The 2016 Sophomore All-American Team in college football, highlighted on offense by Louisville QB Lamar Jackson and on defense by Ohio State S Malik Hooker.
Seniors are about to exhaust their eligibility. Many of the game’s top juniors will declare for the NFL Draft in the coming weeks. Why produce a Sophomore All-American Team? Because it provides a one-stop portal into which players are going to be the biggest stars of the 2017 season. Sophomores reside in a sweet spot of sorts. They’re seasoned, yet not quite ready—or eligible—to make the jump to Sundays.
Offensive Sophomore of the Year: QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville
Defensive Freshman of the Year: S Malik Hooker, Ohio State
First Team Offense
QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville
Jackson was expected to take the next step in his evolution as Bobby Petrino’s triggerman. However, few figured he’d explode into the game’s most exciting playmaker this early in his career. Jackson became the face of the sport immediately after leading his Cards to a 63-20 Week 3 demolition of Florida State. This year’s Heisman Trophy-winner has been the quintessence of the modern-day dual-threat, rushing for 1,538 yards and 21 scores and adding another 30 touchdowns and 3,390 yards through the air. Jackson is a high-speed nightmare in space, with the arm talent to keep improving as a passer.
RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Barkley is the Lions’ offensive heartbeat, and a huge reason why his program is the Big Ten champ and Rose Bowl-bound. Despite being a little beaten up late in the year, he still rushed for 1,302 yards and 16 scores, while also catching 23 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns. In just his second season out of Whitehall (Penn.) High School, Penn State’s powerful cutback runner has already been named the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Year.
RB Derrius Guice, LSU
Leonard Fournette was never quite 100% after injuring his ankle in the Wisconsin opener. Guice was more than ready to pick up the slack, earning All-SEC First Team honors for rushing for 1,249 yards and 14 touchdowns on only 157 carries. In the Tigers final three games alone, Guice gashed Arkansas for 252 yards and Texas A&M for a school-record 285 yards and four touchdowns. He runs with a sense of purpose on every single play, relentlessly churning his legs and forcing defenders to drag him to the ground.
WR Jonathan Giles, Texas Tech
Giles was Patrick Mahomes’ favorite target in 2016, catching 69 balls for 1,158 yards and 13 touchdowns. And coach Kliff Kingsbury believes his sophomore can be so much more complete once he hones the finer points of the position. Giles is still adapting to life as an inside receiver in the Red Raider system after spending his high school career mostly playing quarterback. Yet, he posted three 100-yard, two-touchdown games in conference play to land on the All-Big 12 Second Team.
WR Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
In two seasons in College Station, Kirk has bloomed into one of college football’s premier playmakers, regardless of class. A Freshman All-American in 2015, he remained hot this fall by earning First Team All-SEC with 77 receptions for 842 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s also a lethal special teamer, with five career punt returns for touchdowns, including three this past fall. Kirk not only has game-changing speed and quickness, but also the vision to hit the right hole and burst into daylight.
TE David Njoku, Miami
Plays tight end. Produces like a wide receiver. Njoku is a unique athlete at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, a high school high jump champion who has only just begun to scratch the surface of his potential. After shaking off some early drops, he’s gone on to catch 38 passes for 654 yards and seven touchdowns. And Njoku’s ceiling is so high as a seam-buster who can create mismatches with linebackers and DBs that he could be the rare sophomore whose next leap is to the NFL.
OT Orlando Brown, Oklahoma
The 6-8, 340-pound Brown enveloped opposing defenders this season, en route to being named the Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year. The two-year starter played an important role in the Sooners’ success on the ground with Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, but he was particularly effective at keeping Baker Mayfield’s rear view mirror empty. Although Brown is close to being NFL-ready, he’s leaning toward returning to school in 2017.
OG Beau Benzschawel, Wisconsin
Benzschawel has been one of the pillars up front for Wisconsin from right guard. He’s built like a tackle at 6-foot-6 and 321 pounds, and has experience there, but he does his best work in areas the size of a standard cubicle. Like so many of his predecessors in Madison, Benzschawel excels at creating daylight for the Badger backs, rising up to the All-Big Ten Second Team according to league coaches.
C James Daniels, Iowa
No one expected it to be easy replacing Austin Blythe at the pivot in Iowa City. But Daniels has taken an enormous step toward allaying fears with his performance this season. He’s a natural at the position, athletic, heady and not afraid to get vocal with his fellow linemates. Daniels missed a pair of September games to injury, but bounced back to earn a place on the All-Big Ten Third Team.
OG Will Clapp, LSU
Clapp is one of the top young guards in the country, which he repeatedly displayed from the interior of the Tiger line. The 6-foot-5, 309-pounder is very strong at the point of attack, maintaining his blocks so that Derrius Guice and Leonard Fournette can burst into the second level. Despite playing at less than full strength at times during the regular season, Clapp was still recognized on the All-SEC First Team.
OT Connor Williams, Texas
Speak softly, yet carry a big stick. While Williams is reserved and borderline nerdy away from the field, he’s a road grader on it. At 6-foot-6 and 288 pounds, he’s still filling out his frame. However, he operates with such intensity and sound technique at left tackle that he’s able to maul opposing linemen and linebackers. One of the key pieces of RB D’Onta Foreman’s 2,000-yard season, Williams was an easy choice for the All-Big 12 First Team.
First Team Defense
DE Dorance Armstrong Jr., Kansas
Players the caliber of Armstrong rarely matriculate in Lawrence. And the Jayhawks are absolutely giddy to have landed the Houston product two years ago. Armstrong is a quick-twitch edge rusher, whose 20 additional pounds of muscle this season allowed him to hold up against more physical linemen and better defend the run. However, hunting down quarterbacks is his calling card. Armstrong, without a lot of support from his teammates, bagged a Big 12-best 20 tackles for loss and 10 sacks during the regular season.
DT David Moa, Boise State
Moa doesn’t look the part of a nose tackle at 6-foot-3 and 268 pounds. But what he lacks in traditional size for the position he more than compensates for with toughness, quickness and a hot motor. Moa was a weekly nuisance for opposing centers and guards, even when he wasn’t making the stop. He racked up 8.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and four pass breakups, en route to a spot on the All-Mountain West First Team.
DT Vita Vea, Washington
Vea is the definition of a dancing bear, a 6-foot-4, 346-pound behemoth who’s unusually agile and nimble for a lineman his size. Think former Husky standout Danny Shelton. Vea is predictably strong and stout at the point of attack, an immovable object against the run. However, the All-Pac-12 second-teamer also routinely got penetration, either flushing the pocket or drilling opposing backs and quarterbacks into the turf.
DE Christian Wilkins, Clemson
Big and powerful enough at 6-foot-4 and 310 pounds to stuff the run. Yet, athletic enough to line up on the outside for Clemson, allowing Carlos Watkins and Dexter Lawrence to handle the interior. Wilkins has built on his breakout rookie campaign by notching 51 stops, a dozen tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, seven pass breakups and 16 pressures. The freakishly athletic big man has even occasionally contributed on special teams, blocking kicks and earning surprise touches on trick plays.
LB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
Physically, the Hokies believe they could have their next Xavier Adibi in Blacksburg. Edmunds took a big step toward fulfilling lofty expectations in 2016. He has the frame of a budding defensive end, 6-foot-5 and 236 pounds, to go along with the range to fly all over the field to make plays. Edmunds is still learning the cerebral side of the game, yet parlayed 99 tackles, 17 stops for loss, 4.5 sacks and nine hurries into Second Team All-ACC honors.
LB Arden Key, LSU
Just wait until he fills out, which ought to continue next offseason. Key is still a rangy 6-foot-6 and 238-pound athlete who uses his long stride and long arms to cover ground in a flash and swim past flat-footed tackles. He’s like a condor off the edge, making 50 stops, 12.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, 10 hurries and three forced fumbles in only 10 games. Key needs two sacks in the Citrus Bowl to tie the LSU single-season record set in 1989 by Oliver Lawrence.
LB Cameron Smith, USC
Smith is the inside linebacker of this year’s Sophomore All-American Team, the run-stuffer who reads, reacts and hunts down opposing backs. He’s bounced back from a knee injury that curtailed a banner rookie season to become one of the cornerstones of Clancy Pendergast’s improved D. Smith has a Trojan-high 79 tackles and seven stops for loss to earn Second Team All-Pac-12, but his approach to the game, fundamentals and leadership have been every bit as important as his numbers.
CB Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State
Lattimore was finally healthy in 2016, affording him a chance to show why he’s one of the top young corners in America. The former blue-chipper was saddled with intermittent hamstring issues during his first two seasons. But he went wire-to-wire this past fall, emerging as bona fide next-level lockdown corner. Lattimore has four picks and nine pass breakups, earning All-Big Ten First Team and glowing reviews from pro scouts.
S Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Fitzpatrick excels at ‘star,’ Bama’s hybrid secondary role. He moved over to strong safety after Eddie Jackson was lost for the season and didn’t skip a beat. Heck, he can handle corner if needed. Fitzpatrick’s versatility is his greatest asset and testament to the breadth of his physical and intellectual attributes. The All-American enters the playoff game versus Washington with 56 tackles, five stops for loss and five interceptions, including a pair of pick-sixes.
S Malik Hooker, Ohio State
Total package. Hooker has it all in a safety. He’s big, 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, fast, instinctive and smart. Plus, he wants to be great, which was evident throughout his first season as a starter. Hooker exploded on to the scene in 2016, though the Buckeye coaches who recruited him out of New Castle (Penn.) High School always figured he’d be special. The All-American is flush in big-play instincts, picking off six passes for 181 yards and returning three of them for touchdowns.
CB Tarvarus McFadden, Florida State
McFadden is still maturing as a pass defender, prone to occasional lapses. But he took a quantum leap in his development in 2016, doing a terrific job of succeeding Jalen Ramsey in the Seminole secondary. A year ago, Florida State had just eight interceptions as a team. McFadden has matched that total on his own this fall, adding five pass breakups to earn First Team All-ACC in his first season as a full-timer.
First Team Special Teams
PK Emmit Carpenter, Minnesota
The Gophers were in the market for a placekicker after Ryan Santoso opted to concentrate solely on punting. Carpenter has seamlessly assumed the role, hitting 21-of-23 field goals, including all nine from outside 40 yards. The Green Bay native has scored 104 points, second all-time in school history, while being recognized as a Groza Award semifinalist and an All-Big Ten first-teamer.
P Mitch Wishnowsky, Utah
The procession of elite, game-changing punters from Australia to U.S. college campuses continued in earnest this fall. All three Ray Guy Award finalists were from Down Under, with Wishnowsky keeping the hardware in Salt Lake City for a third straight year. Utah’s heir to Tom Hackett ranks second nationally in punting average, slightly under 48 yards, while leading the country in punts placed inside the opponent’s 10-yard line.
Second Team Offense
QB Jake Browning, Washington
RB Myles Gaskin, Washington
RB Joe Mixon, Oklahoma
WR Richie James, Middle Tennessee
WR Equanimeous St. Brown, Notre Dame
TE Mark Andrews, Oklahoma
OT Mitch Hyatt, Clemson
OG Tommy Doles, Northwestern
C Michael Deiter, Wisconsin
OG Martez Ivey, Florida
OT Dalton Risner, Kansas State
Second Team Defense
DE Jaylon Ferguson, Louisiana Tech
DT Chris Nelson, Texas
DT Greg Gaines, Washington
DE Hercules Mata’afa, Washington State
LB Jordan Jones, Kentucky
LB Ty Summers, TCU
LB Jahlani Tavai, Hawaii
CB Marlon Humphrey, Alabama
S Ronnie Harrison, Alabama
S Jordan Whitehead, Pittsburgh
CB D.J. Reed, Kansas State
Second Team Special Teams
PK Eddy Pineiro, Florida
P Michael Dickson, Texas
QB: Josh Allen (Wyoming), David Blough (Purdue), Christian Chapman (San Diego State), Brandon Dawkins (Arizona), Eric Dungey (Syracuse), Ryan Finley (NC State), Nick Fitzgerald (Mississippi State), Andrew Ford (Massachusetts), Chase Litton (Marshall), Drew Lock (Missouri), Trace McSorley (Penn State), Gus Ragland (Miami U.), Brett Rypien (Boise State), Brent Stockstill (Middle Tennessee) and Clayton Thorson (Northwestern)
RB: Josh Adams (Notre Dame), Ryquell Armstead (Temple), Tony Brooks-James (Oregon), Andy Davidson (Army), James Gilbert (Ball State), Damien Harris (Alabama), Kerryon Johnson (Auburn), Ty Johnson (Maryland), Ronald Jones II (USC), Jalin Moore (Appalachian State), Ryan Nall (Oregon State), Tyrone Owens (New Mexico), Kamryn Pettway (Auburn), Jordan Scarlett (Florida), LJ Scott (Michigan State), Rodney Smith (Minnesota), Mark Walton (Miami), Warren Wand (Arkansas State), Braeden West (SMU), Rawleigh Williams (Arkansas) and Terence Williams (Baylor)
WR: Noah Brown (Ohio State), Deon Cain (Clemson), Michael Clark (Marshall), Keke Coutee (Texas Tech), Terren Encalade (Tulane), James Gardner (Miami U.), Quadree Henderson (Pittsburgh), Jon’Vea Johnson (Toledo), KeeSean Johnson (Fresno State), Kahlil Lewis (Cincinnati), Tavares Martin (Washington State), Chico McClatcher (Washington), Jalen McCleskey (Oklahoma State), Scott Miller (Bowling Green), D.J. Moore (Maryland), T.J. Rahming (Duke), Calvin Ridley (Alabama), Steven Sims (Kansas), Jaylen Smith (Louisville), Courtland Sutton (SMU), Auden Tate (Florida State), Nick Westbrook (Indiana), Olamide Zaccheaus (Virginia) and Ishmael Zamora (Baylor)
TE: Marcus Baugh (Ohio State), C.J. Conrad (Kentucky), Cole Herdman (Purdue), Hayden Hurst (South Carolina), Drew Sample (Washington) and Dayton Valentine (Kansas State)
OL: Trey Adams (Washington), Ryan Anderson (Wake Forest), Samson Bailey (Missouri), Zack Bailey (South Carolina), Tyler Bowling (Tulsa), Geron Christian (Louisville), Tariq Cole (Rutgers), Andre Dillard (Washington State), O’Shea Dugas (Louisiana Tech), Tanner Farmer (Nebraska), Hjalte Froholdt (Arkansas), Lamont Gaillard (Georgia), Nick Gates (Nebraska), Kaden Jackson (Wyoming), Sam Jones (Arizona State), John Keenoy (Western Michigan), Chandler Miller (Tulsa), Mike Minter (Maryland), Brian O’Neill (Pittsburgh), Ross Pierschbacher (Alabama) and Max Scharping (Northern Illinois)
DL: Cortez Broughton (Cincinnati), Demarcus Christmas (Florida State), Rasheem Green (USC), Parker Hesse (Iowa), Sam Hubbard (Ohio State), Cece Jefferson (Florida), Kingsley Keke (Texas A&M), Ira Lewis (Baylor), R.J. McIntosh (Miami), Matt Nelson (Iowa), Da’Ron Payne (Alabama), Malik Reed (Nevada), Darian Roseboro (NC State), Chris Slayton (Syracuse), Trenton Thompson (Georgia), Denzil Ware (Kentucky), JoJo Wicker (Arizona State), Eddy Wilson (Purdue) and Oshane Ximines (Old Dominion)
LB: Genard Avery (Memphis), Jerome Baker (Ohio State), T.J. Edwards (Wisconsin), Malik Fountain (Central Michigan), Ulysees Gilbert (Akron), Frank Ginda (San Jose State), Porter Gustin (USC), Breckyn Hager (Texas), Willie Harvey (Iowa State), Khalil Hodge (Buffalo), Ben Humphreys (Duke), Malik Jefferson (Texas), Kendall Joseph (Clemson), Junior McMullen (Miami U.), Natrez Patrick (Georgia), Andre Smith (North Carolina), Roquan Smith (Georgia), Bright Ugwoegbu (Oregon State) and Tre Watson (Illinois)
DB: Adonis Alexander (Virginia Tech), Jaire Alexander (Louisville), Blessuan Austin (Rutgers), Jonathan Crawford (Indiana), Garrett Davis (Houston), Terrell Edmunds (Virginia Tech), Marcus Epps (Wyoming), Rashad Fenton (South Carolina), Chase Hansen (Utah), William Harris (Boston College), Montre Hartage (Northwestern), Tyler Horton (Boise State), Iman Marshall (USC), Quenton Meeks (Stanford), Brian Peavy (Iowa State), Adarius Pickett (UCLA), Delvon Randall (Temple), John Reid (Penn State), Asauni Rufus (Nevada), Niko Small (TCU), Van Smith (Clemson), Brandon Snyder (Iowa), Juan Thornhill (Virginia), Denzel Ward (Ohio State), Howard Wilson (Houston), Andrew Wingard (Wyoming), Zedrick Woods (Ole Miss) and Jordan Wyatt (SMU)
PK: Rhett Almond (BYU), John Baron (San Diego State), Bryce Crawford (San Jose State), Clayton Hatfield (Texas Tech), Greg Huegel (Clemson), Evan Pantels (UNLV) and Parker Shaunfield (Southern Miss)
P: Jake Bailey (Stanford), Jake Collins (Western Kentucky), Steven Coutts (Louisiana-Lafayette), Joe Davidson (Bowling Green), Corey Fatony (Missouri), Drew Galitz (Baylor), Dylan Klumph (Cal), Joe Schopper (Purdue) and Zach Sinor (Oklahoma State)