Top 100 College Football Players of 2019: Nos. 10–1
And then there were 10.
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, then ran through Nos. 50–26 on Wednesday and Nos. 26–11 on Thursday. Now, it's time to unveil our Top 10, completing our ranking.
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.
10. Alabama DL Raekwon Davis
Is this the year Davis breaks out as one of the nation’s top defensive playmakers? We’ve all been waiting for this athletic freak—he stands 6’7” and weighs 315 pounds—to single handedly destroy offensive lines, especially after a sophomore season in 2017 that included 8.5 sacks, but Davis’s numbers slipped last year, so much so that he surprisingly decided to bypass the NFL draft and return for a fourth year. In fact, longtime ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper ranked Davis last spring as his No. 1 defensive line prospect for the 2019 draft. Davis has quite the past: He threw punches at a Missouri football player during a game this past season, and he played Alabama’s season opener in 2017 days after a stray bullet hit him in the leg.
9. Ohio State DL Chase Young
The Buckeyes' defense was painful to watch at times in 2018, but Young's rise to stardom as a former top-10 overall recruit continues unimpeded. Coming off a sophomore season in which he had 10 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss (highlighted by his game-winning fourth-down stop of Penn State RB Miles Sanders), Young should be the most feared member of a unit that is out for respect after several offseason staff changes.
8. Purdue WR Rondale Moore
Moore was the best wide receiver in the Big Ten last year—as a freshman. The former four-star recruit, who was once committed to Texas, slid right into the starting lineup under then-second year head coach Jeff Brohm and recorded 114 catches for 1,258 yards with 12 touchdowns. Unafraid of big moments, his best performance came when the spotlight shone the brightest. Last Oct. 20, Moore had 12 receptions for a career-high 170 yards and two scores against Ohio State’s elite defense in a stunning 49–20 upset. Moore will be back to frustrate Big Ten defenses this fall, but the Boilermakers need to give him some help offensively. No other Purdue receiver last year made more than 46 catches, and running backs D.J. Knox and Markell Jones, who received the bulk of carries in 2018, have graduated.
7. Clemson RB Travis Etienne
Etienne became a household name in 2018, when he averaged 8.1 yards per carry and scored 24 rushing touchdowns, most in the FBS. He's put on some added muscle this offseason—he played last year around 203 pounds, and at the end of spring ball, he was up to 212—which will bode well as far as pass blocking and breaking tackles, and in Clemson’s balanced offense, he should be ready to catch a few passes from Trevor Lawrence, as well; last season he had 12 receptions for 78 yards and two touchdowns.
6. LSU S Grant Delpit
Delpit entered last season under the radar before becoming a household name by the end of the year. He had five interceptions, five sacks, recorded a fumble and forced another one. A surefire first-round pick in next year’s NFL draft, Delpit is drawing comparisons to players like Jamal Adams. LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda plans to take even more advantage of Delpit’s skills this season, hoping to utilize him across the field as a pass rusher as well as a deep cover man. Toward the end of last season, LSU’s defensive backfield became deep enough to allow Delpit to move out of his role in LSU’s “quarters” position, a glorified linebacker, and settle into a true safety spot. He's a smart kid, too, possessing the kind of study habits that coaches crave.
5. Auburn DL Derrick Brown
Remember the collective low whistle the rest of the country let out in January 2018 when Clemson's draft-eligible defensive linemen collectively decided to come back for one final season? Brown and linemate Marlon Davidson brought forth something similar this winter when they decided to come back to Auburn and, along with versatile junior Nick Coe, make the Tigers one of the nation's most feared front sevens. Of the group, Brown is the one with the highest ceiling: His athleticism at 6'5" and 318 pounds means that he can toss aside many interior linemen and clog up the middle as much as he wants otherwise. He has dates in the backfield with three of the country's best QBs—Justin Herbert, Jake Fromm and Tua Tagovailoa—already lined up.
4. Alabama WR Jerry Jeudy
Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, Calvin Ridley. And now, Jerry Jeudy. The rising junior, who spent part of his offseason working out and refining his skills with Oakland Raiders WR Antonio Brown, is poised to be Alabama’s next great wide receiver. In 2018, he caught 68 balls for 1,315 yards and 14 touchdowns, the latter two stats ranking second in the program’s single-season record book. He took home the Biletnikoff Trophy, honoring the nation’s best receiver, even though he rarely took snaps in the fourth quarter during the regular season with the Tide often making games out of reach by then. As a sophomore, Jeudy was key in helping first-year starting star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa become a Heisman Trophy finalist. Now the two are back and will be a dangerous tandem with more experience under their belts.
3. Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor
Taylor led the country with 2,194 rushing yards last season, and in Wisconsin’s retooled offense—gone is quarterback Alex Hornibrook—he’ll have just as essential of a role this fall. The Badgers still aren’t certain who their next quarterback will be, and as they ease into their new look, they’ll rely on Taylor, who also averaged 7.2 yards per carry last year, despite the volume of work he received. With an offensive line that should be just as good as, if not better than, last year’s, the junior will have plenty of opportunities. And after a spring spent running track, he might have some new wrinkles in his game, too.
2. Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa
Tagovailoa broke school records, captained one of the sport’s most explosive offenses and led the Crimson Tide to the national championship game, but he finished second in the Heisman Trophy to the gifted Kyler Murray. That alone is surely a driving force for Tagovailoa. There is another motivational factor heading into his junior season: 44–16. That’s the final score of Clemson’s drubbing of Alabama in January’s CFP title match, a game in which Tagovailoa threw two interceptions, including a first-quarter pick returned for a score. Expecting Tagovailoa to exceed last year’s numbers—3,966 passing yards, 43 TDs—is asking a lot, but it’s not impossible. He’s got three All-SEC receivers returning and remember, he missed stretches of time late in the year with injury. In fact, injury might be the only thing capable of holding him back in 2019. There is a past here. Expected to be a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy this summer, Tagovailoa skipped the event because of a reported hamstring injury. He played last fall with a knee injury before spraining both ankles in the SEC championship game against Georgia.
1. Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence
Tua may be coming off of one of the best statistical seasons in college football history, but it's Trevor who has set himself the highest ceiling for 2019 after stepping into the College Football Playoff limelight as a true freshman and strafing Notre Dame and Alabama to lift Clemson to its second national title in three years. With two seasons left until the NFL comes calling and a war chest of skill players to distribute the ball to—including fellow Top 100 honorees Travis Etienne, Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross—Lawrence will stand alone atop the college game if he brings the Tigers back to the playoff.
After a shaky performance at Texas A&M and a concussion that nearly cost Clemson dearly against Syracuse, Lawrence threw 21 touchdowns against two interceptions from October on. The best pass defense he's scheduled to see in the regular season may be Week 2's return date with the Aggies or the regular season finale at South Carolina. But barring disaster, those should just be prelude to another late December semifinal showcase for Lawrence to show us all what he's got.