Ranking top 100 players in college football for 2016 season: Nos. 20–11
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, 40–31 and 30–21. Here are our 20th through 11th 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. 20: J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State
Last summer Barrett was competing in one of the most interesting quarterback competitions in recent memory. This summer he’s the clear starter on a possible top-10 team who should garner All-America consideration. Barrett has proved himself a dynamic operator of coach Urban Meyer’s offense over two seasons, but he’ll need to assume more responsibility in 2016. Ohio State brings back only three starters on offense and loses talented playmakers such as running back Ezekiel Elliott, tight end Nick Vannett and wide receivers Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller. Barrett will have to step up to offset the impact of those departures. — Chris Johnson
No. 19: Budda Baker, S, Washington
Baker, a first-team all-Pac-12 selection as a sophomore, is one of the nation’s most versatile defensive players: a big, speedy safety capable of lining up as a linebacker or dropping into coverage. His standout performances against USC (eight tackles), Oregon (eight tackles, one for loss) and Stanford (ten tackles and an interception) put him on the national radar last year. While slightly undersized at 5’ 10” and 180 pounds, Baker is one of the conference’s most fearsome players. — Gabriel Baumgaertner
No. 18: Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
One of the most disruptive defensive ends in college football, Barnett has amassed 20 sacks and 33 tackles for loss in just two seasons at Tennessee. The 6’3”, 265-pound Nashville native led the Volunteers in sacks (10) and earned a second-team All-SEC selection in 2015. Barnett should reprise his role as a menace in new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop’s front seven. — Zac Ellis
No. 17: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
Arguably the top home-run threat in the nation, the Texas A&M dynamo is coming off a magnificent freshman season that saw him finish with over 1,000 yards receiving, seven receiving touchdowns and two punt return scores. The Aggies offense may be in flux with Trevor Knight arriving to start at quarterback, but it’s a near guarantee that Kirk will have the ball in his hands whenever coach Kevin Sumlin can get it there. — GB
No. 16: Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
Chubb kicked off his college career by earning SEC Freshman of the Year honors in 2014, reeling off 1,547 rushing yards—fourth most in a single season in Georgia history—in eight starts. His sophomore season in 2015 was cut short by a knee injury, but he still averaged 124.5 rushing yards in six games. If healthy this fall, the Bulldogs’ bell-cow back will be one of the nation’s best. — ZE
No. 15: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Mayfield and Lincoln Riley’s first season working together in Norman went better than anyone could have expected. The Texas Tech transfer averaged 9.4 yards per attempt with 36 touchdowns and seven interceptions while leading the Sooners to the College Football Playoff. Now with another off-season to get comfortable (Mayfield wasn’t even named the starter until late August last season), he should be even better. Expect Mayfield to be a leading contender for the Heisman. — Colin Becht
No. 14: Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan
A steady force in one of the nation’s top defenses last season, Lewis was credited with 20 pass breakups, two interceptions, 52 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble while helping the Wolverines rank 11th in Football Outsiders’ passing defense S&P+. Pro Football Focus graded Lewis the top cornerback in the country in 2015. He’s also a threat on special teams after recording an average of 25.2 yards on 15 kick returns last season. This season expect Lewis to validate his status as a top-flight defensive back as he looks to push Michigan in position to earn a College Football Playoff berth. — CJ
No. 13: Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn
Despite a junior season in 2015 that was limited by injury, Lawson spurned a shot at NFL stardom to return for his final campaign at Auburn. The stud defensive end was a Freshman All-America in 2013 (four sacks. 7.5 tackles for loss) before missing all of 2014 with a knee injury. When healthy, the ultra-aggressive Lawson looks like a first-round pick and is a big piece of the Tigers’ pass-rush. — ZE
No. 12: Tim Williams, LB, Alabama
The pass-rushing linebacker became a lethal element in Alabama’s loaded front seven as he racked up 10.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss last season. 2016 should be an even bigger year for the senior as he saved his best work for the end of last year, when he recorded six sacks in the Crimson Tide’s final five games. With Williams along with defensive ends Jonathan Allen and Da'Shawn Hand, Alabama's pass rush should be as fierce as ever this fall. — CB
No. 11: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
His freshman year had its ups and downs, but UCLA’s golden child enters the 2016 season as a serious Heisman contender and has the potential to overtake even Deshaun Watson as the nation’s best quarterback. Sound like hyperbole? Consider that Rosen broke UCLA’s record for passes without an interception (245) along with a school record for completions in a game (34) as a freshman. And, getting away from the stats, find another college quarterback who can make this throw. — GB