ESPN's 50 Best CFB Players - They'll Never Learn

ESPN's 50 Best CFB Players - They'll Never Learn

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ESPN's 50 Best CFB Players - They'll Never Learn

ESPN has announced who the fifty best players are in college football.  They appear to have a strange way of identifying the “best” players.  

Contact @crowleysullivan

I’m not necessarily saying that the ESPN people aren’t good at identifying the fifty best players in all of college football.

All I’m trying to say is that the show with Jalen Rose and whoever else is on that show with Jalen Rose is, perhaps, the worst television program ever created.

Believe it or not, we like the ESPN college football people.

They’re great at the whole thing.

The Moon Howlers out there love to whine and complain about everything that ESPN does because the Moon Howlers love to blame everything that’s wrong with their lives on ESPN.

Those same people watch ESPN on their TVs, they watch ESPN while they take their showers, they watch ESPN on their phone machines, they watch ESPN when they’re trying to keep track of all of the bets they’ve made on any given Saturday or Sunday during the football season, they watch ESPN every night when they’re hoping that their Fantasy Football and Fantasy Baseball stars are highlighted on SportsCenter, and they watch every one of the 30 For 30 films and then discuss every aspect of the films with their buddies when they’re hanging around in the backyard after a week of tough work selling widgets.

And, the Moon Howlers will look at this list that ESPN has put together that ranks the fifty best college football players because it’s fun to put these lists together, it’s fun to debate these lists, and, most of the time, the ESPN people get this stuff right and we all know it.

Ah – but, this list is intriguing in the way it includes some players but doesn’t include others.

Let’s take a look at the list.

There might be a player or two on this list that could be replaced by other players; players that are familiar to Green & Whiters….

Ed Oliver – no argument here since this guy should be given the responsibility of roaming the globe and finding all of the ISIS people and tackling them and, therefore, killing them.

Bryce Love – no argument here since he’s a machine and he goes to STANFORD and, therefore, we’re all supposed to go on and on about how he’s going to cure cancer after he’s finished playing football.

I hope he does cure cancer.

If he does cure cancer, we won’t need to read the newspapers or pay attention to the news Twitters because all of the STANFORD people will be sure to tell us that a STANFORD person cured cancer.

Will Grier – this dude sure is getting a whole lot of love from the experts.

He’s good, no doubt about it.

But would Spartan fans rather have Will Grier over Brian Lewerke?

Ah – we’ve hit our first possible bump in ESPN’s list and we’re only at #3.

These defensive linemen from Clemson – I’d be an idiot if I tried to argue with these guys being ranked in the Top 10 since these guys are superhuman organisms and they’re going to gobble up people who line up against them and Clemson has earned the respect they’re getting with sort of stuff.

Nick Bosa – okay.

But we know all about Nick Bosa and while he’s deserving of a high position in the ESPN people’s ranking thing, we also know that he can be dealt with since we know him in the way that I know that my brother’s breath really stinks.

Jonathan Taylor – yes, we’re down with this one.

Wisconsin players are good at football.

It’s why Wisconsin Wisconsins SEC teams and wins so many games.

This dude is the real deal and Spartan fans should be glad about not having the Badgers on the schedule this season.

Rashan Gary, Devin Bush, Shea Patterson (at #25 – in the country), and Chase Winovich are all UMAAers that are in the ESPN Top 50 college football players.

I guess I can see how these guys are “better” than Kenny Willekes, Joe Bachie, Raequan Williams, and Brian Lewerke in the way that the third installment of “The Matrix” movie series is better than all of the individual films in “The Godfather” series.

It makes sense.

Also, with four of the nation’s Top 50 players, shouldn’t UMAA be a lock to win the NFC Championship and then raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy?

UMAA has a lot of players that find their way onto these list every year.

It’s interesting.

I’m hearing and seeing a lot about Old Miss State’s quarterback, Nick Fitzgerald.

I get it – he’s good.

But, I’ll believe that Nick Fitzgerald is the 16th best player in all of college football, let alone better than Brian Lewerke, when I’m convinced that Old Miss State actually matters as a football program.

Arizona’s Khalil Tate is, as ESPN notes in the description of who they list as the nation’s 19th best college football player, “exciting.”

A lot of people think that Jerry Glanville brings an “exciting” approach to his role as the defensive coordinator of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL.

If anyone wants to convince me that UCF’s McKenzie Milton, ESPN’s 20th best player in all of college football, is a better quarterback than Brian Lewerke, I’d like to try to convince that person that I can run really fast.

Levonta Taylor is ranked #34 in ESPN’s list and these words are some of the words that are used to justify Taylor’s spot –

Key stat: Recorded two interceptions against rival Florida

I had two interceptions in my family’s Thanksgiving Turkey Bowl last year – how come I’m not 34th on the list?

Taylor came into his own last season in his first year as a starter and goes into 2018 as one of the best cover cornerbacks in the ACC.

Isn’t this a little like saying that Eddie Schnuck heads into this Fall as one of the best cashier check-out grocery baggers at the Piggly Wiggly in Smallville, SC?

Kyler Murray comes in at #38 as Oklahoma’s replacement for Baker Mayfield.

ESPN’s writeup notes that Murray signed with Oakland Athletics for $4.7 million over the summer.

But what about the fact that he can solve a jumbled up Rubix Cube in less than seven minutes?

Or the fact that he loves pancakes?

Deebo Samuel is the #48 player on ESPN’s list as South Carolina’s wide receiver.

ESPN includes this in the write up of Deebo Samuel –

Injuries cut Samuel’s 2017 season short, but according to coach Will Muschamp, he was one of the most explosive players in college football when healthy.

Based on that, shouldn’t Deebo Samuel just be awarded the Heisman Trophy right now?

To be clear, we’re just having fun in the way we’re saying, with a smidgeon of satirical snark, that the ESPN people don’t know what they’re talking and should consider providing opinion and analysis for a technology and software company rather than a sports media company.

And, this all simply plays right into the decade+ strategy that has driven the Michigan State Spartans.

Brian Lewerke, Joe Bachie, Luke Campbell, LJ Scott, Felton Davis, Josiah Scott, David Dowell – these guys are all players that will end up on all sorts of All Big Ten and All American lists by the time the season ends.

I know that Boston College running back AJ Dillon is really good since he’s been on a lot of these lists (presumably because he’s the only college football player Bill Simmons can name and Bill Simmons is doing his best to maintain influence with the ESPNers even though the people there finally figured out that Bill Simmons doesn’t know anything about anything that doesn’t focus on the Boston Celtics between 1982 and 1988).

Here – take a look at this fun ranking and see if you think that Montez Sweat, the guy who couldn’t hack it in East Lansing and is now playing for Old Miss State, is worthy of being named the 47th best college football player…..

The 50 best players in college football: Ed Oliver leads the way

Who will be the best college football players in 2018? Sure, there will be plenty of representation from Alabama and Clemson — a list-high five players apiece — and a load of quarterbacks.

But it all starts up front with a game-wrecking Group of 5 defensive tackle. Not only does Houston’s Ed Oliver top most NFL draft boards, he leads the way here.

And remember, this is about what players will do in 2018, not what they’ve done to this point. So you’ll find Tua Tagovailoa high on this list, as well as breakout candidates like Georgia running back D’Andre Swift and Clemson receiver Tee Higgins.

No true freshmen made the list, so check out our list of instant-impact first-year players here. And what fun is a list like this without some heated debate? Check out our roundtable on snubs, who’s overrated and underrated and which Group of 5 players deserved more love.

To get the final ranking, we had our expert panel vote on pairs of players. Bryce Love vs. Christian Wilkins. Trace McSorley vs. Jonathan Taylor. We asked, “Which player will be better in 2018?” To decide, voters had to consider both the quality and the quantity of each player’s contributions to his team’s ability to win games.


1. ED OLIVER

DT, Houston
Class: Junior
Key stat: Currently No. 1 on Mel Kiper’s 2019 Big Board

The last defensive lineman to finish in the top five of the Heisman voting was Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh in 2009. The unblockable Oliver could replicate Suh’s feat on the way to potentially becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft.

2. BRYCE LOVE

RB, Stanford
Class: Senior
Key stat: 2,118 rushing yards in 2017

The speedster is just the third player in college football history to return to school after rushing for 2,000-plus yards and has a chance to become the first Heisman Trophy runner-up to win the award the following year since Georgia’s Herschel Walker in 1982.

QB, West Virginia
Class: Senior
Key stat: Threw for 3,490 yards in 2017

Arguably the top returning quarterback in the country, Grier was second nationally in passing touchdowns and third in passing yards before breaking a finger last season. Armed with one of the top receiving corps in the nation, Grier’s recently launched Heisman campaign could be a viable one.

4. CHRISTIAN WILKINS
DL, Clemson
Class: Senior
Key stat: Mel Kiper’s No. 1 senior defensive tackle

There’s so much talent on Clemson’s roster, it’s hard to pick one player as the team’s best, but there’s no question about who the heart and soul of the locker room is. That’s Wilkins, a senior defensive tackle who does everything from rushing the passer to catching passes on special teams to ensuring the rest of the group is out on the field early for offseason workouts. Wilkins’ return to the defense this season was a surprise to many, but the truth is, the guy loves playing college football, and he has a chance to make his mark as one of the Tigers’ all-time greats.

5. DEXTER LAWRENCE
DT, Clemson
Class: Junior
Key stat: No. 9 in Todd McShay’s way-too-early mock draft

You don’t need to watch much film to see how fearsome Lawrence is at blowing up the pocket or annihilating a run play. But the truly scary thing is, we’ve yet to really see Lawrence at his best. In 2016, he was a true freshman playing behind veterans on the line. He got a lot of work, but he was still refining his craft. Last year, injuries plagued Lawrence’s season, and while he did his best to stay on the field and make an impact, it was clear he wasn’t 100 percent. In 2018, we might finally get to see what a monster Lawrence can be when he’s clicking on all cylinders, and that’s bad news for the rest of the ACC.

6. NICK BOSA
DE, Ohio State
Class: Junior
Key stat: 8.5 sacks in 2017

The younger Bosa’s first two seasons have been a step ahead of the trajectory his All-American brother, Joey, took before getting drafted in the first round after three years at Ohio State. That bodes well as Bosa heads into a junior year where he’ll be the top pass-rusher on a reloaded defensive line. Bosa’s balance, technique, speed and tendency to never give up on a play make him nearly impossible to stop.

7. JONATHAN TAYLOR
RB, Wisconsin
Class: Sophomore
Key stat: Averaged 6.6 yards per carry in 2017

By breaking Adrian Peterson‘s FBS freshman rushing record with 1,977 yards, Taylor put himself on the national radar last year. Don’t be surprised if he tops his 2017 performance after a full season in the program and while running behind arguably the nation’s best offensive line. He has speed, power and durability, recording 10 100-yard performances and three 200-yard performances on 299 carries.

8. RASHAN GARY
DL, Michigan
Class: Junior
Key stat: No. 3 on Mel Kiper Jr.’s Big Board

One of several talented juniors on Michigan’s defense, Gary has great speed and impeccable footwork for a 285-pound pass-rusher. He approached offseason workouts with renewed focus, which should help him keep pace with the high expectations he created the past two seasons and as the No. 1-ranked prospect coming out of high school.

9. TRACE MCSORLEY
QB, Penn State
Class: Senior
Key stat: Threw for 3,570 yards and 28 TDs in 2017

Those lamenting the departure of Saquon Barkley seem to forget the Heisman Trophy contender still in Happy Valley. McSorley has won big at every level of his career. He matured into an accurate, reliable field leader last year after filling the highlight reel in 2016. With 59 touchdown passes thus far, McSorley could become the best statistical quarterback in PSU history.

10. JARRETT STIDHAM
QB, Auburn
Class: Junior
Key stat: Threw for 3,158 yards last season

After a somewhat slow start to his first season at Auburn, the former Baylor transfer still threw for 3,158 yards and 18 touchdowns. With a year under his belt and more control at the line of scrimmage, his numbers could climb.

11. TUA TAGOVAILOA
QB, Alabama
Class: Sophomore
Key stat: Zero career college starts

It was a small sample size but a memorable one. After appearing only in mop-up duty during the regular season, Tagovailoa saved the day as a true freshman in the title game against Georgia, entering at halftime to throw three touchdowns, including the winner in a 26-23 overtime victory.

12. CLELIN FERRELL
DE, Clemson
Class: Junior
Key stat: No. 3 on Mel Kiper Jr.’s DE underclassmen rankings

After a breakout finale to the 2016 season, Ferrell became a household name as a sophomore in 2017, finishing the year with 9.5 sacks, 18 tackles for loss, seven QB hurries and two forced fumbles. He’s a high-motor rusher off the edge, and his instincts for the position make him arguably the most dangerous pass-rusher on a line loaded with NFL talent.

13. DAMIEN HARRIS
RB, Alabama
Class: Senior
Key stat: 7.4 yards per carry in 2017

He flies under the radar sometimes, but all Harris has done in each of the past two seasons is rush for 1,000 yards. During his senior season, he could climb up the chart for career rushing yards at Alabama.

14. JUSTIN HERBERT
QB, Oregon
Class: Junior
Key stat: Mel Kiper Jr.’s No. 1 underclass QB

When Herbert was on the field last season, Oregon was one of the most dangerous offenses in the country (the Ducks scored 49.1 points and averaged 516.5 yards per game in his eight starts). If he plays to his potential this year, an early departure to the NFL might loom.

15. JAKE BROWNING
QB, Washington
Class: Senior
Key stat: Has thrown for 9,104 yards in three years

After finishing sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting and leading the Huskies to the playoff in 2016, Browning wasn’t nearly as productive in 2017, but the senior is a primary reason Washington is viewed as the best team on the West Coast.

16. NICK FITZGERALD
QB, Mississippi State
Class: Junior
Key stat: Had both 100 rushing and passing yards in six 2017 games

One of the first things Joe Moorhead did when he got the job as head coach at Mississippi State was to call his starting quarterback to tell him to make room for a Heisman Trophy. While Fitzgerald might fly under the radar on Heisman lists, with 66 combined touchdowns (36 passing, 30 rushing) the past two seasons, he has some serious production already under his belt.

17. RAEKWON DAVIS
DL, Alabama
Class: Junior
Key stat: Projected first-round pick by Todd McShay

Da’Ron Payne was the anchor of the Alabama defense last season, but now it’s another 300-pounder’s turn. Davis, a lean 6-foot-7 and 306 pounds, enters the spotlight after earning All-SEC honors last season by posting 69 tackles, 10 of which were for a loss.

18. DAVID SILLS V
WR, West Virginia
Class: Senior
Key stat: Tied for FBS lead with 18 TD receptions

A finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, Sills led the country with 18 touchdown receptions in his first season as a full-time wide receiver. Because of added depth to West Virginia’s receiving corps, Sills might not replicate that gaudy touchdown number. But the former quarterback figures to be even better with a season of experience playing receiver.

19. KHALIL TATE
QB, Arizona
Class: Junior
Key stat: Set FBS QB single-game rushing record with 327 against Colorado

Arguably the most exciting player to watch in the country, Tate enters the season as a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender under new coach Kevin Sumlin. Though he’s known more as a runner, Tate’s ability as a passer should not go overlooked — he throws one of the best deep balls in the country.

20. MCKENZIE MILTON
QB, UCF
Class: Junior
Key stat: Threw for 494 yards in 2OT win over Memphis

UCF has begun the Heisman pitch for its star quarterback, after a sophomore season in which he set single-season school records for passing yards (4,037), passing touchdowns (37) and rushing yards by a quarterback (613). Hopes are high for UCF to keep its forward momentum going with Milton back behind center.

21. CAM AKERS
RB, Florida State
Class: Sophomore
Key stat: Ran for career-high 199 yards against Syracuse

Last season, Akers broke Florida State’s single-season freshman rushing record with 1,024 yards, but the expectations are even higher this season. And those expectations come from Akers himself. Already a preseason All-ACC selection, one of Akers’ goals this season is to rush for 2,000 yards. The other is to win a championship.

22. DEVIN BUSH
LB, Michigan
Class: Junior
Key stat: Mel Kiper Jr.’s No. 1 underclass ILB

The new leader of Michigan’s stacked defense had a team-high 102 tackles and five sacks in his first season as a starter. Good instincts and a fearsome attitude will make Bush the tone-setting centerpiece for another fast, aggressive group in Ann Arbor.

23. J.K. DOBBINS
RB, Ohio State
Class: Sophomore
Key stat: Rushed for 1,403 yards in 2017

Ohio State fans want to see more of Dobbins, who last fall averaged 7.2 yards a carry and 100.2 yards per game despite only 13.9 carries per game. Mike Weberis still in Columbus, but Dobbins should move into more of a featured role. He had a team-high 16 plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or longer last season.

24. AUSTIN BRYANT
DE, Clemson
Class: Senior
Key stat: Mel Kiper Jr.’s No. 4 senior DE

There was a play against Virginia Tech last season that perfectly illustrated why Bryant is the unsung hero of Clemson’s elite defensive line. He was lined up in coverage, split wide against speedy receiver Sean Savoy on a fourth-down play. A swing pass to Savoy was caught and immediately blown up by Bryant, who converged with his 270-pound frame to drop Savoy for a 5-yard loss. That’s an astonishing amount of athleticism for a guy considered the fourth-best defensive lineman on his own team.

25. SHEA PATTERSON
QB, Michigan
Class: Junior
Key stat: Threw for 2,259 yards before season-ending injury

The former Ole Miss starter is now the preordained savior in Ann Arbor. Patterson’s ability to extend and make plays will — provided he wins the starting job — give Jim Harbaugh’s staff a weapon it has not had under center at Michigan. Wolverine faithful are hoping he’s the missing piece to a Big Ten title run.

26. A.J. BROWN
WR, Ole Miss
Class: Junior
Key stat: Mel Kiper Jr.’s No. 1 underclass receiver

Arguably the best pro prospect at his position, Brown caught 72 passes for 1,252 yards and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore last year. Brown also eclipsed 100 receiving yards six times, with five of those resulting in him gaining at least 150 yards. At 6-1, 225 pounds, Brown can outmuscle just about any defensive back.

27. DEVIN WHITE
LB, LSU
Class: Junior
Key stat: Mel Kiper Jr.’s No. 1 underclass OLB

White probably will be the first linebacker taken in next year’s NFL draft, and for good reason. In just his second season with the Tigers, he collected 133 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 2017. The sideline-to-sideline linebacker registered double-digit tackles in eight of 13 games last year.

28. MYLES GASKIN
RB, Washington
Class: Senior
Key stat: 4,055 career rushing yards over three seasons

Gaskin is already the school’s all-time touchdowns leader (49) and has a chance to become the first Pac-12 player and 10th in FBS history to rush for 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons. He enters the season with 4,055 rushing yards.

29. JEFFERY SIMMONS
DT, Mississippi State
Class: Junior
Key stat: Mel Kiper Jr.’s No. 4 underclass DT

He’s 6-4 and 310 pounds, but he’s nimble, reportedly having just 15 percent body fat. He already has found the end zone twice, and last season racked up a whopping 41 quarterback pressures, earning first team All-SEC honors from the league’s coaches.

30. JAKE FROMM
QB, GEORGIA
Class: Sophomore
Key stat: Threw for 2,699 yards in leading UGA to title game

He has been somewhat overshadowed by Tagovailoa’s emergence in the title game and No. 1 recruit Justin Fields‘ arrival on campus, but Fromm deserves to stand on his own. As a true freshman, all he did was throw 24 touchdowns and only seven interceptions, leading the Bulldogs to within an overtime of a national championship.

31. JONAH WILLIAMS
OL, Alabama
Class: Junior
Key stat: Crimson Tide rushed for 3,509 yards in 2017

There’s a reason he has started from Day 1. Already at 29 career starts, Williams won a spot on the SEC All-Freshman team in 2016 and followed that up with third team AP All-America honors last season. The right tackle has been one of the most consistent linemen on the roster, proficient in the run game as well as pass protection.

32. DWAYNE HASKINS
QB, Ohio State
Class: Sophomore
Key stat: Completed 40 of 57 passes in 2017

J.T. Barrett‘s 50-game run in Columbus is over, and the Haskins era begins this fall. Haskins impressed in relief of Barrett last year at Michigan Stadium, rallying the Buckeyes past their archrival. The strong-armed sophomore steps into the featured role for an offense loaded with options at the skill positions.

33. D’ANDRE SWIFT
RB, Georgia
Class: Sophomore
Key stat: 618 rushing yards on only 81 carries in 2017

With longtime backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb gone, it’s Swift’s turn in the spotlight. In a supporting role last season, the sophomore showed flashes of big-play ability, averaging 7.8 yards per touch (rushing and receiving).

34. LEVONTA TAYLOR
CB, Florida State
Class: Junior
Key stat: Recorded two interceptions against rival Florida

Taylor came into his own last season in his first year as a starter and goes into 2018 as one of the best cover cornerbacks in the ACC. Thanks to several key departures, including Derwin James, Taylor is now the veteran among the group and will be asked to anchor a unit that has the potential for a big year.

35. DREW LOCK
QB, Missouri
Class: Senior
Key stat: Projected first-round pick by Todd McShay

It went largely unnoticed as Missouri struggled to find its footing last season, but its quarterback excelled throughout, finishing just 36 yards shy of 4,000 yards passing. He didn’t miss the mark, though, when he set an SEC record for passing touchdowns in a single season with 44.

36. A.J. DILLON
RB, Boston College
Class: Sophomore
Key stat: Rushed for 895 yards in final five games of 2017

Here are the numbers for Dillon from his true freshman season: 1,589 yards, 14 touchdowns, five straight games with at least 149 yards to end the season. That’s all pretty good, but don’t forget he wasn’t even Boston College’s starting running back until Week 5. So when Dillon says he has a lot he can still improve upon, that’s a frightening thought, and he’s the biggest reason there’s real enthusiasm about Boston College’s chances for a big season in 2018.

37. GREEDY WILLIAMS
CB, LSU
Class: Sophomore 
Key stat: No. 6 pick in Todd McShay’s way-too-early draft

Williams’ nickname fits him perfectly. He’s coming off a sophomore year in which he led the SEC with six interceptions and was second in the league with 17 passes defended. Arguably the best cover corner in the SEC — and maybe beyond — the first-team All-SEC member is getting tons of All-America attention this season. Williams is a rangy, big-bodied corner who sticks to receivers but isn’t afraid to lay the lumber.

38. KYLER MURRAY
QB, Oklahoma
Class: Junior
Key stat: No. 9 overall pick in 2018 MLB draft

Having signed with the Oakland Athletics for $4.7 million over the summer, Murray now faces the enormous task of replacing Heisman winner and No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Baker Mayfield. The Sooners, however, are loaded around the quarterback on offense again. And Murray, a former five-star recruit, has the talent to propel Oklahoma back into the CFP.

39. GREG LITTLE
OL, Ole Miss
Class: Junior
Key stat: No. 4 pick in Todd McShay’s way-too-early mock draft

Perhaps the most talented offensive lineman in the SEC, Little has a chance to play his way into the first round of next year’s NFL draft. The former freshman All-America and Outland Trophy watch list member is tasked with protecting the blind side of Rebels QB Jordan Ta’amu.

40. TEE HIGGINS
WR, Clemson
Class: Sophomore
Key stat: No. 18 prospect in 2017 recruiting class

Clemson’s sophomore receiver said he grew up idolizing former Georgia star A.J. Green, and that’s fitting. Higgins is a carbon copy. At 6-4, 200 pounds, Higgins is an imposing target, and his long strides and quick breaks make him nearly impossible to defend. He came on strong late last season before an injury derailed his Sugar Bowl, but he owned the field during Clemson’s spring game and appears poised to become one of the ACC’s best players in 2018.

41. DERRICK BROWN
DL, Auburn
Class: Junior
Key stat: No. 15 pick in Todd McShay’s way-too-early mock draft

Those at Auburn believe they have the most talented defensive line in the country, and it starts in the middle with Brown. The 6-5, 325-pound defensive tackle is a run-stuffer who can also get into the backfield, as evidenced by his four sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss.

42. DAVID EDWARDS
OL, Wisconsin
Class: Junior
Key stat: No. 19 pick in Todd McShay’s way-too-early mock draft

This mainstay on Wisconsin’s offensive line during the past two seasons started his career as a tight end before bulking up to play tackle. He was as good of a blindside protector as anyone in the Big Ten last year and is part of the talented and massive group that paves the way for Heisman candidate Jonathan Taylor.

43. T.J. EDWARDS
LB, Wisconsin
Class: Senior
Key stat: Mel Kiper Jr.’s No. 1 senior ILB

The Badgers are replacing seven starters on defense, which makes Edwards an essential player for their continued success. He was a Butkus Award finalist last year after making 81 tackles in the middle of one the nation’s most stingy defenses. He, Ryan Connelly and Chris Orr should make the linebacker spot a huge strength for Wisconsin.

44. RODNEY ANDERSON
RB, Oklahoma
Class: Junior
Key stat: Rushed for more than 110 yards in 6 of last 8 games

After taking over Oklahoma’s starting running back job early last October, Anderson led the country in yards from scrimmage, culminating with more than 200 rushing yards in the Rose Bowl. Anderson and speedy quarterback Murray could form a devastating rushing combination out of the Sooners backfield.

45. MONTEZ SWEAT
DE, Mississippi State
Class: Senior
Key stat: Mel Kiper Jr.’s No. 3 senior DE

The second of Mississippi State’s two first team All-SEC defensive linemen, Sweat is as good a pass-rusher as there is in the conference. Last season, the 6-6, 241-pounder tied for the SEC lead in sacks and tackles for loss.

46. CHASE WINOVICH
DL, Michigan
Class: Senior
Key stat: Mel Kiper Jr.’s No. 5 senior DE

Winovich built on a solid 2016 season by boosting many of his key stats, from tackles for loss (9.5 to 18) to sacks (5 to 8) to forced fumbles (1 to 2). The first-team All-Big Ten selection bypassed the NFL draft for one more shot at a Big Ten title as he joins fellow All-America candidate Rashan Gary on Michigan’s line.

47. DEEBO SAMUEL
WR, South Carolina
Class: Senior
Key stat: Mel Kiper Jr.’s No. 1 senior WR

Injuries cut Samuel’s 2017 season short, but according to coach Will Muschamp, he was one of the most explosive players in college football when healthy. A true all-purpose player, he can catch passes, rush the football and make a difference in the return game. In only three games last season, he scored six touchdowns.

48. SHAQ QUARTERMAN
LB, Miami
Class: Junior
Key stat: Mel Kiper Jr.’s No. 2 underclass ILB

Quarterman has started every game he has played at Miami (26). Going into his junior season, he has the potential for an All-America-type season. The heart of the Hurricanes’ defense, Quarterman had 83 tackles a year ago and picked up the most votes among linebackers on the preseason All-ACC team.

49. MACK WILSON
LB, Alabama
Class: Junior
Key stat: Mel Kiper Jr.’s No. 3 underclass ILB

Injuries have been an issue at times, but when he’s on the field he’s a productive playmaker, dating to his eye-popping hits on special teams as a freshman. Last season the gifted inside linebacker had 40 tackles, and despite being used mostly in a reserve role, he led the team with four interceptions.

50. DEVIN SINGLETARY
RB, Florida Atlantic
Class: Junior
Key stat: 1,920 rushing yards in 2017

Nobody really calls him Devin. They call him “Motor,” a nickname from his dad, but it is fitting given the way he plays. Singletary led all FBS players with 32 rushing touchdowns last year and rushed for 1,920 yards — fourth in the nation. He needs 589 yards this season to set the school career rushing mark.

Writeups by Andrea Adelson, Edward Aschoff, Kyle Bonagura, David M. Hale, Dan Murphy, Adam Rittenberg, Alex Scarborough, Jake Trotter

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