I'm unveiling my rankings of the top 15 senior, junior, redshirt sophomore and true sophomore prospects in college football. Note that true sophomores are not eligible for entry into the 2017 NFL Draft, but it's never too early to start to stack the talent based on traits, potential and positions with higher draft priorities.
CFB 24/7 counts down the best of what college football has to offer in varying categories for 2016.
- Best prospects outside Power 5
- Best home-run threats
- CBs we'd like to see matched up against OBJ
- WRs we'd most want in jump-ball situation
- Fastest players
- Coaches who are best developers of NFL talent
- Games with most NFL players
- Most versatile players
- Players who could run for president one day
- Most accurate QBs
- QBs with the strongest arms
- QBs we'd want with game on line
- Most freakish athletes
- Offensive players who will be NFL stars
- Defenders who will be NFL stars
- Impact transfers
- Players who bypassed 2016 draft
- Top Heisman candidates
1. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Quarterbacks always find their way toward the top of the draft board, but Rosen won't be a late riser -- he's already being monitored as a top-rated prospect after only one season. UCLA will be using a pro-style attack favored by new offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu, and that should help to give NFL evaluators a truer look at Rosen's potential as a prospect. Rosen's quick release and advanced football intelligence should help move the hype train along at a very quick pace, but deservedly so.
2. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
Ridley is older than most true sophomores, but he's also more talented than most. With blazing speed that will have safeties in an early backpedal, Ridley has the ability to take the top off of a defense or shake cornerbacks underneath to create separation. Ridley could use more muscle on his frame to help with securing more contested catches, but that will likely come.
3. Derwin James, S, Florida State
James came to Florida State with much fanfare and immediately cranked out production like a seasoned veteran. He'll hit you, and showed the range to make plays in coverage. What could stand out to NFL evaluators is his ability to disrupt around the line of scrimmage.
4. Arden Key, OLB/DE, LSU
Key's build is similar to Leonard Floyd's, and he clearly needs to fill out his frame and get stronger, but look out. Slippery pass rushers with the ability to get after the quarterback with inside and outside pass-rush moves tend to go early. Key's speed also allows him to chase running backs and quarterbacks wide. It's scary to think about what he could do standing up as an outside linebacker.
5. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
From a size and talent standpoint, Barkley is a straight-up dude. Barkley has elite vision and change-of-direction talent for a back his size. Barkley's burst and physicality allow him to create yardage for himself, which is critical in the NFL. The big question is whether or not Penn State can keep the mileage at a moderate level on such a talented back.
6. Iman Marshall, CB, USC
You know what Marshall doesn't lack? Confidence. And that confidence is why NFL teams won't even pay attention to his 11 penalties or four touchdowns allowed. Marshall was at the top of the food chain coming out of the high school recruiting process. He stepped in for 12 starts as a freshman, grabbing three interceptions with 10 passes broken up. With elite size for the position and an early head start on life as a starter in a Power Five conference, Marshall's star should continue to shine brightly.
7. Connor Williams, OT/OG, Texas
When I watched tape of Williams earlier this summer, I would have sworn I was watching former Texas A&M Aggie Jake Matthews all over again. Williams wasn't a high-end blue-chipper coming out of high school, but he played his freshman season with outstanding body control, consistency and an advanced understanding of technique. Williams' ultimate position fit could be tied directly to his weight and arm length by the time he comes out.
8. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
While the masses love Leonard Fournette, running back hipster fans took careful notice of the bruising freshman running as Fournette's backup. Guice has juice, plain and simple. With a combination of size, burst and power, Guice was able to churn out an incredible 8.5 yards per carry. In some ways, his interior running style might be more NFL-friendly than even Fournette's.
9. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
Kirk is a silky smooth slot receiver with exciting footwork in and out of his breaks, and an ability to create separation in tight quarters. While Kirk isn't as tall as some teams like, I do think he's big enough to play outside in the NFL. Kirk's urgency before and after the catch makes him fun to watch from snap to whistle on each play.
10. Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
I understand that Payne isn't much of a pass rusher and could see his stock slip a little bit as we saw with Alabama's defensive tackles in this year's draft, but there is no questioning his ability. Payne is big and incredibly strong. He will pick up where Jarron Reed and A'Shawn Robinson left off as a run-stuffing bully on the interior.
NFL Media analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah takes a "first look" at college football's top players for 2016.
- Michigan TE Jake Butt
- Miami QB Brad Kaaya
- Oklahoma RB Samaje Perine
- Alabama OT Cam Robinson
- LSU S Jamal Adams
- Michigan DB Jabrill Peppers
- Ohio State LB Raekwon McMillan
- USC CB Adoree' Jackson
- Missouri DE Charles Harris
- Alabama TE O.J. Howard
- Florida CB Jalen Tabor
- Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly
- Alabama OLB Tim Williams
- FSU RB Dalvin Cook
- USC WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
- Alabama DL Jonathan Allen
- Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey
- Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett
- LSU RB Leonard Fournette
- Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
11. Jake Browning, QB, Washington
Browning holds national high school records for touchdown passes in a season (91) and career (229), so he knows how to fling it. Like Rosen, Browning should be able to grow into his frame with more functional muscle, which should help since he has the mobility to get outside the pocket and make plays. While his freshman season statistics were somewhat average, he showed an ability to complete NFL throws at an accurate clip and loves to take shots down the field.
12. Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
Jefferson has an athletic, muscular frame and has the speed to cover giant swaths of grass on any given play. The league loves size, but truly covets playmaking speed, and Jefferson has that along with a physical nature. If Jefferson plays a more instinctive brand of football, we might start to compare his game to Jaylon Smith's.
13. Tarvarus McFadden, CB, Florida State
If you go searching around for McFadden's FSU highlight tape as a freshman, you might come away disappointed since he played sparingly for the Seminoles. Don't let that fool you. McFadden has tremendous size, speed and athleticism, and was highly recruited coming out of high school. FSU has cranked out some high-end defensive backs in recent years, and McFadden figures to be another one as he gets his feet wet in the game.
14. Deon Cain, WR, Clemson
Cain was a prominent contributor on a Clemson offense that was loaded with weapons. Keep in mind that Cain was a high-school quarterback, and has had very limited time at the wide receiver position. As he continues to get more comfortable at the position and learns the nuances of route running, his stock should steadily rise as he has the size and speed that NFL teams covet.
15. Martez Ivey, OG, Florida
Ivey's effectiveness was hindered by a torn meniscus that forced him to miss the early part of the season, but his talent is obvious though still very raw. Ivey is expected to kick down inside to left guard from the tackle spot, but his blend of foot quickness, length and mass could have NFL evaluators considering him as a tackle by the time he enters the league.
Follow Lance Zierlein on Twitter @LanceZierlein.