Ranking top 100 players in college football for 2016 season: Nos. 10–1
SI.com’s ranking of the top 100 players has reached its end. After combing through all the returning stars in college football, we believe these 10 players are the very best and will cause the biggest nightmares for opposing coaches this season.
As you’ll notice, it’s a running back-heavy group, with three backs in the top four players. Running backs made up the second-largest group of the full top 100; 14 different backs earned selection, topped only by the 15 linebackers who made the list. Wide receivers were next with 12 honorees, following by quarterbacks with 11 and defensive ends and cornerbacks with 10 each.
Amongst teams, Alabama drew the most selections, a whopping nine players, followed by Clemson with seven, and Florida State, LSU and USC with five apiece.
No. 10: Derwin James, S, Florida State
Few true freshmen put up more impressive rookie seasons than Florida State’s Derwin James did in 2015. James earned Freshman All-America honors after finishing second on the Seminoles in tackles (91) while also chipping in 4.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. Following the departure of fifth-overall draft pick Jalen Ramsey, James looks to be the leader of Florida State’s defense. — Zac Ellis
No. 9: JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC
What sets Smith-Schuster apart from other wide receivers is the consistency of his brilliance. The Trojans target topped 80 yards in 10 games last season and broke 100 yards six times. His success is no secret, yet defenses still find themselves unable to contain him. No other Power 5 receiver came within 90 yards of Smith-Schuster’s 1,454 yards last season. Whoever emerges from USC’s quarterback battle will be lucky to have the top receiver in the country to throw to. — Colin Becht
No. 8: Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
Robinson finished his sophomore season as a first-team All-SEC honoree on Alabama’s national title-winning offensive line. He ranked third on the Crimson Tide with 46 knockdown blocks and notched a career-high six against Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl semifinal. A near-lock as a first-round pick in 2017, Robinson enters this fall as the leader of ‘Bama’s line following the departure of center Ryan Kelly. — ZE
No. 7: Desmond King, CB, Iowa
Of all draft-eligible players to return to school, King may have been the biggest surprise. The reigning Thorpe Award winner set a school record with eight interceptions last season and was named a consensus first-team All-America pick. As a player who has started all but one game in his college career, King is one of the best players to ever take the field for Iowa. Fortunately for Hawkeyes faithful, they get one more season to watch him. — Gabriel Baumgaertner
No. 6: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
In 2015 Watson delivered on every ounce of hype he generated during a true freshman season in which he helped lead Clemson to a 10–3 record and vanquished in-state rival South Carolina with a torn ACL. Last season Watson took the Tigers to the national championship game and was named a Heisman finalist, both accomplishments that are well within reach again this season. The difference? Watson isn’t coming off major knee surgery, and arguably his best receiver, Mike Williams, will be healthy, along with talented returnees like fellow wideout Artavis Scott, tight end Jordan Leggett and running back Wayne Gallman. Watson is the best quarterback in college football, and he has an abundance of skill around him. Expect him to build on his terrific 2015 campaign—yes, that’s a high bar to clear—and make another run at the Heisman. — Chris Johnson
No. 5: Jabrill Peppers, LB, Michigan
How many teams can claim the fastest player on their team is a linebacker? The better question is, how many shutdown defensive backs can step in at linebacker and immediately fill a gapping void? The answer to both questions is one. Peppers emerged as one of the best slot corners in the country as a redshirt freshman last year, making 45 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss while breaking up 10 passes. But with the Wolverines losing their entire starting linebacking corps this off-season, the do-it-all player (he also rushed for 4.0 yards per carry and caught eight passes) will be even more valuable in his new position. — CB
No. 4: Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
The Seminoles’ fade from the College Football Playoff race and Cook’s absence from all or most of two games last season kept him out of the Heisman race, but the Florida State back had a strong claim to most outstanding season in 2015. Cook rushed for 7.38 yards per carry, nearly two yards per carry more than Heisman winner Derrick Henry, nearly 1.5 yards per carry more than Christian McCaffrey and nearly one yard per carry more than Leonard Fournette. And he did that while playing at far less than 100% for the majority of the year. With a clean bill of health to start the 2016 season—assuming he recovers as expected from off-season shoulder surgery—Cook should take his place in the thick of the Heisman race. — CB
No. 3: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
McCaffrey was the engine powering a Stanford team that was one two-point loss to Oregon away from making the College Football Playoff last season. A home run threat as a running back, receiver and return man, McCaffrey can hurt opponents in so many ways that it’s difficult for them to draw up effective plans to contain him. According to an ESPN story published in May, McCaffrey has lowered his body fat percentage “about four percent,” and Stanford sports performance director Shannon Turley told the outlet that McCaffrey is “leaner, faster, stronger and more explosive” than he was at the same point a year ago. That’s definitely bad news for Pac-12 defenses. The Cardinal are breaking in a new quarterback following the departure of Kevin Hogan, so McCaffrey could be an even more integral part of their offense this fall. He’ll rightfully begin the season atop Heisman watch lists. — CJ
No. 2: Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
Numbers never tell the entire story, but they reveal plenty about Myles Garrett’s dominance over his first two collegiate seasons. The rising junior has already tallied an astounding 24 sacks and 33.5 tackles for loss and is the most universally feared defensive lineman since South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney. He’s not just the most fearsome defensive player in college football (a high compliment in a universe where Derwin James exists), he’s one of the most ferocious players to ever play at this level. — GB
No. 1: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
In terms of pure dominance, no player matches the brute force of Leonard Fournette. As a sophomore in 2015 Fournette led the FBS in rushing yards per game (162.8) and finished third in total rushing yards with 1,953. That total, as well as Fournette’s 22 rushing touchdowns, both set LSU single-season records. Oh, and the 6’1”, 230-pound brick wall bounced off defenders for a startling 6.5 yards per carry. In two years Fournette is already fourth on the Tigers’ career rushing chart (2,987 yards), and he’ll enter 2016 as a preseason first-team All-America certainty. If starting a college football team from scratch, one would be remiss to not pick Fournette with the first-overall selection. — ZE