HERO Sports is counting down the days until the kickoff of the 2018 college football season on Saturday, Aug. 25, by featuring the best player in the FBS at each jersey number, from 99-1. Each day, from May 18 through Aug. 24, we’ll publish one article showcasing the best player whose jersey number matches the number of days remaining.
Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell earns the nod over Alabama’s Raekwon Davis, Notre Dame’s Jerry Tillery and others.
The Clemson defensive end is a former four-star recruit who was the seventh-ranked weak-side defensive end and 115th-ranked recruit in the 2015 class (247Sports). He redshirted in 2015 as Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson led a stacked Tigers’ front seven … HIGHLIGHTS AND MORE
Anthony Nelson was the 1,306th-ranked recruit in the 2015 class and had only two Power Five offers: Iowa and Iowa State. After initially committing to Iowa State, he flipped to the Hawkeyes’ offer. A redshirt season was followed by a strong freshman campaign in 2016, ranking second on the team in both tackles for loss (eight) and tackles for loss (6.5) … HIGHLIGHTS AND MORE
Nick Bosa arrived in college football with as much fanfare as any player in a 2016 recruiting class that featured Rashan Gary, Jacob Eason, Ed Oliver and others. The five-star player from St. Thomas Aquinas was the top-ranked strong-side defensive end in the country and, the reason behind most of the fanfare, the younger brother of Joey Bosa … HIGHLIGHTS AND MORE
Cece Jefferson was a five-star recruit in the 2015 class that featured three defensive ends among the top eight players. At the time he appeared to be a likely three-year college player who could enter the 2018 draft but, three years later, the 6-foot-1, 261-pounder is entering his senior season at Florida … HIGHLIGHTS AND MORE
Jeffery Simmons is a 6-foot-4, 300-pound defensive tackle and plays inside but he isn’t your typical defensive tackle.
The Mississippi State junior ranked fourth on the team with 60 tackles last year. A defensive tackle ranked fourth on the team in tackles. Among the 60 tackles were 12 tackles for loss and five sacks, both second on the team, and he leads all returning defensive tackles in the country for most career quarterback pressures (41), according to Pro Football Focus … HIGHLIGHTS AND MORE
Youhanna Ghaifan was the eighth-ranked recruit in the 2015 class…from the state of Nebraska. He was the 2,710th-ranked overall recruit and has come out of nowhere to become one of the most dominant defensive linemen in college football … HIGHLIGHTS AND MORE
“Jeremiah Harris and Maxx Crosby must explode if they expect no drop-off from Pat O’Connor,” I wrote in Eastern Michigan’s 2017 preview last summer.
Crosby exploded (and Harris, too, but to a lesser degree). He tripled his tackles for loss (5.5 to 16.5) and recorded 10.5 more sacks (1.5 to 11) in having one of the biggest breakout seasons of any player in college football … HIGHLIGHTS AND MORE
Coe made an instant impact as a redshirt freshman last season, registering 29 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks while appearing in all 14 games. Though Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele played the 6-foot-5, 282-pounder at multiple positions along the line, Coe primarily plays behind Marlon Davidson … HIGHLIGHTS AND MORE
Dexter Lawrence arrived at Clemson as the No. 2 recruit in the entire 2016 class and has lived up to the hype.
“I’ve never seen a guy this size who moves like this,” Dabo Swinney said of Lawrence last year. “I’ve been around some big guys, but I’ve never been around a guy that big who is that athletic. He’s just a huge, strong man. I mean, he was stronger than some of our seniors as a true freshman showing up.” … HIGHLIGHTS AND MORE
Christian Rector wasn’t a household name entering USC’s Week 3 game vs. Texas last season. The three-star recruit from South Pasadena redshirted in 2015, played sparingly in 2016 and had two tackles as a backup in their first two games of 2017 … HIGHLIGHTS AND MORE
Kingsley Keke did not arrive in College Station in 2015 as a highly touted recruit. While the big defensive tackle from Richmond, Texas, carried big-time offers, he was a 247Sports Composite three-star prospect and the 455th-ranked player in the country.
The 6-foot-3, 319-pounder played sparingly as a true freshman before breaking out a year later with seven tackles for loss and four sacks, ranking among the top interior linemen in the FBS in both categories. The pressure numbers dipped a tad (2.5 tackles for loss, one sack) last year but he remained an active force inside. And now Kingsley is in the best shape of his life and is the best No. 88 in college football … HIGHLIGHTS AND MORE
Get used to seeing a lot of Badgers on this list in the coming weeks. Quintez Cephus edges Iowa tight end Noah Fant, Louisville receiver Dez Fitzpatrick and others as the best No. 87 in college football.
Cephus’s breakout sophomore season (30 receptions for 501 yards and six touchdowns in nine games) was cut short by a gruesome leg injury that kept him out of their final three regular-season games, along with the conference championship and bowl game … HIGHLIGHTS AND MORE
Three Ohio State defensvive linemen were selected in the 2018 NFL Draft. Defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones would’ve made it four had he left after his redshirt sophomore season.
Jones is a former four-star recruit from Cleveland who redshirted in 2015 and has 72 tackles, nine tackles for loss and one sack over the last two seasons. He’s already been an impactful player for the Buckeyes but the best is yet to come for the best No. 86 in college football … HIGHLIGHTS AND MORE
Emanuel Hall submitted his name to the NFL Draft Advisory Board but opted to return for his senior season. He’s now the best No. 84 in college football and, alongside Drew Lock, forms one of the best quarterback-receiver duos in the country … HIGHLIGHTS AND MORE
“There’s really nothing in our offense he’s not able to do, whether it’s run deep, catch the ball over the middle, run bubble screens. We’ve got to find the way to get the ball in his hands.”
That was Buffalo head coach Lance Leipold talking to The Buffalo News early in fall camp last August. While Leipold saw the talent of his 6-foot-2, 207-pound JUCO transfer, there’s no way he could’ve seen what was coming that season. Johnson didn’t … MORE AND HIGHLIGHTS
James Gardner edges Albert Okwuegbunam, Caleb Wilson and a couple others for the best No. 81 in college football.
Gardner had a strong start to his 2016 season, catching 26 passes for 461 yards and five touchdowns over Miami’s first seven games, but he not yet on the national radar. Then he did this vs. Bowling Green … HIGHLIGHTS AND MORE
I have zero evidence to back up this claim but I feel comfortable making it anyway: David Edwards is the only player in the recruiting era to earn FBS offers as a quarterback, tight end and offensive tackle.
Edwards was an option quarterback at Downers Grove (Ill.) North High School when then-Illinois head coach Tim Beckman offered him a scholarship as a quarterback. Wisconsin and others recruited him as tight end. Iowa went a different direction … HIGHLIGHTS AND MORE
Like most upperclassmen on the UCF football team, Wyatt Miller has seen it all in his college career. A former three-star recruit with only a handful FBS offers, Miller has started for a zero-win team, a six-win team and a 13-win team. And through it all, he’s been one of the most reliable offensive linemen in the AAC … HIGHLIGHTS AND MORE
Paul Adams earns the nod as the best No. 77 in college football, beating out Marcus Norman (USF), Patrick Vahe (Texas), Matt Womack (Alabama) and others.
Adams, a 6-foot-6, 315-pounder redshirt senior, enters his final season with 25 consecutive starts at right tackle. He’s led units that allowed the fewest tackles for loss in the FBS each of the last two years and allowed the fifth-fewest sacks in the FBS last season … HIGHLIGHTS AND MORE
E zra Cleveland was a darn good football player at Bethel High School in Spanaway, Wash., about 50 miles south of Seattle, but he never expected to be a standout player in college. He never even expected to play college football.
“When I was in high school, I never thought I was going to play college football,” Cleveland said in April. “But I got that first offer and started working. I played last year and it was unbelievable.”… HIGHLIGHTS AND MORE
“He’s played left tackle like he was a senior. It’s just been amazing. It’s near impossible to do what Mitch has done. It’s a rare thing.”
That was Dabo Swinney on left tackle Mitch Hyatt one week before Clemson played Oklahoma in the 2015 Orange Bowl, a national semifinal of the College Football Playoff. Three years later, Hyatt is finally a senior and enters his final season as one of the best and most decorated offensive linemen in program history … HIGHLIGHTS AND MORE
Greg Little didn’t have time to adjust to the SEC. He was thrown into the field as a true freshman in 2016 and tasked with blocking some of the conference’s best pass-rushers of the last decade like Myles Garrett, Arden Key and Carl Lawson. That was before he dropped 20 pounds and became one of the best offensive tackles in the country … HIGHLIGHTS AND MORE
Jonah Williams was a five-star member of Alabama’s 2016 recruiting class. He was the 17th-ranked prospect and second-ranked offensive tackle, only behind Greg Little. Williams was supposed to be really darn good. And he’s been really darn good … HIGHLIGHTS AND MORE
Washington’s loss to Arizona State last October not only hurt their chances at returning to the College Football Playoff, it hurt the team. Literally — and very, very badly. Corner Jordan Miller, who entered the game with the lowest passer rating in the Pac-12, and three-year starting left tackle Trey Adams were both lost for the season with injuries. Miller broke his ankle and Adams tore his ACL.
Sam’s coverage of the FCS began in 2012 as the sports editor and eventual editor-in-chief of NDSU’s The Spectrum. After graduating in 2015, he spent three years in the newspaper and magazine industry while starting his work for HERO Sports in the fall of 2016 as a freelancer. In May 2018, he joined the website full time as the Senior FCS Analyst.