Re-ranking the best players in college football before the postseason via ESPN logo
Friday, December 20, 2019

When ranked college football's top 50 players going into the season, 11 quarterbacks found their way onto the list. Not among them: LSU's Joe Burrow.

Four months, 4,715 yards passing and 48 touchdown passes later, Burrow has taken the No. 1 spot in the postseason version. Of the top 20 players, 14 come from one of the four College Football Playoff teams: LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma.

Of the players who started in the top 10, only Ohio State defensive end Chase Young moved up, going from No. 9 to No. 2. Burrow's teammate, receiver Ja'Marr Chase, moved into the top 10 from outside the top 50 after leading the nation in receiving.

To get the final ranking, we had our panel of CFB writers vote on pairs of players. Trevor Lawrence vs. J.K. Dobbins, Jonathan Taylor vs. Penei Sewell, and so on. We asked, "Which player had a better 2019 season?" To decide, voters had to consider both the quality and the quantity of each player's contributions to his team's ability to win games. Here are the final rankings:

1. Joe Burrow


SeniorPreseason ranking: NR

What a difference a year makes. The former Ohio State transfer went from a middle-of-the-pack quarterback in the SEC to the best quarterback in college football. He broke last season's personal touchdown total in just four games and is two touchdown passes shy of 50 this season.

2. Chase Young

DL, Ohio State

JuniorPreseason ranking: 9

Young became the ninth defensive player to be a Heisman finalist after a simply dominant junior season. Despite sitting out two games, Young leads the nation in sacks (16.5), and his 21 tackles for loss rank fourth in the country. His six forced fumbles rank second.

3. Justin Fields

QB, Ohio State

SophomorePreseason ranking: 49

The transfer from Georgia made an immediate impact in his first season with the Buckeyes, showing off his ability to run and pass right from the start. The Heisman finalist has 50 total touchdowns this season, which puts him four away from tying Dwayne Haskins' Big Ten record. Fields has thrown for 2,953 yards and rushed for another 471. He has thrown just one interception.

4. Trevor Lawrence

QB, Clemson

SophomorePreseason ranking: 1

At the midpoint of the season, Lawrence had 14 TD passes and eight interceptions, and critics wondered what had gone wrong. Turns out, he was just shaking off the rust. Through Clemson's final six games, Lawrence completed 76% of his throws, had an FBS-best 214.0 passer rating, tossed 20 touchdown passes and didn't have a turnover. That he has another season left before likely heading to the NFL is the worst nightmare for any opposing defense.

5. Jonathan Taylor

RB, Wisconsin

JuniorPreseason ranking: 6

He solidified a historic career with his third consecutive 1,900-yard rushing season while running for a career-high 21 touchdowns. Taylor became the seventh player in NCAA history to eclipse 6,000 career rushing yards and continued to build on his FBS record for most rushing yards through the first three seasons in college.

6. Ja'Marr Chase


SophomorePreseason ranking: NR

No one benefited more from LSU's offensive schematic changes than Burrow, but Chase is a close second. He leads the FBS in receiving yards (1,498), receiving yards per game (124.8) and touchdown catches (18). He is averaging 20.5 yards per reception. He's the second LSU player to win the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver.

7. Isaiah Simmons

LB, Clemson

JuniorPreseason ranking: 23

No defender in the country was more versatile in 2019 than Simmons, who was ostensibly a linebacker but did a little of everything for the Clemson defense. Simmons was a terrific edge rusher, leading the team with seven sacks and 14 tackles for loss. He was a stout run defender, racking up 91 tackles -- 15 more than any other Clemson defender. But with track speed, he could also cover any slot receiver in the ACC, making him the centerpiece of one of the country's best defenses.

8.Tua Tagovailoa

QB, Alabama

JuniorPreseason ranking: 2

How many quarterbacks can appear in fewer than nine full games and finish sixth in touchdown passes for the season? The truth is, there just aren't other QBs like Tagovailoa. That we might have seen the last of him as a college QB is a shame. He finished his injury-shortened junior year with a mind-boggling completion percentage of .714 to go with 11.3 yards per pass, 33 TD throws and 3 interceptions.

9. CeeDee Lamb

WR, Oklahoma

JuniorPreseason ranking: 16

Texas defenders are still trying to figure out how Lamb escaped them. With the ball in his hands, he was a nightmare for opposing defenses. He racked up 1,208 receiving yards, 14 touchdowns, 20.8 yards per catch and an average of 11.1 yards after the catch.

10. Derrick Brown

DT, Auburn

SeniorPreseason ranking: 17

There's a reason his coach and athletic director were stumping for a Heisman invite. Besides maybe Chase Young, there wasn't a more impactful defensive player in college football than Brown, who finished the regular season with 50 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 4 pass breakups and a pair of forced fumbles.

11. J.K. Dobbins

RB, Ohio State

JuniorPreseason ranking: 35

Fields gets a lot of the credit for this Ohio State offense, but Dobbins was a big part of the game plan against better-ranked defenses. The third-year back had 875 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns in the five games against Michigan State, Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin, including the Big Ten championship game. Dobbins finished the regular season with 1,829 yards rushing and 20 touchdown runs.

12. Jalen Hurts

QB, Oklahoma

SeniorPreseason ranking: 11

When Hurts decided to transfer from Alabama to Oklahoma, he was expected to fit in seamlessly. Indeed, Hurts is the third straight Oklahoma quarterback to become a Heisman finalist. He threw for 3,634 yards with 32 touchdowns and 7 interceptions and added 1,255 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns.

13. Travis Etienne

RB, Clemson

JuniorPreseason ranking: 8

Through 13 games, Etienne had a grand total of six carries in the fourth quarter this season. The lack of carries was the only reason his name wasn't atop the Doak Walker and even Heisman Trophy lists, but his per-rush numbers were amazing -- he averaged 8.24 yards per carry. He was the key to Clemson's offensive attack throughout the season, including eight games with 100 or more yards. He'll wrap his career as the most explosive rusher in ACC history.

14.Jerry Jeudy

WR, Alabama

JuniorPreseason ranking: 3

The junior from South Florida won the Belitnikoff Award last season and is poised to make it back-to-back years with 1,000 receiving yards if he has even an average performance in the bowl game against Michigan. A projected first-round pick, Jeudy catches everything in his grasp and is one of the best route runners in college football.

15.Penei Sewell

OL, Oregon

SophomorePreseason ranking: NR

The winner of the Outland Trophy, Sewell was the only member of the Pac-12 champions to be named first-team all-conference. Since stepping into the starting lineup as a freshman last season, Sewell was among the best offensive linemen on the West Coast, and he became a dominant force this season for the Ducks and their balanced offensive approach.

16.Chuba Hubbard

RB, Oklahoma State

SophomorePreseason ranking: NR

A picture of reliability, durability and production, the "Canadian Cowboy" led the FBS with 1,936 rushing yards and was second nationally in rushing touchdowns (21), carries (309) and rushes per game (25.7)

17.Jeff Okudah

CB, Ohio State

JuniorPreseason ranking: NR

Ohio State defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley said he believes Okudah is the best cornerback in the country. That is high praise and well deserved for Okudah, who will likely be a first-round pick in the NFL draft. He finished the season with three interceptions and eight pass breakups.

18. Tee Higgins

WR, Clemson

JuniorPreseason ranking: 19

In the ACC title game, Lawrence unleashed a throw that he assumed was well out of bounds. It was in the area of Higgins, but Lawrence was putting it in a spot where it couldn't be picked off. No one told Higgins that it was a throwaway, though. He reached out and hauled it in anyway, one of his three TD grabs in the game. It was a perfect indication of Higgins' talent. He's a physical mismatch vs. any corner, and he refers to 50-50 balls, without irony, as 80-20s.

19.Derek Stingley Jr.


FreshmanPreseason ranking: NR

Plenty of blue-chip freshmen hold their own in their debut seasons; almost none dominates the way Stingley did by the end of 2019. He finished the season tied for second nationally in passes defensed (six INTs, 15 breakups), and Pro Football Focus named him its national freshman of the year.

20.Justin Jefferson


JuniorPreseason ranking: NR

Jefferson caught 14 touchdown passes this season and was one of three LSU players to have at least 10 scoring catches in what was one of the deepest receiving corps in the country. He led the Tigers with 88 catches, ranking fifth nationally, and torched Georgia in the SEC championship game with seven catches for 115 yards and a touchdown.

21. Justin Herbert

QB, Oregon

SeniorPreseason ranking: 7

Because he opted to pass on potentially becoming a top-five draft pick, Herbert's return for his senior season was measured by a unique set of expectations. For the most part, he met them. He guided Oregon to the Pac-12 title, a berth in the Rose Bowl and a No. 6 ranking, and he threw for 32 touchdown passes with just five interceptions.

22. Najee Harris

RB, Alabama

JuniorPreseason ranking: 43

Harris patiently waited for his time to shine, and it arrived during his junior season. In his last nine games, he rushed for 932 yards (5.7 per carry), and he excelled in Bama's two biggest games, posting 53 rushes and receptions for 362 yards against LSU and Auburn.

23.Rashod Bateman

WR, Minnesota

SophomorePreseason ranking: NR

The sophomore became the first Minnesota player to win Big Ten receiver of the year honors. A Biletnikoff Award semifinalist, Bateman has 1,170 receiving yards, breaking the single-season team record set by teammate Tyler Johnson in 2018. Bateman's 203 yards in a win over Penn State marked the most in TCF Bank Stadium history.

24. DeVonta Smith

WR, Alabama

JuniorPreseason ranking: NR

After rising to fame as a freshman in 2017 with the game-winning touchdown catch in the national championship game, Smith has continued to get better. His 1,200 receiving yards led Alabama's talented group of pass-catchers this season, and he paced the Crimson Tide with 13 touchdown catches.

25. Zack Moss

RB, Utah

SeniorPreseason ranking: NR

The first Utah player to win Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, Moss rushed for 1,359 yards and 15 touchdowns to help Utah to its second consecutive division title and an 11-1 record during the regular season. He's sure to have an NFL future after putting the draft on hold to return this year.

26. Clyde Edwards-Helaire


JuniorPreseason ranking: NR

After a solid sophomore season, Edwards-Helaire blossomed into a star as a junior. He was 10th nationally with 1,903 all-purpose yards and had some of his best performance in the biggest games. He rushed for 103 yards and three touchdowns and caught a touchdown pass in the 46-41 win over Alabama.

27. Michael Pittman Jr.


SeniorPreseason ranking: NR

A finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, Pittman ranks third in the country in receptions (95) and sixth in receiving yards (1,222), and is tied for 13th with 11 touchdown catches.

28. Bradlee Anae

DL, Utah

SeniorPreseason ranking: NR

A first-team All-Pac-12 selection, Anae was arguably the best defensive lineman in the conference and finished seventh among FBS players with 12.5 sacks. The Utes have allowed just 4.4 yards per play, the fourth-best mark in the FBS, and 70.3 rushing yards per game, which ranked No. 1.

29. D'Andre Swift

RB, Georgia

JuniorPreseason ranking: 14

Swift, a bruising 5-foot-9, 215-pound junior, was once again the main cog in Georgia's running game and topped the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season, with 1,216 yards and seven touchdowns. Swift averaged 6.2 yards per carry and caught 24 passes, including a touchdown.

30. Kenneth Murray

LB, Oklahoma

JuniorPreseason ranking: NR

Fast and furious, Murray was a critical part of the Sooners' defensive turnaround this season. He led the team with 95 tackles and added an impressive 16 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 4 pass breakups and 5 quarterback hurries.

31. Andrew Thomas

OT, Georgia

JuniorPreseason ranking: 15

A first team All-SEC coaches selection and an Outland Trophy semifinalist, Thomas was perhaps the best offensive lineman in the conference the past three seasons, during which he protected quarterback Jake Fromm's blind side at left tackle. He started 23 consecutive games on a line that allowed 0.92 sacks per game this season.

32. Jonathan Greenard

LB, Florida

SeniorPreseason ranking: NR

After missing all of the previous season due to injury, Greenard returned to finish second on the Gators with 51 tackles, and he led the team in both tackles for loss (14.5) and sacks (8.5). He was an All-SEC selection as a defensive lineman.

33. A.J. Epenesa

DE, Iowa

JuniorPreseason ranking: 41

Chase Young grabbed the spotlight among Big Ten defensive linemen, but Epenesa showed down the stretch why he'll be joining Young as a first-round draft pick next spring. Epenesa recorded 5.5 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles in Iowa's final four regular-season games. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors.

34. Henry Ruggs III

WR, Alabama

JuniorPreseason ranking: 38

On almost any receiving corps, Ruggs would've been the No. 1 target and a guaranteed Biletnikoff Award finalist. Instead, he took turns being the go-to guy with two other stars. But he needed only 38 catches to gain more than 700 yards and has averaged 17.5 yards per catch in his career.

35. AJ Dillon

RB, Boston College

JuniorPreseason ranking: 29

In three years at Boston College, Dillon set the school record for career yards rushing (4,382) and career all-purpose yards (4,618). This past season, he made the All-ACC first team after ranking fourth nationally with 1,685 yards rushing. He already declared for the NFL draft and won't play in the bowl game.

36. Evan Weaver

LB, Cal

SeniorPreseason ranking: NR

The Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year in the Pac-12, Weaver made 173 tackles, the most in the country -- 26 more than second place -- and broke a 34-year-old school record. With Weaver leading the way, Cal's defense was the primary reason the Bears reached the postseason and ended their long drought against rival Stanford.

37. Lynn Bowden Jr.

QB/WR, Kentucky

JuniorPreseason ranking: NR

After starting the season at receiver, the position he'll play as a he pursues an NFL career, Bowden switched to quarterback six games into the season and helped guide Kentucky to a 7-5 record and a berth in the Belk Bowl. He finished the season with 330 yards passing, 1,235 yards rushing and 30 receptions for 348 yards.

38. Zack Baun

LB, Wisconsin

SeniorPreseason ranking: NR

Baun quietly put together an outstanding defensive season for the Badgers and put up some big numbers doing so. The senior had 71 total tackles, one interception and 12.5 sacks this season, which was seventh most by any FBS player. Baun had 52 defensive pressures and was one of the leaders of this Badgers team.

39. KJ Hamler

WR, Penn State

SophomorePreseason ranking: NR

Hamler followed up his breakout freshman season with another stellar season, leading the Nittany Lions with 54 catches for 858 yards and 8 touchdowns. He ranks fourth in the Big Ten in all-purpose yards, averaging 125.2 yards per game, and he has at least one reception in all 25 games of his career.

40. J.R. Reed

S, Georgia

SeniorPreseason ranking: NR

The SEC was loaded this season with safeties who could do a little bit of everything, and the 6-1, 194-pound Reed was right there at the top. He was third on Georgia's team with 54 total tackles while intercepting a pass and both forcing and recovering a fumble.

41. Antoine Winfield Jr.

DB, Minnesota

SophomorePreseason ranking: NR

Winfield dealt with injuries prior to this season, but he finally got a chance to showcase his ability in 2019. He made the most of the opportunity, bringing in seven interceptions, good for fourth among FBS players. Winfield also had 80 tackles, three sacks and a touchdown for the Gophers.

42. Anfernee Jennings

OLB, Alabama

SeniorPreseason ranking: 31

A senior and the heartbeat of the Alabama defense, Jennings was fully healthy again and a force at outside linebacker this season, leading the team in tackles for loss (12) and sacks (7.5). He finished with 73 total tackles, eight quarterback hurries, five pass breakups and an interception.

43. Javon Kinlaw

DT, South Carolina

SeniorPreseason ranking: NR

South Carolina might have gone 4-8 against a brutal schedule, but you can't blame the defense for much of that. You certainly can't blame Kinlaw. The senior was the Gamecocks' best pass-rusher, despite coming in a 6-6, 310-pound package, and he was a boulder against run blocking as well.

44. Xavier McKinney

S, Alabama

JuniorPreseason ranking: NR

While a young Bama front seven struggled at times, the secondary, led by McKinney, was about as solid as ever. From his free safety spot, the junior led the team in tackles, picked off three passes, broke up five more and logged 4.5 tackles for loss while forcing four fumbles.

45. James Lynch

DT, Baylor

JuniorPreseason ranking: NR

The most productive member of one of the nation's best defensive lines wreaked havoc all season. Lynch led the Big 12 in sacks (12.5), was second in tackles for loss (18.5), had 13 quarterback hurries, forced three fumbles, blocked two kicks and broke up five passes.

46. Tyler Johnson

WR, Minnesota

SeniorPreseason ranking: NR

The Gophers senior is the only Power 5 player to record consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons. He had the most productive senior season ever by a Minnesota receiver (1,114 yards on 74 catches) and needs one receiving touchdown in the Outback Bowl to tie the team single-season record of 12, which he set in 2018.

47. Tyler Huntley

QB, Utah

SeniorPreseason ranking: NR

Huntley was named the first-team All-Pac-12 quarterback ahead of Herbert (honorable mention) and the nation's leading passer, Washington State'sAnthony Gordon(second team). Huntley ranked sixth nationally in QBR and threw for 2,966 yards with 18 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.

48. Devin Duvernay

WR, Texas

SeniorPreseason ranking: NR

The man with the best hands in college football nearly went his entire career without a drop. He ended the year with two but led the FBS in receptions (103), was fourth in receiving yards (1,294) and caught eight touchdowns.

49. Micah Parsons

LB, Penn State

SophomorePreseason ranking: NR

Parsons continues to get better each season, and it's safe to say he is going to be one of the best defenders next season. He led Penn State in tackles with 95 total, 20 more than the next player on the team. He also had three sacks and 11 tackles for loss to go with two forced fumbles this season.

50. Kenneth Gainwell

RB, Memphis

FreshmanPreseason ranking: NR

Despite starting the season as a backup, Gainwell topped 100 rushing yards seven times and had 203 receiving yards against Tulane. The total damage: 266 carries and catches, 1,957 yards and 15 touchdowns. He became the face of Memphis' greatest season, and he's a redshirt freshman.

ESPN's Andrea Adelson, Kyle Bonagura, Bill Connelly, David Hale, Sam Khan, Chris Low, Adam Rittenberg, Alex Scarborough and Tom VanHaaren contributed to this story.

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