Every summer, SI sets out to determine the top 100 players of the college football season ahead, taking a stab at the impossible subjective task of comparing players across positions and competition levels. We kicked off the 2019 edition of our list on Tuesday with Nos. 100–51, then ran through Nos. 50–26 on Wednesday. Now, we turn to the next batch of players that will put us just outside the 10 best in the nation: Nos. 26–11.
A reminder: In constructing our rankings, the most important factor we assess is how significantly each player’s production will impact his team’s success this season—not how good he was last year, where he sat on 2018 statistical leaderboards or what type of NFL draft prospect he is (although those three factors often have a way of lining up). Put another way, this list is forward-looking, but not too forward-looking. If you don’t see your team’s unsung hero or rising star on this list, check out our breakdown of this year’s toughest snubs before you head for our mentions, and keep an eye out all week long as our reveal continues.
Adams is one of the top offensive tackles in the country, even if he just hasn’t been able to stay on the field. Between the end of 2017 and the start of 2018, Adams missed 16 straight games with multiple injuries, though he did return to start in the Pac-12 championship and the Rose Bowl last season. Adams stands at a hulking 6’8” and 327 pounds, and he should be a brick wall for new Huskies quarterback Jacob Eason this season if he can stay healthy.
Diggs, the brother of Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs, came to Tuscaloosa as a receiver, but he’s developed into a shutdown corner since switching positions before his sophomore season. After a foot injury sidelined Diggs after just six games in 2018, the Maryland native should be a weapon in the secondary this season as he continues to hone his craft as a corner.
Fromm may draw less hype than Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence, but he shouldn’t be far behind. His numbers last season—2,761 yards, 30 touchdowns and just six picks with a 67% completion rate—were incredible, and he was stellar in big games, tossing a combined nine touchdowns to one interception against Alabama, Florida and Texas. His top three receiving targets from last season are gone, but, with the level Kirby Smart has been recruiting at, there are talented players ready to fill in. Fromm is good enough to elevate Georgia into the national title conversation, and he should be in the thick of the Heisman race from the get-go.
Anae has recorded 17 sacks and 26 tackles for loss in 27 games at Utah, and he decided to return to school after getting a mid-round NFL draft grade after the 2018 season. Anae is an explosive athlete on the edge who’s too quick for most offensive tackles to deal with, and he’ll return this fall as part of a defense that has a real chance to be top-15 in the country for a second-straight year.
Biadasz has anchored Wisconsin’s stalwart offensive line for two seasons now, and he’ll be back to help create holes for star running back Jonathan Taylor and usher in a new quarterback for the Badgers. Rated the top center in the country last season by Pro Football Focus, Biadasz has helped Taylor rush for 4,171 yards and 29 touchdowns over the past two seasons. The Badgers’ offensive line loses three starters from last season’s team, but having Biadasz back should stabilize a Wisconsin offense looking for a bounce-back season in 2019.
Higgins struggled with injuries and consistency in 2017, but he broke out in a major way in 2018. A big-bodied downfield threat, Higgins should be a terror this season opposite Justyn Ross after posting 936 yards and 12 touchdowns last year. Look for another big year from Higgins with Trevor Lawrence back, as Higgins and Ross form arguably the best receiving duo in the nation.
The latest in a long line of elite defensive backs for the Gators, Henderson has grabbed six interceptions in two seasons with Florida, and he took two of them back for touchdowns in 2017. He isn’t always tested a ton because of his superb cover skills as a cornerback, but he’s also shown an ability to cover for others’ mistakes in the secondary. Henderson is a major part of a Florida team seeking to build off a successful first year under Dan Mullen.
Following in the first steps of his head coach Pat Fitzgerald, Fisher has emerged as playmaker and a star at middle linebacker for the Wildcats. At 6’4” and 241 pounds, Fisher is a disruptive, thumping linebacker who has amassed 227 tackles in his first two seasons. He’ll lead a defense looking to bring Northwestern back to the Big Ten title game for a second-straight season.
Thomas has been a fixture in Georgia’s starting lineup since his freshman year, when he manned right tackle for every game of the Bulldogs’ run to the national championship game. At 6’5″ and 320 pounds, Thomas’s imposing presence on the left side now provides classmate Jake Fromm all the time he needs to make UGA’s offense hum.
After injuries briefly forced him into a key role in 2017, Moses emerged as a defensive leader over a sophomore season that earned him All-SEC and All-America honors, leading the Crimson Tide in tackles with 86. The 6’3”, 235 pound Butkus Award semifinalist brings experience to Nick Saban’s defense, having started 17 consecutive games as the weak side linebacker. With former Mike linebacker Lyndell Wilson off to the NFL, Moses will look to step into this defensive leadership position and lead Alabama to its fifth national championship game in as many years.
Dillon had a stellar freshman season in 2017, setting the school record for rushing yards by a freshman (1,589), which was seventh-best in the country, while adding 14 touchdowns. His performance earned him All-ACC Rookie of the Year, All-ACC first-team and Freshman All-America accolades. Heading into his sophomore season, Dillon was the league’s consensus preseason Player of the Year, but Year 2 was sort of anticlimactic. Dillon was hampered by injuries in 2018 and had a “down year” by his standards, rushing for 1,108 yards with 10 touchdowns. He still led the ACC in rushing yards per game, slightly edging out Clemson’s Travis Etienne, 110.8 ypg to 110.5 ypg. Now, Dillon is healthy and ready to improve upon his first two seasons in Chestnut Hill. He will maintain his role as BC’s primary ball carrier and become even more of a weapon in the passing game for quarterback Anthony Brown.
Epenesa played only about half of Iowa’s snaps on defense last season—and he still managed to finish the season with 10.5 sacks, helping the Hawkeyes to their best season disrupting opposing quarterbacks in more than a decade. The 6’5”, 280-pound defensive end is speedy for his size, and as a junior this fall, he should see his role increase—but he’ll still be lethal on third down, the spot where so often last year he was the key to halting opponents’ drives. He’s also a strong performer against the run, making him one of the most well-rounded defensive linemen in the game.
Last fall Sewell became the first Oregon freshman offensive lineman to start a season opener since 1997. After starting the first six games for the Ducks, and protecting star QB Justin Herbert’s blind side, Sewell sustained an injury to his right leg against Washington and was out six weeks. He did not return until Oregon’s bowl game vs. Michigan State, which the Ducks won 7–6. The 6’6”, 345-pounder is back and healthy now and had a solid spring. He will be a cornerstone piece in what should be the strongest and most experienced offensive line in the Pac-12 this fall.
Any time multiple NFL draft analysts compare you to JuJu Smith-Schuster, you’re doing something right. That’s the comp for Shenault, Colorado’s versatile wideout who led the nation in catches per game (9.6) last season as a sophomore. Shenault rolled up 1,011 yards receiving despite missing three games for a toe injury he had surgically repaired this spring. A healthy Shenault is the receiver version of Kyler Murray. He’s a threat at any point to score, an electric, big-play guy who does all the little things right as well. Last year, Buffaloes offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini deployed him in an assortment of ways—as a tight end, a wide receiver, a slot receiver, a tailback, a wing-back, an H-back and quarterback in the Wildcat—and there’s no reason to think new OC Jay Johnson won’t do the same. He’s scored from every which way, powering between the tackles on the goal line, catching deep balls and turning short slant passes into long scores.
Herbert, who decided to forego the NFL draft last spring despite the fact that he might have been the top pick, may have the best arm in college football, and that should be on display for a high-flying Oregon offense this fall. In 2018, his first full season starting, Herbert threw for 3,151 yards, including 29 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. Sure, the Ducks will have to replace his top receiver, Dillon Mitchell, but they’re returning a ton of offensive talent that should pave the way for Herbert to pick up right where he left off last season and lead Oregon to its first Pac-12 title since 2014.