What CFB's top 100 players missed, overrated and underrated for 2023 - ESPN

UniqueThis 94 August 15, 2023

Our top 100 college football players for the 2023 season list is live and as expected, Caleb Williams came in at No. 1, a position the Heisman Trophy winner held at the end of last season.

But as with any ranking, not everyone is in exact agreement with how the results of our voting turned out. So, which players are ranked too high? Who should have been in the top 10? Who was snubbed altogether? Our reporters point out what they would have done differently.

Jump to: Players who missed top 10 | Ranked too high
Ranked too low | Unranked players | Newcomers to watch

Who should have been in the top 10?

Chris Low: A case could be made that Ole Miss' Quinshon Judkins is the best running back in the country and yet he's ranked fourth on our list, albeit behind three really good players. Either way, Judkins warrants top-10 status overall. All he did last season was rush for more yards as a freshman (1,567) than anybody in SEC history not named Herschel Walker. Judkins had eight 100-yard games and will again be the centerpiece of an Ole Miss offense that has averaged more than 200 rushing yards in each of Lane Kiffin's three seasons. One of the things that separates Judkins is he's a breakaway threat but can also get the tough yards between the tackles.

Adam Rittenberg: Notre Dame tackle Joe Alt (No. 11) and Penn State tackle Olu Fashanu (No. 16) both are likely to hear their names called in the top 10 picks of the 2024 NFL draft. Alt has continued Notre Dame's incredible run of offensive linemen, becoming a starter early in his true freshman season and earning first-team All-America honors last fall. If transfer quarterback Sam Hartman makes the impact the Irish hope he will, Alt's blindside protection will be a big reason. Fashanu had a breakout season in 2022 for a resurgent Penn State line. He became a sack-stopper on the edge and easily could have entered the NFL before opting to return. Our top 10 is a bit quarterback-heavy. Don't forget the men protecting them.

Mark Schlabach: I'm not sure Georgia safety Malaki Starks should be in the top 10 to start the season, but I wouldn't be surprised if he's among the 10 best players in the country by the season's end. Last year, Starks played 847 snaps -- the most of any Georgia defender -- and was third on the team with 69 tackles. He did all of that as a true freshman. At 6-1, 205 pounds, Starks is physical on the field. He was an option quarterback in high school. He led the Bulldogs with seven passes defended and had two interceptions. The Bulldogs lost another truckload of defensive players to the NFL draft, but with Starks, Mykel Williams, Jamon Dumas-Johnson and Smael Mondon Jr. coming back, they're going to be just fine in 2023.

Paolo Uggetti: There's a world in which we look back on this season and wonder how we didn't have Michigan running back Donovan Edwards inside the top 10. Sure, Blake Corum is already there and his decision to return to Ann Arbor will make Edwards' role this season a truncated one. And yet, given the flashes we saw from Edwards toward the end of last season when Corum went down with an injury (five 100-yard games, one 200-yard game in the last seven games) are enough to make me think the sophomore has a real shot at becoming not just a focal point of the UM offense, but a genuine star in the span of a few months.

Who's ranked too high?

Hale: If running backs in the NFL can't get a fair shake, at least the college guys are getting their due in our ranking. It's no knock on the best backs in the country -- Corum had a real shot at the Heisman last year before his injury -- but there's a glut of runners in the top 25 that all feel a bit over-ranked. What guys like Jordan Travis, Kool-Aid McKinstry or Cameron Rising offer to their teams far outweighs the impact of Corum, despite his obvious talent. In all, we have eight tailbacks in our top 33 players -- including two from Michigan -- which is just one less than the nine QBs we have ranked. Any team would love to have Judkins (No. 22), Will Shipley (26) or Braelon Allen (31), but it's hard to rationalize having all of them ranked so high.

Rittenberg: Hale is right on the backs, although I disagree on Corum's impact. Ask anyone around Michigan what he meant to last year's team and what they missed without him. Edwards certainly could be a bit lower, as could Shipley, Allen and Nicholas Singleton (No. 29). I also don't know if Jayden Daniels is a top-15 player just yet, even though he recaptured his 2019 efficiency during his first season at LSU. He can take another step as a passer before being branded truly elite. Michigan's Zak Zinter is a heck of a player, but not sure many guards belong in a national top 20.

Schlabach: I don't have a problem with Caleb Williams, Drake Maye and Michael Penix Jr. being ranked ahead of Notre Dame's Hartman, but I'm not sure I'd want Bo Nix, Daniels or Rising instead of him. Hartman is about to begin his sixth season in college football and first with the Fighting Irish. If it's as good as the past two, he's going to be among the Heisman Trophy contenders. In his last two seasons at Wake Forest, he threw for 7,929 yards with 77 touchdowns. He completed 63.1% of his pass attempts in 2022. He threw for 12,967 yards at Wake Forest, which ranks second in ACC history to Philip Rivers' 13,484 at NC State, and set the conference record with 110 touchdowns.

Who's underrated?

Low: Johnny Hodges is a cool story, but he's also one heck of a football player with the skills, instincts and toughness to be one of the most productive linebackers in the country this season for TCU. He started his career at Navy (initially to play lacrosse), almost quit football and was then a late transfer to TCU prior to the 2022 season. He led the team with 87 tackles, including 9.5 for loss. The 6-2, 240-pound junior was the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year in his first season with the Horned Frogs in helping to lead them to the national championship game. His stock will only rise in 2023.

Rittenberg: Brant Kuithe's season-ending injury in late September must have made a lot of voters forget just how good he has been for Utah. On a team lacking elite wide receivers, Kuithe has been the top target for quarterbacks Tyler Huntley and Rising. Kuithe led Utah in receptions in 2019 and 2020 and was the team's receiving yards leader in 2021. He easily could be in the NFL if not for the injury, and enters his final season with 148 career receptions. Kuithe isn't Brock Bowers, but 78 spots shouldn't separate the two tight ends in these rankings.

Wilson: There was a solid case for Jaylan Ford to be last year's Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, after finishing with 119 tackles (the most by a Texas player since 2014), a team-leading four interceptions, 10 tackles for loss, two sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, two quarterback hurries and two pass breakups. He was a third-team AP All-American, first-team All-Big 12 and is the preseason pick for conference DPOY. Yet he's 16th among linebackers -- fourth among Big 12 LBs alone -- in this list.

Schlabach: I'm not sure Alabama offensive tackle JC Latham shouldn't be among the top 25 players in the country heading into the season. There's no way he's the 54th-best player in the FBS. The Crimson Tide's offensive line was below its lofty standards last season, allowing 22 sacks and failing to dominate most opponents up front. It wasn't Latham's fault. According to Pro Football Focus, Latham earned an 84.5 pass-blocking grade on true pass sets, which was fourth among tackles. On 486 pass-blocking snaps, according to PFF, he allowed just one hit and didn't give up a sack. Duke offensive tackle Graham Barton is also criminally low on the list at No. 90.

Uggetti: Hear me out here: Spencer Rattler. I know there are plenty of reasons why Rattler has gone from a preseason Heisman contender to an afterthought in the college football landscape, but I refuse to believe the hype was completely baseless. And I refuse to believe he's the 93rd best player in the sport. Rattler's decision to transfer to South Carolina last year gave him a fresh start and he took advantage, throwing for over 3,000 yards and 18 touchdowns. A second year on Shane Beamer's team should give Rattler an even better opportunity to try and fulfill at least some of that potential he was thought to have before that fateful year at Oklahoma.

Which unranked players should be on the list?

Low: This is an easy one. There's no way there are 100 better players in college football than Texas offensive tackle Kelvin Banks Jr. He started all 13 games last season as a true freshman at left tackle and returns as one of the best true sophomores in the country at any position. He played against four first-round pass-rushers as a freshman and held his own against all four, giving up just one sack in 456 pass-blocking snaps. Go turn on the tape of his performance against Alabama's Will Anderson Jr., who went No. 3 overall in the 2023 NFL draft. Banks didn't give up a sack or quarterback hit against Anderson.

Hale: What if I told you there was a cornerback who had a better defensive QBR than McKinstry (No. 11), gave up fewer touchdowns and 20-yard completions than Kalen King (No. 45), allowed a lower completion percentage than Cooper DeJean (No. 46) and fewer yards-per-target than Fentrell Cypress II (No. 65)? That player would be NC State's Aydan White, who has a strong case as one of the best lockdown corners in the country, yet he didn't crack our top 100. Chalk it up to the voters under-appreciating an elite Wolfpack defense, but odds are, White's talent won't go unnoticed by opposing QBs in 2023.

Rittenberg: Great players on bad teams get overlooked sometimes, and Cal linebacker Jackson Sirmon might fit into that category. The Washington transfer earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors with 104 tackles, three pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble return for a touchdown. Oklahoma State's defense took a step back in 2022 but Kendal Daniels and Mason Cobb (now at USC) both stood out to me. Daniels, ESPN's No. 172 overall recruit in 2021, had 71 tackles and three interceptions in only five starts to earn Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. The top-100 is wide receiver heavy, but it's surprising not to see Western Kentucky's Malachi Corley, who has 174 receptions over the past two seasons for the nation's top passing offense.

Schlabach: Notre Dame cornerback Benjamin Morrison should be on the list. He was a freshman All-American after picking off six passes, which tied for seventh in the FBS. His six interceptions were the most by a Notre Dame defender since Manti Te'o had seven in 2012. He also had 33 tackles and four pass breakups.

Uggetti: USC added a slew of defensive transfers this offseason, but none might be more impactful than linebacker Mason Cobb, who arrived in Southern California by way of Oklahoma State where he had 58 solo tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble and an interception last season. Cobb has already garnered plenty of praise from his teammates throughout camp, and Lincoln Riley actually selected him to represent USC at Pac-12 media days alongside Williams. The Utah product looks to be primed to start and be one of the centerpieces of a unit that the Trojans badly need to improve this year.

Newcomer who will make the list by the end of year?

Hale: Clemson defensive tackle Peter Woods has already established himself as something of a Paul Bunyan-esque character for the Tigers. He's 6-2, 315 pounds and does things tackles coach Nick Eason said he's never seen anyone that size do on a football field. In other words, Woods is basically a legend before he's played his first snap. And sure, Clemson has a couple of talented interior D-linemen atop the depth chart already, but it's hard to see a scenario in which Woods doesn't get ample snaps this season, and the Tigers have a long history -- from Christian Wilkins to Dexter Lawrence to Tyler Davis to Bryan Bresee -- of freshmen DTs making a huge impact right off the bat.

Low: Alabama has produced a long list of talented defensive backs under Nick Saban, and freshman safety Caleb Downs is next in line. He quickly established himself as one of the best defensive backs on the roster in the spring, and Saban loves his maturity and ability to make big plays against both the pass and run. The 6-foot, 203-pound Downs was a five-star prospect out of Hoschton, Georgia, and has everything it takes to blossom into one of the top safeties in college football this season.

Wilson: TCU quarterback Chandler Morris is a perfect fit for the Frogs' up-tempo, quick-game offense with Kendal Briles at the helm and he's surrounded by skill talent. In his first start in 2021 against a Baylor team that won the Big 12, he looked like Johnny Manziel (on the field, that is), completing 29 of 40 passes for 461 yards and two touchdowns and ran 11 times for 70 yards and another score. He beat out Heisman Trophy finalist Max Duggan last season for the starting job before suffering an MCL injury in the first game and giving way to Duggan, who held onto the job the rest of the year. But TCU coaches were still extremely high on Morris last fall in practice, and are eager to see him with another year under his belt.

Uggetti: The wide-open quarterback competition at UCLA could go the way of one of the two veterans, but if Chip Kelly decides to name Dante Moore the starter, the true freshman appears primed to breakout as one of the sport's next great quarterbacks. Teammates are already singing his praises from fall camp and it's increasingly feeling like it's a matter of when, not if, for Moore's time under center for the Bruins.