SI.com ranks the top 100 players in college football for the 2016, moving to Nos. 40–31.
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 and 50–41. Here are our 40th through 31st 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?
White joins a crop of highly regarded draft-eligible LSU players—including linebacker Kendell Beckwith and center Ethan Pocic—who elected to return to school this season rather than turn pro. He’ll have a chance to further his development into an elite cornerback while anchoring the back end of a talented Tigers defense and also contribute as a punt returner (last season he averaged 11.4 yards on 20 returns with one 69-yard score). When White leaves Baton Rouge, he’ll have bolstered LSU’s reputation as a “Defensive Back U.” — Chris Johnson
Walker shined on a resurgent Wildcats squad, which rebounded from two bowl-less seasons to win 10 games in 2015. The All-America linebacker played a key role in that improvement, leading Northwestern’s fifth-ranked defense in defensive S&P+ with 20.5 tackles for loss along with 122 tackles, four sacks, a forced fumble and an interception. — Colin Becht
After earning first-team All-Big Ten honors as a guard the last two seasons, Elflein is moving inside to center to provide stability on a line that loses seniors Taylor Decker, Chase Farris and Jacoby Boren. Elflein spent 2014 and 2015 opening up holes for stud running back Ezekiel Elliott; this season he’ll need to clear room for less proven commodities like Bri’onte Dunn and Mike Weber. Still, Elflein will be operating in front of a quarterback with lots of starting experience (J.T. Barrett), and he’ll have plenty of talent around him despite the exodus of Buckeyes stars to the draft this spring. Expect a smooth position switch. — CJ
He got overshadowed by the otherworldly seasons of fellow Big 12 receivers Josh Doctson and Corey Coleman, but Washington was pretty sensational in 2015 in his own right. The Cowboys wideout led all receivers with 50 catches or more in yards per catch with a 20.51 average, hauling in 53 passes for 1,087 yards with 10 scores. With nearly the entire offense back for 2016, including quarterback Mason Rudolph, Washington should get more recognition with another exemplary season. — CB
The winner of last season’s Jacobs Blocking Trophy (awarded to the best blocker in the ACC), Johnson was first-team all-conference and second-team All-America during his sophomore season. One of the most formidable linemen in the nation, Johnson will be key if Dalvin Cook makes a run at this year’s Heisman Trophy. — Gabriel Baumgaertner
Hood produced 1,463 rush yards—second-most in a single season in program history—along with 17 touchdowns last season. He also managed a whopping 6.7 yards per carry and topped out with a career-high 220 yards in a win over NC State last November. — Zac Ellis
A first-team All-SEC pick off Alabama’s dominant 2015 defense, Allen returns as the Crimson Tide’s leader in sacks (12.0) and tackles for loss (14.5). Eleven of Allen’s sacks came against ranked teams, and he notched all 12 against Power 5 programs. The 6’3”, 294-pound lineman recorded two of Alabama’s four quarterback stops in the Cotton Bowl semifinal against Michigan State. — ZE
The Buckeyes return only three starters on defense, but McMillan is a pretty good one around which to build. The versatile linebacker led Ohio State with 119 tackles last season in addition to four tackles for loss, five quarterback hurries and four passes broken up. McMillan went from freshman sensation on the Buckeyes’ national championship squad in 2014 to consistent playmaker in 2015; now they need him to take the next step to stardom this fall. — CB
It took a while, but McDowell’s on-field performance has long since eclipsed his recruiting drama. After starring on a defensive line in 2015 that featured three seniors, including first-team All-Big Ten honoree Shilique Calhoun, McDowell will become the focus of opposing blocking schemes this fall. He’s ready for the challenge; the 6’6”, 280-pounder finished behind only Calhoun with 13 tackles for loss and also notched 4.5 sacks last season. One thing’s for sure: He doesn’t lack for confidence. “I think I’m the best D-lineman in the country,” the junior said in April, according to the Detroit Free Press. — CJ
An electric running back in one of college football’s most feared offenses, Freeman is a dark-horse Heisman candidate in 2016. After finishing the 2015 season with 1,836 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns, Freeman should be the focal point of the Ducks’ offense as FCS transfer quarterback Dakota Prukop adjusts to his new team. — GB