The Top Offensive Players to Watch in College Football

With the College Football season getting closer every week, it is time to start thinking about naming a “top dog” at each position. Keep in mind, these guys may top my list now, but by the end of the season they could be out of the top 5 (see Burfict, Vontaze). Also, I will not only be putting the name of the top player, but I will also list the player that I think has the best chance to unseat the current number one. As always feel free to comment and let me know if you think I overlooked someone, or if you think I am over-hyping a prospect. Enjoy. Don’t forget to follow me @jlomas72

*All players listed are draft eligible and are not exclusively seniors.

Top Quarterback: Matt Barkley, USC
Matt Barkley has a great arm, makes smart reads, and he has very good long-range-accuracy. Last year, Barkley had just under a 70% completion percentage and a touchdown to interception ration of more than 5:1. While playing with two very talented wide receivers may inflate some of his numbers, he has the skills to be successful on his own in the NFL. Skeptics may point to a smaller frame (6’2” 230 lbs.) he seems to do a good job finding passing lanes and reading defenses over his NFL-sized offensive linemen.

On his tail: Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
Tyler Wilson, Geno Smith, and Tyler Bray all seem to be making a push for the top spot this year but right now I am enamored with Logan Thomas and the obvious comparisons to Cam Newton. Both quarterbacks posses massive frames, great speed, and are nearly impossible to take down, in fact against Georgia Tech OLB Jeremiah Attaochu was so frustrated while trying to tackle Thomas that he was flagged for punching him in the helmet after he wouldn’t go down. Unfortunately, outside of his absolute dissection of Miami, Thomas has had issues with his accuracy and will need some serious polishing before he can be accurately compared to Cam, even though the potential is clearly there for him.

Top Wide Receiver: Robert Woods, USC
Speaking of those very talented receivers that Matt Barkley had, Robert Woods is an easy guy to place at the top of the short-list of best college wide receivers right now. Woods averages over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in his two years with Barkley, and he has the unique ability to line up at all the WR positions. He consistently shows a high motor and an ability to elude tacklers for extra yards. A versatile piece like that is an offensive coordinator’s dream, and often allows you to catch opponents out of position in a hurry-up style offense.

Much like his teammate at QB, the biggest knock on this USC prospect is his size. Listed at just 6’1” and 190 lbs, Woods would be among one of the wide receivers drafted first at their position under 6’2. Two other things that may steer teams away from Woods are his lack of concentration when catching the ball, and an ankle injury that has been bothering him all offseason.

On his tail: Justin Hunter, Tennessee
Now here is your prototypical top WR, 6’4” 200 lbs, deadly deep threat ability, with the talent to tilt coverage away from the rest of your receivers. The problem is, an ACL injury in week 3 cost Hunter his season, and if Tyler Bray gets injured again his back up is a MAJOR drop-off. If Hunter can stay healthy all year, (and that is a huge if) then Hunter could pull ahead of Woods and claim the number one spot on this list.

Top Running Back: Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
While no one in this year’s running back class will be mistaken for Trent Richardson, Lattimore is a big, strong runner that can be very effective inside and outside.  Additionally, he is a very good blocking back, that can also catch the ball so there should never been any reason (other than fatigue) that he should be on the sideline in any situation.

The big question on Lattimore is can he pick up where he left off in 2011? Before an ACL injury cut that season short, Lattimore had 5.0 YPC and 10 touchdowns, on pace to grab 1,500 yards and 8 more touchdowns. If he can show that he is back to 100% the top spot would most likely stay with him.

On his tail: Monte Ball, Wisconsin
Everyone saw this story on ESPN a million times during the bowl season, but Ball put on weight while maintaining his speed during the 2010 offseason and the result was a 1900+ yard season with 33 touchdowns, and an astounding 6.3 YPC average.

Many will ask why doesn’t he top the list, but the fact is that his college success may limit his NFL ceiling. It is generally accepted that running backs have a short peak in the NFL, which generally lasts 3-5 years. Those numbers are based on the idea that a running back can only take so many hits before his body starts to wear down, think of it as a career “pitch-count”. Now entering his senior season, Ball has already had 568 attempts in his CFB career, and will likely be the feature of the offense again. Even if he repeats and has a stellar season, some teams will shy away from him because without the elite blockers he has had at Wisconsin and given the number of hits he has taken, he might be the most “bust-ready” running back prospect.

Top Tight End: Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
Tyler has a few very enticing traits going for him like versatility, a big frame, high reception numbers, and decent inline blocking skills. On the other hand, he hasn’t jumped off the screen to me. Occasionally he will make a splashy catch, or he will put up good numbers but there is never enough to really wow me. I would love to see him flourish in his first year without first-round wide receiver Michael Floyd on the outside, but if he doesn’t then this spot is very changeable.

On his tail: Chris Gragg, Arkansas
There is a ton to like about Gragg as a tight end at the next level. Firstly, I love the way he is a blocker first and a target second, and what I mean by that is that when he is given the assignment to block and then release out for a dump-off, he makes sure the tackle has his man before leaving. Secondly, he is very elusive for such a powerful guy. Unlike other 240-ish tight ends that don’t have great body control, you can see he knows how to either punish a defender or sidestep the contact to try to keep the YAC going. Finally, I like that in one game (Mississippi State) I saw him line up and play effectively at three different positions.

Arkansas missed out on DGB (the top high school WR) this year in addition to losing three starting-caliber wide receivers to the NFL draft. With Cobi Hamilton as the top pass threat, and with Tyler Wilson needing another target to look for when coverage tilts that way I think Gragg could be in for a big season.

About Will Lomas

Grew up in a town in Tennessee named Dyersburg, and played ball there. When I realized I was too small to play college ball, I found my passion in breaking down game film, analyzing athletes, and finding the little things that decides whether a player is good, bad, or great.