Editor’s Note: Be sure to begin with part one, covering teams ten-six in the rankings.
Inspired by Ryan McDowell’s annual Twitter NFL franchise fantasy power rankings, below is a devy program power ranking which weighs the top-end talent and depth of those programs blessed at the skill positions. It is important to note this does not look at the overall strength of a college football program. Alabama does not credit for its dominant front seven, nor does Stanford get props for its mauling offensive line. This just looks at the sheer firepower each program has when it puts the football in its playmakers’ hands.
5 – Alabama Crimson Tide
Best Prospect: WR Calvin Ridley
Most Unheralded: WR Ardarius Stewart
Other Notable Prospects: RB Bo Scarbrough; RB Damien Harris; QB Blake Barnett; WR Robert Foster; RB Desherrius Flowers; TE O.J. Howard; RB B.J. Emmons; WR Trevon Diggs
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Alabama may have the best combination of recruiting prowess and coaching ability in the nation, and have proven it on the football field by winning four of the last seven national titles and seeing consistent maturation from players over the course of their careers. Their offense is headlined by Calvin Ridley, who by draft time will almost assuredly come with the disclaimer: “He’ll be a 24 year old rookie, though”. Despite an advanced age for a true freshman, Ridley showed an advanced game and is one of the elite prospects in college football. Bo Scarbrough looks to be the most likely Derrick Henry replacement, and he is a large dude (6’3”, 240) who does some freaky things. He’s had a few setbacks at Alabama but if he is all systems go, he’s going to torch SEC competition in 2016. The Ridley breakout may not happen if Robert Foster stays healthy all year. Foster looked explosive early in the season, showing run after the catch ability and a knack for the tough catch. He just does not have a large enough body of work at this point to invest heavily in. Ridley and tight end O.J. Howard are the only established talents, but it will soon change.
4 – USC Trojans
Best Prospect: WR Juju Smith-Schuster
Most Unheralded: WR Michael Pittman
Other Notable Prospects: RB Ronald Jones; RB Justin Davis; WR Tyler Vaughns; QB Max Browne
The Trojans are carried by their top two – Juju Smith-Schuster and Ronald Jones – both of whom are among the elite at their positions. Smith-Schuster has impressed since day one, flashing a brutish style and aggressive mentality which profiles him as a plus possession receiver with the athletic ability to be a true number one. He’s currently a favorite to be the first receiver off the board in 2017. Jones is awesome in space and moves with a fluidity seldom seen. He will get knocked for his slight build but his game is not built on power. Michael Pittman is not discussed often when it comes to elite prep recruits at the position, but at 6’4”, 205 pounds with fluid hips and heapings of physicality, he is hard to miss. An early enrollee, Pittman could contribute early. Tyler Vaughns is the more discussed USC freshman, and the reasons are obvious. Despite a slender frame and less than elite wheels, Vaughns dominates due to savvy and incredible body control. Even though he does not arrive on campus until summer, Vaughns’ advanced game could also help him to contribute early.
3 – Ole Miss Runnin’ Rebels
Best Prospect: TE Evan Engram
Most Unheralded: WR Van Jefferson
Other Notable Prospects: WR DeKaylin Metcalf; WR DaMarkus Lodge; QB Chad Kelly; WR Demore’ea Stringfellow; WR Tre Nixon; QB Shea Patterson; RB D’Vaughn Pennamon; RB Justin Connor
Few programs boast notable prospects at all four skill positions on offense. Ole Miss has talent at every level and seems to stockpile receiver recruits during every cycle. The Rebels are headlined by underutilized Evan Engram, whose effortless movements and strong hands make him a nightmare at 6’3”, 220 pounds. His future position is up in the air – I would lean receiver – but he is an elite pass catcher. Receiver DeKaylin Metcalf seems to have dropped in the recruiting rankings following a poor week at the Army All-American Game, but a lot of things can conspire to ruin one week for a prospect. Physically, there may not be a more imposing receiving in the 2016 class. Incoming freshman Shea Patterson has everything save the ideal frame. Though on the small side (6’1”, 192) I am buying him as he wins playing the modern game. He is elite at escaping the pocket and has the arm to make throws all over the field and at all angles. 2015 recruit DaMarkus Lodge was one of the cycle’s best jump ball receivers. He will have a lot of competition, but it would not be a huge surprise if he usurped Laquon Treadwell as the top receiver here.
2 – LSU Tigers
Best Prospect: RB Leonard Fournette
Most Unheralded: WR Dee Anderson
Other Notable Prospects: WR Malachi Dupre; WR Travin Dural; WR Tryon Johnson; RB Derrius Guice; WR Drake Davis; WR Stephen Sullivan; RB Devin White; WR Dee Anderson
The slumps LSU hits on offense are not due to their backs or receivers. The Tigers are stacked everywhere, highlighted by Leonard Fournette, a back who has been in the national spotlight since high school. I think it is fair to say Fournette is overrated while still acknowledging he is an excellent prospect. Massive and physical, he is nearly unstoppable when he gets downhill. Of course, it takes work to get to the second level, and this is where Fournette’s warts lie. He’s still an elite devy prospect worthy of being held in high esteem. Backfield mate Derrius Guice is a top talent in his own right. At most other schools in America, he’d be the clear starter. A hard runner with a reportedly insatiable work ethic, his true breakout may not come until 2017, but it will be glorious. Malachi Dupre has long been leashed up potential, largely due to uneven play under center. With springy legs and high pointing chops, his physical tools alone are enough to get him noticed. Travin Dural returns for another season on campus, with a torn hamstring late in 2015 potentially leading to his return. Dural is an elite vertical threat, yet offers value underneath as well and can turn on the jets in a hurry. He’s a rather unique player. He has good size yet has not been asked to do a lot of heavy-lifting in dirty situations thus far, likely since they have needed to scheme to get him the football due to the aforementioned subpar quarterback play.
1 – Clemson Tigers
Best Prospect: WR Mike Williams
Most Unheralded: WR Ray-Ray McCloud
Other Notable Prospects: WR Deon Cain; QB Deshaun Watson; RB Wayne Gallman; RB Tavien Feaster; WR Artavis Scott; WR Hunter Renfrow; WR Cornell Powell; WR Diondre Overton; TE Jordan Leggett
Clemson has a well-earned reputation as the modern day receiver university. Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins, and Martavis Bryant have all developed into household names at the position. Were it not for a serious neck injury, we’d be saying the same about Mike Williams soon, as he’s a first round talent in his own right. With the obvious presumption he is ready to roll at full strength come opening day, Williams is one of college football’s elite devy assets. Sophomore Deon Cain needs to shake off his suspension, but assuming he’s eligible and out of the doghouse, he offers immense upside as a receiver who consistently progressed throughout the year. Strong, physical, and dynamite with the football in his hands, the former quarterback has the early look of a premier asset down the road. Wayne Gallman looks like all knees and elbows flying at you out of the backfield, but he runs hard and shows light feet at the second level. He had a shot at day two had he entered the draft this year, but he returns as late blooming devy gem. Artavis Scott has posted some gaudy numbers during his first two years. However, he has done a lot of work catching passes at the line of scrimmage. Part of it is scheme, but I have yet to see enough to really give him more than a passing glance. The downfield receivers for Clemson are much more appealing. Deshaun Watson dazzled in the national title game, and I am a believer in him as a NFL prospect. His arm is not elite, and he’s not going to have the same impact with his legs when he hits the next level, but he can drop key throws into buckets and has proven to be the catalyst of a high-powered offense. I like his game, even if it does not fit the archetype.