It’s the middle of April, and there are no sports thanks to the Worldwide pandemic Covid-19. The NFL Draft is rapidly approaching, but other than that, nothing. Spring football should be going on right now in College Football, but unfortunately we’ve been stripped of that too.
At The LAFB Network, we put our heads together and decided to take a stroll down memory lane. A few of our writers collaborated and have created a list of the best College Football players of all-time! Each article will represent a decade and we will work backward starting from most recent, the 2010s. Each writer has composed his/her own top 10 that is separated by the tabs below.
LAFB All-Decade: The Best College Football Players Of The 2010s
Watson earning the top spot was a tough decision for me as it came down to him or Baker Mayfield. The reason Watson got the nod is the fact that he led the Tigers to two national championships, nearly winning both if it hadn’t been for a total defensive breakdown by Clemson in overtime. Finishing his career with 10,168 yards passing and 90 touchdowns in just two and a half years. His rushing effectiveness was also ridiculous with just under 2,000 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns.
2. Baker Mayfield
Mayfield’s career at Oklahoma was truly incredible. Not just being a finalist for the Heisman three times (and winning it in 2017) but also ridiculous feats like breaking the FBS pass-efficiency rating in back to back seasons. While many were surprised that he was selected 1st overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, his play over three years in Norman more than earned it.
One small athlete followed up with another. McCaffrey was listed as a running back during his time at Stanford but he played more of a hybrid running back/receiver role and his stats show it. He finished his college career with over 5,000 yards from scrimmage and 31 total touchdowns in addition to his nearly 2,000 special team yards and two touchdowns. No surprise but he also broke the Rose Bowl record for most plays from scrimmage in 2016.
4. Cam Newton
I was trying my best to hold off on players being on this list due to one season but until Joe Burrow’s 2019 campaign, Cam Newton had arguably the best season for a quarterback in college football history. After a less than stellar collegiate start in which he was kicked out of Florida, Newton eventually found himself in Auburn. His single-season with them was insane with just under 3,000 passing yards, 30 passing touchdowns, 1,473 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground. On top of that, he only had seven turnovers.
5. Manti Te’o
Unlike the status of his college girlfriend, Te’o’s greatness is undeniable. From 2010-2012, he had over 100 tackles each season and arguably the greatest defensive season ever in his final year for the Irish. With 113 tackles, 1.5 sacks and seven interceptions, Te’o is an easy candidate for one of the biggest Heisman robberies in modern history. His eight awards in 2012, including being a unanimous All-American, still show that he earned his place in the top five.
Barkley was nothing if not consistent. Rushing for over 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons and finishing his final two years at Penn State with 18 touchdowns on the ground, Barkley proved that a running back can still carry a team in a pass-happy game. The fact that he was never a Heisman finalist is still one of the most confusing things to happen in college football in recent memory.
Blackmon’s time at Oklahoma State is arguably the greatest stretch in Cowboys’ history. In the two seasons he played this decade, he had 233 receptions for 3,304 yards and 38 touchdowns. To this day he is only one of two receivers to win the Biletnikoff Award in back-to-back years. People tend to forget his collegiate career after his professional one was a wash but his final two years at Oklahoma State were undeniably fantastic.
8. Tyrann Mathieu
The Honey Badger made a name for himself not only with his incredible defensive play but through his special teams abilities as well. With 77 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries, and two interceptions, Matthieu’s 2011 season was one for the ages. That’s not even mentioning that he returned both interceptions for touchdowns, took back two of those fumble recoveries for a touchdown and scored two touchdowns returning punts. If he hadn’t been dismissed from LSU the following year, he would’ve been an easy favorite for the Heisman in 2012.
Henry is on the list solely because of his 2015 season and frankly, if you’re the only running back to win the Heisman (which has largely turned into a quarterback’s award) this decade then you’ve earned your spot in the top 10. The award was well earned with Henry rushing for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns for the Tide including three scores and 158 rushing yards in the National Championship.
10. Joe Burrow
Tua Tagovailoa, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, all quarterbacks who had phenomenal seasons and multi-year careers that could have earned their place on this list. However, the season that Joe Burrow just finished is without a doubt the best passing performance over the course of a season in college football history. A total of 65 touchdowns, 60 of them passing, with only six interceptions, beating four top-10 teams, and dominating both games in the College Football Playoffs.
1. Deshaun Watson
Watson played three years at Clemson and was key in projecting Clemson into the national spotlight for years to come. He led Clemson to their first National Championship in decades and played in another the very next year. Watson finished his college career with 10,168 passing yards on 1,207 attempts and completed 814 passes for 90 touchdowns. He also rushed for 1,934 yards, averaging 4.4 yards per carry and 26 touchdowns. He continues to be a rising star in the NFL for the Houston Texas, making a playoff run during the 2019 season.
2. Cam Newton
After two years at Florida, Newton played one season of JUCO ball for Blinn College before he transferred to Auburn to play his junior, and ultimately final year in college. It proved to be his breakout season. In one season at Auburn, Newton led them to an undefeated season, won eight awards including the Heisman Trophy, and produced an amazing comeback win against Alabama in the Iron Bowl. He passed for 2,854 yards on 280 attempts, completed 185 passes for 30 touchdowns and had 1,515 total yards rushing and receiving with an average of 5.7 yards and 21 touchdowns.
3. Saquon Barkley
Saquon Barkley has been compared to some of the all-time great college athletes, including the likes of Bo Jackson. He played three years at Penn State in which he had a total of 5,038 yards in his career. He averaged 6.5 yards a carry and had 51 touchdowns. Barkley was the Big Ten player of the year in 2016 and 2017 and is currently the star running back for the New York Giants.
4. Tua Tagovailoa
Tua was the face of Alabama football for most of his career. Once he took over as starting quarterback from Jalen Hurts, the Tua Era began and Alabama had two more national championship appearances to show for it. If it was not for injuries in both the 2018 and 2019 seasons, Tua’s career would have ended with higher acclaims and higher career stats. In three years (one full season), he had 7,442 passing yards and 87 touchdowns, 340 rushing yards, nine touchdowns and averaged 3.2 yards per carry.
5. Baker Mayfield
Baker Mayfield played his freshman season at Texas Tech behind starter Davis Webb. Baker transferred to Oklahoma for his sophomore season and became the face of Oklahoma football. In my opinion, Baker was to Oklahoma as Tim Tebow was to Florida. Baker won nine awards including 2015, and 2017 Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, and 2017 AP Offensive Player of The Year. He also won the 2017 Heisman Trophy. Mayfield’s passing yards including his season at Texas Tech were 14,607. He averaged 9.8 yards per attempt and 30 touchdowns. He rushed for 1,083 yards and 22 touchdowns.
6. Aaron Donald
Currently the center of the Los Angeles Rams defense, Donald was an unbelievable defensive tackle with speed and strength that made him a wrecking force at Pittsburgh. He was an All-American his senior season and racked up six awards including the 2013 ACC Defensive Player of The Year. He played four seasons at Pittsburgh and had 181 total tackles, 115 solo tackles, 66 tackles for loss and 29.5 sacks. He will be a Hall of Famer by the end of his professional career.
7. Joey Bosa
Joey Bosa played three years at Ohio State and finished his junior year going third overall in the 2016 NFL draft. He wreaked havoc on offensive lines, and as an edge rusher made offensive coordinators scheme for him specifically. He finished his college career with 148 total tackles, 101 solo tackles, 51.0 tackles for loss and 26.0 sacks.
8. Christian McCaffrey
The most underrated running back/all-purpose player in college and, in my opinion, still underrated in the NFL (but I guess his contract speaks for itself). McCaffrey was an explosive talent for Stanford with 2015 being his breakout season. He was honored with four awards including the 2015 PAC-12 Offensive Player of the Year and 2015 AP Player of the Year. Christian played three years at Stanford entering the NFL draft in 2016. He finished his college career with 5,128 rushing and receiving yards, 21 rushing touchdowns and averaged 6.2 yards per carry. He also had 10 receiving touchdowns, 99 receptions and averaged 12.2 yards per catch.
When it is all said and done, Trevor Lawrence will go into the college football history books. After only his sophomore season, he has taken Clemson to two national title games, winning one. Lawrence will likely be a top-three pick in the 2021 NFL draft if he declares after his junior season. If it was not for the fact that he is still in school playing I would have ranked him higher, but I believe by the end of his college career he will be ranked high on everyone’s list. He has 6,954 total passing yards in two seasons, with 99 touchdowns, and 8.6 yards per attempt. He also has 740 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.
10. Marcus Mariota
Marcus Mariota, after being handed the reigns by Chip Kelly his sophomore season, helped put Oregon securely on the map. He played all four seasons at Oregon but only started for three of them. He will forever be linked to Jameis Winston as they both went back and forth Mariota’s senior year as the best college quarterback of the 2014 season. He was drafted second overall after Winston in the 2015 NFL draft. Mariota’s breakout year was 2014 where he won nine awards, including the 2014 Heisman Trophy, 2014 AP Player of The Year, and the 2014 PAC-12 Player of The Year. He finished his career with 10,796 passing yards, 105 touchdowns, averaging 9.3 yards per attempt. He also had 2,237 rushing yards, 29 touchdowns, averaging 6.6 yards per carry, and, incredibly, two receptions for touchdowns.
1. Saquon Barkley
With a rare combination of speed, strength, and explosiveness, Barkley led Penn State to two seasons with 11 wins and a Fiesta Bowl win. Barkley spent three years of college running away from defenders for 3,843 rushing yards and 43 touchdowns. He was, in all regards, the greatest college running back of his generation.
2. Christian McCaffrey
McCaffrey could very well have been the greatest dual-threat back to ever grace a college football game. McCaffrey gave so much flexibility to his Stanford team with his ability to elude all 11 defenders on the field in both the run and pass game. His 2,664 combined yards and 13 total touchdowns in 2015 proved just that.
3. Cam Newton
Cam Newton makes this list with a caveat. He had one amazing season as a Division-I athlete. He used every asset at his disposal including his massive frame, cannon arm and freakish speed to win a National Championship and Heisman Trophy, and became an All-American in his one season as a starting quarterback in the SEC.
4. Amari Cooper
Amari Cooper was so good during his time at Alabama he made A.J. McCarron look like an All-Star which led to both being drafted to the NFL. During his time with the Tide, Cooper broke several of Julio Jones’ single-season records and was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. In a decade of outstanding wide receivers, his play shone brightest.
5. Baker Mayfield
Mayfield is probably the most controversial name on my list, but he was arguably the most consistent. Mayfield made a Bowl in all three years as the Sooners starter, two of which were semifinal games of the college football playoffs. He was also a Heisman finalist two out of three years at Oklahoma and won the trophy once.
Watkins probably had the purest potential of any one receiver in this era. He broke 11 Clemson records his first season with the team. His speed and reliable hands helped him to have an even better junior season with 1,464 yds and 12 TDs. If not for a subpar 2012 he would be the number one receiver of this decade.
7. Deshaun Watson
Watson showed everything you wanted from a quarterback. Accuracy, arm strength, and mobility. In his three years as a starter, he led the Tigers to two National Championship games but split the games with Alabama. Despite posting over 10,000 yards and 90 touchdowns in his career, he is equally remembered for being injury-riddled early in his career.
8. Montee Ball
Montee Ball was considered one of the toughest runners of his generation. Ball set the career rushing touchdown record for the NCAA at 77, which still stands today. His campaign in 2011 was his most fruitful bringing over 1,900 yards, 33 touchdowns, and a finalist nomination for the Heisman award.
Hopkins had everything you needed for a prototypical receiver: size, speed, agility, and natural catching ability. However, with all his God given talent, he took a minute to adjust to the college game. Once he caught on, he was unstoppable. HIs best season came as part of a 1-2 punch with Sammy Watkins logging over 1,400 yards and 18 touchdowns.
10. Jadeveon Clowney
Clowney lived in the backfield of opposing offenses. Speed and incredible strength attributed to his career stats of 129 tackles (47 for a loss), 24 sacks and 9 force fumbles in his time with the Gamecocks. Couple those stats with the his freakish skillset and you will understand why he is the most highly touted defender of his decade.