News & Analysis

College Football: PFF’s 2020 Preseason All-AAC Team

No year in college football will be more memorable than the one we are experiencing now, as the impact of COVID-19 has forced most colleges to cancel the 2020 fall football season with the hope of trying to play in the spring.

We aren't here to give you our opinion on whether they should or should not have played in the fall, nor are we going to do that with their attempt to play in the spring. Instead, we want to shine a light on the players who deserve credit for the performances they have put forth over their college careers.

Without further ado, we present to you what would have been the 2020 PFF College Preseason All-Big 12 Team.

QUARTERBACK

FIRST TEAM: DILLON GABRIEL, UCF

It’s rare to see such strong decision-making from a player as young as Gabriel. He had just a 1.6% turnover-worthy play rate in 2019, ranking fourth in the FBS. He has nice touch downfield, evidenced by his FBS-high 21 big-time throws on 30-plus yard passes.

Second Team: Shane Buechele, SMU
Third Team: Brady White, Memphis
Honorable Mention: Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati

RUNNING BACK

Nov 29, 2019; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Tigers running back Kenneth Gainwell (19) rushes in the first quarter as Cincinnati Bearcats safety Darrick Forrest (5) defends at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
FIRST TEAM: KENNETH GAINWELL, MEMPHIS

There isn’t a more true dual-threat running back in the country than Gainwell. He was the only FBS back to produce 85.0-plus grades as a runner and a receiver in 2019. Overall, Gainwell was responsible for 37 gains of 15-plus yards (second-most by a running back). With Antonio Gibson now on to the NFL, Gainwell has the opportunity to put up even bigger numbers. The Heisman is a quarterback's award to win in this day and age — and rightfully so — but Gainwell is a dark horse candidate in our eyes.

Second Team: Re’Mahn Davis, Temple
Third Team: Otis Anderson, UCF
Honorable Mention: Darrian Felix, USF

RUNNING BACK

FIRST TEAM: BENTAVIOUS THOMPSON, UCF

Thompson may have had only 86 carries in 2019, but that was enough for him to make himself known as one of the top backs in the country. He earned a 90.2 rushing grade on the year, which tied now-Colts running back Jonathan Taylor for the fourth-best mark in college football. Thompson is a patient ball-carrier, and that helped him pick up a 10-plus yard gain on nearly 21% of his carries.

Second Team: Amare Jones, Tulane
Third Team: Greg McCrae, UCF
Honorable Mention: Cameron Carroll, Tulane

WIDE RECEIVER

FIRST TEAM: REGGIE ROBERSON JR., SMU

Shane Buechele and Roberson form one of the best deep-ball connections in the country. Last year, Roberson hauled in 13 deep targets (tied 11th) for 561 yards (eighth) en route to a receiving grade on such targets that tied for first in the FBS with LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase.

Second Team: Jadan Blue, Temple
Third Team: Keylon Stokes, Tulsa
Honorable Mention: Blake Proehl, East Carolina

WIDE RECEIVER

FIRST TEAM: DAMONTE COXIE, MEMPHIS

Coxie is an explosive play waiting to happen — he’s had 69 receptions result in a gain of 15-plus yards since 2018, which is five more than any other FBS receiver in that span. He has exceptional balance and will rack up missed tackles after the catch (37 since 2018, fourth in the FBS).

Second Team: Marquez Stevenson, Houston
Third Team: Branden Mack, Temple
Honorable Mention: Rashee Rice, SMU

WIDE RECEIVER

FIRST TEAM: C.J. JOHNSON, EAST CAROLINA

Press coverage is nothing for the 6-foot- 2, 229-pound Johnson. He handles physical corners with ease. As a true freshman last year, Johnson was the most productive receiver in the FBS against press coverage, averaging 4.4 yards per route on such plays.

Second Team: Tyler Snead, East Carolina
Third Team: Marlon Williams, UCF
Honorable Mention: Sam Crawford Jr., Tulsa

TIGHT END

FIRST TEAM: MITCHELL BRINKMAN, USF

USF landed a big-time transfer in Brinkman, who comes over from Northern Illinois after producing a 90.5 receiving grade in 2019, which ranked second in the FBS. He is exceptional after the catch, as he broke 10 tackles on 34 receptions and averaged 7.6 yards after the catch in 2019.

Second Team: Christian Trahan, Houston
Third Team: Kylen Granson, SMU
Honorable Mention: Jacob Mathis, USF

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

FIRST TEAM: JAYLON THOMAS, SMU

Some of the better pass-rushers in the AAC gave Thomas fits last year (like against Temple and Tulane), but he still performed at an exceptional level over the course of the 2019 season. Thomas produced an 80.1 pass-blocking grade on the year, ranking 15th among Group of Five tackles.

Second Team: D’Ante Smith, East Carolina
Third Team: Isaac Moore, Temple
Honorable Mention: Obinna Eze, Memphis

OFFENSIVE GUARD

Sep 28, 2019; Orlando, FL, USA; UCF Knights running back Greg McCrae (30) gets congratulated by UCF Knights quarterback Dillon Gabriel (11) and offensive lineman Parker Boudreaux (61) during the first quarter against the Connecticut Huskies at Spectrum Stadium. Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
FIRST TEAM: PARKER BOUDREAUX, UCF

It was a bumpy start for Boudreaux to kickoff 2019, as his two worst games as a pass-blocker came within the first three weeks of the season. But starting with the menacing Pitt defensive line in Week 4, Boudreaux turned on the jets and was stout in pass protection the rest of the year. In that span, he earned an 83.8 pass-blocking grade that tied for eighth in the FBS, allowing only three pressures (all hurries) on 338 pass-block snaps.

Second Team: Vincent Picozzi, Temple
Third Team: Demetris Harris, USF
Honorable Mention: Hayden Howerton, SMU

CENTER

FIRST TEAM: DYLAN PARHAM, MEMPHIS

Parham has anchored the left guard starting spot for Memphis the past two seasons and has been an all-around top-tier player at the position. In that span, he was the 10th-most valuable guard in all of college football in regard to PFF WAA.

Second Team: Adam Klein, Temple
Third Team: Gerald Wheeler, Tulsa
Honorable Mention: Sincere Haynesworth, Tulane

OFFENSIVE GUARD

FIRST TEAM: PETER NESTROWITZ, NAVY

Nestrowitz matters as much as anyone in Navy’s triple-option offense. Rarely does he commit a mistake when run blocking — his rate of negatively graded run blocks in 2019 ranked in the 91st percentile among FBS guards.

Second Team: Corey Dublin, Tulane
Third Team: Manuel Orona-Lopez, Memphis
Honorable Mention: Ben Knutson, Tulane

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

FIRST TEAM: BILLY HONAKER, NAVY

Just like Nestrowitz, Honaker is a key cog in Navy’s rushing attack with his run-blocking prowess. He struggled a bit last season in Navy's bowl game against Kansas State, but up until that point, he had produced a 77.1 run-blocking grade, placing him above the 86th percentile among FBS tackles.

Second Team: Donovan Jennings, USF
Third Team: Beau Morris, SMU
Honorable Mention: Chris Paul, Tulsa

[Editors Note: PFF's customizable NFL Mock Draft Simulator gives you the opportunity to be the GM of any team and is now updated with a select group of 2021 prospects]


INTERIOR DEFENDER

FIRST TEAM: JAXON PLAYER, TULSA

Player is one of the best run-stuffing nose tackles in the country. He played 81% of his total snaps in 2019 at 0-technique and recorded a 91.1 run-defense grade at that alignment, ranking first in the FBS.

Second Team: Kalia Davis, UCF
Third Team: Daniel Archibong, Temple
Honorable Mention: Khris Banks, Temple

INTERIOR DEFENDER

FIRST TEAM: CURTIS BROOKS, CINCINNATI

Brooks always has been a run-stuffer when on the field in his three years with the Bearcats, and he showed some promising developments as a pass-rusher this past year. He produced an 11.3% run-stop rate in 2019 (tied for fourth-best in FBS among interior defenders with 150 run snaps) and a 73.5 pass-rush grade (fifth in AAC).

Second Team: Ifeanyi Maijeh, Temple
Third Team: Kenny Turnier, UCF
Honorable Mention: Kevin Kegler, USF

EDGE DEFENDER

Cincinnati Bearcats defensive end Myjai Sanders (21) celebrates a sack in the third quarter of a college football game against the UCF Knights, Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati.
FIRST TEAM: MYJAI SANDERS, CINCINNATI

Consistency is an issue for Sanders, but he has proven he can dominate in any given game. We saw it against Houston and East Carolina in 2019 (PFF grades above 88.0). He has great hand usage and is a valuable piece on Cincinnati’s stout defensive line.

Second Team: Patrick Johnson, Tulane
Third Team: Payton Turner, Houston
Honorable Mention: Derek Parish, Houston

EDGE DEFENDER

FIRST TEAM: ELIJAH PONDER, CINCINNATI

Ponder logged significant reps last year at every alignment on the line excluding nose tackle and stand-up outside linebacker and was productive in both facets of play. He earned an 83.0 run-defense grade for the season and is at his best as a pass-rusher when playing 6/7-technique (17% pressure rate at alignment was third in AAC).

Second Team: Cameron Sample, Tulane
Third Team: David Anenih, Houston
Honorable Mention: Malik Vann, Cincinnati

LINEBACKER

FIRST TEAM: ZAVEN COLLINS, TULSA

Collins has top-notch coverage ability. Over the past two years, he recorded nine combined pass breakups and interceptions. In 2019, in particular, he made very few mistakes in coverage en route to an 80.2 coverage grade.

Second Team: Aaron Ramseur, East Carolina
Third Team: Dwayne Boyles, USF
Honorable Mention: Xavier Cullens, Memphis

LINEBACKER

FIRST TEAM: DIEGO FAGOT, NAVY

Fagot has excellent awareness in coverage and pairs that with above-average agility and balance. That helped him pick up 16 stops in coverage last year, which was three more than anyone in the AAC and tied for 11th in the FBS.

Second Team: Joel Dublanko, Cincinnati
Third Team: Isaiah Graham-Mobley, Temple
Honorable Mention: JJ Russell, Memphis

CORNERBACK

FIRST TEAM: AHMAD GARDNER, CINCINNATI

Gardner had one of the more unheralded rises in college football this past year, starting as a three-star true freshman and ending as one of the best players in the country. He was incredibly sticky and rarely lost at the catch point; no cornerback had a higher PFF coverage grade in tight coverage than Gardner, and he allowed just six catches on his 35 targets while making 18 plays on the ball.

Second Team: Tay Gowan, UCF
Third Team: Damarion Williams, Houston
Honorable Mention: Ja’Quan McMillian, East Carolina

CORNERBACK

FIRST TEAM: AR’MANI JOHNSON, SMU

Johnson is one of the stickiest man corners in the country and a hidden gem. There were some clear nerves in Week 1 last year, but he soon became near-impossible to beat. From Week 2 and on, he was the fourth-highest graded cornerback in single coverage in the FBS.

Second Team: Jaylon Monroe, Tulane
Third Team: T.J. Carter, Memphis
Honorable Mention: Brandon Stephens, SMU

SAFETY

FIRST TEAM: ANTWAN COLLIER, UCF

Week in and week out last season, Collier was a top-tier player in coverage for UCF. He finished the season with an 85.6 coverage grade after racking up seven combined pass breakups and interceptions and allowing only six first downs.

Second Team: Davondre Robinson, East Carolina
Third Team: Darrick Forrest, Cincinnati
Honorable Mention: Quindell Johnson, Memphis

SAFETY

FIRST TEAM: NICK ROBERTS, USF

You can count on Roberts being a playmaker in coverage wherever he is on the field — single-high, split-field or in the slot. He’s combined for 12 pass breakups and interceptions since 2018, and he blew up plays underneath from the slot in 2019 (seven stops from slot were fifth-most in AAC).

Second Team: Richie Grant, UCF
Third Team: Sanchez Blake Jr., Memphis
Honorable Mention: Amir Tyler, Temple

FLEX DEFENSE

FIRST TEAM: K.J. SAILS, USF

After struggling a bit at North Carolina for a few years, Sails transferred to USF and immediately became the team’s best player and one of the AAC’s best cornerbacks. He posted an 82.1 coverage grade this past year, ranking third in the conference.

Second Team: Aaron Robinson, UCF
Third Team: Christian Braswell, Temple
Honorable Mention: Mike Hampton, USF

KICKER

First Team: Riley Patterson, Memphis
Second Team: Jake Verity, East Carolina
Third Team: Dalton Witherspoon, Houston
Honorable Mention: Bijan Nichols, Navy

PUNTER

First Team: Adam Williams, Memphis
Second Team: James Smith, Cincinnati
Third Team: John Young, East Carolina
Honorable Mention: Trent Schneider, USF

KICK RETURNER

First Team: Marquez Stevenson, Houston
Second Team: Amare Jones, Tulane
Third Team: Tyler Snead, East Carolina
Honorable Mention: Tre Tucker, Cincinnati

PUNT RETURNER

First Team: Amare Jones, Tulane
Second Team: Pop Williams, Memphis
Third Team: Otis Anderson, UCF
Honorable Mention: Ryan Montgomery, Cincinnati

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