With the 2016 college regular season in the books, we’re pull from our weekly top performers posts to compile some of the country’s best players at each position.
QUARTERBACK – Ryan Higgins, Louisiana Tech
Honorable Mention: Davis Webb, California
Ryan Higgins bided his time for Louisiana Tech, and in the end, it paid off in a big way. His 4,617 yards were second in the country, and he might’ve saved his best effort for last with 409 yards and four touchdowns against Navy, while also putting up his fourth rushing touchdown on the year.
RUNNING BACKS – Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State; James Flanders, Tulsa
Honorable Mention: Anthony Wales, Western Kentucky
Donnel Pumphrey missed out on a 100-yard rushing effort with “only” 98 against New Hampshire in the first week. That problem was soon rectified as he had over 220 yards and three touchdowns in each of his next two games, and finished with 2,133 total rushing yards to lead the FBS. His 17 scores matched his total from the year before, and he again showed that he can occasionally catch the ball as well, with 27 receptions for 231 yards.
Tulsa lost three games all year–perhaps not coincidentally, those were all games in which James Flanders failed to gain at least 100 yards on the ground. Thankfully for the Golden Hurricanes, Flanders was impressive many more times than not, including a 249-yard, five -score day against Memphis. He ended up with 1,629 yards and 18 touchdowns, with 100 of those yards coming in a comfortable bowl win over Central Michigan.
WIDE RECEIVERS – Corey Davis, Western Michigan; Zay Jones, East Carolina
Honorable Mention: Trent Taylor, Louisiana Tech
Going undefeated requires the utmost effort out of everyone on the team, and Corey Davis heeded that call Western Michigan marched to the brink of an unblemished record. The Broncos had their best season ever, and Davis was its top receiver, with 97 catches, 1,500 yards, and 19 touchdowns.
Zay Jones was a bright spot for a dreary East Carolina team, as he became the NCAA’s all-time receptions leader after registering 158 this year. He had at least a dozen grabs in seven games, and his 1,746 yards were easily a career high.
TIGHT END – Evan Engram, Ole Miss
Honorable Mention: Gerald Everett, South Alabama
Evan Engram started off the season hot with an impressive nine-catch, 121-yard effort with a score against Florida State, and he kept producing even as Ole Miss struggled offensively at times. Engram had 926 yards receiving despite missing the final game of the year, and his eight touchdowns this season were more than he had caught in his previous three combined. Perhaps his finest performance came against No.1 Alabama, as he had nine catches for a career-high 138 yards and a score.
OFFENSIVE TACKLES – Dion Dawkins, Temple; Taylor Moton, Western Michigan
Honorable Mention: Chad Wheeler, USC
Temple celebrated an American Athletic Conference title, and Dion Dawkins and the rest of the offensive line helped pave the way for that achievement. Dawkins was instrumental in the Owls’ dismantling of Navy in the AAC title game, as he helped them rush for 199 yards, with four rushers gaining at least 30 yards on the ground. Dawkins managed to keep his quarterback upright and helped seal the edge to allow two of his teammates to rush for over 900 yards and 13 touchdowns each.
Taylor Moton was another reason why Western Michigan put up such great numbers on the year, and his ability to get out in the second level to help spring runners was invaluable to his team — as was his ability to keep the pocket clean for his passer and ward off pressure.
GUARDS – Dorian Johnson, Pittsburgh; Dan Feeney, Indiana
Honorable Mention: Danny Isidora, Miami
Pittsburgh ended the season with quality wins over Clemson and Penn State, and much of that had to do with their ability to run the ball effectively and stave off inside defensive rushes. Dorian Johnson locked down the middle of the line, and was an absolute road grader for the Panthers.
Despite missing a few games, Feeney’s impact on the Hoosiers offense was clear. His return coincided with a two-game winning streak for Indiana after it had dropped three games in a row. Feeney was a key reason why Indiana managed to end its regular season on a high note and gain bowl eligibility, as he delivered a key block on the game-winning touchdown run over Purdue.
CENTER – Ethan Pocic, LSU
Honorable Mention: Jon Toth, Kentucky
It didn’t matter to Pocic who was lining up under center and who was playing tailback; the senior continued to make the right calls at the line and deliver blocks that either gave his quarterback breathing room or opened up daylight to whomever was running with the football. LSU finished with 2,796 yards rushing and 30 scores on the ground and for many of those plays, Pocic was at the point of attack, clearing the way.
DEFENSIVE ENDS – DeMarcus Walker, Florida State; Hunter Dimick, Utah
Honorable Mention: Jordan Willis, Kansas State
DeMarcus Walker has been dominating offensive linemen all season to the tune of 16 sacks on the year, second most in the nation. After dismantling the Rebels in the first week with 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble, he would put up big numbers in big games. For instance, he had 10 tackles and two sacks against N.C. State, and four tackles and one sack against Michigan in the Orange Bowl, when he was also instrumental in causing an interception on the last play of the game.
Hunter Dimick was incredibly consistent, registering a sack in nine games for the Utes. His finest output came against Arizona State, when he notched five sacks en route to finishing with the third most in the country with 14.5.
DEFENSIVE TACKLES – Carlos Watkins, Clemson
Honorable Mention: Jonathan Allen, Alabama
The Tigers will be playing for a national championship, and Watkins’s presence on the D-line is a big reason why. He provided constant pressure as a pass rusher up the middle, while also serving as a force against the run. He finished with 12.5 tackles for a loss, and picked up two more sacks against Ohio State in the playoff semifinal.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS – Jimmie Gilbert, Colorado; Tim Williams, Alabama
Honorable Mention: Ryan Watson, Air Force
Colorado had a highly successful season, making it all the way to the Pac-12 championship game and Gilbert’s efforts matched the teams. He had a career-high 10 sacks and 14 tackles for a loss while forcing six fumbles.
Tim Williams might not have the name recognition of his teammates, but he was just as integral to the ‘Bama defense. Williams brought pressure against quarterbacks throughout the year, recording nine sacks and 16 tackles for a loss for the defending national champions.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS – Keith Brown, Western Kentucky; Blair Brown, Ohio
Honorable Mention: Ben Boulware, Clemson
It takes a special player to lead the nation in tackles (131), and Keith Brown was exactly that for the Hilltoppers. He had double-digit tackles in eight games, and even chipped in with six sacks and two interceptions.
Blair Brown helped key a run for Ohio that saw it clinch a spot in the MAC championship game, during which he put up eleven tackles. The performance marked one of five times he had 10 or more stops, as he finished fourth in the country with 128 total tackles.
CORNERBACKS – Damontae Kazee, San Diego State; Jayshawn Jordan, Idaho
Honorable Mention: Blace Brown, Troy
Quarterbacks decided to keep testing Damontae Kazee, and he kept making them pay. He snagged seven picks, good for second most in the nation, and returned one for a touchdown. He wasn’t afraid to get up in run support, either, as he had at least four tackles in all but two games and even notched a forced fumble.
Idaho finished the year in a shootout and at one point gave up 50 points in back-to-back games, but once Jayshawn Jordan and the rest of the secondary hit their groove, they knew how to blanket opposing receivers. Jordan finished with four picks, including a pivotal one in a bowl game win over Colorado State, and hit double-digit tackles against Appalachian State and South Alabama.
SAFETIES – Weston Steelhammer, Air Force; Kai Nacua, BYU
Honorable Mention: Xavier Woods, Louisiana Tech
Weston Steelhammer’s name might bring a connotation of a hard-hitter, and though that may be true, he also displayed great range in coverage. He tied for second in the nation with seven interceptions, including the game-ending pick against San Jose State.
Kai Nacua was a steady force in the back for the Cougars, and his six interceptions proved his worth to BYU. He also snuffed out a comeback by Wyoming in the Poinsettia Bowl, intercepting a pass with just over a minute to go to allow BYU to run out the clock and seal the victory.