Ranking top 100 players in college football for 2016 season: Nos. 30–21
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, 60–51, 50–41 and 40–31. Here are our 30th through 21st 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. 30: Cameron Sutton, CB, Tennessee
Sutton spurned a shot at the NFL for one final season at Tennessee, where he has started every game of his college career in the secondary. He recorded an interception, two forced fumbles and six pass break-ups in 2015, all while leading the country in punt-return average (18.7). — Zac Ellis
No. 29: Greg Ward Jr., QB, Houston
Ward’s star turn last season was the product of a perfect marriage of a gifted playmaker (Ward) and a shrewd strategist roaming the sidelines (first-year coach Tom Herman). The former wide receiver finished his junior campaign by carving up an athletic Florida State defense in a 14-point win in the Peach Bowl, accounting for 305 total yards and three total touchdowns. That performance suggests Ward’s season-long production was less attributable to weaker AAC competition than to his talent and utility in the Cougars’ high-powered offense. His next possible victim? Playoff contender Oklahoma in Week 1. — Chris Johnson
No. 28: Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
Few linebackers can cover more ground or deliver more punishing hits than the Crimson Tide’s Foster. He’s adept both in pass coverage and run defense, recording 73 tackles, eight tackles for loss, two sacks and nine pass breakups in his first season as a starter. With Reggie Ragland gone, Foster will become Alabama’s leader in the middle this season. — Colin Becht
No. 27: Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma
After his sensational freshman campaign (1,713 yards, 21 touchdowns), Perine got off to a slow start last year under new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, averaging just 70 yards per game for the Sooners’ first six games. Then Riley figured out how to utilize the 5’10”, 234-pound back, and he took off, averaging 133 yards per game the rest of the season and finishing with 16 touchdowns. Expect more of the latter production this season as Oklahoma’s abundance of weapons will keep defenses from keying in on Perine. — CB
No. 26: Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC
You didn’t hear about Jackson at USC’s spring practices because he was trying to qualify for the Rio Olympics as a long jumper (he won his second straight Pac-12 title in the event). Jackson is the sort of next-level athlete who’s a threat to break a big play (or hop over a defender or three) whenever he touches the ball. Yet while he contributes on offense and special teams, he’s likely to garner preseason All-America consideration as a defensive back. However new USC coach Clay Helton plans to use him in 2016, expect Jackson to make a huge impact. — CJ
No. 25: Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
Considered one of the most complete wide receivers in college football, Davis is set to become the most prolific receiver in the history of the MAC and, barring injury or suspension, should break the conference records for both touchdowns and receiving yards. After a monstrous junior season that saw him finish with 1,436 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns, Davis is one of the nation’s premiere receiving talents even if he’s stashed away in the MAC. — Gabriel Baumgaertner
No. 24: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
After arriving in Tuscaloosa as one of the top wideouts in the recruiting class of 2015, Ridley emerged as Alabama’s best receiving threat as a true freshman. He shined during the regular season and elevated his performance when it mattered most, amassing 138 yards and two touchdowns in the Crimson Tide’s College Football Playoff semifinal win over Michigan State. Opposing defensive backs will have their hands full with Ridley alone, but the attention they’ll need to devote to tight end O.J. Howard, Bowling Green graduate transfer Gehrig Dieter, junior ArDarius Stewart and senior Robert Foster should give Ridley more room to operate. Expect plenty of mid-play sideline celebrations from offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, his hands pointed skyward as he leaps up and down and watches Ridley streak toward the end zone. — CJ
No. 23: Ben Boulware, LB, Clemson
As a junior Boulware emerged as a key cog in Clemson’s suffocating defense, compiling 138 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks at linebacker. Boulware, a native of nearby Anderson, S.C., also paced the Tigers with 29 quarterback hurries. He’ll be the unit’s emotional leader this fall after the loss of starters Travis Blanks and B.J. Goodson. — ZE
No. 22: Zach Banner, OT, USC
The latest USC offensive lineman to be considered a surefire NFL first-rounder, Banner enters his third season as the starting left tackle. A towering behemoth at 6’9” and 360 pounds, Banner was a first-team all-conference selection last year and will anchor an experienced Trojans line that should effectively protect whomever the starting quarterback is against Alabama in Week 1. — GB
No. 21: Jalen Tabor, CB, Florida
Why is Florida relatively unconcerned with losing shutdown corner Vernon Hargreaves III? Because the Gators know they have an equally talented player returning in Tabor. The junior racked up 18 passes defended, four interceptions, 40 tackles and four tackles for loss last season and actually finished ahead of Hargreaves in Pro Football Focus’s grades. — CB