College Football Power Rankings: Top 10 Underrated Players Of 2012
Top 10 Undderrated College Football Players
College football is filled with big stars who dominate the news cycle from August to January. They’re the ones gracing magazine covers, getting love from the various groups handing out awards, and basically hogging all the spotlight from the major media outlets. But what about the other guys?
You know, the guys who are just as good, but maybe don’t play somewhere that College Gameday is going to be rolling into anytime soon. They are the college football players who toil away in anonymity but still produce at the highest level. They are the underrated, the unappreciated, the unrecognized.
Until now that is. We’ve scoured the college football landscape looking for players that aren’t getting the recognition and appreciation they deserve for turning in some very high-quality campaigns in 2012.
We have representatives from the Mountain West Conference to the SEC, from quarterbacks to defensive backs, with a few spots reserved for the big uglies in the trenches. Some of them are out-performing the Heisman Trophy finalists, while others won’t really be appreciated until they make an impact at the next level.
What all of them have in common, though, is that they are exceptional college football players that have gotten overlooked. Sports today has become as much about hype as it is about talent. While this list is full of players who have plenty of talent, they’ve been shorted on the hype. We’ll do our part to fix that now.
So without further ado, we count down the Top 10 Underrated College Football Players.
10. Venric Mark, RB/PR Northwestern Wildcats
The Northwestern Wildcats have been surprisingly dangerous in the Big Ten this season, helped by their exceptional special teams play led by their punt returning sensation, Venric Mark. Mark leads the nation in punt return average at an astonishing clip of 21.62 yards per return and has broken a pair of returns for touchdowns.
Mark also leads the team in rushing this season, gaining 1,176 yards, averaging 6.2 yards per carry and scoring 10 rushing touchdowns. He is the third leading rusher in the Big Ten this season, ahead of Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller, and has been integral in Northwestern’s 7-3 record.
9. Eric Fisher, OT Central Michigan Chippewas
The big hosses of the offensive line don’t usually get much love, and that goes double for the big boys playing at small schools. Eric Fisher has been a premier bookend for the Central Michigan Chippewas this season (No. 79 pictured above moonlighting as a referee), and will likely turn into one of the best offensive lineman to be chosen in the next NFL draft.
At 6-foot-7, 297 pounds, Fisher has the size to be a premier tackle. But more impressively is his strong fundamentals and sound skill set that will make him a success at any level. Scouts have lauded Fisher for his balance, powerful base, awareness and patience in his pass sets which sets him apart from most other offensive linemen. He’s rarely caught over-extended on pass rushers and will be a great tackle down the line in the pros.
8. Ross Cockrell, CB Duke Blue Devils
When you think about the Duke Blue Devils and defense, images of Coach K’s Dukies slapping the floor come to mind more often than anything related to the football team. Defensive back Ross Cockrell is doing his best to change that perception, one defended pass at a time.
Cockrell ranks among the best in college football for both passes defended (16) and interceptions (5). He’s also chipped in with 54 tackles from his corner position with a sack and a touchdown on an interception return. He’s been key in getting Duke bowl-eligible this season, which has been a rare occasion at the basketball-crazed university. Most impressively, he’s been doing it against some pretty good passing attacks in the ACC.
7. Gavin Escobar, TE San Diego State Aztecs
The San Diego State Aztecs are in a position to win a competitive MWC this season thanks to the emergence of their pass-catching tight end, Gavin Escobar. The junior leads the Aztecs in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns this season, catching 35 passes for 483 yards and five touchdowns.
At 6-foot-6, he’s proven to be a dynamic pass catcher with the ability to line up all over the field. His versatility, size and production this season have helped his draft stock soar and Escobar is now rated as the fifth best tight end, a ranking he’ll likely improve on during workouts or in his senior year if he decides to stay in school.
6. Will Sutton, DT Arizona State Sun Devils
The Arizona State Sun Devils surged to early season success this year, but have fallen into their annual end-of-season lull, losing four straight games. One possible explanation for their latest swoon? The health of their superstar defensive tackle Will Sutton.
On the season, Sutton has been a disruptive force in the middle of the defense. He’s made 51 tackles (31 solo) with 17 tackles for loss (tied for first in the Pac 12) and 10.5 sacks. That’s all while missing two games and being limited in another with a knee injury he suffered against the Oregon Ducks on the first play of the game.
And what a difference his absence has made. With a healthy Sutton in the lineup, ASU was 5-1 and gave up 17 points or less in all five wins. Since Sutton’s injury against Oregon, the Sun Devils are 0-4 and have given up 36 points or more in each of those losses. Sutton is that important as his presence in the middle of the defense is capable of disrupting anything an opposing offense is trying to do.
5. David Fales, QB San Jose State Spartans
David Fales has been flying under the radar this season for the San Jose State Spartans, but has turned in one of the most efficient seasons of anyone in the country. He’s passed for 3,126 yards while completing 72.4 percent of his passes, which is the highest mark in all of college football. He’s thrown 25 passes this season to just seven interceptions.
Some people may knock Fales for a mid-major level of competition, but the teams he faces still get to play defense and he’s carved them up better than anyone this year. He’s thrown for 250 yards or more in nine of 10 games this season and has failed to throw a touchdown pass in a game just once this year. Fales can throw the ball, and has been doing it just about as well as anyone in the country.
4. Stefphon Jefferson, RB Nevada Wolfpack
Most people would be hard-pressed to name the leading rusher in college football. It’s none other than Stefphon Jefferson of the Nevada Wolfpack, of course, as it has been for most of the season. Jefferson has been unstoppable for the Wolfpack, averaging five yards per carry while rushing for 1,436 yards (ranked No. 1 in college football) with 19 rushing touchdowns (tied for No. 1).
Jefferson has been a dynamic and consistent force for Nevada this season. He’s gained at least 100 yards rushing in seven games this season, with two games where he gained more than 90. He’s been able to consistently find the endzone as well as Nevada’s most consistent offensive threat, scoring in all but three games this season and scoring three touchdowns or more four different times.
So while the national attention for running backs gets turned to Kenjon Barner, Le’Veon Bell or the rushing tandem for Alabama, it’s Jefferson who sits above them all this season.
3. Anthony Barr, LB UCLA Bruins
Anthony Barr has been a great story for the UCLA Bruins this season. It isn’t that he leads the Pac 12 in sacks with 11, or that he’s tied for the conference lead in tackles for loss with 17. The amazing part is that up until last spring, Barr was a fullback.
After accepting a position change and flipping over to the defensive side of the ball, Barr has been learning on the job in a hurry. He’s recorded at least one sack in eight of 10 games this season and has recorded multiple tackles for loss in five games this season. And he’s still learning to play linebacker!
Jim Mora called Barr one of the premier defensive players in the Pac 12 who could become one of the premier defensive players in the entire country. You know, once he’s played more than 10 games on defense.
2. Barrett Jones, C Alabama Crimson Tide
Being the starting center for one of the more dominant run-blocking offensive lines in the country should be enough to get you a little bit of pub, right? Well, whatever attention Barrett Jones of the Alabama Crimson Tide has gotten hasn’t been enough because he’s on the verge of something truly special.
In 2010, Jones was selected as an All-American as a right guard. He followed that up by moving to left tackle in 2011 and winning All-American honors as well. Now in 2012, as the center for the Tide, he has a legitimate shot to be named to the All-American team once again for his third position in three years. How is nobody talking about that?
Whether or not Jones is named an All-American again, he will go down as one of the most versatile offensive linemen in the history of college football. To be able to play every position on the line is a rare skill. To be able to play every position on the offensive line and be one of the best in the country at it? That’s unheard of.
1. Jordan Lynch, QB Northern Illinois Huskies
The dual-threat quarterback has become one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in college football these days. While most of the attention this season has been on a freshman dual-threat QB down in College Station, nobody has been more effective running and passing thanJordan Lynch of the Northern Illinois Huskies.
Lynch has gained 3,517 yards of total offense this season, third best in the country. He is the fifth leading rusher in the country, gaining 1,342 yards on the ground while passing for 2,175 yards. His 35 total touchdowns (19 passing, 16 rushing) are the most of anyone in college football this season (and two more than Johnny Manziel). He’s scored at least one touchdown in every game this season, and multiple touchdowns in 10 of 11 games.
There were some doubts about whether or not Lynch was just a running quarterback or a true dual-threat, which he put to rest in his last game against the Toledo Rockets. Lynch led the Huskies to the MAC win throwing for 407 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 162 yards. Any doubts about Lynch or his ability to make plays with his arm and his legs have officially been put to bed.