News & Analysis

Ranking the top underclassmen in the College Football Playoff

Utilizing PFF’s play-by-play grading of every player on every play of every game, we take a look at the top underclassmen who will be playing in this year’s College Football Playoff. With the games just days away, here are the underclassmen who should have an impact — big or small — in one way or another for LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma.

Note: We’ve left some redshirt-sophomore players on our list, as we are almost certain they will return to school for at least one more season.

50. Jameson Williams, WR, Ohio State

Class: Freshman
2019 snap count: 148
2019 PFF grade: 59.5

Targeted just 12 times this year, Williams has hauled in six passes for 112 yards and a score, doing most of his damage in mop-up duty of blowouts. Still, he has the size and speed to make a difference when he's on the field. He'll have to limit the drops (two on eight catchable passes) if he wants to be trusted with much more, though.

49. Dallas Gant, LB, Ohio State

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 116
2019 PFF grade: 82.2

While Gant has played sparingly at times, the Ohio State linebacker has been terrific when he has seen the field for more than a handful of snaps in 2019. He's recorded 16 total tackles without a miss and limited receivers after the catch brilliantly. The trouble is, he saw the field just four times over the past two games, giving us pause to say he'll have much of an impact against Clemson. If he does get meaningful snaps, be sure to watch out for No. 19.

48. K.J. Henry, EDGE, Clemson

Class: RS-Freshman
2019 snap count: 292
2019 PFF grade: 65.4

This one is tough because Henry has all the tools to make a huge impact when he's on the field for Clemson, but he just hasn't made that leap yet. He's recorded 10 pressures on 134 pass-rush snaps but also missed five of his 20 tackle attempts this season. The growing pains are real — but again, he has all the tools and pedigree to make his name known on the national stage.

47. Frank Ladson Jr., WR, Clemson

Class: Freshman
2019 snap count: 232
2019 PFF grade: 61.5

Ladson has earned his playing time with some impressive blocks in the run game, but he hasn't featured enough in the passing attack to make much of an impact in the early stages of games this year. He's scored three touchdowns but has dropped one of the 10 catchable passes thrown his way. He'll have to ensure that improves if he's targeted against Ohio State and in 2020.

Adam Hagy/USA TODAY Sports

46. Ed Ingram, OG, LSU

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 306
2019 PFF grade: 58.2

Ingram has allowed just six pressures this year on his 187 pass-blocking snaps but seemed to struggle against top-notch defensive tackles. Against Texas A&M, he lost multiple reps to Justin Madubuike, and the Alabama interior gave him fits, too. Still, he's been strong in other outings, and he'll need one of those performances against Neville Gallimore, Marquise Overton and others to improve his 58.2 overall grade in 2019.

45. Baylon Spector, LB, Clemson

Class: RS-Sophomore
2019 snap count: 267
2019 PFF grade: 64.9

Spector may struggle in a few areas across the field, including tackling (he has missed nine of 38 attempts this year), but he has certainly been a run-stuffing machine. He's recorded a defensive stop on 16 of his 23 solo tackles and has also limited receivers to just 57 yards on 95 snaps in coverage.

44. Jaelen Gill, WR, Ohio State

Class: RS-Freshman
2019 snap count: 63
2019 PFF grade: 76.1

The do-everything receiver from central Ohio is a breakout performance waiting to happen — it's just a matter of whether he'll see time on the field. Let it be known now, though, if he does get meaningful snaps, the former running back will certainly make waves. We'd rather be right on him in these rankings than wrong, and highlighting the play that he has had in limited time makes sense. He has broken four tackles on just six receptions and racked up 40 yards after the catch in the process.

43. DaShaun White, LB, Oklahoma

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 476
2019 PFF grade: 61.2

White has put forth an average season at linebacker for the Sooners, recording 31 solo tackles but missing six attempts. He's allowed 77.8% of the targets thrown his way to be caught and hasn't made a play on the ball while allowing two touchdowns. White has had moments of sharp play, though, and he'll certainly need more outings like the one he had against Baylor the first time around if he wants to make a big impact against LSU.

Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports

42. Logan Rudolph, EDGE, Clemson

Class: RS-Sophomore
2019 snap count: 333
2019 PFF grade: 67.3

Rudolph secured 12 defensive stops in limited time this season, and they came on only 14 solo tackle attempts — meaning he was certainly making his impact felt when he was on the field. He didn't grade higher than 69.7 in any one game this year, however, giving pause to ranking him much higher against the much stiffer competition he'll face in the playoffs.

41. Zach Harrison, EDGE, Ohio State

Class: Freshman
2019 snap count: 251
2019 PFF grade: 70.4

Similar to the man above him, Harrison's four sacks would seem to necessitate ranking him much higher, but he has also recorded only three more total pressures on 118 pass-rushes. Sacks are noisy, and thus, we can't move him much higher than he is. But like Williams, he adds valuable depth to the Buckeyes' talented defensive edge rotation.

40. Jordan Williams, DI, Clemson

Class: RS-Sophomore
2019 snap count: 232
2019 PFF grade: 72.0

Williams' four sacks may be eye-popping, but he's recorded only three other pressures all year long on his 107 pass-rushing snaps — not quite enough production to warrant a much higher spot than where he is. Still, he can be counted on for depth along a Tigers defensive front that has done a more-than-admirable job of replacing several NFL players from a season ago.

Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports

39. Luke Price, TE, Clemson

Class: RS-Sophomore
2019 snap count: 190
2019 PFF grade: 73.9

With just six targets coming his way this year, Price has made his impact mostly in the run game, where he's earned an 81.7 run-blocking grade on 110 snaps — second among qualifying players along the line of scrimmage for Clemson. Price has paved the way in short-yardage situations along the outside and could be key in helping block the Buckeyes' talented edge rotation.

38. Tommy Togiai, DI, Ohio State

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 234
2019 PFF grade: 74.1

The Ohio State defensive front possesses elite-level depth, and Togiai is just another piece in that unit. He doubled his snap totals from a season ago and put forth increasingly strong grades as the year went on, finishing with 10 defensive stops on just 13 solo tackles.

37. Tyreke Smith, EDGE, Ohio State

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 207
2019 PFF grade: 77.1

We're not going to fault you if you didn't know the Ohio State edge defenders not named Chase Young this season, as the future NFL first-round pick rightfully takes all the headlines. Smith has recorded 18 total pressures on his 123 pass-rush snaps this season and put together four games with multiple pressures, as he's graded very well all year when on the field.

36. Damone Clark, LB, LSU

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 287
2019 PFF grade: 67.0

Clark has seen his workload increase down the stretch, including at least 25 snaps over his last three games, and it's paid dividends as he's increased his overall grade in each contest. He's attempted 39 tackles and missed just three attempts while he's taken advantage of his big frame to the tune of 15 total pressures — including three sacks on just 63 pass-rushes.

35. Mario Goodrich, CB, Clemson

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 192
2019 PFF grade: 77.7

Goodrich has seen only 198 snaps, but when he has been on the field, he's shown glimpses of starter-level production. Goodrich has been the primary coverage defender on 11 targets, allowing just three receptions for 28 yards with a pick and two pass breakups to his credit. He's logged double-digit snaps in all but one of his outings this year and should certainly see some extended playing time against the up-tempo Buckeyes offense.

34. Brayden Willis, TE, Oklahoma

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 288
2019 PFF grade: 68.5

Filling the void left by Grant Calcaterra's departure this year, Willis has had two games with an elite grade in 2019 after struggling out of the gate to start the year. He's hauled in 10 receptions for three scores and seven first downs, meaning he's converted every time he's reeled in a pass. If the Sooners run enough two-tight end sets to see him get the ball against LSU, you can bet Willis will be looked at for a pivotal first down or touchdown.

Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports

33. Delarrin Turner-Yell, S, Oklahoma

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 687
2019 PFF grade: 58.6

Similar to his teammate, Turner-Yell has saved some of his best football for the tail end of the season, seeing two of his three highest-graded games over the past two outings. He's been dominant in coverage as of late, too, as a sure-tackler, something that plagued him earlier in the year.

32. Jeremy Ruckert, TE, Ohio State

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 341
2019 PFF grade: 69.9

Ruckert had his lone catch in the Big Ten Championship game eventually become the game-changer, as his one-handed reception dramatically turned the momentum in the Buckeyes' favor. He has all of 13 receptions this year, but he's reached the endzone four times and has been impactful in the run game, posting a solid 69.1 run-blocking grade on his 189 snaps.

31. Matt Bockhorst, OG, Clemson

Class: RS-Sophomore
2019 snap count: 402
2019 PFF grade: 72.4

Bockhorst has split time behind John Simpson and Gage Cervenka, logging 289 snaps at left guard and another 126 snaps at right guard in 2019. He's been extremely strong in the run game and has allowed all of five pressures on 202 snaps in pass protection. He'll be tasked with limiting a talented Ohio State interior when he does enter the lineup Saturday.

30. John Emery Jr., RB, LSU

Class: Freshman
2019 snap count: 76
2019 PFF grade: 75.9

Emery has played only 76 total snaps this season, but the talented true freshman could see a significantly bigger workload given the uncertainty to Clyde Edwards-Helaire at the position. Emery has proven to warrant his high recruiting stock when given the chance this year, taking 36 carries for 182 yards, racking up 145 yards after contact and breaking 13 tackles on those attempts. We have no issue saying he'll have a major impact if he's given an ample amount of carries to do so.

Derek E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports

29. Cordale Flott, CB, LSU

Class: Freshman
2019 snap count: 208
2019 PFF grade: 68.6

If he's given the opportunity to make a play, you can likely bet Flott will do just that — or, at the very least, he will certainly not allow a play in his coverage. Flott has been targeted 23 times this season, allowing just eight receptions with no touchdowns while recording five pass breakups. He's allowing a passer rating of just 56.8 and has missed only one tackle attempt in what has been a strong year to date.

28. Lyn-J Dixon, RB, Clemson

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 265
2019 PFF grade: 73.2

Dixon has been impressive this year on his 102 carries, totaling 619 yards and 351 yards after contact. He's not breaking tackles at as high of a rate as his counterpart in Travis Etienne, but he certainly has been a tough guy to bring down, as he's broken 25 tackles and gained 10 or more yards on 23 attempts.

27. Joe Ngata, WR, Clemson

Class: Freshman
2019 snap count: 261
2019 PFF grade: 70.6

Ngata has hauled in multiple receptions in just five games this season, yet he's had a big impact when he does get the ball. He's broken a few tackles and gained 76 of his 229 yards after the catch while 12 of his 16 receptions have moved the chains or scored six points. Ngata is the next man up in a talented receiving corps, and he's just waiting for a breakout game to announce his presence to the world.

26. Brendan Radley-Hiles, S, Oklahoma

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 608
2019 PFF grade: 60.2

Radley-Hiles has had his fair share of highs and lows this season with the Sooners in 2019. After failing to eclipse 64.0 overall grades in all but one of his first 10 games, the former five-star recruit hasn't graded below that mark over the past three contests against pretty stiff competition (TCU, Oklahoma State and Baylor). He hasn't allowed a touchdown in coverage, with two interceptions, a pass breakup and 12 defensive stops to his name. Missed tackles will be key at limiting a talented LSU receiving corps that has been known to make guys miss at will.

Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports

25. Sevyn Banks, CB, Ohio State

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 166
2019 PFF grade: 82.3

Banks' major impacts have come on special teams, but when he has entered the lineup for the Buckeyes, he's looked every bit of a lockdown cornerback in 2019. He's played 151 snaps at either wide cornerback position and another 130 snaps on special teams, as he's behind a talented couple of guys at cornerback. Still, he's seen nine targets come his way and has allowed only three receptions, with an interception and three pass breakups to his credit. He'll likely be counted on in the semifinal game, as the Tigers can go as far as nine-deep at the wide receiver position.

24. Master Teague, RB, Ohio State

Class: RS-Freshman
2019 snap count: 230
2019 PFF grade: 73.0

The redshirt freshman running back is just a game or two away from being Ohio State's featured back — and perhaps one of the scariest backs in the Big Ten. Teague has been a difficult guy to bring down when he does get the ball, seeing 10 or more carries in all but three games this year and breaking 29 tackles while ripping off 498 yards after contact in the process.

23. Jordan McFadden, OT, Clemson

Class: RS-Freshman
2019 snap count: 328
2019 PFF grade: 88.3

While he alternates with Carman at left tackle, McFadden has played at least 10 snaps at left tackle in every single game this year — including a season-high 42 total snaps against Georgia Tech when Clemson set a program record for rushing yards in a single game. He has actually outgraded his counterpart on his 328 snaps this season and currently has the fourth-highest grade among all Clemson offensive players.

22. Jalen Redmond, DI, Oklahoma

Class: RS-Freshman
2019 snap count: 268
2019 PFF grade: 82.9

Redmond has chipped in with 22 total quarterback pressures this season, including six sacks and five more quarterback hits while limiting himself to just one missed tackle on his 15 attempts. He's grading well above average in every facet but needs to see the field more to make up ground behind that talented defensive tackle stack of Neville Gallimore and Marquise Overton.

Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports

21. Josh Myers, C, Ohio State

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 807
2019 PFF grade: 72.4

Myers is a big man in the middle of the Buckeyes' offensive line, and though he doesn't receive much credit for their success this season, he's been absolutely pivotal. He's earned well-above-average grades in the run and pass game this season, allowing all of 14 total pressures and not being called for a single penalty in 2019.

20. Jadon Haselwood, WR, Oklahoma

Class: Freshman
2019 snap count: 185
2019 PFF grade: 75.8

Haselwood started off the season extremely hot, but he has cooled off significantly down the stretch. He's caught just one pass while being targeted just twice over his past four outings for all of 16 yards. Still, what he showed during the opening stages of the season — accumulating 218 of his 247 total yards from Weeks 1 to 6 — was impressive. He's dominant after the catch if given space, gaining 134 yards after the catch this year.

19. Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State

Class: Freshman
2019 snap count: 400
2019 PFF grade: 72.0

Exploding over the final stretch of the season, Wilson put together his best game so far in his young college career against Michigan, where he showed what made him such a highly sought-after recruit. On just three receptions, he hauled in 118 yards and a score. Still, Wilson dropped just one of the 27 catchable passes thrown his way this season and has reaped the benefits of the downfield passing game with Justin Fields at the helm.

18. Jaden Davis, CB, Oklahoma

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 377
2019 PFF grade: 66.7

Davis was hot to start the season for the Sooners but cooled off down the stretch. He didn't allow a touchdown into his coverage during the first eight games but surrendered two over his final five outings. And the majority of his yards allowed came in just three games in the tail end of the campaign. Still, when he's on, he's a lockdown cornerback who gave up just one pass longer than 34 yards all season long.

17. Derion Kendrick, CB, Clemson

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 518
2019 PFF grade: 68.6

It's hard to find a sure tackler in the secondary, but that's just what Kendrick has developed into this season. He's had 27 total tackle attempts this year, missing just one while also holding quarterbacks to a less than 50% completion percentage into his coverage. He's been strong on the outside and has allowed just 18 catches for just 154 yards and no touchdowns on 38 targets.

16. Terrace Marshall, WR, LSU

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 532
2019 PFF grade: 70.1

The third — but not forgotten — wide receiver on the Tigers' offense, Marshall is a converter for LSU, scoring 10 touchdowns and another 22 first downs on his 37 total receptions. He is perhaps the nation's best ‘third option' not in an Alabama uniform at wide receiver this season — and he should be game-planned against as such.

Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports

15. Pat Fields, S, Oklahoma

Class: Freshman
2019 snap count: 733
2019 PFF grade: 72.7

Fields has played all over the field for the Sooners in 2019, recording 134 snaps at free safety, 185 in the slot and a massive 449 snaps within eight yards of the line of scrimmage in the box. With a workload as such, it's ultra-impressive that he's found the success he has, flying around the field to the tune of a 72.7 overall grade, including no facet grade lower than 71.5.

14. Jackson Carman, OT, Clemson

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 642
2019 PFF grade: 77.2

Carman has played extremely well this season, even if fellow tackle Jordan McFadden may have the higher grade. Carman has played at least 30 snaps in every game this season and has graded lower than 62.1 in just two outings. He's generated elite pass-blocking grades in three games this year, allowing all of 10 pressures on his 367 pass-blocking snaps. He'll have to battle against Chase Young in what will be his stiffest test to date, but it will be one that could prove his worth as an NFL prospect.

13. Tyler Shelvin, DI, LSU

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 478
2019 PFF grade: 82.9

Shelvin may not have the pass-rushing chops as other interior defenders across the country, but he certainly has done more than hold his own in run defense in 2019. His 90.6 run-defense grade is tied for sixth-highest at the position this season, as 16 of his 20 solo tackles against the run have been credited as a stop. He's a force up the middle against any rush game and should be huge in containing Jalen Hurts.

12. Nik Bonitto, LB, Oklahoma

Class: RS-Freshman
2019 snap count: 365
2019 PFF grade: 81.3

Bonitto's efforts in coverage have not gone unnoticed this season, as he's earned an 88.9 coverage grade that ranks fifth among all linebackers this year. He single-handedly won a game for the Sooners on defense (against Baylor the first time around) while also adding value as a pass-rusher and in run defense. He's an all-around threat and will certainly be counted upon to patrol the middle of the field against LSU.

Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports

11. Tyler Davis, DI, Clemson

Class: Freshman
2019 snap count: 407
2019 PFF grade: 84.2

Of his 17 tackles in run defense this season, Davis has had 14 of them credited as a defensive stop, as he's dominated against the opposing team's rushing attack. He's also added a solid level of play all season long with his pass-rushing, accumulating 25 total pressures — including 10 combined sacks and hits — and batting two passes at the line of scrimmage.

10. Ronnie Perkins, EDGE, Oklahoma

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 536
2019 PFF grade: 74.2

Even though he won't play against LSU, Perkins' impact cannot be understated, as he'd be a huge upgrade for the Sooners' defense if his team were to make it past LSU into the National Championship game. Perkins leads the Sooners with 31 pressures this year, recording 22 of those over the past six games. His suspension comes at perhaps the worst time, as the Oklahoma defense will have to fill the void left by not only their leading quarterback-pressurer but also their No. 2 player in defensive stops this year.

9. Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 449
2019 PFF grade: 85.9

Olave has been a revelation for the Buckeyes in 2019 after flashing a bit in 2018. He makes highlight-reel catches almost at will and has racked up 22 explosive plays of at least 15 yards this season with Fields slinging him the ball. He's seeing his targets at a far clip downfield, averaging 18.8 yards per target while his 3.45 yards per route run ranks as the seventh-highest in the country.

8. Xavier Thomas, EDGE, Clemson

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 323
2019 PFF grade: 74.5

Thomas entered the 2019 season with levels of hype that were perhaps outdone only by teammate Trevor Lawrence. While he hasn't quite lived up to those expectations, he has had his moments to close out the season and has all the talent to match the hype. He's recorded 23 total pressures this year on just 178 pass-rushes, and eight of his 10 solo tackles have been for a defensive stop.

Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY Sports

7. K'Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, LSU

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 600
2019 PFF grade: 73.0

Chaisson has had an up-and-down season in 2019 but has flashed some elite potential to rush the passer. He's recorded multiple pressures in seven games this year, including in four of his final five outings to close the year as he's rounded into form. For the year, his pass-rushing is his strong suit, and he'll be tasked with rushing arguably the most athletic quarterback he's seen all year long not named Tua.

6. Justyn Ross, WR, Clemson

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 461
2019 PFF grade: 80.0

Ross was terrific in 2018, but he saved his best for the two games that meant the most: the semifinal game against Notre Dame and the National Championship against Alabama, where he posted overall grades of 92.5 and 89.4, respectively. Those efforts were two of his highest-graded performances a year ago, and his 2019 has all the makings of mirroring that. He's finished seven of the final eight games with grades above 72.8, and since Week 7, Ross has been the country's 14th highest-graded receiver, ripping off 3.14 yards per route run.

5. Wyatt Davis, OG, Ohio State

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 804
2019 PFF grade: 81.5

Davis is the country's fourth highest-graded guard this year, as he's been solid in pass protection and dominant in the run game. He's allowed 15 hurries this year but has not allowed a single quarterback hit or sack on his 403 pass-blocking snaps. In the run game, he's finished with an 81.9 run-blocking grade to rank sixth in the country. Routinely, J.K. Dobbins or Master Teague will have a huge gap to run through along the right side of the line, and that is routinely thanks in large part to Davis.

4. Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 800
2019 PFF grade: 91.9

Proving to be way more than a dual-threat quarterback, Fields has gone back and forth with Joe Burrow as the nation's best passer on throws at an intermediate range (10-19 yards) this year. He finished the regular season by completing 55-of-77 intermediate-range attempts for 889 yards and 11 touchdowns, limiting himself to just one interception on such throws. For the season, Fields limited turnover-worthy plays better than just about anyone and threw for just a single turnover-worthy pass to the intermediate range, leading qualifying quarterbacks.

Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports

3. Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 646
2019 PFF grade: 91.2

The Biletnikoff Award winner is among the best receivers we've seen at the college level in six years, as he's absolutely dominated action this year. Chase finished the regular season with top-10 figures in missed tackles forced (21), touchdowns (18), yards after catch (568), yards (1,498) and first downs (39) while catching over 50% of the contested targets thrown his way this year. He's a smooth route-runner and an explosive player after the catch who has to be accounted for both pre-snap and during the play if it breaks down.

2. Derek Stingley, CB, LSU

Class: Freshman
2019 snap count: 819
2019 PFF grade: 91.8

The nation's highest-graded cornerback, not just among underclassmen, is the true freshman who stole the show from other talented players in his own secondary in Kristian Fulton and Grant Delpit. Stingley, though posterized by DeVonta Smith in his matchup against Alabama, has been a stalwart in coverage save for a few plays against the Crimson Tide. In fact, since the Alabama game, Stingley has been targeted 30 times and has allowed all of nine receptions for 83 yards while making two interceptions and five pass breakups. He's put his minor lapses in coverage behind him quickly and will be tested heavily, yet again, against Ceedee Lamb after limiting several opposing teams' No. 1 wide receivers to season-low figures this year.

1. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

Class: Sophomore
2019 snap count: 685
2019 PFF grade: 91.5

This one was a no-brainer, as he's our top-rated prospect among all the quarterbacks in the playoff, including the upperclassmen. His highs are higher than anyone we've ever seen at his age, and he can make quite literally every throw on the football field. He hit his stride down the stretch of the season, as he's the highest-graded quarterback since Week 8. He's limited the turnover-worthy plays admirably over that span, throwing just one over his 148 attempts after Week 8 — the fewest among all qualified signal-callers.

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