Ranking top 100 players in college football for 2016 season: Nos. 50–41
Ranking college football players is an inherently dangerous task. With the number of different ways a player can contribute—quantitative ways like sacks, yards and interceptions or qualitative ways like sound blocking and tight coverage—it’s difficult to gage who makes the most impact. On top of that, with players limited to four-year careers, there’s a significant amount of guesswork to assess how players will develop from one season to the next.
So, with those acknowledged limitations, SI.com’s college football staff presents its top 100 players for the 2016 season. We are revealing 10 players per day and began with Nos. 100–91, 90–81, 80–71, 70–61 and 60–51 last week. Here are our 50th through 41st ranked players.
These rankings are not just an assessment of what the players have done so far but how they’ll perform this fall. And rather than simply rank players by their expected production, we attempt to discern who is the most valuable. Essentially, if you were starting a team from scratch, whom would you want the most?
No. 50: Marquis Haynes, DE, Ole Miss
Haynes will kick off his junior season as an essential figure on Ole Miss’s defensive line, which loses first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche at tackle. Last season Haynes tied an Ole Miss record with 10 sacks—seven against SEC foes—and led the Rebels in tackles for loss (16.5) and forced fumbles (three). — Zac Ellis
No. 49: Carlos Watkins, DT, Clemson
Watkins is the latest force in Clemson’s staggering succession of outstanding defensive linemen (Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett, Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd just to name a handful). Watkins earned first-team All-ACC honors last season after finishing with 69 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks over 15 games. — Gabriel Baumgaertner
No. 48: Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
Jefferson’s commitment to Texas in December 2014 was viewed as a seminal recruiting victory in the Lone Star State for coach Charlie Strong. But the linebacker could prove even more beneficial on the field during the rest of his tenure in Austin. Jefferson shined as a true freshman last season, racking up 61 tackles and seven tackles for loss, and he enters his sophomore campaign ready to make a leap as the headliner of a Texas defense that brings back seven starters. He’ll get a chance to showcase his ability on a big stage in Week 1, when the Longhorns host Notre Dame. — Chris Johnson
No. 47: Ethan Pocic, C, LSU
It’s no slight against Leonard Fournette to note that he plays in front of an exceptional offensive line. Pocic is a key component to that line, earning second-team All-SEC honors in his first season as the full-time center (he had played guard for most of his freshman and sophomore seasons). Now with last year’s tackles, Vadal Alexander and Jerald Hawkins, off to the NFL, LSU needs Pocic’s leadership on the line more than ever. He may need to switch to tackle, as well. — Colin Becht
No. 46: Seth Russell, QB, Baylor
The Baylor offense may look different after Art Briles’s ouster, but Russell’s command of the attack should keep the Bears rolling. The senior is returning from a neck injury that cost him six games in the 2015 season, but he still managed to complete 29 touchdown passes and set a school record with 10.06 yards per play before his injury. — GB
No. 45: Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami
Kaaya has the makings of an NFL quarterback, and he’s a solid college passer, as well. After posting solid numbers as a true freshman in 2014, he built on those with 3,238 yards, a 61.2% completion rate, 16 touchdowns and five interceptions last season. With another year of development plus the addition of Mark Richt’s QB expertise, Kaaya should take another step forward as a junior. That’s exactly what the Hurricanes will need as Kaaya’s crop of receivers leaves plenty to be desired. — CB
No. 44: Devonte Fields, LB, Louisville
A former standout at TCU before being dismissed from the school in August 2014, Fields spent the ’14 season in junior college before finding his footing on Louisville’s defense last fall. The linebacker led the nation in tackles for loss (22.5)—second-most in a single season at Louisville—and added 11 sacks. Now Fields will be one of eight returning starters on the Cardinals’ defense in 2016. — ZE
No. 43: O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
Howard’s most recent game was the best of his college career to date—a five-catch, 208-yard, two-touchdown effort against Clemson to help the Crimson Tide win the national title. Rather than jumping to the NFL with his draft stock surging, though, Howard chose to return to Tuscaloosa, where he’ll serve as a dangerous complementary target to star wide receiver Calvin Ridley. We know now what Howard is capable of against a stingy passing defense in a huge matchup; the question is whether offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will make him a larger factor in Alabama’s aerial attack over the course of this season. — CJ
No. 42: Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
The most notable missing piece from Clemson’s best season in school history last fall, Williams returns from a fractured neck this season. Receivers coach Jeff Scott has compared him favorably to former Tigers wideouts Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, and Williams set the school record for a sophomore with 1,030 receiving yards in 2014. Clemson’s offense is loaded with talent like Heisman favorite Deshaun Watson and ace running back Wayne Gallman. But even with those pieces, Williams is a gamechanging element. — GB
No. 41: Wayne Gallman, RB, Clemson
Though overshadowed by Deshaun Watson, Gallman was a critical contributor to the Tigers’ run to last year’s national title game, setting a program single-season record with 1,527 rushing yards and chipping in 13 touchdowns. The senior passed on a shot at the NFL to reprise his role as part of Clemson’s dynamic backfield duo. — ZE