10 College Football Players You Must See Play This Year

  • 10. Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas

    Between his stints as defensive coordinator at South Carolina and Florida, and as head coach at Louisville, new Texas head coach Charlie Strong has sent no fewer than 15 defensive backs to the NFL – names like Joe Haden, Reggie Nelson, and Calvin Pryor. Texas is coming off of an unusual year in which zero Longhorns (at any position) were taken in the 2014 NFL Draft.

    Diggs should end the UT drought and add another name to Strong’s list of notable alumni. After moving from corner to a safety/rover spot in Mack Brown’s final season as coach, Diggs is back at his natural position and ready to resume blanketing receivers and snatching INTs. Already the most talented player on the Longhorns, Diggs could develop into the nation’s best all-around DB under Strong’s direction.

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  • 9. Ty Montgomery, WR, Stanford

    Stanford can get away with its old-school, ground-and-pound because they have Montgomery to fill the crucial role of big playmaker. He is the Cardinal’s firecracker that goes off after a slow burn. As a junior last season, Montgomery caught 10 touchdown passes, rushed for two scores, and took two kickoffs back for touchdowns. He was also ninth in the nation with 157.7 all-purpose yards per game.

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  • 8. Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State

    Something is wrong when the best player on the best defense in the country doesn’t get any serious Heisman Trophy consideration. Ideally, Calhoun gets his rightful due this season, coming off of one in which he registered 7.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss and scored three defensive touchdowns for the Spartans. It’s a good thing the Big Ten isn’t considered a passing league, otherwise its QBs would have a lot more to worry about with Calhoun stalking them on a more regular basis.

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  • 7. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

    He has yet to tote the rock in a college game, and yet LSU’s true freshman phenom is already drawing comparisons to Adrian Peterson. And that’s not just media hype; one firm believer in the Peterson link is LSU running back Terrence Magee, one of the seniors whose job Fournette is probably going to take at some point this season.

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  • 6. Myles Jack, LB/RB, UCLA

    Linebacker by day, running back by night. Or the other way around. Whatever you want to call him, Jack is college football’s new Charles Woodson; he makes people remember that the Heisman is supposed to go to the best overall football player and not just the best quarterback.

    In his “day job” on defense, Jack racked up 75 tackles as a freshman – most of them of the bone-rattling variety. And when a string of midseason injuries in the Bruins’ backfield forced Jack into two-way duty, he averaged 7.0 yards per carry and scored seven TDs.

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  • 5. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama

    With A.J. McCarron gone to the NFL and the Crimson Tide’s aura of invincibility gone somewhere up in the rafters of New Orleans’ Superdome, Yeldon finds himself in an interesting position going into his junior year. He has arguably been Alabama’s pound-for-pound best player over the last two seasons, but only now is he going to be the face of the team and the one asked to shoulder the responsibility of bringing ‘Bama back to dominant form.

    Compared to other elite backs, Yeldon doesn’t have blazing speed or overwhelming power. But he does have a point guard’s vision, a picky batter’s patience, and an ability to make the one cut that is the difference between no gain and six points.

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  • 4. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska

    He’s the reason you haven’t become totally disillusioned with college football. At 5-9, Abdullah is the undersized underdog you want to see overcome the odds. And when he had a chance to go pro after his junior year, he came back to school – not to improve his draft stock, but because he really wanted to finish his degree. (Abdullah’s eight older siblings all have college degrees; many of them advanced degrees. He not one to be left behind.)

    Oh, and Abdullah is electric with the ball in his hands. The latest in Nebraska’s historically long line of home-run threats, Abdullah rushed for 1,690 yards and nine TDs last season, cracking the 100-yard mark in all but two Cornhuskers games.

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  • 3. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

    Like Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, Mariota not only has the game’s most dangerous offensive weapon at his disposal – Russ has Kevin Durant, Mariota has Oregon’s playbook – but he is not to be overlooked as a dominant talent in his own right.

    If we were still in the era of no forward passing, Mariota would still be a star. He averaged 7.4 yards per carry last season for the Ducks, finishing with 715 yards and nine TDs on the ground. But he can throw the ball a little bit, too. Mariota was responsible for 31 more TDs through the air last season and 3,665 yards passing.

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  • 2. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA

    Mariota could finish this season as the best QB in the nation. Or he could put up the same numbers and win the same amount of games and finish the season not even considered the best QB in the Pac-12.

    Challenging him for that crown is Hundley, the UCLA junior who might remind you of Cam Newton on the field. He’s that QB who can truck a linebacker on one play and coolly dissect a secondary on the next.

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  • 1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

    The reigning king of college football has a Heisman Trophy and a national championship to defend in his redshirt sophomore season, and he could solidify his spot as the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Or he could decide he likes strikeouts more than slant routes and go on to be a Major League Baseball star. Nothing seems out of reach for the Seminoles’ superstar.

    Topping last season’s stat line of 4,057 passing yards with 40 TDs is certainly within reach for Winston. He has made statements implying he will stay at FSU through his senior season, but don’t take him for granted. Watch as much of Winston as you can this season, because the college game can only contain his game for so long.

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  • Quandre Diggs
  • Ty Montgomery
  • Leonard Fournette
  • Myles Jack
  • T.J. Yeldon
  • Marcus Mariota
  • Jameis Winston

I like offensive linemen. Really, I do.

Once upon a time (South King County Junior Football League, circa 1990) I was an offensive lineman myself. I understand the O-line is collectively the most important position on the field – that you can have Tom Brady and LeSean McCoy in the backfield and they won’t go anywhere without the big guys up front blocking for them – and I appreciate how linemen are historically underappreciated.

But I also know that for most football fans, watching even the best O-linemen at work isn’t exactly fun.

Unless you’re a coach, a scout, part of the Framily, or a reporter trying to pretend you really pay attention to linemen, you’ve probably never sought out an O-lineman’s video highlight reel. You know the line is important, but you watch the game for the touchdowns, deep throws, long runs, great catches, pick-sixes, sacks, and big hits.

So while compiling this list of college football’s 10 must-see players, I didn’t include any offensive linemen. If this were a list of the nation’s 10 best players, there would definitely be an OL or three in the group.

But this is not that. This for the highlight-reel guys; the big-play guys; the can’t-miss guys who earn that label because you can’t miss them if you want to see the best college football has to offer for the 2014 season.

Follow Amaar on Twitter at @UmmahSports