News & Analysis

Top 10 non-skill position players in college football

While the latest buzz in the college football world is trending toward Ohio State edge defender Chase Young, the question arose of which players are also in need of praise through nine weeks of the 2019 season. While the skill players (quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends) get the glory in terms of national praise, there are eight other position groups that play just as hard with little to no recognition.

With that in mind, we hit the Pro Football Focus database to showcase those players who are standing out not only at their respective non-skill positions but also among all players across the nation.

[Editor's Note: This article was originally posted on ESPN.com as part of PFF's content partnership with ESPN Insider.]

1. Chase Young, Edge, Ohio State

The right to be called the top non-offensive skill player in the country belongs to Young simply because he's the top player in the country, no matter the moniker. Young is not only getting home with the sacks that get the general box score fan excited, he's coming with constant pressure and winning an astounding percentage of his pass rushes. He's at the top of the food chain when it comes to pass rush win rate, defeating the opposing offensive lineman in front of him on 32.1% of his pass-rushing snaps through nine weeks, what would be a PFF record if he continues that pace. He's gotten home with 37 total pressures this year, on just 158 pass-rushing snaps. His pressure rate of 23.4% speaks to just how effective he has been when rushing the passer while he's also chipped in with five stops in run defense without a single missed tackle in the run game. A true talent along the edge, Young has proven himself to not only be the top non-offensive player in the country but the best player in college football, and perhaps in the discussion for one of the best ever.

2. Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

If it weren't for the aforementioned Young setting out a record-breaking performance this season, all the talk would be on Sewell, who is also in the midst of a record-breaking season. He's currently on pace to shatter the PFF college record for the highest-graded season by a tackle and this would just add to his record collection. Just a season ago, he earned the highest grade we at PFF have ever given a true freshman tackle, and the Ducks were a completely different team when he left with an injury late in the year. This season, the Ducks are firing on all cylinders on offense and there is no doubt that Sewell is a main reason. He's the nation's leader in both run-blocking and pass-blocking grades, as well as a handsome margin in terms of overall grade as he's been a truly dominant blocker all year long. Sewell has allowed just five total pressures on his 301 pass-blocking snaps, been penalized just two times and the Ducks rushing attack is averaging over 2.00 yards before contact when rushing to either side of him, by far their highest mark along the offensive line.

3. Josh Jones, OT, Houston

If the Ducks are flying thanks in part to Sewell, the Cougars are functioning solely because of Jones, their star left tackle who's finished seven of their eight contests with the team's highest overall grade this year. He's just behind Sewell in every category as he's 2.2 grade points lower than Sewell in the run game, 0.3 points behind him in pass protection and 2.5 points lower overall. If it weren't for Sewell's domination, Jones would be in the discussion for a PFF record-breaking season himself at this stage. All he's done is dominate in pass protection and in the run game while making himself more than a viable 2020 NFL draft prospect in an otherwise down year for Houston.

4. Curtis Weaver, Edge, Boise State

Playing out west, Weaver has consistently dominated the competition this season for the Broncos and is winning 28.2% of his pass-rushing snaps, second only to Young. He's getting home with pressure, however, at a higher rate than Young as he lands a pressure on 23.7% of his pass rushes. He's totaled 42 pressures this year that include 11 sacks, eight QB hits and 23 hurries as the rest of the Mountain West teams have started to scheme against him. Weaver has chipped in with nine stops in run defense as well as two pass breakups when he's dropped into coverage as he's on pace for his second straight elite-graded season.

5. Matt Hennessy, C, Temple

Hennessy's dominance at his position is second to none this year as he's currently the only player across the country to hold full grade point advantages at each main facet above his peers. He's been a stalwart in pass protection, allowing just three total pressures on 298 pass-blocking snaps while his 89.9 run-blocking grade is nearly 10.0 full grade points above the next closest player. He wins with his hands and speed in both the pass and the run game, and he's been every bit as dominant as you'd expect from the highest-graded center in all of college football.

6. Derrick Brown, DI, Auburn

Brown's famous moment in 2019 came when he nearly scooped-and-scored on a fumble against Florida. While the turf may have taken him down, that's about the only thing that's tripped him up this season as he's been a space-eater in the middle of a stout Auburn defense. Constantly taking on double-teams, Brown has still gotten home with 27 total pressures this year, including four sacks, six hits and 17 hurries. If he hasn't been able to get a pressure due to a double-team or a scheme against him, he's also been able to affect the passing lanes of the opposing offenses by sticking his arms up and has batted down two passes. He also has another impressive 15 stops in run defense, to boot. Perhaps the most notable aspect of his game this year is that he has not missed a single tackle attempt, leading to 23 total tackles.

7. Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU

Playing well outside his age, Stingley has impressed in his true freshman campaign for the Tigers. Despite being targeted against some of the nation's most talented receivers, Stingley still boasts an elite 89.7 coverage grade and an elite 89.8 overall grade through nine weeks of action. He's been targeted 49 times and allowed just 20 receptions and two touchdowns against four interceptions and 10 pass breakups. He's forcing an incompletion on 22.4% of his targeted throws as the primary coverage defender, and against elite talent, he's shown he's more than capable of holding his own. Against Texas WR Collin Johnson, Stingley was targeted two times and did not allow a reception. Against Vanderbilt WR Kalija Lipscomb, he was targeted eight times, allowed three receptions for just 46 yards and had an interception. Against Auburn WR Seth Williams, Stingley allowed just two receptions for 50 yards on seven targeted passes and had an impressive interception.

8. Jordan Elliott, DI, Missouri

A breakout candidate for the 2019 season, Elliott is not only breaking out, he's putting forth elite grades for the Tigers, despite recent lackluster efforts from Missouri as a whole. Elliott has put his name on the map with consistently high game grades and has not graded lower than 77.2 since Week 2. He's the nation's highest-graded interior defender, and while he's not gotten home with as many sacks as some others (just two), he's leading the rest of the interior defensive linemen in the nation with a pass-rush win rate of 21.3%. Opposing offenses know they have to plan against him, and he's beaten offensive linemen 12 additional times — but the pass has come out quicker than average or the play was designed away from him, and he has not had the chance to record a pressure

9. Jordyn Brooks, LB, Texas Tech

No linebacker in the country has more total QB pressures than Brooks, despite rushing the passer only 86 times this year (26th-most). Brooks leads the country's linebackers with 34 total pressures, including five sacks, four QB hits and 25 more hurries, while he's also second in the country with 48 total defensive stops. Brooks has allowed just 81 yards in coverage on his 199 snaps in which he's dropped back, and he's recorded 39 stops (third) in run defense, proving to be a complete, three-down linebacker in contention for top linebacker in the country by year's end.

10. Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia

The Georgia offensive line is seemingly the only complete unit that can compete with the Ducks' line through nine weeks, and Thomas is the only tackle who can compete with the duo at the top of this list. Thomas hasn't allowed a single sack or QB hit this year on his 200 pass-blocking snaps while he's powered his way to the fourth-highest run-blocking grade at the position. The switch to left tackle after the 2017 season has truly paid off as Thomas is improving on an already stellar career along the left side of the line for the Bulldogs with an elite-level performance to date in 2019.

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