Sporting News top 40 players of 2019: Trevor Lawrence, Tua Tagovailoa lead loaded class for Clemson, Bama

first_img19. D’Andre Swift, RB, GeorgiaSwift is part of a deep running back stable at Georgia, but he maximized his carries with 1,049 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2018. He averages 6.8 yards per carry for his career, and is a proven receiver out of the backfield, totaling 49 receptions for 450 yards and four touchdowns. The Bulldogs will need more of that from him 2019 — at least until some receivers emerge in the passing game.18. Isaiah Simmons, LB, ClemsonSimmons’ decision to stay in school was a big one for the Tigers’ defense. They’ll need his versatile talent in the back seven. He had 88 tackles and nine tackles for loss after moving from safety to linebacker last season. The nine-tackle performance in last year’s title game is a reminder he can handle the big stage. 17. Jalen Hurts, QB, OklahomaHurts’ transfer to Oklahoma is one of the top storylines of the season. He was a backup last year at Alabama after two remarkable seasons as a starter, and his completion percentage improved in a backup role as a junior. He follows back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray at Oklahoma. There’s a high standard to live up to in Norman with Lincoln Riley.16. Sam Ehlinger, QB, TexasEhlinger is one of the most important players in the FBS this year. Texas comes into the season with high expectations — the highest since the Vince Young and Colt McCoy days — and Ehlinger’s leadership will be key in keeping all that together. Ehlinger has a Tim Tebow-like skill set on the field. Will his leadership lead the Longhorns to their first College Football Playoff? MORE: SN’s 2019 college football primerClemson and Alabama tied for the lead with players represented on this list, with both teams boasting four apiece. As far as conferences go, the Big Ten leads all Power 5 conferences with 11 selections, with the SEC in second at 10. The ACC (seven), Pac-12 (five), Big 12 (four), Independents (one), Mountain West (one) and Conference USA (one) round out the list.How did that top 40 shake out? A closer look at the rankings:40: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio StateThere’s no way we would leave Fields off the list — not with the enormous potential he has in Ryan Day’s offense. He has big shoes to fill with Dwayne Haskins off to the NFL, but Fields could be a blend of Haskins and former Ohio State record-setter J.T. Barrett once he gets comfortable. The talent is there, and Field will have more than enough big games to put it on display.39. AJ Dillon, RB, Boston CollegeDillon is a throwback workhorse who battled through injuries last season and still managed 1,108 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s consistent and that’s shown best with his 5.1 yards per carry through the last two seasons. He has All-American potential in BC’s run-first offense. 38. Zack Moss, RB, UtahMoss’ yardage total dropped last season, but his yards per carry (6.1) and touchdowns (11) increased. He’s a two-time 1,000-yard rusher who had six 100-yard games before a season-ending injury in Week 10 last season. He’s capable of leading the Utes back to the Pac-12 championship game for the second straight season. 37. Mason Fine, QB, North TexasThe two-time Conference USA Player of the Year averaged 29 touchdowns and 10 interceptions the last two seasons, and that consistent ability as a playmaker makes him an easy choice for this list — especially considering how he arrived at North Texas. The Mean Green were 4-1 in games in which Fine passed for more than 300 yards in 2018.36. Eno Benjamin, RB, Arizona StateHerm Edwards stayed true to his NFL roots in 2018 with a ground-heavy offense led by Benjamin, who ranked third in the nation with 300 carries. That produced 1,642 yards and 16 touchdowns, but Benjamin also added 35 catches for 263 yards and two more scores. He’s a complete running back — maybe the most complete back — in the FBS.35. J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio StateDobbins didn’t have a monster sophomore season, but Ohio State’s throwback is the undisputed lead back for the Buckeyes now, and should get a heavier workload as a result. Fields’ presence in the read-option will open up bigger lanes for Dobbins, who averages 5.8 yards per carry for his career. (Getty Images) Getty Images Getty Images 2. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, AlabamaTagovailoa proved the 2018 College Football Playoff championship game against Georgia wasn’t a fluke last season, finishing as SN’s 2018 Player of the Year after a season in which he compiled 3,966 passing yards, 43 touchdowns and just six interceptions while controlling an Alabama offense that averaged 45.6 points per game. The lefty battled through injuries and barely played into the fourth quarter, and should be motivated after a near Heisman-winning season that is being dissected more for the finish than the remarkable body of work. Tagovailoa will be in the mix for all the major awards, including the national championship.1. Trevor Lawrence, QB, ClemsonLawrence is coming off an incredible performance in the championship game performance in which he passed for 347 yards and three touchdowns in a 44-16 destruction of Alabama. We’re talking about a future No. 1 pick being compared to John Elway, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. Prospects like that don’t come around often, and Lawrence will build on a season in which he passed for 3,280 yards, 30 touchdowns and four interceptions. Should you believe us? Well, we didn’t have Lawrence on this list last season. We’ve learned our lesson. He’s not only our top quarterback ahead of 2019, but also our top overall player. The hype is real. (Getty Images) 34. Jaylen Waddle, WR, AlabamaWaddle didn’t make SN’s All-American team, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a top-40 player. Waddle’s open-field speed is a game-changer, and he showed that with 18.8 yards per reception and 14.6 yards per punt return in 2018. He had seven touchdowns on just 45 catches, averaging 46.7 yards on each trip to the end zone.33. Adrian Martinez, QB, NebraskaThe upside for Martinez is enormous in Scott Frost’s system, especially if his completion percentage jumps from 64.6 into the 70-percent range. Martinez totaled 25 touchdowns as a freshman (17 passing, eight rushing) and has 3,000/1,000 potential in 2019.32. Curtis Weaver, DE, Boise StateWeaver averaged 10 sacks and 14 tackles the last two seasons for the Broncos. He’s a force off the edge who should be able to hit those marks again in 2019. If that happens, then he’ll be a first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.31. Shea Patterson, QB, MichiganPatterson steadied the quarterback position at Michigan last season, and the addition of offensive coordinator Josh Gattis should translate to even more production after his 2,600-yard, 22-touchdown season in 2018. Jim Harbaugh must let Patterson improvise with a group of talented receivers; if he does, Patterson can prove this ranking right by leading the Wolverines to their first Big Ten championship since 2004.POSITION RANKINGS: Quarterback | Receiver | Running back30. Walker Little, OT, StanfordIt wouldn’t be a top-40 list without a Stanford offensive lineman. Little has attracted NFL interest, and that was after a breakout sophomore season. The 6-7 tackle has the tools to be dominant at this level — and the next.center_img Getty Images Sporting News top 40 players for 2019 is loaded with quarterbacks.In 2018, the story was defensive line, which boasted 11 players on SN’s top 40. This year, SN’s list features 12 quarterbacks from the FBS, including two familiar names at the top in Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. Those two quarterbacks squared off in the College Football Playoff championship game last season and are SN’s pick to do it again according to our preseason bowl projections. 29. CJ Henderson, CB, FloridaThe Gators have a tradition of lockdown cornerbacks, and Henderson is the next in line. He averaged three interceptions and 30 tackles the last two seasons, and now has the chance to prove he’s the best cornerback in the SEC. The last two Thorpe Award winners came out of the conference; is it Henderson’s turn in 2019?28. Bryce Hall, CB, VirginiaHall is a known commodity in the ACC because of his well-rounded game. He finished with 62 tackles last season, and that came with two interceptions, two sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He leads a defense that has ACC Coastal Division championship aspirations.27. Ian Book, QB, Notre DameBrian Kelly put Ian Book in the starting lineup last season, and the quarterback’s blend of mobility and accuracy made the difference in a College Football Playoff run. He finished with 2,628 passing yards, 19 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Leading Notre Dame to a perfect regular season is never easy, and now Book is tasked with doing it again. At least we know he can handle the pressure. 26. Paddy Fisher, LB, NorthwesternFisher has 227 tackles over the last two seasons, and that has come with 14 tackles for loss, eight forced fumbles and two interceptions. He makes plays at every level of the defense. Fisher is molded in the same way coach Pat Fitzgerald was on the field, and that shows every week.25. Dylan Moses, LB, AlabamaMoses is best known for being offered a scholarship as an eighth-grader, but he’s writing a new story at Alabama. He put up 86 tackles and 10 tackles for loss in a breakout 2018 season, and he’s the steady force at linebacker in Nick Saban’s defense. A bright NFL future isn’t far behind. It’s safe to say Moses is living up to the hype.24. Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, ColoradoShenault played in nine games last season and still finished with 1,011 receiving yards and six touchdowns — a testament to his value on Colorado’s offense. If he can tap into how well he started last season, where he scored in Colorado’s first six games and put up five 100-yard receiving games, then he’ll reemerge as an All-American candidate. With new coach Mel Tucker, we’re counting on it.23. CeeDee Lamb, WR, OklahomaLamb is a big-time receiver who last season totaled 1,158 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 17.8 yards per reception, all as the Sooners’ No. 2 target. Now he’ll have to do it without Marquise Brown on the other side and a new quarterback in Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts. We anticipate Lamb will step up and be among the best receivers in the Big 12.22. Kenny Willekes, DE, Michigan StateWillekes earned Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year honors last year, and that says something knowing the competition he had against Chase Young, Chase Winovich, A.J. Epenesa and others. He’ll be up against tough competition again this year, but if he has the same production (eight sacks, 20.5 tackles for loss), then a repeat performance shouldn’t be an issue.21. Tyler Biadasz, C, WisconsinWisconsin offensive linemen always find their way on this list, and Biadasz is no exception. He’s a Rimington Trophy candidate who will pave the way for Heisman Trophy candidate Jonathan Taylor in the same dominating, no-frills manner as his predecessors.MORE: SN bowl, Playoff predictions20. Andre Cisco, S, SyracuseCisco enjoyed a monster freshman season in which he totaled 60 tackles and tied for the national lead with seven interceptions, including three in the Orange’s last four games. He’s a rangy playmaker who’s just getting started, given Syracuse has New Year’s Day Six aspirations. 15. Justyn Ross, WR, ClemsonRoss starred in the Playoff with 303 receiving yards and three touchdowns in victories against Notre Dame and Alabama. Ross’ freshman season — which included 46 catches for 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns on 21.7 yards per catch — is just a tease. He’s the next big thing at receiver at this level (and in the NFL, too) but he has to share with several playmakers at Clemson.14. Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma StateJustin Blackmon and James Washington won the Biletnikoff Award this decade, and Wallace will have an opportunity to do the same if he stays on the same trek as 2018. Wallace broke out with 1,491 yards and 12 touchdowns on 17.3 yards per catch, and he had 442 yards in two games against Oklahoma and Texas. That’s big-time WR1 production.13. Justin Herbert, QB, OregonHerbert passed on the 2019 NFL Draft, and expectations are back on a Pac-12 championship level in Eugene. Herbert has the measurables and the arm strength, which he showed with 3,151 passing yards and 29 touchdowns to eight interceptions last season. Herbert can scramble, too. All of that will be on display in a high-stakes opener against Auburn at Jerry World. 12. Chase Young, DE, Ohio StateYoung is the next first-round defensive end at Ohio State. He flashed that talent with a breakout sophomore season that included 9.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss, including a game-clinching tackle against Penn State. The addition of defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will add new wrinkles to his game. Young is primed for a huge year.11. Derrick Brown, DT, AuburnThe Tigers have a strong defensive line this season — among the strongest in the SEC. Brown, a defensive tackle who tallied 48 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks last season, is at the center of it. The Tigers rallied around Nick Fairley in 2010. Can Brown have that same next-level impact?MORE: Biggest trap games for every top-25 team in 201910. Jake Fromm, QB, GeorgiaThere’s an unfair sense of Fromm fatigue out there, despite the fact he has been a big-time quarterback for the last two seasons. Fromm is 23-5 as a starter and has led Georgia to back-to-back SEC championship game appearances. He throws touchdowns (54), doesn’t throw a lot of picks (13) and averages 9.0 yards per pass attempt. He’ll have to do that with a remodeled group of receivers, and the challenge of beating Alabama persists.9. Rondale Moore, WR, PurdueMoore’s college career opened with a school-record 313 all-purpose yards against Northwestern, and the dynamic receiver/returner never slowed down from there. He’s the X-factor for Jeff Brohm on the perimeter. Simply put, Moore needs the ball in his hands as much as possible. Moore finished with a nation-leading 114 catches, 1,258 receiving yards and 213 rushing yards. He also averaged 20.1 yards per kick return. What will the sophomore’s encore look like?8. Andrew Thomas, T, GeorgiaGeorgia will rely one of its best offensive lines in recent memory this year, and Thomas is the anchor of that mammoth front. The 320-pound tackle is a three-year starter who has improved in the running game and continues to be a standout in pass protection. A first-round future in the NFL in Thomas’ near future.7. A.J. Epenesa, DL, IowaDefensive line is typically the deepest position in college football, but this year isn’t quite as loaded at 2018. That doesn’t mean it lacks top-end talent. Epenesa is the best of the bunch, with a presence that led to 10.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss last season. He has lived up to expectations so far.6. Travis Etienne, RB, ClemsonEtienne totaled 1,658 yards, a nation-best 24 rushing touchdowns and 8.1 yards-per-carry average, all on 204 carries. Etienne has yet to take on a full workload, but that’s by design. He still managed to finish seventh in the 2018 Heisman voting and, when the season was on the line, stepped up with two fourth-quarter touchdowns against Syracuse. He’ll be the same force for the Tigers in 2019.5. Jonathan Taylor, RB, WisconsinTaylor — the 2018 Doak Walker Award winner in 2018 and SN’s top back ahead of the 2019 season — has averaged 2,086 yards and 14.5 touchdowns the last two years. He has more 200-yard games (eight) than he does games sub-100-yard games (five). That’s an amazing statistic for a player in line to pass Anthony Davis, Montee Ball and Melvin Gordon on the Badgers’ all-time list this season.4. Grant Delpit, S, LSUDelpit is the complete defensive back. He totaled 74 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, five interceptions, a forced fumble and fumble recovery last season. Delpit is more than just numbers, however. He’s a team leader and a top candidate for both the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Jim Thorpe Award this season. If the Tigers are going to win the SEC West, then Delpit will have a major role in that run.3. Jerry Jeudy, WR, AlabamaYou can make a strong case for Jeudy at No. 1. The returning Biletnikoff Award winner and top receiver ahead of the 2019 season put up 1,315 receiving yards, scored 14 touchdowns and averaged 19.3 yards per catch as a sophomore, proving himself the No. 1 option in a deep group of receivers. He developed a connection with Tua Tagovailoa that was almost impossible for opposing defenses to stop. Jeudy scored in each of Alabama’s last four games and is a sleeper candidate for the Heisman Trophy if he piles on another huge season. Getty Images

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