The 2020 college football season has been admittedly weird. From some conferences deciding not to play before doing so anyway to a last-second scheduled game between BYU and Coastal Carolina in Week 14, all bets are off on regularity in what has become our favorite sport’s minor league.
Hence, a lot of the top names in our wins above average model for college football — which we debuted last season — are going to be the players who have played the most. That doesn’t mean players who have played relatively few games, either through COVID-related issues individually (Trevor Lawrence) or collectively (the Big Ten and Pac-12), haven’t produced a lot of value. It simply means the players who have played a ton of games and snaps will have an edge in this particular model.
Let’s look at some of the most valuable players in college football in 2020 through Week 14.
Jones has the advantage over likely No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence not based on volume (they both have 272 dropbacks) but because of on-field performance against elite competition. Jones is the second-highest graded passer in college football (94.3), but unlike Zach Wilson (95.2), he’s done it against the best of the best in the SEC.
Running Back: Khalil Herbert, Virginia Tech — 0.464 WAA
Herbert edges out UNC's Javonte Williams for the top spot, due in large part to averaging an absurd 4.9 yards per carry after contact (Williams is at 4.6). One of five running backs with 1,000 yards and over 30 carries of 10-plus yards in this abbreviated season, the Kansas transfer has been one of the biggest offseason additions.
Wide Receiver: Devonta Smith, Alabama — 0.63 WAA
Value is quarterback-driven in college football, which makes the fact that Smith is the sixth-most valuable player in the entire country that much more impressive. There are certainly other brilliant players on Alabama's offense, but Smith’s continued brilliance in the wake of Jaylen Waddle’s season-ending injury has been a big boost to Jones and the country’s favorite for the title.
Tight End: Kyle Pitts, Florida — 0.28 WAA
Pitts has the best tight end grade we’ve ever given out at PFF (95.9), and despite missing some time, he’s scored a touchdown once every 4.8 targets this year. He should be a top-10 pick in this April’s draft.
Offensive Lineman: Landon Dickerson, Alabama — 0.19 WAA
Dickerson has the third-highest grade this season among centers, allowing just three pressures. His run-blocking grade is the highest in the country. While he’s mostly a center, Dickerson played 32 snaps at left guard this season, as well.
Defensive Lineman: Cameron Sample, Tulane — 0.32 WAA
Tulane has the fourth-highest pass-rushing grade in the entire country and the highest mark among teams that have played 10 or more games. Tons of production for Sample — 48 total pressures and 31 stops on 710 total snaps —has been a big contributor.
Linebacker: Nick Anderson, Tulane – 0.29 WAA
Anderson is another uber-productive member of the Tulane Green Wave. The third-highest graded linebacker in football has 13 pressures, 31 stops and just 35 yards allowed on 184 coverage snaps.
Defensive Back: Patrick Surtain II, Alabama — 0.38 WAA
The last Alabama player to fill out the list is Surtain, who has allowed a catch on less than 40 percent of the passes into his coverage this year while breaking up six of those attempts and intercepting one. He’s also added two pressures for the Crimson Tide.