Folks, we are a short, glorious, spectacular two-and-a-half weeks away from the start of college football season. It truly is a magical time of year, that special moment where the air smells a little fresher, the grass appears to be greener, and for at least the moment, you don’t hate your coach! What a glorious time it is. And as we continue our look around the sport heading into the season, we decided to take a deep dive into the state, where arguably the best football is played: Texas. With programs like Texas, Texas A&M, TCU, Houston and Baylor, the state is also filled with some of the top teams in the country. It’s also filled with some of the best players. So who are the best college football players in the state of Texas coming into this season? Here’s our list of the Top 10.
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10. D’Onta Foreman, RB, Texas
It'd be easy to argue the validity of Foreman making this list since he only played in 10 total games last season, but when he was in the Longhorns' lineup he was one of the most explosive backs in the country. Foreman averaged over seven yards per carry in 2016, on his way to a season where he rushed for 681 yards, including four separate 100-plus yard games. He also has some of the finest breakaway speed in all of college football, averaging over 32 yards on his five touchdown runs. The question everyone in college football should be asking this season is this: What kind of numbers can Foreman put up if he can stay healthy this season?
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9. Armani Watts, S, Texas A&M
Between Watts and defensive end Daeshon Hall it was tough deciding which Aggie defender (other than Myles Garrett) should make this list, but in the end it was hard to keep Watts off. He had a monster season for A&M in 2016, with an 126 total tackles which included an SEC-best 83 solo tackles (what that says about A&M's linebackers is another question altogether). And that was after a season in which he led A&M in interceptions in 2014. Like his teammate Garrett, Watts could have a monster second-year in Chavis' system before taking his talents to the next level in 2017.
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8. Josh Carraway, DE, TCU
With TCU producing one of the most explosive offenses in college football last year (they finished third nationally in total offense) it was easy to overlook the defense. But trust us when we say: Opposing offensive coordinators are fully aware of Carraway. The fifth-year senior tallied 47 total tackles last season, including 11.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks. Add in a forced fumble and three fumble recoveries, and the guy truly is a "do-everything" defensive lineman. That's also why Carraway finished as a second-team All-Big 12 member last season and could be one of the best defensive linemen in the country in 2016.
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7. Kyle Fuller, C, Baylor
It's hard to quantify the value of an offensive lineman on a list like this, but just know that no lineman in the country means more to his team in 2016 than Fuller does. He is the leader of a unit that helps protect and create running lanes for one of the sport's most explosive offenses, one which led the nation in both scoring (48.1 points per game) and total offense (616.2 yards per game) last season. That's a big reason why Fuller was named All-Big 12 a season ago and is on the top of many NFL Draft boards heading into 2016.
6. Greg Ward Jr., QB, Houston
Last year, Ward Jr. stole the hearts of Houston fans (and those like me, who started him in DraftKings every week) when he established himself as one of the truly elite dual-threat quarterbacks in all of football. He finished the season with over 2,800 yards passing and 17 passing TDs, to go along with 21 rushing touchdowns. Maybe the greatest testament is how bad his team looked without him. He was limited to just a few snaps in a November game against UConn, which produced the only loss of the season. With Ward fully healthy the Cougars never lost a game, including that Peach Bowl upset of Florida State on New Year's Eve.
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5. Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
Before we go any further in this article, I need you to do me a favor. Pull out the dictionary and look up the term "sideline to sideline linebacker." Jefferson's picture isn't there (mainly because "sideline to sideline linebacker" isn't in the dictionary), but it should be. There isn't a single player in the sport who signifies the term quite like he does. Jefferson had a monster true freshman campaign, where he tallied 61 total tackles and 2.5 sacks on his way to winning Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, and he did it on a defense that was short on talent overall. With Charlie Strong replenishing the depth chart with a slew of highly-touted freshmen, look for Jefferson to have more help and less pressure to do everything in 2016, which could lead to an even bigger sophomore season.
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4. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
Few players, anywhere in the SEC, terrorized defenses quite like Kirk did last season. In his first year on campus, Kirk tallied 70 catches for just under 1,000 yards, along with seven receiving touchdowns and two more in the return game. With A&M finally seeing stability at the quarterback positon (out is the Kyle Allen-Kyler Murray carousel, in is fifth-year senior transfer Trevor Knight), those numbers should only improve in 2016.
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3. K.D. Cannon, WR, Baylor
Lost in all the (justified) controversy in Waco this summer is that there are plenty of players who simply come in, do their work and stay out of the headlines. Cannon is undoubtedly one of them. After arriving as one of the most prized recruits in the history of the school three years ago, he's done nothing to disappoint, averaging 54 catches a season to go with 14 touchdowns in his first two years. Cannon is coming off minor knee surgery this summer, but assuming he's healthy those numbers should go WAY up. With Corey Coleman off to the NFL, Cannon is officially the "go-to-guy" in what has been one of college football's most explosive offenses (we'll see what effect Jim Grobe replacing Art Briles has on the offense, but the Bears did retain the offensive staff).
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2. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
Put simply, there might not be a single player in the country who gets less credit relative to the stats he puts up than Mahomes does. Even after tallying 46 total touchdowns last season (36 through the air and 10 on the ground), how often was he discussed amongst the nation's best quarterbacks? Not often, and the problem for Mahomes is simple. As big as the stats are that he puts up, the stats that his own defense allowed were even bigger. Get this: In total, Mahomes helped the Red Raiders score at least 35 points in nine of 12 regular-season games last year and 50 or more points six times. Yet Tech finished with only a 7-6 record overall. That included two games where they put up 52 and 53 points ... and still lost! Make no mistake, though, the people who know football know just how good Mahomes is. Check out this comment from Gary Patterson at Big 12 Media Days.
1. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
As tough as grading out the middle part of this list was, No. 1 is a no-brainer. Garrett is the single most talented player in Texas by a land-slide, and a guy who very well could go No. 1 overall in the next NFL Draft. His stats heading into his third (and likely final) year in College Station are staggering. Garrett ranked in the Top 10 nationally in both sacks (12.5) and tackles for loss (19.5) as a sophomore and did so in arguably the toughest division, in the toughest conference, in college football. In his second year under star coordinator John Chavis, Garrett should be nothing short of a monster in 2016 before taking his talents to an NFL stadium near you next fall.