Every summer, SI sets out to determine the top 100 players of the college football season ahead, taking a stab at the impossible subjective task of comparing players across positions and competition levels. We kicked off the 2019 edition of our list on Tuesday with Nos. 100–51, and now, we turn to the next batch of players that will put us just outside the 25 best in the nation: Nos. 50–26.
A reminder: In constructing our rankings, the most important factor we assess is how significantly each player’s production will impact his team’s success this season—not how good he was last year, where he sat on 2018 statistical leaderboards or what type of NFL draft prospect he is (although those three factors often have a way of lining up). Put another way, this list is forward-looking, but not too forward-looking. If you don’t see your team’s unsung hero or rising star on this list, check out our breakdown of this year’s toughest snubs before you head for our mentions, and keep an eye out all week long as our reveal continues.
50. Georgia S Richard Lecounte
The physical tools and flashes of greatness are there for Lecounte, who led the Bulldogs in tackles last season but is yet to fully put everything together. He has reportedly bulked up this offseason with the hope of being a stronger and more consistent tackler from the safety spot, which would be a key development for a Georgia defense with several defensive stars elsewhere on this list. We very well might be talking about Lecounte as one of the best defensive backs in the country as the 2019 season unfolds.
49. Oklahoma LB Kenneth Murray
Few players fly around the way Murray does, as evidenced by his eye-popping 155 total tackles in 2018. He made 28 tackles in last September’s overtime win against Army alone. Despite Murray’s impressive range and athletic prowess, his instincts cost him at times last season. The big question this season is whether new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s system will be the one to get the most out of Murray and jumpstart an Oklahoma defense that hasn’t matched its offense’s success in recent seasons.
48. Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons
Simmons, the Tigers’ leading tackler last season, patrols the middle of the field in various roles, though he excels in the box, where he can use his speed and elite athleticism to shoot gaps and disrupt. His nine tackles for loss, two sacks and six passes defensed puts him in rare company as a two-way safety, and his experience will be important for a Clemson team that’s losing a lot of talent in the front seven.
47. LSU CB Kristian Fulton
After playing in just three games in 2016 and missing all of 2017 with a suspension, Fulton proved his coverage chops last season playing opposite Greedy Williams. The former five-star recruit has the necessary speed to track receivers down the field, and he’s also a willing tackler in run support. With Grant Delpit roaming the field at safety and star freshman Derek Stingley Jr. alongside Fulton, LSU’s secondary will be absolutely loaded this year.
46. Missouri TE Albert Okwuegbunam
Okwuegbunam has played in 18 games in his college career and scored 17 touchdowns, which is remarkable. The 6’5”, 255 pound Missouri Tiger is the quintessential athletic tight end who threatens defenses up the seam, and he’s an incredibly difficult cover in the red zone. He should be an ideal security blanket for new Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant.
45. Clemson DL Nyles Pinckney
The news that tackle Dexter Lawrence would miss the College Football Playoff while serving a suspension for a positive PED test threatened to derail Clemson's title hopes, but Pinckney stepped in and played to the level of the Tigers' other NFL-bound starters in blowout wins over Notre Dame and Alabama. That spurred hopes in the Upstate that Clemson will truly reload along its front seven as it launches a national title defense, and Pinckney stands to be the most experienced of those new regulars.
44. Texas WR Collin Johnson
At 6’6”, Johnson a monster on jump balls and a weapon in the red zone. He’ll have to prove himself as a No. 1 receiver with Lil’Jordan Humphrey gone, but he already has a strong established rapport with quarterback Sam Ehlinger, which bodes well. Johnson should take another big leap in 2019.
43. Syracuse S Andre Cisco
Cisco had one of the best seasons of any true freshman in college football last year. Using his length, instincts and ability to quickly drive toward the ball, Cisco intercepted seven passes from the safety spot in 2018, which helped him garner first team All-ACC honors. Cisco is a major part of an ascending Syracuse program.
42. Arizona State RB Eno Benjamin
Benjamin carried Herm Edwards and the Sun Devils last season by rushing for 1,642 yards and 16 touchdowns on a whopping 300 carries. Benjamin runs with tremendous vision and balance, and his durability will be paramount for ASU this season with quarterback Manny Wilkins and receiver N’Keal Harry gone.
41. Texas QB Sam Ehlinger
Ehlinger took the reigns as the Texas starter last season and didn’t look back. He threw for 25 touchdowns and rushed for 16, becoming just the eighth player in college football history to total 25 touchdowns passing and 15 rushing (joining a group that includes Marcus Mariota, Tim Tebow, Lamar Jackson, Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel). After beating Georgia in last season’s Sugar Bowl, Ehlinger and the Longhorns have mammoth expectations heading into 2019.
40. Michigan LB Khaleke Hudson
Hudson is a hybrid between a linebacker and a safety, which Michigan calls the “Viper” role. Roaming all over the field in the Jabrill Peppers mold, Hudson is a playmaker more than anything else, both near the line of scrimmage and deep in the secondary. His numbers saw a sharp decline in 2018 from his breakout 2017 season, but he’s still a highly-talented, highly-versatile player who will be the unquestioned leader of Michigan’s defense with Devin Bush off to the NFL.
39. Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle
Waddle is at his best with the ball in his hands in space. Blending precise route running with his game-breaking run-after-catch ability, Waddle burst onto the scene with 848 yards receiving and seven touchdowns last season. With another offseason of Alabama’s strength and conditioning program under his belt, and with a plenty of other elite receivers to take attention away from him, Waddle should be in line for another big season.
38. Florida DL Jabari Zuniga
Zuniga wasn’t as productive as his teammate Jachai Polite last season, but he’s consistently been a pass-rushing force over the past three seasons at Florida. He’s a prototypical explosive edge defender in that he has both the speed to get to the quarterback and the strength to hold up in run support, which makes him a valuable piece for what should be a talented Gator defense.
37. Georgia RB D'Andre Swift
Swift is a decisive runner with devastating cuts at the point of attack and the speed to make defenses pay for taking poor angles. At 5’9” and 215 pounds, Swift is able to shed would-be tacklers with ease and finish runs with authority. He split carries with Elijah Holyfield last season, but Holyfield is now in the NFL, which should elevate Swift into a more prominent role for a Georgia offense that’s breaking in some new receivers.
36. Stanford OL Walker Little
A first-team all-league player last season, Little was rock-solid while protecting K.J. Costello’s blindside. Little is athletic enough to get to the second level of the defense on screen passes and in the running game, and he will lead an offensive line that comes into 2019 seeking improvement after a disappointing rushing season for the Cardinal. Little might be Stanford’s most indispensible player not-named Costello.
35. Clemson WR Justyn Ross
As a true freshman, Ross exploded onto the scene in last season’s College Football Playoff by turning in a combined 12 catches for 301 yards and three touchdowns against Notre Dame and Alabama. Ross is 6’4” with breakaway speed, making him one of the toughest covers in college football. With Trevor Lawrence back at quarterback and fellow receiver Tee Higgins also drawing the attention of defenses, Clemson’s passing game should be electrifying in 2019.
34. Miami LB Shaq Quarterman
Quarterman has steadily improved during his three years with the Hurricanes, rising from All-ACC third team as a freshman to second team as a sophomore and first team last season as a junior. Quarterman is a downhill, punishing hitter who explodes through the line of scrimmage to force negative plays, and Manny Diaz likes to use him in a number of different ways, particularly as a blitzer. After notching 14 tackles for loss and five sacks as a junior, Quarterman will be the fulcrum of Miami’s defense in Diaz’s first season as head coach.
33. Oklahoma WR CeeDee Lamb
Lamb isn’t just a one-handed catch aficionado—he’s one of the most complete wideouts in all of college football. He put up 1,158 yards and 11 touchdowns last season on 17.8 yards per catch, terrorizing defenses both by running under rainbow deep balls and making contested catches along the sidelines. Oklahoma loses Kyler Murray and Hollywood Brown, but it shouldn’t miss too much of a beat with Jalen Hurts at quarterback and Lamb back at receiver.
32. Alabama OL Alex Leatherwood
Leatherwood, the latest mauling Alabama offensive lineman, helped open holes for the Tide’s dominant running game last season as a right guard. Leatherwood might be the best interior run-blocker in the country, and he should be in the thick of the All-American conversation in his second season as a full-time starter. When Najee Harris is galloping into opposing secondaries this season, look for Leatherwood clearing out helpless defenders along the way.
31. Notre Dame DL Julian Okwara
Okwara lives in opposing backfields. He accrued eight sacks and 21 hurries last season, and he returns as the lynchpin of a Notre Dame defensive line that will need to be strong after some turnover at linebacker. With the speed to chase down quarterbacks and the athleticism to shed offensive lineman with ease, Okwara is one of the best edge-rushers in the country.
30. Virginia CB Bryce Hall
The Cavaliers' surprising 2018 run that came up just short of an ACC Coastal title was spearheaded by a sturdy defense that Hall distinguished himself as one of the stars of. As a junior, he tied for the FBS lead with 24 passes defensed, including a nation-leading 22 breakups. With a next-level frame at a listed 6'1" and 200 pounds, he enters his final season of college ball with the immense respect of opposing offensive coordinators.
29. Vanderbilt RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn
With quarterback Kyle Shurmur gone, the Vanderbilt offense will start and end with Vaughn. A powerful north-south runner who’s slippery in space, Vaughn amassed 1,244 yards and 12 touchdowns last season in his first with the Commodores after transferring from Illinois, and he enters 2019 as one of the most underrated backs in the country. Expect a ton of carries from Vaughn this season.
28. Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts
You know the story. Hurts took Alabama to two-straight national championships as an underclassmen before losing the starting job to Tua Tagovailoa, and last season he played a key role in relief by helping the Crimson Tide stave off Georgia when Tagovailoa went down in the SEC championship. Now, Hurts is at Oklahoma as a grad transfer, poised to take over a Lincoln Riley offense that’s seen its last two quarterbacks win the Heisman Trophy and go No. 1 overall in the draft. All offseason rumblings point to Hurts fitting in seamlessly with the Sooners.
27. Oklahoma State WR Tylan Wallace
While Kyler Murray and Hollywood Brown stole most of the headlines last season, another player in the state of Oklahoma put up monster numbers: Tylan Wallace. Wallace had 1,491 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2019, and he routinely made contested catches look easy. The Cowboys will break in a new quarterback this fall, so having a reliable pass-catcher like Wallace should make the transition smoother.
26. Auburn DL Nick Coe
Auburn enters the 2019 season with as ferocious a defensive line as any, and Coe is part of the reason why. He made a leap from two sacks as a freshman in 2017 to seven last season, and he should be a major problem for opposing offensive tackles this fall. Good luck trying to deal with a defensive line that features Coe, Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson.