Leonard Fournette, Myles Garrett and Christian McCaffrey headline SI.com's ranking of the top 100 players in college football for the 2016 season.

By SI.com Staff
July 12, 2016

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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Walker flirted with skipping his senior year for the NFL after an elite season in 2015, when he notched 58 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks (most by a Seminoles player since 2012). Instead, he returns to Tallahassee as a linchpin of a loaded Florida State defense. — ZE

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Fellow Gators linebacker Antonio Morrison may have gotten more attention last year, but Davis arguably had the more productive season. The 6’2”, 230-pounder made 98 tackles with 11 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, seven QB hurries, an interception and a forced fumble. After passing on the draft, Davis will anchor Florida’s linebacker corps this season and continue to be a nightmare for opposing offenses. — CB

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In a year destined to be uncertain for Baylor, Linwood will be one of the cogs needed to keep the Bears from collapsing. An All-America candidate and two-time All Big-12 running back, Linwood is on pace to set Baylor school records for all-time rushing yardage and touchdowns. The question is whether he’ll be able to similarly thrive now that Art Briles is not in charge. — GB

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A five-star prospect in the class of 2014, Blanding has more than lived up to his recruiting hype through two seasons in Charlottesville, recording 238 total tackles and four interceptions. He’ll further his case as one of the ACC’s top defensive backs and tacklers this season, but he’ll have to adjust to defensive coordinator/secondary coach Nick Howell, part of new coach Bronco Mendenhall’s staff. Blanding will get a chance to showcase his talent against an explosive offense early in the season, as the Cavaliers travel to Oregon on Sept. 10. — Chris Johnson

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Like the star linebacker at rival Arizona last season (Scooby Wright), Fiso is one of the conference’s best players on an otherwise bad defense. Fiso finished eighth in the nation 1.5 tackles for loss per game last year and enters 2016 as the Sun Devils’ most experienced defensive player. If Arizona State manages to improve on a defense that allowed 11 plays of 60 or more yards, Fiso will be the anchor behind that effort. — Gabriel Baumgaertner

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This pick reflects our confidence that Voltz will regain his form after suffering a knee injury that forced him to miss the final five games of last season. Reports suggest Voltz could move to guard this season to make room at center for redshirt sophomore Michael Deiter. Whichever position he ultimately lines up at, Voltz will play an important role in paving the way for a talented group of running backs led by seniors Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale. — CJ

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Entering his senior season, the 6’3” Engram is already Ole Miss’s all-time leader in receptions (97) and receiving yards (1,394) by a tight end. He earned second-team All-SEC honors in 2015 after finishing second on the Rebels with 38 catches, along with 464 receiving yards and two touchdown receptions. — Zac Ellis

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Jewell is coming off a breakout 2015 season in which the former two-star recruit developed into an All-Big Ten honoree. He was a consistent playmaker for a Hawkeyes defense that ranked 19th in scoring defense, contributing 126 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions and a forced fumble. As one of eight starters back on defense, Jewell should help anchor a unit aiming to return to the Big Ten title game. — Colin Becht

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Vanderdoes returns to UCLA’s starting lineup after missing almost the entire 2015 season with a torn ACL. A run-stuffing interior lineman, Vanderdoes is a brute force inside who thrives at getting into the backfield (he had eight tackles and two tackles for loss in last year’s opening game before injuring his knee). — GB

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Corey Coleman was so productive last season that, despite the improbability of a player at his position winning the Heisman Trophy (no wide receiver has won since Desmond Howard in 1991), he drew serious consideration for the award into November. With the Biletnikoff Award winner moving on to the NFL, Cannon is poised to become Baylor’s top receiving target, and he’ll benefit from having quarterback Seth Russell—who suffered a season-ending neck injury last October—healthy to start the season as well as a strong running game led by Shock Linwood and Johnny Jefferson. — CJ

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Had things gone according to plan last season, Kizer would likely still be the relatively unknown backup at Notre Dame rather than regarded as one of the top returning quarterbacks in the country. But when Malik Zaire fractured his ankle in Week 2 at Virginia, the Cavaliers—and the rest of the country—quickly saw the previously untapped potential in Kizer. The sophomore went on to pass for 2,884 yards with 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and lead the Fighting Irish to the Fiesta Bowl. He’ll need to hold off Zaire to keep his job this off-season, but if last season’s performance was any indication, Kizer is more than up to the task. — CB

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Conner surprised many by returning to school for his senior year, but may be looking to improve his draft stock after a meniscus tear cost him six games of his junior season. The former five-star recruit enters his fourth year starting in the Ole Miss secondary and is regarded as one of the better tackling safeties in the nation, effective both in coverage and as a blitzer. — GB

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Reeves-Maybin is a key cog in Tennessee’s linebacker corps who led the Volunteers with 14.0 TFLs and finished second sacks with 5.0 last season. The senior will be a leader in first-year coordinator Bob Shoop’s defense, which returns eight other starters. — ZE

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The latest in the Bullough family to develop into a star for the Spartans, Riley earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last season with a team-high 106 tackles, along with 7.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. With quarterback Connor Cook and wide receiver Aaron Burbridge gone on offense, Michigan State will likely lean more heavily on its defense as it seeks to defend its Big Ten title. Having a playmaking linebacker like Bullough is a critical boost. — Colin Becht

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A starter in 23 games over the past two seasons, Pyke has cemented himself as a constant figure at offensive guard. He’ll kick off his fifth season as one of the most reliable offensive linemen in the SEC under first-year coach Kirby Smart. — Zac Ellis

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A First-Team All-SEC honoree as a redshirt sophomore in 2015, Cunningham established himself as Vanderbilt’s top defender, leading the team in tackles (103), tackles for loss (16.5) and sacks (4.5). His 16.5 tackles for loss were the most by a Commodore defender since 1999. — ZE

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Jackson made a smooth transition from cornerback to safety last season and should be even more effective at the position in 2016. He was named first-team All-SEC after tying for first in the conference with six interceptions and also recorded 46 tackles, three tackles for loss, eight passes defended and a forced fumble. Instead of declaring for the draft after his junior season, Jackson elected to return to strengthen a secondary that also brings back studs Minkah Fitzpatrick and Marlon Humphrey. — Chris Johnson

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It’s nearly impossible to condense Barkley’s 2015 season down to a highlight reel simply because he did something spectacular on just about every carry. Barkley forced 60 missed tackles last season, according to Pro Football Focus, a number made even more ridiculous when considering he only carried the ball 182 times. The 5’11”, 219-pounder made the most of those 182 attempts, gaining 1,076 yards with seven scores. Oh, and did I mention that was just his freshman year? — CB

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Kelly enters 2016 as the top returning quarterback in the SEC after leading the league in passing touchdowns (31) and finishing second in yards-per-attempt (8.8) last season. A Second-Team All-SEC pick in 2015, he became the first Ole Miss player to win Sugar Bowl MVP since the legendary Archie Manning in 1970. — ZE

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Never underestimate the power of a good kicker. With the departure of Florida State’s Roberto Aguayo, Phillips becomes the most established kicker in the nation. A two-time All-Pac-12 selection, Phillips holds a career kicking percentage of 84% (63 of 75) and 76% from 40 yards or more. To boot, he’s successfully converted all three of his career onside kick attempts. — Gabriel Baumgaertner

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Butt has evolved from Twitter jokester to disabled list member to arguably the best tight end in the country. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has shown he can deploy players at Butt’s position effectively as pass catchers and blockers (just go back and look at the tight ends he coached at Stanford), and Butt shined under Harbaugh in his first season in charge of the Wolverines. The 6’6”, 250-pound senior will have a chance to finish his career as one of the leading receivers on one of the nation’s best teams while serving an important role as a blocker in Michigan's pro-style sets. — CJ

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The younger brother of Utah legend and current Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, Lowell (he is one of eight siblings) enters 2016 as an All-America candidate after a breakout 2015 that saw him finish with 26 tackles, five tackles for loss and one sack. The brawny interior lineman has started 18 games since his freshman year and provides an anchor to Utah’s stingy collective. — GB

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You can be excused for not having paid close attention to Indiana football in recent years, but you’ve missed some potent running games. Jordan Howard and Devine Redding both topped 1,000 yards last season while Tevin Coleman rushed for 2,036 yards in 2014. Last year, the Hoosiers allowed a Big Ten-low 13 sacks. Feeney is a huge (he’s 6’4” and 310 pounds) reason behind that success. He earned All-America honors last season but passed on the NFL draft to return for a fourth season starting for the Hoosiers. According to Indiana, in Feeney’s 2,719 career snaps he has allowed just one sack. — CB

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The latest in a string of elite defensive linemen produced in Columbia, Mo., Harris recorded 18.5 tackles for loss, 56 total tackles, seven sacks and 10 quarterback hurries in 2015 while earning second-team All-SEC honors. Longtime defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski left after last season to take a job under new Miami coach Mark Richt, but that shouldn’t hinder Harris’s development into one of the top defensive ends in the country. He might be the SEC’s best pass rusher not named Myles Garrett. — Chris Johnson

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Smith quickly emerged in his freshman year as the Trojans’ leader in tackles and interceptions before a torn ACL ended his season in November. In 10 games, the linebacker made 78 tackles and picked off three passes. All three interceptions came in USC’s upset of Utah, which Smith directly contributed to with 54-yard return for a score just before halftime. USC is expecting big things from Smith this fall as he is the Trojans’ only returning starter in their front seven. — Colin Becht

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A leader in LSU’s secondary, Adams was a Freshman All-America in 2014 before earning second-team All-SEC honors last season. Adams snagged four interceptions in 2015—third-most among SEC defenders—and could be in for bigger things under first-year defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. — Zac Ellis

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Marks put up impressive numbers (104 catches, 1,192 yards, 15 touchdowns and a team-leading 69.8% catch rate on a team-leading 149 targets, according to Football Study Hall) as the featured target on a surprisingly formidable Washington State team last season. Everything is in place for him to replicate, if not exceed, those statistics this season: head coach Mike Leach and his high-octane, pass-heavy scheme; talented quarterback Luke Falk; and eight returning starters on offense. And if this catch is any indication, opponents will have a hard time keeping Marks out of the end zone. — CJ

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The best player on the Arkansas defense, Wise finished 2015 with eight sacks and is expected to up that total in his senior season. Even more encouraging, Wise logged 19 of his 31 tackles over the final five games of the season and forced two of his three fumbles in the final two games. He became one of the most unblockable players in the second half of last season and is now being considered a potential first-round pick. — Gabriel Baumgaertner

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While quarterback Joshua Dobbs may draw more of the attention, as much more his brains as his play on the field, Hurd is the quieter engineer of the Volunteers offense. The big back—he’s 6’4” and weighs 240 pounds—still shows plenty of ability to make defenders miss while also being tough to bring down. The result? 2,187 yards and 17 scores in his first two seasons. With the bulk of Tennessee’s offensive line back after a strong 2015, Hurd has a chance to produce his best season yet this fall. — CB

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Florida State has a long legacy of star receivers (Peter Warrick, Kelvin Benjamin, Rashad Greene, Anquan Boldin, Fred Blitenikoff), and Rudolph appears prepared to join that group. The prospective junior finished the 2015 season with team highs of 59 catches, 916 yards and seven touchdowns despite inconsistent quarterback play that hampered the Seminoles all season. A lanky presence who thrives on the deep ball, Rudolph will be in contention for an All-America mention come the end of 2016. — GB

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Hall is a brick wall at 6’6” and 260 pounds and serves as a bookend alongside Myles Garrett on Texas A&M’s defensive line. Hall finished second on the team in tackles for loss (14.5) and sacks (7.0) last season and enters the fall as one of the more menacing ends in the SEC. — ZE

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Former Texas A&M quarterback Kyle Allen (who has since transferred to Houston) probably hopes he never has to face Fitzpatrick again after the then-true freshman returned two of Allen’s interceptions for touchdowns in the Aggies’ blowout loss to the Crimson Tide last season. Yet while Fitzpatrick's performance in that win put him on the map, he was superb throughout 2015, notching 45 total tackles, three tackles for loss and 11 pass breakups. He should have even more responsibility in an Alabama secondary this season that brings back standouts Marlon Humphrey and Eddie Jackson. — CJ

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Maye surprised many with his decision to return for his redshirt junior season. By joining other budding stars (Jalen Tabor, Caleb Brantley), Maye will be a key component on one of the nation’s finest defenses. An All-America honoree last season, Maye finished with 82 tackles and five forced fumbles, good for second in the nation. A punishing safety, Maye enters 2016 as one of the top defensive backs in the nation. — GB

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Haynes will kick off his junior season as an essential figure on Ole Miss’s defensive line, which loses first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche at tackle. Last season Haynes tied an Ole Miss record with 10 sacks—seven against SEC foes—and led the Rebels in tackles for loss (16.5) and forced fumbles (three). — Zac Ellis

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Watkins is the latest force in Clemson’s staggering succession of outstanding defensive linemen (Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett, Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd just to name a handful). Watkins earned first-team All-ACC honors last season after finishing with 69 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks over 15 games. — Gabriel Baumgaertner