Leonard Fournette, Myles Garrett and Christian McCaffrey headline SI.com's ranking of the top 100 players in college football for the 2016 season.
Ranking college football players is an inherently dangerous task. With the number of different manners 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.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?
Linebackers made up the largest portion of any position group in our rankings, with 15 earning selection, trailed closely by 14 running backs. Wide receivers were next with 12 honorees, followed 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.
Scott burst onto the scene with a first-team All-SEC season as a true freshman in 2014, leading the nation in punting with 48.0 yards per punt. That average dropped to 44.2 yards in 2015, but he remains one of the most lethal punters in the country heading into his junior season. — Zac Ellis
Jones helped anchor the back end of a Washington defense that finished second in the Pac-12 in opposing passing efficiency and ranked ninth nationally in Football Outsiders S&P + Ratings last season. Jones won’t generate as much hype this preseason as fellow Huskies defensive back and first-team All-Pac 12 member Budda Baker, but don’t sleep on the rising junior who led the Pac-12 in passes defended and recorded 10 pass breakups and four interceptions in 2015. — Chris Johnson
Scott earned Freshman All-America status in 2014 after leading Clemson in catches (76) and touchdown receptions (eight). He built on that performance in 2015 by grabbing 93 catches, second-most in Clemson history, and his 169 career receptions are the most by a Tigers player in his first two seasons. Scott will again be one of Deshaun Watson’s favorite targets in 2016. — ZE
The sky’s the limit for Sperbeck, who broke out with a huge 2015 campaign in which he caught 88 passes for 1,412 yards. But those numbers mask Sperbeck’s slow start to the season—he caught just five passes for 41 yards in the Broncos’ first two games—as Boise State’s passing game struggled under Ryan Finley. Once freshman Brett Rypien took over, Sperbeck’s numbers took off. As Rypien settles in for a full season with more experience, Sperbeck’s production should only increase. — Colin Becht
Likely projects as one of the top cornerbacks in the Big Ten after recording 11 pass breakups, 44 tackles and four tackles for loss last season, but his inclusion on this list owes just as much to his impact on special teams. Likely is one of the nation’s most dangerous return men, and he even contributed on offense last season. His decision to return for his senior season with the Terrapins gives new coach D.J. Durkin an elite talent to counter the likes of Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State in the Big Ten East. — CJ
The best Oklahoma State quarterback since Brandon Weeden, Rudolph enters his junior season with a wealth of experience (16 starts) and as the school record holder for single-game passing efficiency and career passing yards per attempt. In coach Mike Gundy’s traditionally high-octane attack, Rudolph could be the best quarterback in the Big 12 this season (even with Baker Mayfield leading the state rival Sooners). — Gabriel Baumgaertner
One half of Washington’s dynamic true freshman duo, Gaskin is a key reason many are eyeing the Huskies as a rising threat in the Pac-12 North. He expertly used his slight 5’9”, 192-pound frame to evade tacklers last season for 1,302 yards and 14 touchdowns. Now Washington’s young offensive line isn’t so young, so Gaskin should have plenty of room to run in his sophomore season. — CB
A player who called himself “the best defensive lineman in the country” during spring practice, Brantley is one of the anchors of Florida’s usually rugged defense. Named a second-team All-America by Pro Football Focus last season, Brantley is a staunch interior defender who can get to the quarterback on occasion. After finishing with 29 tackles and three sacks last season, Brantley could finish as a first-team All-SEC player in his redshirt junior season. — GB
Anyone unfamiliar with Leggett before the College Football Playoff title game last season certainly took note of the 6’5”, 255-pounder, who hauled in five passes for 78 yards and a touchdown against the Crimson Tide. Yet Leggett was one of the Tigers’ top passing targets all season, posting a team-high eight touchdown receptions. He elected to return as a senior even though he could have been a mid-round pick in the NFL draft. This season Leggett will serve as one of several potent receiving threats for Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Deshaun Watson. — CJ
Declared cancer-free in May following a diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma last year, Conner has a shot at returning as an elite offensive threat in the ACC. He broke out as an All-America in 2014, rushing for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns to break Tony Dorsett’s Pitt single-season record for rushing scores. — ZE
Godchaux has started 21 games in two seasons in Baton Rouge, becoming one of the fiercest defensive linemen in the SEC. He notched four sacks and seven tackles for loss in 2015 and could evolve into a bigger force under first-year coordinator Dave Aranda. — Zac Ellis
A coveted recruit even by USC’s lofty standards, Marshall enters his true sophomore season having already started 12 games and established himself as one of the premier cornerbacks in the nation. After he led the Trojans with nine pass deflections and three interceptions last season, it’s hard to believe that too many teams will be targeting Marshall. By the end of the season, he may be considered one of the standout defensive players in the nation. — Gabriel Baumgaertner
Smoot flew under the radar in 2015 due in large part to the team he played for, but there’s a reason NFL scouts have a keen eye on the Fighting Illini defensive end. The 6’3”, 265-pounder built on a solid sophomore season with 15 tackles for loss, eight sacks and three forced fumbles last season. Now he has his sights set on double-digit sacks in his first season under head coach Lovie Smith. — Colin Becht
Pumphrey has been lighting up Mountain West defenses for three seasons, and he recorded 1,653 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns en route to winning the conference’s offensive player of the year award in 2015. Now within striking distance of NFL Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk’s program rushing record, Pumphrey will lead a talented Aztecs squad that should begin the season as the favorite in the Mountain West’s West division. — Chris Johnson
Ford became the first Virginia Tech player to top 1,000 yards receiving with his 75-catch, 1,164-yard campaign last season, in which he also set school records in receptions and touchdown receptions. The junior shined down the stretch with 507 yards in the Hokies’ final three games, including 227 yards in their Independence Bowl victory over Tulsa. New coach Justin Fuente has yet to name a starting quarterback, but whoever it is will surely benefit from having Ford to work with. — CB
With Trevone Boykin and Baker Mayfield leading College Football Playoff charges at TCU and Oklahoma, respectively, last season, Mahomes didn’t receive nearly as much attention as he deserved. That should change in 2016. The junior is a skilled playmaker who fits perfectly in coach Kliff Kingsbury’s high-powered spread offense, and he’s poised to build on the 5,109 total yards and 46 total touchdowns he tallied in 2015. However, Mahomes will have to make do without leading receiver Jakeem Grant, who was selected in the sixth round of this year’s draft. — CJ
An offensive lineman who barely played before last season, McDermott went from an unknown with one career start (as a blocking tight end) to a second-team all-conference selection during his redshirt junior season. A strong run-blocker and one of the keys to a unit that surrendered just 14 sacks last season, McDermott will be the main player protecting arguably the nation’s most prized quarterback in Josh Rosen. — GB