SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Paul Myerberg breaks down his college football offseason rankings
USA TODAY Sports is getting ready for the 2019 college football season by breaking down the best players at each position in the Bowl Subdivision. Up next: the offensive line.
The deep group of standout offensive linemen has multiple contenders for the top spot that goes to Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, a returning All-America selection from 2018. It’s a pretty unsurprising group in terms of teams and conferences represented: Georgia, Wisconsin, Stanford, the Big Ten and the SEC.
1. Andrew Thomas, Georgia (Jr.)
The top-tier NFL draft prospect has started 28 games across his first two seasons, first at right tackle before shifting to the blind side in 2018. Thomas was a four-star recruit who has played like a five-star lineman in a conference typically unkind to teenagers in the trenches. As good as he’s been, Thomas will take his game to another level as a junior.
2. Tyler Biadasz, Wisconsin (Jr.)
Biadasz is the nation’s top center, the heart of Wisconsin’s offensive line and one key reason why running back Jonathan Taylor has gained more than 4,000 yards on the ground through his sophomore season. Once the unknown commodity on a line overflowing with size and experience, Biadasz is now the Badgers’ unquestioned leader up front and a lock for preseason All-America honors.
3. Walker Little, Stanford (Jr.)
While Stanford struggled as a whole in creating a running game in 2018, Little did superb work protecting K.J. Costello’s blind side on passing downs. Remember that Little slid right into the starting lineup as a freshman in 2017 — the first Stanford true freshman to start at left tackle since 2000 — and only last season began tapping into his full potential. He’ll be a major draft prospect after either his junior or senior season.
4. Ben Bredeson, Michigan (Sr.)
Bredeson plays left guard and therefore flies far under the radar, even in a conference with a soft spot for interior line play. But the multiple-time all-conference pick has been dependable and productive for an offense often stuck in neutral during his first three seasons in the lineup. Bredeson is a building block for an offense set to shake things up in 2019.
5. Calvin Throckmorton, Oregon (Sr.)
If not the best lineman in the Pac-12 — he’s right alongside Little for the honor — Throckmorton is easily the most flexible, having started games at four different positions in 2018 and earning high grades across the board. In a perfect world, Oregon would be able to slot Throckmorton in at tackle as its chases the College Football Playoff. But it’s his ability to play multiple spots at an all-conference level that helps make Throckmorton so valuable.
6. Jedrick Willis Jr., Alabama (Jr.)
Overshadowed last season by former teammate Jonah Williams, Willis is ready to take make significant national noise as a second-year starter. As a sophomore in 2018, Willis held down the strong side of the line by grinding down defenders in the running game and allowing just one sack across 15 games.
7. Alaric Jackson, Iowa (Jr.)
After earning Freshman All-America pick in 2017 and all-conference accolades in 2018, Jackson is set to earn All-America consideration in 2019. He deserves the attention: Jackson is the latest Iowa lineman to be largely overlooked by recruiting services and then quickly develop into one of the top starters in the Big Ten.
8. Trey Adams, Washington (Sr.)
The hard part is staying healthy: Adams missed the second half of 2017 with a knee injury and then all but the last few games of 2018 with a back injury. When on the field, however, Adams is one of the best in college football — as he proved during an outstanding sophomore campaign in 2016 that set him up as one of the top exterior linemen in the country.
9. Ezra Cleveland, Boise State (Jr.)
The reigning all-conference pick has the athleticism, size and experience to dominate the Mountain West and turn himself into a legitimate NFL prospect as a junior. This part is unsurprising: Boise State saw huge potential in Cleveland despite his two-star recruiting label. He’s blossomed into one of the top linemen out West.
10. Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma (So.)
Humphrey enters his sophomore season as one of the clear leaders on an offensive front due for some tweaks after losing several high-level starters from last year’s outstanding unit. With Humphrey at center, however, the Sooners remain strongest along the middle of the offensive line.
Five also just missing the cut
Tommy Kraemer, Notre Dame; Penei Sewell, Oregon; Zach Shackelford, Texas; Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms, Missouri; John Simpson, Clemson.