Here is our list of Top 50 college football players for 2013. We rated players according to college (not projected pro) ability, for the 2013 season. We eschewed a “mock draft” format, as it would have been an epic run on quarterbacks and edge rushers.
1. Johnny Manziel [QB(So) – Texas A&M] As the narrative has swung in a different direction, we should reconsider just how absurd Manziel’s 2012 season was. He threw for 3,700 yards and 26 touchdowns while finishing Top 20 in passer rating. He also averaged seven per carry en route to 1,400 yards and 21 touchdowns. In 2013, he should be more crisp with his fundamentals and have the game “slow down” for him. A scary thought.
2. Jadeveon Clowney [DE(Jr) – South Carolina] We need not say much more after this. Clowney has spent the past two seasons growing into his frame and learning South Carolina’s system. He was already the most impactful defensive player in the country. In theory, this should be the year everything comes together, on every play. South Carolina, losing most of their front seven besides him, will need it to.
3. Marqise Lee [WR(Jr) – USC] The Trojans have uncertainty at quarterback. Lee should soften the blow. He’s the total package at wide receiver. He’s almost impossible to cover at this level of football. Biding his time before bigger things.
4. Todd Gurley [RB(So) – Georgia] Gurley ran 122 yards and two touchdowns in the SEC title game, against Alabama’s top ranked run defense. The list of running backs capable of that may only contain him.
5. Marcus Mariota [QB(So) – Oregon] Not quite as spectacular as Manziel last season, but he may have a higher ceiling. He’s hyper-efficient with a strong arm and nearly as dangerous on the ground. One thing to remember with his stats: he was sitting most fourth quarters.
6. Will Sutton [DT(Sr) – Arizona State] Sutton may be college football’s best interior pass rusher. He ranked top five nationally in sacks and tackles for loss per game. He may be too undersized to titillate NFL scouts. In college, he’s just right.
7. Teddy Bridgewater [QB(Jr) – Louisville] Bridgewater made “the leap” as a sophomore, throwing for 3,700 yards and 27 touchdowns while finishing top ten in passer rating. He should eviscerate a pitiful Louisville schedule in 2013 and, if he comes out, be the top quarterback on NFL draft boards.
8. Jake Matthews [OT(Sr) – Texas A&M] He’s huge, he’s mobile and he’s athletic. He’s the offspring of one of the best offensive linemen ever. Matthews turned down the shield to return for his senior season and slides over to left tackle. The only person happier to have him back than Sumlin will be Manziel.
9. Braxton Miller [QB(Jr) – (the) Ohio State] Urban Meyer described him as the “most dynamic” athlete he’s coached at quarterback with a better skill-set than Tebow. That was before his awesome 2012 season. Questions linger about Miller’s ceiling as a passer. He can still run his way to a Big Ten title.
10. C.J. Mosley [LB(Sr) – Alabama] It was a surprise he came back after a consensus All-American season. For Nick Saban, it was undoubtedly a pleasant one. Hyper-athletic outside linebacker versatile enough to make plays up field and in coverage? Can play inside against the spread and outside against more pro-style attacks? Most teams would have some of that.
11. T.J. Yeldon [RB(So) – Alabama] Yeldon ran for 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman, averaging 12.5 carries per game. He assumes the lead role this season, and may be the latest Alabama back bound for New York and the Heisman ceremony.
12. Sammy Watkins [WR(Jr) – Clemson] Watkins was hampered by legal problems and injuries in 2012. Expect him to bounce back toward his 2011 freshman form, which saw him rack up 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns and get named a first-team All American.
13. Louis Nix [DT(Sr) – Notre Dame] Nix is one of those guys where “Big” becomes his unofficial given name. Basically, he’s everything one could want from a tackle in a 3-4. He’s big enough to eat up double teams and blow up running lanes. He’s quick enough to get into the backfield to make plays.
14. Taylor Lewan [OT(Sr) – Michigan] Everyone noticed Clowney’s hit. Few noticed how little Clowney had done to that point. His play has glossed over a lot of instability along Michigan’s interior line. Keeping him out of the 2013 Draft may have been Brady Hoke’s best recruiting job. Bonus points for sporting a mustache and owning a pig.
15. Anthony Johnson [DT(Jr) – LSU] The “Freak” was the one star left standing after LSU’s NFL Draft exodus. His presence up the middle is the reason many expect the personnel transition won’t be that dramatic.
16. Tajh Boyd [QB(Sr) – Clemson] Had Boyd been a couple inches taller, he may be a lot wealthier. He’s not, so he’s back. The Clemson QB was fifth nationally in passer rating last year. With Chad Morris’ system and a talented supporting cast, he will put up some monster numbers, again.
17. Stephon Tuitt [DE(Jr) – Notre Dame] Rebuilding Notre Dame from the defensive front, Tuitt is the emblem of what Brian Kelly had in mind, a 6’6″ 300-pound elite pass rusher out of the 3-4. He had a breakout year, last year, with 11 sacks. This year, he may improve on that.
18. Anthony Barr [DE(Sr) – UCLA] Started on offense. Switched to defense. Racked up 13 sacks, at a time where NFL teams are desperate for edge rushers. Pencil him into the Top 20 next spring.
19. De’Anthony Thomas [RB/WR(Jr) – Oregon] DAT touched the ball 137 times on offense last season, producing more than 1100 yards and 16 touchdowns. He has been “lightning in a bottle” since he stepped on the field in Eugene. Can he carry a bigger, more consistent load for the Ducks in Kenjon Barner’s absence?
20. Kyle Van Noy [LB(Sr) – BYU] Van Noy was the standout on one of the nation’s elite defenses last season. He had 13 sacks and 22 tackles for loss last season, not to mention six forced fumbles. He made the most of the national spotlight at the Poinsettia Bowl.
21. Cyril Richardson [G(Sr) – Baylor] Baylor spreads to power run. Having Richardson, a 6’5″ 335lb behemoth who can line up at guard or tackle, makes it all work. With Chase Warmack and Jonathan Cooper in the draft, Richardson came back. Good for Art Briles and Lache Seastrunk. Also has that vital quality you need from a guard: an impressive mane.
22. A.J. McCarron [QB(Sr) – Alabama] Hard to knock consecutive BCS titles and leading the nation in passer rating. Though, with the talent surrounding him, one can ask whether he’s driving the bus or just one of the passengers. With BRAY out of the mix, McCarron is now the SEC quarterback leader for worst tattoos. His girlfriend is also kind of a big deal.
23. Loucheiz Purifoy [CB(Jr) – Florida] For the NFL he’ll need to refine his cover skills. For college, he’s a top-tier athlete who just makes plays on defense and special teams. This season, he should get the chance to do so at wide receiver as well.
24. Morgan Breslin [DE(Sr) – USC] Breslin burst on the scene after signing as JUCO transfer in 2012. He had 13 sacks and 19 tackles for loss last season. He should, again, be one of the country’s top pass rushers.
25. Aaron Murray [QB(Sr) – Georgia] Once he gets over his obligatory first-half interception, he’s one of the best statistical passers at this level. Georgia needs him to perform against elite teams this season. That may be a concern. Murray completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes against Top 25 teams in 2012.
26. Lache Seastrunk [RB(Jr) – Baylor] The former Oregon signee tore it up over Baylor’s final six games: with 831 yards and six touchdowns while averaging more than eight yards per carry. Seastrunk thinks he can win the Heisman. If he can replicate those numbers over a whole season…he might have a shot.
27. Bradley Roby [CB(Jr) – (the) Ohio State] One of the best cover-corners in the country. Gets it done on defense and special teams. While this 40 time is almost certainly an exaggeration, he’s very quick.
28. Devonte Fields [DE(So) – TCU] He was Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman, with 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. May be slowed by off the field troubles at the start.
29. Amari Cooper [WR(So) – Alabama] Really came on late during his first season. In his last four games vs. FBS teams (three in the Top 10), Cooper had 24 catches for 477 yards and six touchdowns. Replicating that over an entire season could put him in Marqise Lee territory.
30. Brett Hundley [QB(So) – UCLA] Drool-worthy upside with NFL size and a big-time arm. A bit raw but more than a bit effective. Hundley had a strong freshman season for UCLA, completing 67 percent of his passes for 3,700 yards and 29 touchdowns. Still have to wonder how, with his job on the line, Rick Neuheisel redshirted him.
31. Ryan Shazier [LB(Jr) – (the) Ohio State] Yeah, he’s not the best pass rusher. Yeah, he could work on his tackling technique. But Shazier has an innate timeliness you can’t really teach. He makes plays in the backfield. He can drop back into coverage. He will have to be the leader for a young Ohio State front seven.
32. Cyrus Kouandjio [OT(Jr) – Alabama] His body and athleticism will light up NFL Draft Boards. Whether he can refine his game and hit that potential as a college player remains to be seen, especially coming off shoulder surgery. Last year he was a cog on a great line. This year, the Tide need him to dominate and lead one.
33. Ed Reynolds [S(Sr) – Stanford] Stanford’s secondary is seldom the first place one looks, but Reynolds deserves some pub. He had six interceptions last year, returning three for touchdowns. He also had a fourth run back that should have been ruled a touchdown.
34. Ka’Deem Carey [RB(Jr) – Arizona] Had a breakout season last year under Rich Rod, leading the nation in rushing. His stats were boosted a bit by 366 yards and five touchdowns against hapless Colorado. But he should put in another solid, All-American level performance.
35. Aaron Lynch [DE(So) – USF] Will hope to pick up where he left off as Notre Dame freshman in 2011, when he led the team in sacks (5.5) and was third in tackles for loss (7). If he does so, we’d guess he’s a first-rounder.
36. David Yankey [G/T(Sr) – Stanford] He’s 6’5″ 300lbs, athletic, and versatile enough to play anywhere along the line in college at an elite level. Should follow Martin and DeCastro to the early rounds in April.
37. Austin Seferian-Jenkins [TE(Jr) – Washington] His 2013 season is in limbo, following a DUI arrest. If/when he sees the field, he’s one of those next-gen tight ends that are a problem to cover for almost every college (and NFL) team.
38. Antonio Richardson [OT(Jr) – Tennessee] Beat out eventual third-round NFL Draft pick for tackle job. Held Jadeveon Clowney sackless. Not bad feathers to have. Also 6’6″ 327. Factoring in their 2013 line and the skill talent that was eligible to return, you can sort of see what Derek Dooley was trying to build there, at least on offense.
39. Timmy Jernigan [DT(Jr) – Florida State] Former five-star recruit now in his first year as a full-time starter. He looks set to be the next great Florida State lineman. He does this if you try to give him a little extra after the whistle.
40. Jackson Jeffcoat [DE(Sr) – Texas] Ruptured his pectoral against Oklahoma last season. One of many horrific things that happened to the Longhorns’ defense. Should bounce back to his sophomore form, which saw him be one of nation’s best defensive ends.
41. Mike Evans [WR(So) – Texas A&M] Mike Sherman certainly had an eye for talent. Evans, redshirted along with Manziel in 2011, had 82 catches for 1105 yards and five TD last season as Johnny Manziel’s favorite target. At 6’5″ 225 pounds he’s a matchup nightmare.
42. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix [S(Jr) – Alabama] Alabama just reloads. Clinton-Dix broke through to the starting lineup as a sophomore, and intercepted five passes. He can play over the top. He can clamp down in the slot. Should be in the All-American discussion.
43. David Fales [QB(Sr) – San Jose State] Mike McIntyre will have wished he could have brought this former JC transfer to Colorado with him. He was the most accurate passer in college football last year, completing 72.5 percent of his passes. The 4,200 yards and 33 touchdowns weren’t terrible either. Should be a fixture come draft season.
44. Jordan Matthews [WR(Sr) – Vanderbilt] Came through last year with 1,300 yards and 94 catches. James Franklin convinced him to return. Must have broken out the business card. Matthews’ 6’3″ 205 body and big hands will have NFL teams after him, depending on the 40-time he runs.
45. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu [CB(Jr) – Oregon] Had a stellar first season starting at Oregon. He’s on the small side but makes up for it with a knack for forcing fumbles and breaking up passes.
46. Max Bullough [LB(Sr) – Michigan State] Bullough is the precise sort of hulky, 240-pound run down linebackers the spread is weeding out of the sport. Against power-heavy B1G teams, however, he can be an absolute bear.
47. Jordan Lynch [QB(Sr) – Northern Illinois] He does it against MAC defenses, but the numbers are too much to ignore. He topped 3,000 yards passing with a 25-6 TD to INT ratio. He also ran for more than 1,800 yards. Hard to see how he can top his junior year where he brought the Huskies to a BCS bowl.
48. Stefon Diggs [WR(So) – Maryland] The local kid was a huge recruiting coup for Randy Edsall, turning down Florida and Ohio State among others. He also had an electric first season as Maryland’s only offensive weapon. He won’t get you watching the Terps. But you will look up during their highlights.
49. Scott Crichton [DE(Jr) – Oregon State] Crichton looks set to make his name outside the Pac 12 this season, after nine sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore in 2012. Missing most of spring with an injury, however, could be a concern.
50. Dri Archer [RB(Sr) – Kent State] We’ll close this list with excitement. Archer touched the ball 198 times on offense, accumulating 1990 yards and 20 touchdowns. He also returned three kicks for scores. Kent State should regress in 2013 but Archer should thrive under the Wednesday Night lights.
[Photos via USA Today Sports]