College Football Playoff 2019: Ranking the top 20 impact players from the four teams
Some of the most impactful players in the sport will take the field in the College Football Playoff
The College Football Playoff has its drawbacks. The discourse sucks up a tremendous amount of oxygen, and sometimes the payoff is underwhelming. Not this year. Not with three undefeated teams -- No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Clemson -- and a fourth, No. 4 Oklahoma, that is far more complete thanks to an improved defense.?
Really, this playoff field is what great college football is all about. The matchups on the field and on the sidelines are top notch all the way around. There are future NFL players facing off against future NFL players while some of the brightest minds in the game are calling the plays on their behalf. This is going to be a lot of fun.?
With the semifinals kicking off on Saturday, Dec. 28, let's get to know the impact players on all four teams as we rank them all the way to the most important in the field. Keep in mind: these aren't rankings of which players are "better." Obviously, some deserving names are going to be excluded, but that's the bittersweet outcome of having so many talented players in the playoff field.?
Let's get to it.?
20. Oklahoma cornerback Tre Brown:?He made probably a game-saving tackle in the Big 12 Championship Game vs. Baylor, and is tied for the team lead in pass deflections. He'll have a big part to play opposite LSU's wide receivers. He's also the team's kick returner.?
19. LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson:?His 88 catches for 1,207 yards and 14 touchdowns would make him a No. 1 wideout on almost any other team. That's how loaded the Tigers are.? ?
18. LSU safety Grant Delpit:?The Jim Thorpe Award winner has seen his draft stock slip a bit, but he's still valuable as one of the last lines of defense for a finally healthy LSU defense.?
17. Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave: Maybe the most underrated player in the playoff, Olave is definitely among the most sure-handed receivers in the country. Six of his 11 receiving touchdowns have come in the red zone.?
16. Clemson defensive tackle Tyler Davis:?Davis probably got overlooked a bit for the role he played this season, but he's the next standout in Clemson's D-line. He was the first true freshman to start a season-opener for the Tigers since Jeff Mills in 1974. He finished with eight tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.?
15. LSU running back?Clyde Edwards-Helaire: He's questionable for the Fiesta Bowl due to a hamstring injury. Here's hoping he's a full go because tackling Edwards-Helaire is like standing in front of a moving van. He has six 100-yard games on the season, and could end the campaign as the SEC's leading rusher.?
14. Clemson wide receiver Tee Higgins:?The Tigers are loaded at wideout, so it's hard to lean with one over the other, but Higgins has been outstanding. He leads the team with 1,082 yards and 13 touchdowns. His catches have been the stuff of Houdini, too. His body control, concentration and hands make the impossible, possible.?
13. LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr.: Man, oh man, it is going to be fun to watch Stingley over the next two seasons before he inevitably and rightfully goes pro. The SEC's Newcomer of the Year and consensus All-America selection led the SEC with six interceptions ... as a freshman. Two of them came in the SEC Championship Game win over Georgia, including one of the meanest picks I've ever seen. He's a big-time, one-on-one coverage guy who's going to draw some big names over the next one or two games.
12. Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins:?He's one of three running backs who has a chance to hit 2,000 yards on the season to go along with 20 touchdowns. Insane. Dobbins' usage has picked up in the last three games, too, with 100 carries against Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State. He has everything you want in an every-down back: speed, size and versatility. He's always been impactful, but lately he's almost been the cornerstone of the offense.?
11.?Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray: Look, if you're still associating Oklahoma with bad defense, you haven't been paying attention. Full stop. It's not a shut-down unit, but it's enjoyed vast improvement and Murray is the focal point. He leads the Sooners with 95 tackles and was only a non-factor in one game this year: Oklahoma's loss to Kansas State. Think that's a coincidence? Oklahoma has a tall task trying to slow down LSU's high-powered offense, but those chances go down significantly if Murray's name isn't called a bunch.?
10.?LSU?wide receiver?Ja'Marr Chase:?When you're one of three wideouts on the same team with double-digit touchdowns and one of two with more than 1,000 yards, the term "impact" takes on a new meaning. Indeed, LSU has an embarrassment of riches at pass-catcher, but Chase leads the nation with 18 receiving touchdowns and could end up leading in yards, too. ?
9. Ohio State cornerback?Jeff Okudah:?Oh, look, another future first-round cornerback for the Buckeyes. Okudah leads Ohio State with three interceptions and is tied for first with seven passes broken up. He has great size for the position (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) which bodes well for any matchups he might have with Higgins or?Justyn Ross?for Clemson. It should be future first-round pick vs. future first-round pick on an island in the Fiesta Bowl.? ??
8. Clemson linebacker?Isaiah Simmons:?There are a lot of exceptional athletes on this list. Simmons is among the freakiest. At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, he has traditional linebacker size but can still cover tons of ground with ridiculous speed. He was on? ?and will be critical in playing a bunch of different roles for the Tigers against?Ohio State. He'll be asked to get to the quarterback, make tackles in space and defend against the pass. And he can do all three at a high level. He is the prototype for the modern linebacker. ?
7. Oklahoma wide receiver?CeeDee Lamb:?Probably my personal favorite player on the list. Oddly enough, Oklahoma doesn't have the same embarrassment of riches that Clemson, LSU or Ohio State have at wide receiver. Lamb means that much more to the Sooners' passing attack. No one on that team comes close to his 14 receiving touchdowns, and he's almost impossible to defend or tackle in the open field. He'll likely draw some incredible matchups with Stingley.? ?
6.?Clemson?running back?Travis Etienne:?It's probably not right to call Etienne underrated, especially now. He'll leave as Clemson's best running back ever. His 54 rushing touchdowns are No. 1 in school history, and he's about to become the all-time leading rusher. Because of?Trevor Lawrence's?hype, though, Etienne has always felt a little ... second-fiddle, and he hasn't gotten the individual awards nationally, either. None of this is right, of course, so let's just appreciate Etienne while we can before he goes and makes a career in the NFL.? ?
5. Oklahoma quarterback?Jalen Hurts:?There's no denying Hurts' impact on Oklahoma's offense or his numbers. He was a Heisman finalist after accumulating nearly 4,900 yards of total offense and 50 touchdowns. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy called him a "one-man show"; to that point, Hurts was the catalyst behind Oklahoma's come-from-behind win over Baylor in November. But he's had turnover problems lately, and no other playoff quarterback comes close to the dependency OU has with Hurts in the running game.? ? ?
4. Ohio State quarterback?Justin Fields:?Touchdowns thrown by Justin Fields this season: 40. Interceptions thrown by Justin Fields this season: 1. Add in his 10 touchdowns on the ground, and he's one of just a few players this year to hit the 50-touchdown mark (two others, Joe Burrow and Jalen Hurts, are also listed here). One area where Fields is at his best is in third down-and-long situations. He's hit 80 percent of his passes from at least third-and-10 with 10 first downs and two touchdowns.?
3. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence:?Remember when people were concerned about Lawrence's interceptions? Good times. He hasn't thrown a pick in his last six games but has thrown 20 of his 34 passing touchdowns on the season. In fact, he's operating at an even better level now (November and December) than he was at the same time last year. Specifically, he's averaging 10.6 yards per attempt in that span with a 223.6 passer rating. All the while he continues to be a legit rushing threat about 6-8 times a game. He's playing out of his mind.? ?
2. Ohio State defensive end?Chase Young:?The junior has been arguably the most dominant player at any position. He leads the nation with 16.5 sacks, and he missed two games due to suspension. He demands double teams, at least. Of all the words that can and have already been written about him, Young is best described as one of the few players an entire game plan has to be centered around.?
1. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow:?He's the Heisman Trophy winner, so yeah, he's pretty important. It's the double whammy of production and efficiency that makes Burrow so critical to LSU's success. He's second nationally in passing yards per game (362.7) behind only Washington State's Anthony Gordon -- and Gordon threw it 20 times more per game. In fact, Burrow falls just outside the top 10 in attempts on the season. Yet he still averaged 10.7 yards per attempt and hit a FBS-best 48 passing scores. He's been at his very best in clutch situations all year long.?
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