News & Analysis

College Football: 2019 PFF All-Sun Belt Team

The dust has settled on the 2019 regular season at the FBS level and it's time to take a look back. Ahead of the Sun Belt championship, we take a look at the best players at their respective positions with an in-depth look at how they graded over the course of the full season.

Utilizing our play-by-play grades of every player on every play of every game, our All-Sun Belt Team takes into account every player's actions on the field on Saturdays while also utilizing our wealth of signature statistics to determine the list. The strength of opponent and consistent play also factor into our selections detailed below.

The 2019 All-Sun Belt Team

Quarterback

First Team: Zac Thomas, App State

After leading the Mountaineers to a superb 11-1 record in 2019, signal-caller Zac Thomas takes home the top spot on the All-Sun Belt first team. Whether he dropped back to pass or took off and ran with the ball, Thomas impressed. In the rushing aspect specifically, Thomas ran for 10-plus yards on 15 of his 44 attempts and tacked on nine broken tackles. Overall, he had a first down or touchdown on 46% of his rushes/scrambles. When tossing the rock, Thomas was at his best in play-action, where he produced a 74.2% adjusted completion percentage, 9.9 yards per attempt, a 126.5 passer rating and a touchdown to interception ratio of nine to one.

Second Team: Caleb Evans, UL-Monroe
Third Team: Layne Hatcher, Arkansas State
Honorable Mention: Kaleb Barker, Troy

Running Back

First Team: Darrynton Evans, App State

The bell-cow running back for the Mountaineers, Darrynton Evans, was a big playmaking threat any time he was on the field — 587 of his 1,255 rushing yards came on rushes of 15 or more yards. Running behind a stout offensive line (that finished 12th in the country in PFF run-block grade), Evans saw most of his yards before contact (660 in total is nearly 80 more than any other running back in the Sun Belt), but was more than capable of making the defense miss, with 40 broken tackles in total.

Second Team: Elijah Mitchell, Louisiana
Third Team: CJ Marable, Coastal Carolina
Honorable Mention: Raymond Calais, Louisiana

Running Back

First Team: Tra Barnett, Georgia State

In addition to being the highest-grade running back in the conference by PFF rushing grade, with an 89.2 mark, Tra Barnett finished regular-season play as the seventh highest-graded running back in the entire FBS. Standing at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, Barnett would not go down without a fight — when contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage, he was fifth in PFF grade and collected the second most first downs (22). Barnett earned his first-team honors down the stretch, as he trailed only Clemson’s Travis Etienne from Week 6 and beyond in PFF rushing grade. Along with that, Barnett produced 31 runs of 10 or more yards in that same span, which trailed only Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor.

Second Team: Josh Johnson, UL-Monroe
Third Team: Tra Minter, South Alabama
Honorable Mention: Trey Ragas, Louisiana

Wide Receiver

First Team: Omar Bayless, Arkansas State

As the clear-cut top wide receiver in the Sun Belt Conference, Bayless earns first-team honors in the conference and is named as an honorable mention selection for PFF’s All-American team. Bayless may be one of, if not, the most improved wide receiver in the entire FBS. Prior to 2019, he posted PFF receiving grades of 53.6 (2016), 62.2 (2017) and 68.6 (2018). In 2019, Bayless’ receiving grade jumped all the way to 88.4, ranking 14th in the country. In his breakout year, Bayless was a big-time playmaker for the Red Wolves, as he raked in 12 catches of 30-plus yards, which was two more than any other FBS receiver (he also had over 140 more yards on these targets than anyone else). In addition, Bayless finished the season as the fifth highest-graded receiver in the FBS when lined up out wide and had well over 200 more receiving yards in that alignment than anyone else.

Second Team: Malik Williams, App State
Third Team: Jamal Bell, Louisiana
Honorable Mention: Jonathan Adams Jr., Arkansas State

Wide Receiver

First Team: Ja'Marcus Bradley, Louisiana

Alongside Bayless on the first team is Ragin’ Cajun Ja’Marcus Bradley, who finished as the FBS’ 16th best wide receiver in PFF receiving grade, at 87.4. Bradley was Louisiana quarterback Levi Wallace's best friend on the field, generating an impressive 133.7 passer rating on his targets. In his superb 2019 season, Bradley stood out after the catch with 17 broken tackles (11th most), which aided way to his way to an average 3.36 yards per route run — the 11th best among FBS wideouts and third best among non-Power 5 players.

Second Team: Corey Sutton, App State
Third Team: Cornelius McCoy, Georgia State
Honorable Mention: Jalen Tolbert, South Alabama

Wide Receiver

First Team: Kaylon Geiger, Troy

The last of first-team wide receiver trio has the most reliable hands in the Sun Belt Conference and some of the most reliable in all of college football, catching 95.1% of his catchable targets (sixth among 113 wide receivers with 75-plus targets). Geiger was a top-25 slot receiver in PFF grade this season and came away with the fifth most catches and sixth most yards after the catch from the slot.

Second Team: Kirk Merritt, Arkansas State
Third Team: Thomas Hennigan, App State
Honorable Mention: Khalil McClain, Troy

Tight End

First Team: Josh Pederson, UL-Monroe

The go-to receiver in the Warhawks’ offense was far and away Josh Pederson, and he did not disappoint on his targets, generating 2.16 yards per route run, which was the most in the FBS at his position. Overall, Pederson finished the year as the ninth highest-graded FBS tight end in PFF grade at 75.0. It’s clear Pederson was by far the most explosive tight end in the Sun Belt, as he finished with five more receiving plays of 15-plus yards than any other tight end in the conference, paving his way to first-team honors.

Second Team: Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina
Third Team: Roger Carter, Georgia State
Honorable Mention: Micah Hilts, Texas State

Offensive Tackle

First Team: Cooper Hodges, App State

In his first year of collegiate action, offensive tackle Cooper Hodges has far exceeded expectations with a 79.7 overall grade that ranks among the 30 best tackles in the FBS in 2019. Hodges has excelled in both pass-protection (78.2 pass-block grade) and in run-blocking (80.9 run-block grade). By allowing just three combined sacks and hits across his 379 pass-block snaps, Hodges’ future seems to be bright along the Appalachian Trail.

Second Team: Robert Hunt, Louisiana
Third Team: Hunter Atkinson, Georgia State
Honorable Mention: Drew Wilson, Georgia Southern

Offensive Guard

First Team: Kevin Dotson, Louisiana

If you haven’t heard the name Kevin Dotson by now, you’re going to want to remember it. Not only is Dotson a PFF first-teamer in the Sun Belt, but he is also a PFF first-team All-American. Dotson was the highest-graded right guard in the entire FBS by a significant margin, with a 90.6 overall grade (second was at 81.5). In his first three seasons with the Ragin’ Cajuns, Dotson was always among the top at his position, with PFF grades in the mid-to-high 70s. Though in 2019, Dotson took a big step forward, going from good to great by allowing just two pressures on his 339 pass-block snaps and recording a 90.4 run-block grade that was above all at his position.

Second Team: O'Cyrus Torrence, Louisiana
Third Team: Kirk Kelley, Troy
Honorable Mention: Brandon Jones, UL-Monroe

Center

First Team: Noah Hannon, App State

There is no debate that the center to deserve first-team honors in the Sun Belt Conference is Appalachian State’s Noah Hannon, who owns the highest PFF grade in the conference for a center by a good margin (75.4, next closest is at 67.0). Among all FBS centers, Hannon’s PFF grade is the 14th best, and he is one of few to be successful as both a pass-blocker and a run-blocker. In pass-protection, Hannon produced an 81.6 grade, allowed six pressures and didn't surrender a single sack. When creating holes in the run game, Hannon paved the way to a 72.5 run-block grade that ranks 16th best among all at his position.

Second Team: Bobby Reynolds, UL-Monroe
Third Team: Malik Sumter, Georgia State
Honorable Mention: Shane Vallot, Louisiana

Offensive Guard

First Team: Ryan Neuzil, App State

While at left guard, Ryan Neuzil has been nothing short of spectacular — taking home the eighth highest-graded season at that position (76.0). Neuzil has been a great run-blocker (75.0 grade) but an even better pass-blocker (83.0 grade). Over the course of the whole season, Neuzil allowed just one quarterback hit and zero sacks. He was at the top of his game over the course of his last six games, slotting in as the sixth highest-graded offensive guard in pass-protection among the entire FBS while allowing just one pressure.

Second Team: Andre Harris Jr., Arkansas State
Third Team: Baer Hunter, App State
Honorable Mention: Tristan Crowder, Troy

Offensive Tackle

First Team: Aaron Brewer, Texas State

Rounding out the first-team All-Sun Belt offense is the 19th highest-graded offensive tackle in the FBS, Aaron Brewer. While in pass-protection for the Bobcats, Brewer was solid with a 79.7 PFF grade but stood out most when blocking for the backfield — his 84.5 run-blocking grade was the eighth best FBS right tackles, which isn't too shabby considering he played just seven snaps at right tackle in his three seasons prior to 2019.

Second Team: Max Mitchell, Louisiana
Third Team: J.L. Gaston, Troy
Honorable Mention: Austin Stidham, Troy

Edge Defender

First Team: Tarron Jackson, Coastal Carolina

As one of the most underrated players in the Sun Belt, Tarron Jackson deserves every bit of the first-team nod. When vying to get after the quarterback in the pass-rush, Jackson has been phenomenal, registering a 91.1 pass-rush grade (ninth) and 54 total pressures (sixth). Along with that, Jackson has won 20.7% of his pass-rush reps. Jackson had been feasting as of late, as well — among edge rushers with at least 60 pass-rush snaps over the last three weeks of regular-season play, Jackson had the highest PFF pass-rush grade in the FBS at 92.5 (yes, even higher than Chase Young) and three more pressures than anyone else (21 in total).

Second Team: Ishmael Davis, Texas State
Third Team: Caeveon Patton, Texas State
Honorable Mention: Jeffery Whatley, South Alabama

Edge Defender

First Team: William Bradley-King, Arkansas State

All eyes were on William Bradley-King in 2019 to see if he would be able to repeat his elite 2018 when he had a 91.3 pass-rush grade — and Bradley-King did just that. He took the increased role this year and produced like a top-10 pass-rusher. Along with ranking seventh in pass-rush grade, Bradley-King recorded the 12th most pressures in the FBS at his position, with 52. Both Jackson and Bradley-King eclipsed a 50-spot in generating pressure, and for perspective, the next highest total pressure mark in the Sun Belt after those two stands at 31.

Second Team: Demetrius Taylor, App State
Third Team: Ty Shelby, UL-Monroe
Honorable Mention: Donald Louis Jr., UL-Monroe

Interior Defender

First Team: Raymond Johnson III, Georgia Southern

Georgia Southern product Raymond Johnson III was a stout interior defensive lineman against both the run and the pass in 2019. Johnson III whipped up a run-defense grade of 78.9 and a pass-rush grade of 80.4. While he played mostly 4/5-technique and lined up over or inside the tackle, Johnson III was a stud of a pass-rusher when lined up outside the tackle. At that alignment, Johnson III earned a PFF pass-rush grade of 83.3, produced a 28.8% win rate and generated 12 pressures on 49 pass-rushes.

Second Team: E.J. Scott, App State
Third Team: Larance Shaw, UL-Monroe
Honorable Mention: C.J. Brewer, Coastal Carolina

Interior Defender

First Team: Dontae Wilson, Georgia State

No one in the FBS played more snaps at 0/1-technique than Dontae Wilson of Georgia State, and he may very well be one of the best true nose tackles in all of college football, with an 81.1 grade at that alignment that ranks eighth. When at nose tackle, Wilson produced 20 run stops (most), seven tackles for loss or no gain against the run and had an average depth of tackle of 1.23 yards.

Second Team: Will Choloh Jr., Troy
Third Team: Marcus Webb, Troy
Honorable Mention: Sterling Johnson, Coastal Carolina

Linebacker

First Team: Carlton Martial, Troy

Expectations were high for Carlton Martial in 2019, as he was the Sun Belt’s highest-graded linebacker in 2018 as a true freshman with a 90.9 PFF grade. Martial exceeded those expectations and topped his unreal first collegiate season, posting a 91.3 overall grade that ranks third in the FBS and earned him second-team All-American honors. Moreover, the Troy Trojan was superb in all three phases in 2019. Only three other linebackers had more run stops in the FBS than Martial at 48. In the pass-rush, Martial picked up an impressive 24 pressures on 62 pass-rush snaps. Martial was at his best when in coverage, though — his 90.5 coverage grade ranked second, and he also allowed just a 49.6 passer rating in coverage.

Second Team: A.J. Deshazor, South Alabama
Third Team: D'Marco Jackson, App State
Honorable Mention: Frankie Griffin, Texas State

Linebacker

First Team: Akeem Davis-Gaither, App State

Most of linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither’s success on the field came in the pass-rush, where he recorded an 86.8 pass-rush grade and generated 23 total pressures — with 13 of those pressures being a sack or hit (tied for fifth most at the position). Davis-Gaither found just as much success against the run as well — his 85.6 run-defense grade finished as the 18th best at the position in the FBS. Not to mention, Daivs-Gaither also had the most batted passes (five) among all linebackers in the FBS.

Second Team: Bryan London II, Texas State
Third Team: Riley Cole, South Alabama
Honorable Mention: Nikolas Daniels, Texas State

Cornerback

First Team: Shaun Jolly, App State

A PFF second-team All-American, Shaun Jolly comes in as the top dog in the Sun Belt at the cornerback position. In his first season as starter, Jolly certainly did not disappoint by finishing as the highest-graded cornerback, with a 91.3 overall grade. Overall on the year, Jolly allowed a stingy 49.8 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks and combined for 14 pass breakups and interceptions. Jolly’s year was highlighted by his insane Week 12 performance against Georgia State, where he recorded a 96.8 coverage and combined for five pass breakups and interceptions. It’s safe to say, he’ll have a holly Jolly Christmas this year with this elite season under his belt.

Second Team: Asjlin Washington, Louisiana
Third Team: Shemar Jean-Charles, App State
Honorable Mention: Derick Bush, Coastal Carolina

Cornerback

First Team: Corey Straughter, UL-Monroe

One thing we all learned this season is that Corey Straughter is not only a Warhawk, but a certified ballhawk, too. Along with allowing an FBS low catch rate at 28.6%, Straughter gathered 11 combined pass breakups and interceptions, allowing just a 13.5 passer rating. In other words, that passer rating shows that opposing quarterbacks would have been better off throwing the ball away than throwing to Straughter in coverage. That’s pretty good. Consequently, Straughter joins Shaun Jolly as the first-team cornerbacks in the Sun Belt, and he made his way onto PFF’s All-American third team, too.

Second Team: Will Sunderland, Troy
Third Team: Jessie Liptrot, Georgia Southern
Honorable Mention: Devin Rockette, South Alabama

Safety

First Team: Josh Thomas, App State

As the second highest-graded non-Power 5 safety in coverage and 11th highest-graded in coverage overall (89.0 grade), Josh Thomas far from disappointed for the Mountaineers. While in coverage, Thomas allowed just a 45.5% catch rate and 68.0 passer rating. In his 12 games this season, Thomas gave up a lowly 11.8 yards per game.

Second Team: Logan Wescott, Arkansas State
Third Team: Kenderick Duncan Jr., Georgia Southern
Honorable Mention: Kam Pedescleaux, Louisiana

Safety

First Team: Desmond Franklin, App State

At this rate, we might as well call the first-team All-Sun Belt the Appalachian State Mountaineers. All jokes aside, Desmond Franklin joins his teammate as the best at the safety position in large part because of his unreal turn around back in Week 8. Since then, Franklin turned in a PFF overall grade of 85.8, ranking eighth in the FBS. Franklin’s coverage skills particularly stood out in this stretch, as he allowed just six of 15 targets in coverage to be caught while notching five combined interceptions and pass breakups and a 33.2 passer rating allowed.

Second Team: Percy Butler, Louisiana
Third Team: Keith Gallmon, South Alabama
Honorable Mention: Jashon Waddy, Texas State

Flex Defense

First Team: Michael Jacquet III, Louisiana

Rounding out the first-team All-Sun Belt is another Ragin’ Cajun, Michael Jacquet III. The cornerback locked it down in coverage with a lowly 38.3 passer rating on his targets in coverage and 47.4% catch rate allowed. Along with that, Jacquet III missed just two of his 40 tackle attempts.

Second Team: Anthony J. Taylor, Texas State
Third Team: Jalen Thompson, South Alabama
Honorable Mention: Chris Bacon, Georgia State

Kicker

First Team: Blake Grupe, Arkansas State

Finishing with 49 makes on his 50 extra-point attempts, Grupe was even better on field goals, knocking home every single attempt from within 40 yards. He even made four more from outside of 40 yards as he led the conference in total field-goal success percentage.

Second Team: Joshua Rowland, Texas State
Third Team: Tyler Sumpter, Troy
Honorable Mention: Tyler Bass, Georgia Southern

Punter

First Team: Cody Grace, Arkansas State

Averaging a ridiculous 44.4 yards per punt, Grace had just 113 return yards on his punts and pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line more than any other punter in the conference. By averaging well over 4.15 seconds of hangtime on his punts this year, Grace was the conference's leader and among the nation's best at average hangtime.

Second Team: Xavier Subotsch, App State
Third Team: Jared Porter, UL-Monroe
Honorable Mention: Rhys Byrns, Louisiana

Kick Returner

First Team: Reggie Todd, Troy

Todd took back a kick 81 yards to the house as he averaged an impressive 27.6 yards per kick return on the year. He totaled 469 return yards on 17 attempts and did so without a muff or fumble on his returns.

Second Team: Raymond Calais, Louisiana
Third Team: Tra Minter, South Alabama
Honorable Mention: Darrynton Evans, App State

Punt Returner

First Team: Ky'Jon Tyler, Coastal Carolina

He may have attempted just six punt returns all year long, but that was for good reason, as clearly the opposition avoided him. He returned one of those attempts 78 yards for a score and averaged 24.3 yards per return for the year as he also secured 10 fair catches without a muff to his credit.

Second Team: B.J. Edmonds, Arkansas State
Third Team: Thomas Hennigan, App State
Honorable Mention: Hutch White, Texas State

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