Ranking the Top 10 Players in 2021 College Football

By Dan Vasta in Sports
| August 12, 2021 6:14 am PDT

College football rankings and lists are some of my favorite discussions in the offseason. When no games are going on, the entertainment level certainly gets taken down a notch.

Until games get played, this is what fans love to discuss. Many fans want their opinion to be heard, which includes their favorite players being called a star. Their favorite team or player is going to have a monster season if you ask them.

There are so many players, and it is never easy to rank a list of the top players in college football. Playing in the national spotlight in the primetime games is an advantage that players from the Power Five have. The smaller conferences have some elite players but mixing in studs from the SEC is helpful.

I am ranking the best college football players for 2021 on a mix of potential, production, talent, and accolades up to date. Many of these players will become first and second-round draft picks.

There are a ton of players that are worthy of this list. I try to avoid choosing players at the same positions.

There were difficult choices, but I believe that balance is best. I ended up choosing four defensive players among my top 10 NCAA football players. The star quarterback is vital to the success of a team. So, I do have a few All-American signal-callers, as well.

Here are the best college football players for 2021.

10. Kaiir Elam, DB, Florida

Kaiir Elam had family members that both played in the NFL. His father (Abram) ended up having several seasons at safety. His uncle Matt was a star for Florida. He spent a few seasons with the Ravens before moving to the IFL.

There is enough talent on Florida’s roster to avoid having a disastrous season, but Elam needs to have a monster season.

He is arguably the top corner in the nation entering the season and will be thrown on an island by his lonesome against the premier wideouts in the SEC.

The Gators have had a bevy of stars over the years in the secondary. Some argue they are known as Defensive Back University, but there are so many other great options.

The recent run of Ohio State has given them an edge, but don’t tell that to the folks from the SEC. It should make some question which school is the real “DBU”.

Here’s a look at schools with defensive backs that were drafted in the first round since 2000.

LSU Florida Florida State Ohio State Alabama
6 7 6 12 8

Every season several great defensive backs are roaming the gridiron by their lonesome. Elam should continue the great history in Gainesville.

The likes of Joe Haden, Vernon Hargreaves, CJ Henderson, Reggie Nelson, and Lito Sheppard are just some of the former stars that have donned the Blue and Orange at the Swamp.

The SEC will always garner preseason attention with the elite defensive backs, and Elam is no different. He can hang with any weapon on the outside.

9. Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State

Chris Olave already has 22 career scores in his collegiate career. That is remarkable when you break down the numbers. He is reaching paydirt for every five receptions he hauls in.

He is also ready to set records this season for the Buckeyes. He’s close to some big ones.

  • 1,133 receiving yards from passing Michael Jenkins
  • 13 touchdowns from passing David Boston

Ohio State has been playing 14-plus games, which could allow the Buckeye faithful to enjoy one final season from Olave.

Even with the loss of Justin Fields, Olave is not going to slow down, as Ohio State has one of the most talented receiving units in the nation.

Garrett Wilson is one of the more explosive playmakers, but Olave is one of the top red-zone performers.

The precision of his route running and sure hands allow him to snag the football as if it was a junior-sized ball. There may not be another wideout with a better nose for the end zone, and his performance against Clemson (6-132-2) had many wondering if he would even return for his final season in Columbus.

Fields is no longer under center, but the majority of the team is back on the offensive side of the ball. Look for increased numbers due to more games.

Ohio State only played in eight games last season, and the numbers were still respectable. The Ohio State defense likely won’t be elite, but points will be flowing on the scoreboard yet again.

8. Breece Hall, RB, Iowa State

Troy Davis was the best back Iowa State has seen, but David Montgomery a few seasons ago was not too shabby. The Cyclones have flown under the radar since Matt Campbell has taken over the job, and I suspect people are now aware of what this program can accomplish.

Before Campbell arrived, the Cyclones had only one winning season in the Big 12. They now have three more under Campbell.

ISU is coming off the best season in program history after their first-ever premier bowl game (BCS/NY6) and AP Top 10 finish.

The Cyclones dominated the Ducks in the trenches as they ran for 228 yards on 56 attempts with three scores. Breece Hall was the reason why they won that game.

The unanimous All-American bruising tailback last season feasted in the Fiesta Bowl against Oregon. Hall cooked up the Ducks for 136 yards and two scores on a beast-like usage (34 carries).

He’s in line to do a lot more in 2021. Just look at his stats already.

  • 2,469 career rushing yards
  • 30 career rushing touchdowns

Hall is within striking distance of second place in the Iowa State record books and could take over the top spot with 1,914 yards this year. Eight touchdowns would see him break Troy Davis’ rushing touchdown record, as well.

He passed on the NFL to come back for a more spectacular season. Be sure to catch the top back in the nation before he is playing on Sundays.

The game to watch would be Week 2 against a stout Iowa defense. Also, we could see the star back matchup against Oklahoma two times like last season.

Times have changed, and Iowa State has turned into one of the more physical teams in college football. They have reaped the benefits in the process and they should start in the preseason Top 10.

In what could be the final season for Hall, the faithful in Ames should enjoy the reigning Doak Walker winner while they still can.

7. JT Daniels, QB, Georgia

Georgia has not won the national championship since 1980, and many point to the quarterback position holding the program back.

They have had the likes of DJ Shockley, David Greene, and Matthew Stafford over the years. However, they have missed out on the star recruits or have not been able to keep them for long (see Justin Fields).

It’s kept them from winning at a high level.

Last SEC Title Last W Over Alabama Last National Title
2017 2007 1980

JT Daniels, a former USC Trojan, had an impressive first season last year with Georgia. The final drive in the Peach Bowl won the fans over, but he was consistent all season.

He has an exceptional arm and the pocket presence to find open targets down the field for big yardage.

The numbers may not reward Daniels with the Heisman, but he is more than capable of winning every ball game Georgia plays this season. He enters the new year as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in college football.

The weapons are well stocked, and it just comes down to building a great rapport with the bevy of weapons at his disposal in Athens.

Daniels could be one of the main reasons why Georgia finally gets over the hump. Stellar defense and a manageable schedule could finally bring them back to the promised land.

6. Kyle Hamilton, DB, Notre Dame

The Golden Domers have had star defensive back play over the years, but it has been a while since they have had an all-world performer plucking pigskins in center field.

Kyle Hamilton can do so much more than cover. The Notre Dame defensive back can blow up a player in the backfield for a huge tackle for loss.

The Irish are losing production from their experienced players and leaders, so look for Hamilton to be that alpha dog on the defense.

Notre Dame has to host three potential first-round draft picks this season. Sam Howell, Kedon Slovis, and Desmond Ridder are all capable of knocking the Irish off. Hamilton is one of the few defenders that will see the star signal-callers in the NFL.

His ability to tackle in space makes him a viable defender that is an added linebacker on the field.

The last safety to become a star similar to Hamilton was back in 2012 when Harrison Smith was roaming sideline to sideline. Smith has turned into a premier safety in the NFL, and the hope is Hamilton can continue the tradition of successful Golden Domer defensive backs.

5. Evan Neal, OL, Alabama

Alabama has had the best bodies in the trenches for years, and it should come as no shock that Evan Neal is on this list. He was an absolute road grader and can play anywhere on the field among the o-line.

Neal projects to play tackle (non-blindside) entering the season, and he is the best player on the Crimson Tide roster. Whether or not he receives the recognition, Alabama will run downhill.

Their premier blockers will be dominant. Neal is a sensational athlete that has already made scouts drool with his workouts.

Neal is the best of the bunch and will continue to hold up in pass protection on top of leading an Alabama squad that will be young at quarterback and wide receiver.

Many are unaware of how dominant Neal has been for Alabama, but he will have a chance to be the first lineman taken in the draft. When in doubt, take a hog mollie from the SEC, and Alabama is not that bad of a place to start.

4. Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma

The preseason Heisman favorite should have plenty of looks to live up to the hype with a schedule that sets up perfectly.

Oklahoma will be favorites in every pre-January game they play this upcoming season. The ability to buy time with his legs will allow Spencer Rattler to bury the Big 12 early and often.

His dynamic ability makes him one of the best college football players to watch in 2021.

Rattler and the Sooners do not have a daunting schedule in September. Opening against Tulane, Western Carolina, and Nebraska is a cupcake slate. We could see a dozen or more touchdowns without a single turnover in those three games.

Will Rattler even take a single snap in the fourth quarter in those games? There were times we did not see Oklahoma’s starting lineup in the fourth quarter last season, and there is a good chance we will see more of that.

The video game-like numbers in September are traditionally unlike any other. Some Heisman challengers could go bonkers in the first two or three games of a season, but often they tail off once their performance suffers and their team loses.

Neither of those is likely to happen to Rattler. The ability to reach paydirt as a runner will allow him to stay in the race all season.

Rattler ran in six scores last season, and that number could double with full schedules in the 2021 campaign.

It could be the Sooners best squad since the Sam Bradford era.

Marvin Mims, Jadon Haselwood, Theo Wease, and Austin Stogner are reliable threats. 

Don’t worry, the numbers will be there, and while being the preseason favorite is usually the kiss of death, he is in the perfect system to live up to the hype.

3. Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina

This preseason superstar has the goods to turn the Tar Heels into a Top 10 caliber of a squad. They came up short last season but it was still impressive to see them get to the Orange Bowl.

It was the first-ever Orange Bowl appearance and their first premier bowl since the 1949 Sugar Bowl!

This program had some defensive woes, but Sam Howell has given them a superstar to carry the team on his back. He nearly won them the Orange Bowl, but returning for his final season in Chapel Hill should be a fun one.

His stellar player puts him in play to be the 1st overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Howell is the most accurate passer in the nation and has a sensational pocket presence. He isn’t a physical freak but can escape with his legs and drop a dime on the move.

Howell lost weapons, but the depth is solid for the Heels, and I expect a stellar season from arguably the top passer in America.

2. Derek Stingley Jr., DB, LSU

Many believe the real #DBU belongs to the LSU Tigers. They have had a bevy of superstar defensive backs that fans around the country have coveted for years. How high will this next young stud go for LSU?

There is something magical about wearing a single-digit number in college football on a glorious and beautiful Saturday. Stingley Jr. is switching jersey numbers and will don the legendary number seven in Baton Rouge.

Jamal Adams, Tre’Davious White, Jalen Mills, Eric Reid, Tyrann Mathieu, Mo Claiborne, Patrick Peterson, LaRon Landry, and Corey Webster are a laundry list of former stud defensive backs.

The best in the world have played for the Tigers. Just look at where some of their best defensive backs have gone in the draft over the years.

Jamal Adams Tre’Davious White Eric Reid Morris Claiborne Patrick Peterson
Sixth No. 21 No. 18 Sixth Fifth

The tradition will continue in 2021. Plus, this only takes us back the last decade-plus, but the cupboard is far from bare nowadays.

Stingley Jr. looks to be one of the better corners they have ever had.

Success is coming down to wins and losses, so the Bayou Bengals remain hopeful that wins will be flowing after a tough 2020 shortened season.

1. Kayvon Thibodeaux, OLB, Oregon

I love my Ducks! Kayvon Thibodeaux is a dynamic and ferocious pass rusher and is nearly unblockable. He demands double teams and is an absolute albatross to even prepare for before Saturday arrives.

We could be looking at the top pick of the NFL Draft, but the quick first step at the line of scrimmage is devastating.

Thibodeaux’s length, wingspan, and athleticism are off the charts. He has the talent to become the next Oregon star to go inside the top 10 in the NFL Draft.

2021, Penei Sewell 2020, Justin Herbert 2016, DeForest Buckner 2015, Marcus Mariotae
Seventh Sixth Seventh Second

He is the total package for Oregon, which brings it all to the table. Imagine a clone of Julius Peppers and Jadeveon Clowney from their days in North Carolina and South Carolina.

They were two of the better defenders in the front seven we have ever seen. Thibodeaux will have his eyes set on wreaking havoc in the backfield of the opposition.

Oregon could have been a national title contender last season had the entire secondary played. The quarterback situation has been a little cloudy, but the final season for No. 5 in green should be bonkers.

Other Top College Football Players for 2021

  • Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati QB)
  • Matt Corral (Ole Miss QB)
  • Garrett Wilson (Ohio State WR)
  • Kenyon Green (Texas A&M OL)
  • Thayer Munford (Ohio State OL)
  • Jordan Davis (Georgia DL)
  • DeMarvin Leal (Texas A&M DL)
  • Nolan Smith (Georgia LB)
  • Tyler Linderbaum (Iowa OL)

The above are nine more college football players you’ll want to keep an eye on for 2021. They’re deserving of at least being discussed among the best college football players, too.

There will be a ton of players that pass the eye test this upcoming season. Stars will come out of nowhere potentially, and the winning teams often reap the benefits.

Projecting the top players going into the season is as impossible as the Heisman. Some prognosticators are unsure who is even going to start weeks before the season.

There will be a few underclassmen that take the nation by storm. Quarterbacks are always the most talked-about players, but stud defenders are worthy of more recognition.

There will be a few elite defenses this season, but certainly, the offensive players put the students into a frenzy. The atmosphere will be electric with rowdy crowds, and night games could bring the most excitement in decades.

Getting ready for the 2021 college football season? Check out some more posts below.



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