasons, he rushed for 1,187 yards and 14 touchdowns, demonstrating his strength and ability to move the pile.
JT Daniels throws a short pass to Zamir White, who takes it all the way to the house for a Bulldogs score.
Last year’s ranking: NR, OL, Washington Junior
Kirkland put his NFL career on wait to focus on his development as a left tackle, where he has a bright future. Last season, he switched from guard to center and was named to the Pac-12 first team.
Sophomore DB, Washington NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Since his arrival on campus in 2019, McDuffie has been one of the finest corners in the Pac-12, following in the footsteps of a long history of outstanding Washington defensive backs. He was a second-team All-Pac-12 pick in 2020 and is on the preseason watch lists for many major awards.
Senior DE, Cincinnati NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Sanders, a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award in 2020, is a powerful pass rusher for a projected top-five defense. In the last two seasons, he has 17.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, and seven pass breakups. Sanders, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 255 pounds, is Kiper’s No. 6 defensive end prospect for the 2022 NFL Draft.
Texas A&M sophomore running back/wide receiver NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Jimbo Fisher, the Aggies’ coach, refers to Smith as his Swiss Army knife and one of the greatest players he has ever seen, and it’s easy to understand why, considering Smith’s versatility in his first two seasons. Smith caught 43 receptions for 564 yards and six touchdowns last season after switching to running back. He also ran 49 times for 293 yards and four touchdowns. He’s also come back with punts and kickoffs. In 2021, he’ll play slot receiver and in the backfield, and Fisher is expected to find a variety of ways to get him the ball.
Last year’s ranking: NR (WR, Penn State Senior)
When it comes to identifying the top wide receivers in the Big Ten, Olave and Wilson are rightfully given the most credit, but Dotson is also deserving of praise. Despite the fact that the Nittany Lions had a bad season, he still managed 884 yards and eight touchdowns in nine games. His greatest performance came against Ohio State, when he had three touchdown catches, one of which was the best of the 2020 season.
Jahan Dotson makes a spectacular one-handed catch and then repeats the feat for a Penn State score on the following play.
Last year’s ranking: NR (RB, Iowa Junior)
Last season, Goodson led the club in run yards with 812 in eight games and seven touchdowns. At running back, he was paired with Makhi Sargent, who had 76 carries to Goodson’s 143. Sargent is already in the NFL, and Goodson is Iowa’s starting running back this season. Goodson could be one of the best running backs in the league if he can repeat his performance from last season.
Junior RB from Oregon NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Prior to the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Verdell had back-to-back 1,000-yard running seasons, and the assumption is that he will reclaim his form in a backfield that that includes fellow junior Travis Dye. His durability is debatable, but his skill is undeniable.
Last year’s ranking: NR, WR, Oregon Senior
Johnson, who is returning for his sixth season, is a key experienced presence on what could be a powerful Oregon attack. He has 114 catches for 1,617 yards and 14 touchdowns in his career.
Oklahoma Senior DT NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Thomas didn’t get much playing time early in his Oklahoma career, but he fought his way into a starting role as a junior and made the most of it. Thomas had 8.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss to lead the Sooners, and he also had eight quarterback hurries. He was named to the second team of the Big 12 All-Conference. He’s a flexible option for Alex Grinch’s developing defense, which topped the Big 12 in yards allowed and passing yards allowed. He’s 6-5, 266 pounds.
Louisiana Junior OL NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Since coming on school, Torrence has started all but one game for coach Billy Napier, and in 2019, he became Louisiana’s first true freshman offensive tackle to start since 2004. Torrence, who is 6-foot-5 and 322 pounds, leads a line that rated in the top seven nationally in terms of sacks and tackles for loss allowed last season.
This article was co-written by ESPN’s Andrea Adelson, Kyle Bonagura, Bill Connelly, David Hale, Chris Low, Harry Lyles Jr., Adam Rittenberg, Alex Scarborough, Mark Schlabach, Tom VanHaaren, and Dave Wilson.
The best college football players 2022 is a list of the top 100 players in College Football for 2021.
- top 100 college football players 2020
- best college football player 2021
- top 100 college football players of all time
- college football player rankings 2022
- best college football players all time