40 time: Ranking college football’s best players

From left, Ohio State's Joey Bosa, Arizona's Scooby Wright and Georgia's Nick Chubb are all primed for breakout seasons.

Joe Robbins/Christian Petersen/G

1. Scooby Wright, Arizona, LB. There are probably several guys who NFL folks like more, but nobody made more plays—or even close to it–than Two-Star Scooby did last year for the Pac-12 South champs: 163 tackles, 29 tackles for loss, six forced fumbles and 14 sacks. That’s staggering.

2. Nick Chubb, Georgia, RB. Former Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo gushed about Chubb’s character and how his attitude pushed Todd Gurley to be better just by how the freshman worked and approached the game. Chubb is also a special athlete and was pretty amazing filling in for Gurley, averaging 165 rushing yards in Georgia’s final eight games. He also has good hands. 

3. Joey Bosa, Ohio State, DL. The Big Ten’s 2014 Defensive Player of the Year, Bosa had 21 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. He will miss OSU’s opener at Virginia Tech while serving a one-game suspension for a violation of team policy.

4. Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame, LT. Irish coaches compare the 6-6, 320-pounder to one of their former stars from their Central Michigan days, Pro Bowler Joe Staley. That’s saying something. So’s this: Stanley only allowed one sack last season despite going up against six guys who were taken in the top four rounds of the 2015 NFL Draft, including No. 6 overall pick Leonard Williams.

5. Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State, RB. A big, fast back running behind the nation’s best O-line, Elliott was unstoppable in the postseason last year, running for an eye-popping 232 yards per game vs. Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon to spark the Buckeyes’ title run.

6. Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech, CB. The best player on a terrific Hokies defense, Fuller is probably the best of the four Fuller brothers who have played at Tech. The other three have all played in the NFL, and Kyle was a first-rounder with the Bears in 2014.

7. Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida, CB. He just turned 20 and has already been named first-team All-SEC twice. Hargreaves led the SEC with 13 pass breakups last season and added three interceptions.

8. Jalen Ramsey, Florida State, DB. Opposing coaches have nightmares about his freaky length and athleticism. Ramsey’s do-everything performance against Miami last season was one of the best games anyone had in college football in 2014.

9. Trevone Boykin, TCU, QB. The most improved player in college football in 2014, the speedy Boykin went from a 7-to-7 TD-INT ratio in 2013 to 33-to-10. Coach Gary Patterson said that reflects how well he takes care of the ball and makes decisions, and those attributes, coupled with his ability to lengthen plays, are what make Boykin so special. “Nobody’s better at making something out of nothing," Patterson said.

USC plans to use Adoree Jackson a lot more on offense this season, an idea that can’t be pleasing to opposing Pac-12 coaches.

10. Adoree’ Jackson, USC, CB/WR/KR. A spectacular talent, Jackson — the Pac-12’s long jump champ — has been amazing in practice while displaying his jaw-dropping potential on offense. Last season, he scored three touchdowns on just 11 offensive touches while working mostly as a defensive back and return man. Two of his 23 kick returns also went for TDs. On defense, Jackson had 49 tackles with 10 pass deflections, four TFLs, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

11. Derek Barnett, Tennessee, DE. The 6-3, 265-pound sophomore is coming off one of the best seasons any true freshman defensive lineman has had in years. The guy just makes a lot of plays. He had 10 sacks and 20.5 TFLs, and the most impressive part is that no other D-linemen in the country faced a better group of offensive tackles than Barnett did in 2014. That group included: two offensive tackles who were first-round NFL picks (Iowa’s Brandon Scherff and Florida’s D.J. Humphries), a sixth-rounder (Oklahoma’s Tyrus Thompson) and a seventh-rounder (South Carolina’s Corey Robinson), as well as two guys who many expect will become first-rounders in future drafts — Alabama’s Cam Robinson and Ole Miss’ Laremy Tunsil. In those six games, he had 11.5 TFLs and six sacks.

12. Andrew Billings, Baylor, DT. Linemate Shawn Oakman gets more publicity, but it’s the Bears 310-pound strongman (11.5 TFLs, a team-best nine QB hurries in 2014) who causes more problems for rival Big 12 coaches.

13. Myles Garrett, Texas A&M, DE. He shattered the SEC freshman sacks record last fall, and the ridiculously explosive 262-pounder with 4.4 speed is just getting warmed up. Garrett’s stats don’t tell anywhere near the story of his impact on a game. Just watch how Auburn attempted to deal with him last season

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14. Darron Lee, Ohio State, OLB. He’s an instinctive, athletic 235-pound sophomore who may have been the best defensive player on the field in the national title game. Lee ranked second on his team in both TFLs (16.5) and quarterback sacks (7.5).

15. Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame, LB. More athletic than former Irish linebacker Manti Te’o, Smith has terrific speed and is expected to become much more of a pass-rushing force in 2015.

16. Anthony Zettel, Penn State, DL. One of the most amazing all-around athletes in college sports, the 6-4, 281-pound Zettel was selected first-team All-Big Ten by both coaches and media last season. He spear-headed one of the best defenses in the country by leading his team in TFLs (17), sacks (eight) and INTs (three).

17. Shawn Oakman, Baylor, DL. The No. 1 Freak is college football, the 6-9, 271-pound Oakman is a lot more than just a weight room warrior. He had 13 sacks and 19.5 TFLs last year.

18. A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama. The 6-4, 320-pounder with the ridiculously long arms looks like a 10-year NFL vet. He was pretty good last year, but Tide coaches say watch out for him in 2015. “The light has come on, and he can be scary because he’s so quick and powerful,” said one Bama assistant.

19. Myles Jack, UCLA, LB. Jack showed  just how versatile he is last year against USC, when he helped shut down Trojans star wideout Nelson Agholor, who managed just 24 receiving yards in the game.

20. Taylor Decker, Ohio State, OT. The best lineman on the nation’s top O-line, Decker is tough, smart and very athletic. He only surrendered one sack in all of last season.

Shilique Calhoun is one of the Big Ten’s most fearsome defenders.

21. Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State, DE. A two-time All-Big Ten pick, Calhoun is quick, instinctive and very, very smart, according to Spartans coaches. He has 29 career TFLs and 16.5 sacks.

22. James Conner, Pitt, RB. He’s 6-2, 240 and he just keeps hammering folks. Conner ran for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns on 298 carries (5.9 avg.) last season and is breaking the records of some legendary backs in Pitt history. He averaged 6.3 yards a carry on first downs last fall.

23. DeForest Buckner, Oregon, DL. A towering presence at 6-7, 290, Buckner is a better player than 49ers first-rounder and former Ducks standout Arik Armstead,. Last season, Buckner had 81 tackles and 13 TFLs to go with four passes broken up.

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24. Su’a Cravens, USC, LB/S. Safety? Linebacker? Sure, whatever. The 232-pounder is USC’s defensive wild card. He had 17 tackles for loss and three picks last year.

25. Connor Cook, Michigan State, QB. Cook has won a lot of big games for MSU and is 3-0 in postseason contests. Also another terrific stat via Pro Football Focus: Cook threw 16 TDs and just one interception when blitzed last year.

26. Deshaun Watson, Clemson, QB. He had a heck of a debut season in 2014, accounting for 19 TDs passing and running combined (against just two interceptions) and leading the country in passer rating on third downs (179.85).

27. Paul Perkins, UCLA, RB. The Bruins O-line has been knocked a lot over the years, but don’t forget that last season this guy led the Pac-12 with 1,575 rushing yards and averaged a gaudy 6.3 yards a carry. The speedster from Arizona also averaged 127 rushing yards in the Bruins’ seven games  against ranked opponents.

28. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma, RB. A muscled-up 230-pound sledgehammer from Texas, Perine ran for 1,713 yards and 21 TDs last year. The only thing stopping him from improving on those numbers this fall is the presence of teammate Joe Mixon, whose potential has folks inside the OU program raving.

29. Cody Kessler, USC, QB. He’s a terrific leader who brought some much-needed stability to a program that has experienced more than its share of ups and downs. His 2014 TD-INT ratio (39-5) also is something for Trojans fans to be excited about.

J.T. Barrett knows Ohio State’s offense inside and out.

30. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State, QB. He doesn’t have as big an arm as Cardale Jones, but the 6-1, 220-pound sophomore is the best leader the Buckeyes have and is very adept at running this offense. Before his injury, Barrett blossomed as the 2014 season went on and ranked No. 2 in the nation (behind Marcus Mariota) in QB rating.

31. Hollywood Higgins, Colorado State, WR. May not be the biggest or the fastest WR (he told us he was the Rams fourth-fastest receiver) but he put up huge numbers in 2014: 96 receptions, 1,750 yards and 17 TDs. 

32. Maliek Collins, Nebraska, DT. Collins is the next in a long line of great Huskers defensive linemen. A standout prep wrestler, he is a nimble 300-pounder who had 14 TFLs and 13 QB hurries in 2014.

33. Vonn Bell, Ohio State, S. Bell is a smart safety who played a critical role in containing all three Heisman finalists during the Buckeyes’ playoff run: Melvin Gordon, Amari Cooper and Marcus Mariota. Bell finished the season with six interceptions and was second on the team in tackles with 92 — the most by a Buckeyes safety in a dozen years. 

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34. Royce Freeman, Oregon, RB. A bruising back with an excellent burst, Freeman ran for 1,365 yards and 18 TDs as a true freshman. He’s trimmed down some this offseason and figures to be even more dangerous in the Ducks’ frenetic attack.

35. Taysom Hill, BYU, QB. A 232-pound beast playing quarterback, Hill — nicknamed Thor by some opponents —  isn’t just a Tebowesque talent, he’s also the fastest guy on the team, according to head coach Bronco Mendenhall. Hill completed 66.7 percent of his passes and accounted for 15 TDs and just three interceptions in less than five games last year before being sidelined for the season due with a broken leg, but he is back and ready to roll this fall.

36. Joshua Perry, Ohio State, LB. A big, fast, rangy player in what figures to be the nation’s top linebacker group, Perry was by far the Buckeyes leading tackler last season with 124 to go with 8.5 TFLs.

37. Dalvin Cook, FSU, RB. At times, he was the best player on the Noles’ offense last season as a true freshman. However, with a largely rebuilt O-line and no more Jameis Winston, Cook really will have to carry the load in 2015. 

38. William Fuller, Notre Dame, WR. Fuller can fly and is pretty clutch, considering that 10 of his 15 TD catches last season came in games that were within seven points.

39. Jeremy Cash, Duke, S. The one-time Ohio State Buckeye is the playmaker in the Devils’ 4-2-5 scheme. At 6-1, 215, Cash is bigger than most safeties.  He’s also fearless, and coaches say he plays faster than his 40 time. In 2014, he had 111 tackles, 10.5 TFLs, two interceptions and four forced fumbles.

40. Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina, WR. Shaky QB play didn’t keep the versatile Cooper from putting up an 1,100-yard receiving year in 2014. Impressive, especially as such a marked man.