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PFF College 50 - The top 50 NCAA players for 2019

By Cam Mellor
Aug 5, 2019

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Aug 2, 2019; Clemson, SC, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) runs drills during the first practice of fall camp at the Clemson Indoor Practice Facility. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

The PFF College 50 highlights the best college players heading into 2019. Using our play-by-play grading on every snap of the last five FBS seasons, this list takes positional value out of the equation, so all positions are created equally when compiling the top 50.

This list is brought to you by Eckrich, the Official Smoked Sausage of the College Football Playoff.

Without further ado, the top 50 players for the 2019 NCAA season:

50. Evan Weaver, LB, Cal

Weaver does everything you’d expect a three-down linebacker to do and does those things well. In coverage, he’s a top-four graded linebacker. On the pass-rush, he’s in the top 25 among all linebackers. When stopping the run, he’s a top-five graded guy. Overall, he currently possesses the highest overall grade among linebackers from last season and there are no signs of slowing down in 2019.

49. Kennedy Brooks, RB, Oklahoma

Brooks is the smallest sample size of any skill player on this list with just 119 carries to his name. Still, he and teammate Trey Sermon (see No. 41 below) form perhaps the best 1-2 combo at running back in the country. Brooks forced 37 missed tackles on those 119 carries and averaged an astounding 8.8 yards per attempt.

48. Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU

Receiving first-round hype from some, Reagor hasn’t quite hit the highs on the PFF grading spectrum to warrant a much higher spot than where he is here. That’s not saying he can’t have a breakout year in 2019 and hit highs that we haven’t seen, it’s just that we haven’t quite seen him dominant on a consistent basis to warrant much higher of a place here. With Reagor at No. 48 on this list, that’s just how stacked the receivers are for the 2019 season.

[Editor’s Note: The Preseason PFF 2020 NFL Draft Guide will be released on Monday, August 12 with detailed draft profiles for 100+ athletes ahead of the 2019 NCAA season. Subscribe to EDGE or ELITE today to ensure you get your copy]

47. Jared Pinkney, TE, Vanderbilt

Pinkney leads all active tight ends with his 770 yards through the air last year. While his overall grade gets dragged down by two fumbles, his hands are sharp, his routes are crisp and he’s reliably shifty with the ball. All in all, he provides a large, safe target with significant upside for new quarterback Riley Neal in his first year with the Commodores.

46. Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia

Fromm hasn’t quite taken the Bulldogs all the way to a National Championship, but he has single-handedly given the Crimson Tide the most scares on their way to the season finale. Fromm is as good as they come from a clean pocket, and his two-year grade is second in the SEC to only Tagovailoa. With a talented running back and one of the nation’s best tackle situations, Fromm has Georgia ready to once again contend for a National Championship.

45. Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State

No receiver hauled in more contested catches a season ago than Wallace, as his 22 dominated college football. His 37 explosive plays of at least 15 yards also lead active receivers, as he’ll provide a vital component to a young quarterback in Spencer Sanders this season. Wallace has a full route tree, great hands at the catch point and a true WR1 feel.

44. Raekwon Davis, DI, Alabama

With a large two-year sample size, Davis has put forth strong grades in each facet asked of him. A stout run defender, he’s more than held his own on the pass-rush, generating 60 pressures while making 64 defensive stops, both of which lead the nation along the defensive interior since 2017. He may not have the sack totals that you’d like to see as general box-score scout, but his 11.9% pass-rush win percentage and 9.9% pressure rate are strong figures when projecting him in 2019 and onto the next level.

43. Joe Bachie, LB, Michigan State

Bachie is a stalwart in run defense for the Spartans. His 82 stops in run defense are the second-most among Power-5 linebackers as he’s recorded 23 tackles for no gain or a loss against the run over the past two seasons. He’s forced an additional four fumbles and this is all going without mentioning his plus grades in coverage and on the pass-rush while doing an incredible job of avoiding missed tackles.

42. Justin Madubuike, DI, Texas A&M

On the heels of a dominant, breakout year, Madubuike heads into 2019 with 44 pressures to his name from last season. He made 19 combined sacks and hits a year ago to lead the nation’s interior defenders and his pass-rushing wasn’t even his strongest skill last year. Against the run, he made 21 stops, 28 tackles while missing just one attempt.

41. Trey Sermon, RB, Oklahoma

Sermon leads all FBS running backs over the past two seasons by forcing a missed tackle once every 0.34 carries. His 96 total missed tackles forced on carries are the fourth-most among all returning backs, except he’s done it on 100 fewer carries than the three running backs ahead of him. He possesses a strong frame that is tough to take down, incredible balance through contact and is must-watch TV in 2019.

40. Kindle Vildor, CB, Georgia Southern

Second to only Bryce Hall in two-year grades since 2017, Vildor has been dominant in coverage over his career at Georgia Southern. He’s allowed just two touchdowns on 90 targeted passes while intercepting seven and breaking up 12 more. His passer rating when targeted of 52.5 ranked as the 14th-lowest passer rating allowed among returning cornerbacks last season and he’s allowed just a 50.8 passer rating for his entire career. What stands out most about Vildor’s success, is his play against top-notch competition. Against Clemson a season ago, he was targeted seven times, allowed just two receptions for 10 yards and came away with an interception and two pass breakups.

39. Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia

Thomas has had to protect Jake Fromm from some feared SEC pass-rushers from each side of the line, starting at right tackle in 2017 and left tackle in 2018, improving his overall grade significantly with the switch to the left. He’s allowed just four sacks in his career and multiple pressures in just three contests a season ago. With another year in the system at left tackle, Thomas will once again be an SEC stalwart along Fromm’s blindside.

38. Brock Purdy, QB, Iowa State

Had it not been for Trevor Lawrence, Purdy may be the most polarizing true sophomore quarterback in the country. Still, his effort in the Cyclone’s backfield made way for an 89.3 overall grade, which is the second-highest we’ve ever given to a true freshman quarterback (behind Lawrence). He was solid in every outing, save for a tuneup game against Drake in Week 14 last year, and performed well from a clean pocket and with pressure applied. Year 2’s expectations are sky-high in Ames for this bright young signal-caller.

37. Derrick Brown, DI, Auburn

Brown is the nation’s highest-graded interior defensive lineman over the past two seasons and he does it all over the field. Since 2017, he’s made 81 total tackles with just four missed attempts as 24 of his tackles in run defense have come either at or behind the line of scrimmage, a number that leads the nation. He gets after the passer just as well, to the tune of 52 total pressures since 2017, the fourth-most pressures in the nation as he’s won 11.2% of his pass-rushes in that span.

36. Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

Before injury, Sewell was well on his way to perhaps one of the best true freshman campaigns for an offensive tackle that we’ve ever seen at PFF. Still, his 84.0 overall grade for the season is the third-highest among active tackles and he allowed just eight total pressures on 215 snaps in pass protection. He didn’t look quite the same in his return from the ankle injury in Oregon’s bowl game against Michigan State but with a full offseason of rehab, he’s cemented his place as one of the nation’s top tackles on perhaps the nation’s best offensive line as we enter 2019.

35. J.R. Reed, S, Georgia

Reed’s prowess in coverage stands out as he returns with the fifth-highest coverage grade among active safeties. He allowed just 8.6 yards per reception, 6.1 yards per target and no reception longer than 36 yards into his primary coverage a year ago while still being able to stick his nose into run defense. If he can tidy up his tackling (14 missed tackles on 79 attempts), Reed can skyrocket into stardom and eventually a high spot into the NFL draft.

[Editor’s Note: The Preseason PFF 2020 NFL Draft Guide will be released on Monday, August 12 with detailed draft profiles for 100+ athletes ahead of the 2019 NCAA season. Subscribe to EDGE or ELITE today to ensure you get your copy]

34. Shyheim Carter, CB, Alabama

Exploding onto the scene a season ago, Carter allowed fewer than 50.0% of the passes thrown his way to be caught. His sticky play in coverage allowed him to finish seventh among all active cornerbacks in overall grade a year ago and the arrow is continuing to point up for the extremely talented defensive back. At his best, Carter is a true lockdown cornerback in the slot who possesses all the skills required to cover any option an offense can throw at him whether it’s a speedy, shifty slot receiver or even a bigger tight end.

33. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

Etienne actually has a higher two-year grade than any returning FBS running back as he’s gained 2,419 rushing yards on just 311 carries over the past two years. His 37 touchdowns lead all FBS running backs on the ground and his 7.8 yards per attempt since 2017 are a top-10 figure and the highest mark in the ACC by a long shot.

32. Shane Lemieux, OG, Oregon

The nation’s highest-graded active guard, Lemieux was as impressive in pass protection as he is paving the way for the Ducks run game. In pass protection, he allowed just 11 total pressures on nearly 500 pass-blocking snaps and has the nation’s highest run-blocking grade. Over the past two seasons, he’s allowed pressure on just 2.7% of his reps in pass protection and is more than just a viable candidate for All-American this year.

31. K.J. Costello, QB, Stanford

Costello is making a push to be the best quarterback in the Pac-12 and if it weren’t for Herbert’s dominant 2017, has a rightful claim to that throne after last year. Still, Costello returns as the nation’s leader in deep passing yards and is well up the list of many other PFF signature stats for the position.

30. Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson

With an incredibly versatile skillset, Simmons’ play in coverage is what lands him in the top 30 among all players this season. Over the past two seasons, he’s been targeted 59 times and allowed just a single touchdown while forcing nine incompletions, the latter of which lead all Power-5 linebackers. Usually tasked with guarding the slot, Simmons’ quicks and sideline-to-sideline ability allow him to track the ball carrier down among the best in the nation and he’s just begun to showcase it on the big stage.

29. Xavier Thomas, Edge, Clemson

Thomas is poised to be the next potential top-10 pick from the Clemson defensive line as he pushed that talented front four for reps in his debut season. Even with four defensive linemen drafted in the 2019 NFL Draft, Thomas excelled in a small role for the Tigers, playing opposite Clelin Ferrell (No. 4 overall pick), Christian Wilkins (No. 13 overall pick), Dexter Lawrence (No. 17 overall pick) and Austin Bryant (No. 117 overall pick), Thomas earned 318 snaps as a true freshman, with great success. He recorded 26 pressures (four sacks, five hits, 17 hurries), on just 150 pass-rushing snaps and his 17.3% pressure rate is the third-highest among returning Power-5 edge defenders. With a larger workload expected this season, Thomas should be a household name sooner than later.

28. Cole Van Lanen, OT, Wisconsin

All set to be the next big thing from Wisconsin’s offensive line factory, Van Lanen was beyond impressive on 560 snaps a season ago. In fact, he returns as the nation’s highest-graded tackle overall and his run-blocking grade of 90.0 is a full 9.0 points higher than the next-closest tackle. In pass protection, he allowed just six total pressures across 223 snaps and will anchor the left side for whoever is at quarterback for the Badgers in 2019.

27. Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas

Ehlinger leads all returning Big 12 quarterbacks with his 113.5 passer rating from a clean pocket, one of the more stable metrics when looking at quarterback progression from year to year. It’s likely that his third season in Austin should be his best yet and once again set the PFF College record for single-season grade from a Texas quarterback even higher. Ehlinger returns as the Big 12 leader in yards, touchdowns and big-time throws while limiting himself to just seven turnover-worthy passes.

26. Calvin Throckmorton, OT, Oregon

Perhaps the best offensive line name in college football, Throckmorton has the nation’s highest pass-blocking grade since 2017 and has allowed just three combined sacks or hits on 862 total reps in pass protection since then. He can move defenders off the spot with relative ease and blow defenders back in the run game and has done so for three years now. His fourth and final season in Eugene could be his best as the Ducks field arguably the best offensive line in the nation.

25. Grant Delpit, S, LSU

If it weren’t for missed tackles, Delpit could be even higher on this list as he has plus-grades in run-defense, pass-rush and especially in coverage. He’s recorded the nation’s second-most pressures at the safety position as he brought in 13 on just 39 blitz attempts while making 22 defensive stops. In coverage, Delpit has made 19 total plays on the ball over the past two seasons including six interceptions while he drastically improved his coverage grade from Year 1 to Year 2. He didn’t allow a reception longer than 32 yards in 2018 and saw just a 57.3 passer rating as the primary coverage defender. The aforementioned missed tackle woes aside (16 MT on 81 attempts), SEC quarterbacks should expect to see and hear a lot of Delpit this season.

24. Ceedee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma

While former teammate Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown grabbed headlines in Norman, Lamb may actually be the better all-around receiver of the two as he enters 2019 as the Power-5 leader in receiving yards since 2017. Despite a heavy target share, he’s only dropped nine of the 120 catchable passes thrown his way while averaging a ridiculous 12.7 yards per target. He’s averaged 2.90 yards per route run over that time and will look to put a final stamp on an incredible career with his third quarterback in as many years throwing passes his way.

23. Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU

Not very often does a player like Fulton come about. A player who dominates on the field and polarizes the media coverage across from a player widely thought of as the SEC’s top cornerback (Greedy Williams), but that’s exactly what Fulton did in 2018. Exploding onto the scene, Fulton allowed just 41.5% of the passes thrown his way to be caught, limited receivers to just 49 yards after the catch and made eight total plays on the ball in a dominant year.

22. Mike Danna, Edge, Michigan

Heading to Michigan after a dominant career at Central Michigan, Danna brings with him a ridiculous set of pass-rush moves and a strong presence in the run game. He ripped off 50 or more pressures in each of the last two seasons including 55 a year ago with 19 combined sacks + hits. Purely projection at this point, his ability to shed blocks and get after the quarterback should translate nicely to the Wolverines defensive front after several losses this offseason. Over the past two seasons, Danna has won 24.3% of his pass-rushes, the second-highest rate in the nation.

21. Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

Had it not been for Justyn Ross, Waddle’s 89.7 overall grade from his true freshman season would be the highest we’ve ever given to a first-year receiver in the PFF College era. Still, he more than shined when given an opportunity in the nation’s most talented receiving group at Alabama. On 60 targeted passes, Waddle hauled in 45 receptions for 848 yards and seven touchdowns. A shifty guy with the ball in his hands, he’s a reliable target that could very easily be a WR1 for the majority of other college football programs but expect his talent to shine on the big stage opposite those talented receivers in the Crimson Tide corps.

20. Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford

Widely underappreciated because of his location on the west coast, Adebo is every bit of a lockdown corner as one would expect. On 78 targeted passes a season ago, Adebo recorded four interceptions, 19 pass breakups and allowed no reception longer than 28 yards. He’s currently the owner of the Power-5’s fourth-highest coverage grade since 2017 and he’s forced an incompletion on 26.9% of his targets in that span. Adebo is solid against the run as well and is arguably one of the more well-rounded cornerbacks for 2019.

[Editor’s Note: The Preseason PFF 2020 NFL Draft Guide will be released on Monday, August 12 with detailed draft profiles for 100+ athletes ahead of the 2019 NCAA season. Subscribe to EDGE or ELITE today to ensure you get your copy]

19. Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson

Higgins is more than a one-trick pony on the receiving end of Trevor Lawrence’s passes. He’s forced nearly as many missed tackles after the catch (16) as he has brought down contested catches (17) and has averaged the nation’s second-highest yards per route run since 2017. With just two drops to his name a season ago, Higgins is as reliable as they come outside.

18. Mason Fine, QB, North Texas

If you haven’t heard of Mason Fine by now, you’ve missed out. The North Texas record holder for (insert any stat here, literally, any stat), Fine is a wizard with the ball, routinely hitting highlight-reel passes just as quick as he takes what the defense gives him and hits tight-window opportunities when warranted. He is as fun a quarterback to watch that college football offers in 2019, regardless of competition level.

17. Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU

Not talked about enough as we enter the season, Gladney is a stout Big 12 cornerback in a conference that lacks a lot of defensive playmakers. On 71 targeted passes last year, Gladney allowed just 27 receptions while breaking up 13 and intercepting two more. For his career, he’s allowed just 47.4% of all targets thrown his way to be caught and showed a massive turnaround from a down year in 2017. He’s solid across the field and another strong year in coverage in the Big 12 should cement his status as a potential second-rounder in April.

16. Kenny Willekes, Edge, Michigan State

No pass-rusher has accumulated more pressures since 2017 than Willekes and his number of 112. He’s brought down 15 sacks and a national-best 37 QB hits in that time frame all while winning 17.3% of his 808 pass-rush attempts since 2017. His gaudy pass-rushing totals aside, he also returns to East Lansing with the nation’s second-highest run-defense grade along the edge.

15. Tyler Johnson, WR, Minnesota

No returning receiver has converted more receptions for a first down or touchdown than Johnson as his 91 lead the next-closest receiver by six. He’s hauled in 19 touchdowns and a ridiculous 50 explosive plays since 2017, all which lead the nation. Johnson can make all the catches and is our highest-graded receiver in the red zone just as he is on money downs (third + fourth).

14. D’Eriq King, QB, Houston

Perhaps the nation’s most electric player with both his arm and legs, King leads the Cougars in 2019 behind the second-highest overall grade from a quarterback a season ago. King is fun to watch and everything the college football fan wants to see on Saturdays. He’ll routinely be seen dominating the lesser competition, dropping perfect dimes on go routes, maneuvering the pocket perhaps better than anyone in the country and running past lesser-matched defenders this season.

13. David Woodward, LB, Utah State

The highest-graded returning linebacker by a long shot, Woodward came into his own in 2018. He led all linebackers in overall grade a season ago and was trouble for opposing offensive coordinators to scheme around in both the passing game and rushing attack. In coverage specifically, Woodward routinely made plays on the ball and allowed all of just four first-down receptions into his primary coverage last year. Against the run, he missed just a single tackle and recorded 41 stops, while 13 tackles came either at the line of scrimmage or behind. He’s a three-down linebacker who possesses speed, strong instincts and great tackling ability.

12. Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon

Herbert may have regressed a bit in 2018 but that’s just because his 2017 season reached a level so high, he was bound to revert back to the mean. His two-year grade at quarterback is among the nation’s best and he can make all the throws despite a lackluster receiving corps ahead of him in Eugene. He’ll be tested this season but if Herbert can rise to anything near those 2017 levels, he’ll further cement his place as one of the top two or three quarterbacks in the game.

11. Tyler Biadasz, C, Wisconsin

No center comes close to matching what Biadasz has done over the past two seasons with the Badgers. He followed up an incredible freshman season with an even better year in 2018 which is all leading up to what could perhaps be his last year in Madison. While his run-blocking skills are second to none, he’s allowed just 17 career pressures on 692 reps in pass protection and has finished 16 games without a single pressure allowed over his career.

10. A.J. Epenesa, Edge, Iowa

No Power-5 edge defender has won his pass-rush attempts on a more frequent basis than Epenesa over the past two seasons. In total, he’s won 22.5% of his 449 pass-rush attempts since 2017 and accrued 89 total pressures. His 14 sacks in that span are eight-most and he’s done it on far fewer snaps than the rest of the Power-5 defenders ahead of him. With plus grades in run-defense, Epenesa returns as one of just five edge defenders who brought down the pass-rush triple-double last year (10+ sacks, hits and hurries).

9. Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado

Before injury in 2018, Shenault was deservedly on the Heisman radar, an arduous task for receivers over the past decade. Even with the injury cutting his sophomore season short, Shenault has forced 30 missed tackles after the catch in his career, which ranks third among active FBS receivers. He’s averaged 7.4 yards after the catch per reception and churned out a career 3.71 yards per route run as the Colorado offense runs through him.

8. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin

Taylor has performed at elite levels for two straight seasons now for Wisconsin, seeing an 89.2 overall grade in 2017 and a ridiculous 92.2 grade a year ago. His two-year grade leads all active running backs and he’s remarkably consistent with the ball in his hands. He’s forced 133 missed tackles over the past two years, 66 in 2017 and 67 in 2018 while he’s also gained over 1,300 yards after contact in each of his two seasons at the helm. Taylor will routinely gain those yards you need on offense just as easy as he rips off the big chunk plays that spurn the Badgers attack. He’ll be relied upon heavily in 2019 as they welcome in a new starter at quarterback.

7. Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue

The nation’s most elusive receiver is a freak of nature. Routinely spotted squatting upwards of 600 pounds, the 180-pound speedster broke out in 2018 as a freshman for Purdue. In just one season, he forced 37 missed tackles after the catch, a number that dominated college football last year. He has hauled in 91.9% of the catchable passes thrown his way and is a threat to take the ball to the house anytime he touches it.

6. Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama

The leader in yards per reception over the past two years, Jeudy is the frontrunner for the Biletnikoff Award (again) for many reasons. He’s averaged 2.73 yards for every route he’s been an eligible receiver and his 19.2 yards per catch are a full yard ahead of the next closest Power-5 receiver. With perhaps the best routes in all of college football, Jeudy has the capability of dominating games at any level and should hear his name called early next April.

5. Chase Young, Edge, Ohio State

No edge defender brought in more total pressures a season ago than Young as he made the loss of Nick Bosa an afterthought in 2018. Over the past two seasons, he’s won 19.4% of his pass-rush attempts and recorded a pressure on 17.0% of his snaps, both of which are top-10 figures among active edge defenders. Young uses a combination of speed, power and handwork to secure his pressures and he should see no dropoff in 2019.

4. Bryce Hall, CB, Virginia

Hall finished with an overall grade of 91.2 that included a coverage grade of 91.4, both of which lead all returning FBS cornerbacks, a group of 349 players who logged at least 200 snaps a season ago. There is no better returning cornerback from a season ago when it comes to tracking passes in the intermediate to deep range of the field, those passes targeted at least 10 yards downfield. Hall was targeted 44 times on throws in that range, allowing just 14 receptions while he came away with two interceptions and recorded 18 forced incompletions. Hall may be more important to his team’s success than any other non-offensive player in the country.

3. Justyn Ross, WR, Clemson

If Ross could have entered the NFL draft this past year, he likely would have heard his name called sooner as opposed to later and that would be with just one year of college football under his belt. Rejoice, Clemson fans, as the nation will get to see him in Orange for at least two more seasons but that’s just how dominant he was in his first season at Clemson. In 2018, Ross put forth the highest-graded season we’ve ever given to a true freshman receiver and his 21.7 yards per reception is the highest among qualified returning receivers. The sky is truly the limit for this uber-talented receiver-quarterback combination (see below).

2. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama

Tagovailoa’s emergence sent Jalen Hurts to Oklahoma without even the slightest bit of remorse from Crimson Tide fans. Tagovailoa has a good chance to be the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and his dominant receiving corps set him up for potentially more success this season. He’s accurate, sharp-minded and very clearly the second-best player in all of college football.

[Editor’s Note: The Preseason PFF 2020 NFL Draft Guide will be released on Monday, August 12 with detailed draft profiles for 100+ athletes ahead of the 2019 NCAA season. Subscribe to EDGE or ELITE today to ensure you get your copy]

1. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

Lawrence’s overall grade is the highest we’ve ever given a true freshman as his debut season for the Tigers reached historic heights. He can pepper the ball to all levels of the field and is wise beyond his age when it comes to leading the defending National Champs in 2019. Doesn’t matter whether he was pressured in the pocket or kept clean from it, Lawrence can dot the field with beautifully-placed balls and has elevated his already-talented receiving corps to new heights in just one season. Imagine what he and the rest of that five-star offense can do in Year 2.

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