With Memorial Day in the rearview mirror and the countdown to the 2014 college football season well underway, here is how the National Football Post stacks up the Top 100 players entering the new campaign.
This list is a combination of past performance and projected development, so some younger players received the nod over some more established ones in some instances.
All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com
1. Florida State QB Jameis Winston: The defending Heisman Trophy winner passed for over 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns in 2013, and it’s scary to think that he will only improve in all areas of his game.
US PRESSWIREWhen healthy, Todd Gurley is the best running back in the country.
2. Georgia RB Todd Gurley: The Bulldog is simply the best running back in the country when healthy. And that’s the key: staying healthy. He is an exceptional weapon as a pass-catcher as well whose physical nature will play well at the next level.
3. USC DL Leonard Williams: The Trojan has proven that he can be very effective both on the edge or inside, and he registered five sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss last season despite reportedly not even being 100 percent healthy. Scary thought.
4. Oregon QB Marcus Mariota: The Duck was arguably leading the Heisman Trophy race before his late-season injury helped derail the team’s 2013 campaign. Mariota threw for over 3,600 yards and 31 touchdowns against just four interceptions, and he added 715 yards and nine scores on the ground.
5. Alabama WR Amari Cooper: The junior did not put up studly numbers in 2013, but his stock didn’t drop in the eyes of NFL scouts. If he was in a more pass-friendly offense, his numbers would be off the charts because he is an elite talent.
6. Clemson DE Vic Beasley: The edge rusher had 13 sacks, 23 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles last season, making it very surprising that he returned to the Tigers for one more year. He has very good speed and determination and could ultimately easily transition to ‘backer at the next level.
7. Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon: He rushed for 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns and also caught 20 passes last season. The elusive game-changer is so good that beastly Derrick Henry was mostly kept off of the field last year.
8. Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun: The Spartan recorded 7.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss in 2013 and is one of the best rushers off of the edge in the country. He recorded three touchdowns on returns last fall.
9. Nebraska DE Randy Gregory: The former JUCO player tallied 9.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss last fall, earning all-Big Ten first-team honors. He has good speed and power for the position, and he could emerge as a 3-4 ‘backer at the next level.
10. Miami (FL) RB Duke Johnson: The Hurricanes will lean on Johnson this season with Ryan Williams’ status uncertain under center. He tallied 920 rushing yards and six scores in only eight games in 2013, and he’s an explosive kick returner as well. He’s a home-run threat any time he touches the football.
11. UCLA QB Brett Hundley: The junior returned to Westwood and almost assuredly will be one of the top quarterbacks picked in the 2015 NFL Draft. He had over 3,800 yards of total offense last fall, and he’ll look to improve his play in the team’s biggest contests.
12. Texas A&M OL Cedric Ogbuehi: The senior has played right guard, right tackle and will likely line up at left tackle this fall for the Aggies. His draft stock may continue to rise because of his athleticism and the fact that he will be involved in plenty of high-profile games.
13. Florida State G Tre’ Jackson: The mammoth O-Lineman, who received first-team all-ACC honors last season, is the best guard in the country.
14. Baylor QB Bryce Petty: The signal-caller passed for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns against just three interceptions while adding 14 scores on the ground last fall. As long as he’s the QB in Waco, the Bears have a chance to compete for the Big 12 title because he has a strong frame and a big arm.
15. USC WR Nelson Agholor: Marqise Lee may be gone, but Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler still has a top weapon in Agholor, who had 56 catches for 918 yards and six touchdowns as a sophomore. He also had two punt return scores.
16. Stanford WR Ty Montgomery: He has emerged as one of the most fun players to watch each and every week. He recorded 61 catches for 958 yards and 10 touchdowns and also was a threat carrying the football in 2013. He is a real difference-maker because of his speed.
17. Iowa LT Brandon Scherff: The Hawkeye, who is one of the best offensive linemen in the country, decided not to enter the NFL Draft after starting the past two seasons in Iowa City. He’s an exceptional run-blocker.
18. Auburn QB Nick Marshall: The dual-threat’s passing numbers will take a big jump because of his improved mechanics as well as the addition of JUCO wide receiver D’haquille Williams.
19. Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves III: As a true freshman, he recorded three interceptions and 11 pass break-ups. He’s already one of the best lockdown corners in the nation.
20. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: The Cornhusker rushed for 1,690 yards and nine touchdowns and also caught 26 passes for 232 yards and a pair of scores in 2013. He may not be a big back, but he plays bigger than his size.
21. Houston WR Deontay Greenberry: The one-time Notre Dame commit caught 82 passes for 1,202 yards and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore, and he’s arguably the most overlooked dynamic offensive player in the country.
22. Maryland WR Stefon Diggs: He’s one of the most electric players in the country whose season was limited to seven games last year because of injury. But he’s a game-changer when healthy.
23. LSU OT La’el Collins: The Bayou Bengal could have been a relatively high pick in this year’s draft, but he returns to Baton Rouge with an eye on being a high first-rounder.
24. Kansas State WR Tyler Lockett: Perhaps the most electrifying player in the Big 12, the Wildcat caught 81 passes for 1,262 yards and 11 touchdowns and excelled as a return man as well. He could become the program’s all-time leading receiver in receptions, yards and touchdowns.
25. Ohio State QB Braxton Miller: The dual-threat accounted for 36 touchdowns last fall despite missing a few games due to injury. He should have a very prolific final season in Columbus operating Urban Meyer’s Power Spread offense.
26. Tennessee LB A.J. Johnson: The Volunteer racked up 106 tackles (8.5 for loss) last fall. He is fast, aggressive and has good instincts.
27. South Carolina RB Mike Davis: The Gamecock had over 200 carries for nearly 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013. He is also an accomplished pass-catcher who will be even more featured on the ground with Connor Shaw no longer in Columbia. But can he stay healthy for a full season?
28. Stanford OT Andrus Peat: The left tackle for the Cardinal is on his way to the NFL just like his father, Todd. He was one of the best recruits brought onto The Farm in recent years.
29. Texas DE Cedric Reed: The senior recorded 10 sacks, 16.5 tackles for loss and forced five fumbles in 2013. And he has the spotlight all to himself with Jackson Jeffcoat gone.
30. Ole Miss WR Laquon Treadwell: With Donte Moncrief gone, Treadwell will see even more targets from Bo Wallace after his strong freshman campaign. The SEC’s freshman of the year had 72 catches for 608 yards and five touchdowns in 2013 and is a tough matchup for any cornerback.
31. TCU DE Devonte Fields: The Horned Frog recorded 18.5 tackles for loss as a freshman but was limited to just three games last year due to injury.
US PRESSWIREIfo Ekpre-Olomu has been one of the nation’s better corners the last few years.
32. Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu: He surprisingly returned to Eugene despite being one of the nation’s better corners the last few seasons. He not only has very good ball skills, but he plays the run as well. A real difference-maker.
33. Florida State OT Cameron Erving: The former defensive lineman is now tasked with keeping Jameis Winston clean in the pocket. The sky is the limit for this Seminoles O-Lineman.
34. Florida DE Dante Fowler: A skilled pass rusher with good quickness. He’ll only continue to improve for Will Muschamp and the Gators.
35. Texas CB Quandre Diggs: The veteran Longhorn should excel under Charlie Strong in 2014. He has proven to be a very good cover man, but he is a very good tackler against the run as well.
36. Arkansas DE Trey Flowers: He recorded 13.5 tackles for loss and had five sacks last year for the Razorbacks. Bret Bielema’s team needs to drastically improve, and the presence of Flowers is a good starting point.
37. Alabama S Landon Collins: He finished second on the Crimson Tide in tackles, and he has really good football instincts.
38. Virginia Tech CB Kendall Fuller: The sophomore had six interceptions in his first season on campus, which were the most ever by a first-year player in ACC history. Even more impressive is the fact that he moved all over the field last fall in Bud Foster’s defense.
39. Utah State OLB Kyler Fackrell: The Aggie is only a junior but has two seasons of starting experience under his belt. He had 13 tackles for loss last season.
40. Fresno State S Derron Smith: The Bulldogs’ fifth-year senior, who had seven interceptions last fall, is a two-time all-MWC first-team selection.
41. Arizona WR Austin Hill: Wildcats head coach Rich Rodriguez gets back the player who caught 81 passes for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012 but missed the entire 2013 season. Remember his 10-catch, 259-yard performance versus USC?
42. Pittsburgh WR Tyler Boyd: In his first collegiate season, he had 85 catches for 1,174 yards and seven touchdowns, and he also had a rushing score and one on a punt return (in the bowl victory over Bowling Green).
43. Syracuse S Durell Eskridge: He has emerged as one of the nation’s best safeties after recording 78 tackles and four interceptions last season. He has very good size and is adept versus the run.
44. UCLA LB Myles Jack: The versatile Jack, who wowed during his freshman year on both defense and offense, is already one of the best linebackers in the country. He also managed to score seven touchdowns on just 38 carries offensively.
45. Auburn DE Carl Lawson: The sophomore saw time in Ellis Johnson’s defense as a true freshman last season, and he recorded four sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. He will take on a much bigger role this season with Dee Ford gone.
46. Duke WR Jamison Crowder: The Blue Devil caught 12 passes for 163 yards in the loss to Texas A&M, helping him record over 1,300 receiving yards on the year.
47. Washington LB Shaq Thompson: He can move around all over the field, and he may even get a look at running back (think Myles Jack). In 2013 he had 78 tackles and an interception that he ran back for a touchdown. He’s a physical specimen.
48. Virginia S Anthony Harris: He led the nation with eight interceptions and also amassed 80 tackles.
49. Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly: The dual-threat combined for over 4,200 total yards and 37 touchdowns last fall. He’ll look to minimize his interception total in 2014.
50. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon: The Badgers continue to churn out top college running backs, with Gordon being the latest to put up big numbers. He rushed for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns on 206 carries in 2013.
51. TCU DB Sam Carter: He had five interceptions in 2013, including one he returned for a touchdown.
52. Utah WR Dres Anderson: The son of former NFLer Flipper Anderson, the Utes receiver caught 53 passes for 1,002 yards and seven touchdowns and also returned kickoffs. He has very good speed and football instincts.
53. Ohio State DT Michael Bennett: He is very good off of the snap and had an impressive seven sacks coming from the interior. He’s received some comparisons to recently drafted former Pittsburgh star Aaron Donald.
54. Louisville WR DeVante Parker: Even without Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback, Parker’s numbers will soar with Bobby Petrino running the offense. The physical receiver caught 55 passes for 885 yards and 12 touchdowns last fall.
55. Boise State RB Jay Ajayi: The junior rushed for 1,425 yards and 18 touchdowns last fall, and he is also an effective pass-catcher out of the backfield.
56. Ohio State DE Noah Spence: Another accomplished pass rusher for the Buckeyes, he had 7.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss in 2013.
57. Oklahoma LB Eric Striker: The speedster had three sacks and three tackles for loss in the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama and finished with 6.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss as well as a fumble return for a score last season.
58. Miami (FL) LB Denzel Perryman: Despite being on the smaller side, he is one of the best ‘backers going east to west. He is expected to play in the middle this year after he logged 108 tackles at weakside last year.
59. North Carolina WR Quinshad Davis: Larry Fedora’s Tar Heels could make noise in the ACC this fall, and the production of Davis would be one of the big reasons. As a sophomore he recorded 730 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, and his frame gives the Heels a nice red-zone target.
60. Michigan State CB Trae Waynes: He will no longer be underrated with Darqueze Dennard out of the picture. He had three picks in 2013.
US PRESSWIRESean Mannion had 37 passing touchdowns and completed over 66 percent of his throws last year.
61. Oregon State QB Sean Mannion: The Beaver needs to cut down on his mistakes, but he had 37 passing touchdowns and completed over 66 percent of his throws last year. Another year of seasoning will help his draft stock.
62. Memphis DL Martin Ifedi: The Tigers’ standout defensive stalwart had 10.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss as a junior.
63. Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford: The Spartan burst onto the national stage last fall with 1,422 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns.
64. Oklahoma QB Trevor Knight: The dual-threat broke out in a big way in the team’s Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. The major question is whether he can be consistent each and every Saturday. But he certainly oozes talent, as he clearly showed when he threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns against Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide.
65. Georgia LB Ramik Wilson: He had 133 tackles playing inside for Todd Grantham’s defense in Athens, so it will be interesting to see how he performs under new DC Jeremy Pruitt.
66. Florida State CB P.J. Williams: Those unfamiliar with him took notice of his play in the BCS title game win over Auburn. The versatile defensive back was the defensive player of the game.
67. Alabama TE O.J. Howard: He only caught 14 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns last season, but he showed his immense potential with his 52-yard reception against LSU. He is a matchup nightmare that should be able to take advantage of the fact that the Tide have weapons at running back and receiver.
68. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg: New Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin inherited a stud quarterback in Hackenberg, who was tutored by Bill O’Brien during his true freshman season. He threw for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2013, and the sky is the limit for the PSU signal-caller.
69. Kentucky DL Alvin Dupree: The rising senior recorded seven sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss and forced a pair of fumbles last season.
70. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa: The Buckeyes have one of the best defensive lines in the country, and it features one of the nation’s best linemen in Bosa. He had 7.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss last season, and he’ll only improve.
71. Bowling Green RB Travis Greene: The Falcon recorded 1,594 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground in 2013, averaging 5.7 yards per carry for the MAC champions. Honorable mention goes to his quarterback, Matt Johnson.
72. North Carolina LB Norkeithus Otis: The athletic outside ‘backer had 14 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in 2013.
73. Florida State WR Rashad Greene: He recorded team highs of 76 catches for 1,128 receiving yards last season.
74. Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott: In 2013, the rising junior ran for 829 yards and 13 scores, and he has the ability to make plays down the field with his arm as well — especially on the rollout.
75. Vanderbilt DL Caleb Azubike: He had 10 tackles for loss and four sacks in his sophomore season and will only continue to grow into his role inside for Derek Mason and the Commodores.
76. North Carolina WR Ryan Switzer: The receiver is arguably the best special teamer in the country, as he tied an FBS record with five touchdowns on punt returns last fall.
77. Mississippi State LB Benardrick McKinney: The flexible Bulldog, who had 3.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss last season, is one of the best defenders in the SEC.
78. Cincinnati DL Silverberry Mouhon: He recorded 12.5 tackles for loss and had 9.5 sacks while also forcing a pair of fumbles last season for the Bearcats.
79. Iowa DT Carl Davis: He really became a much better defender as last season wore on. He has good bounce in his step for a player his size.
80. Baylor OT Spencer Drango: In his matchup against former Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, who was a high selection in this past draft, he fared very well.
81. USC CB Josh Shaw: He has good closing speed and the instincts to emerge as a first-round corner. Last season he recorded four interceptions and a punt return for a score.
82. Florida State CB Ronald Darby: The talented and speedy DB intercepted two passes and had four pass breakups in 2013.
83. Texas A&M CB Deshazor Everett: A physical corner with good instincts.
84. Arizona State WR Jaelen Strong: He has very good size and is coming off of a season in which he had 75 receptions for 1,122 yards and seven touchdowns.
85. Florida State DE Mario Edwards: He is immensely talented, but can he put it all together in 2014?
86. Utah State QB Chuckie Keeton: He is expected to be healthy and ready to go after suffering a knee injury last fall, so the smart and elusive signal-caller is ready to treat Aggie fans to one more season of strong play.
87. Baylor DE Shawn Oakman: He is raw but loaded with athletic upside and could rise up NFL Draft boards.
88. Washington DE Hau’oli Kikaha: The Pac-12 defender recorded 15.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks as just a sophomore.
89. Alabama LB Trey DePriest: The Tide ‘backer is a very good tackler in the middle.
90. Oregon C Hroniss Grasu: He was named all-Pac-12 first team for two straight seasons.
91. LSU CB Jalen Mills: He is poised to further display his playmaking ways this fall after notching three interceptions, three sacks and 67 tackles in 2013.
92. Clemson LB Stephone Anthony: He gets overlooked a bit because of Beasley, but Anthony is a stud. He recorded 15 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and forced two fumbles in 2013.
93. Ohio State CB Doran Grant: He had 58 tackles, three interceptions and 10 pass breakups as a junior.
94. South Carolina OT Corey Robinson: A mammoth O-Lineman with great tools who has a chance to rise up draft boards.
95. Missouri DEs Shane Ray and Markus Golden: There shouldn’t be any production dropoff even with Kony Ealy and Michael Sam gone.
96. Washington WR Kasen Williams: He has very good size but was limited to just 29 catches last season because of leg and foot injuries.
97. Michigan DE Frank Clark: The Wolverine had 12.5 tackles for loss, five sacks and a fumble return for a score last fall. He’s a fun player to watch with a high motor.
98. Texas Tech QB Davis Webb: The Red Raiders may not have quarterback depth, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that Webb is cemented as the No. 1 in Lubbock. He closed out his strong freshman season with a 403-yard, four-TD effort in a Holiday Bowl win over Arizona State.
99. LSU DE Jermauria Rasco: He is just scratching the surface of his potential and should really break out in his second season as a starter.
100. Notre Dame LB Jaylon Smith: An emerging star defender for the Irish, he notched 6.5 tackles for loss and three pass breakups in 2013.
These two are hard to overlook
It can be argued that Navy QB Keenan Reynolds and BYU QB Taysom Hill deserve a spot somewhere on this list, because this group doesn’t necessarily reflect NFL Draft projections. The dual-threat Reynolds rushed for seven touchdowns against San Jose State last season (the most ever for an FBS quarterback in a single game) and had 31 total rushing scores last fall. Also impressive is the fact that he only threw two interceptions on 128 attempts. The dual-threat Hill, meanwhile, may still be racking up yards against Greg Robinson’s Texas defense. If he can protect the football better (14 interceptions) and improve his accuracy (53.9 completion percentage), Hill will start to get noticed more for his underrated ability as a passer.
Dave Miller, the college football editor and writer for the National Football Post, is on Twitter @Miller_Dave.