Bleacher Report's 2018 College Football All-America Team
Alabama celebrates its SEC championshipScott Cunningham/Getty Images
Only one college football player can win the Heisman Trophy, but there’s enough room for 27 players to be named Bleacher Report first-team All-Americans.
Chosen by a panel of David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Brad Shepard and Ian Wharton, these players come from all over the map. Eight conferences are represented (sorry MWC and Sun Belt), and there were even two selections from independent teams.
Alabama leads the way with four selections, and the Crimson Tide easily could’ve placed two more players on the team. The SEC as a whole was well-represented with 10 selections. The Big Ten (six selections) was the only other league with more than three players.
Rather than arbitrarily picking a two-wide receiver set on offense or a 3-4 formation on defense, we have 12 players from each side of the ball, plus a kicker, punter and return specialist.
Tua TagovailoaJohn Bazemore/Associated Press
Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama: 67.7% Comp, 3,353 yards, 11.4 YPA, 37 TD, 4 INT, 202.3 PER
If you think Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins, Gardner Minshew II or Will Grier belongs in this spot, that’s cool. They were all great quarterbacks, and it’s an argument we’ll have in the lead-up to—and in the aftermath of—Saturday’s Heisman ceremony.
But even if you believe someone else was slightly better, you must admit Tua Tagovailoa had a fantastic season.
The ending wasn’t great. No argument there. He looked kind of lost out there against Georgia even before the ankle injury that knocked him out of the SEC Championship Game.
The beginning was stupendous, though. In September and October, Tagovailoa threw for 25 touchdowns without an interception. Through those eight games, he was completing 70.4 percent of his pass attempts and averaging 13.6 yards per attempt, making a mockery of the efficiency marks previous great quarterbacks set.
Even though he tapered off once he had to face top defenses—and once the hits to his knee and ankles took a toll on his potency—Tagovailoa made Alabama’s offense more dangerous than it has ever been under Nick Saban. And he was all anyone could talk about for the season’s first two months. That’s good enough for us.
Jonathan TaylorMorry Gash/Associated Press
RB1 Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin: 1,989 rushing yards, 7.1 yards per carry, 15 TD
There were two running backs near the top of the preseason Heisman odds. One of them, Bryce Love, had an abysmal season. The other, Jonathan Taylor, was one of the nation’s best running backs for a second straight year.
Taylor rushed for 1,977 yards as a freshman and followed that with 1,989 yards this year. That makes him the only player since at least 2000 to rush for more than 1,975 yards in a season multiple times in a college career.
Fellow Badger Ron Dayne appears to be the most recent player to do it. And with Taylor required to return for at least one more season before he leaves for the NFL draft, he’ll get within shouting distance of Dayne’s FBS record 7,125 career rushing yards.
Had the rest of the Badgers been good enough for the team to remain nationally relevant, perhaps Taylor could have broken up the QB monopoly on the Heisman discussion.
RB2 Darrell Henderson, Memphis: 1,909 rushing yards, 8.9 yards per carry, 22 TD; 19 receptions, 295 yards, 3 TD
Only two of Darrell Henderson’s 13 games came against defenses that ranked in the top 74 nationally in rushing yards allowed per contest, and Tulane and Missouri shut him down in those matchups.
But when he got to face average and subpar front sevens, he capitalized on the opportunities. In his other 10 games against FBS opponents, Henderson averaged 176.7 rushing yards per contest and 9.1 yards per carry. In the AAC Championship Game against UCF, he had 166 yards and three touchdowns after just six carries (210 yards on 16 carries total).
Basically, Henderson had the season Love was supposed to have, reeling off monster runs on the regular. He led the nation in rushing plays that went for at least 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 yards.
Tylan WallaceBrody Schmidt/Associated Press
WR1 Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State: 79 receptions, 1,408 yards, 11 TD
Tylan Wallace barely saw the field in 2017 as a freshman, finishing with just seven receptions for 118 yards. And all signs indicated Jalen McCleskey and Dillon Stoner would become the go-to receivers for Oklahoma State this year.
But Wallace quickly became Taylor Cornelius’ favorite target, spurring McCleskey to transfer out of the program four weeks into the season. Wallace had four consecutive 100-yard games in September and a three-week stretch late in the season with 28 receptions for 564 yards and five touchdowns.
Oklahoma State’s fall from grace could have been a big one after it lost Mason Rudolph, James Washington and Marcell Ateman. But thanks to Wallace, the Cowboys still averaged an impressive 38.4 points per game.
WR2 Andy Isabella, Massachusetts: 102 receptions, 1,698 yards, 13 TD
Andy Isabella is college football’s “tree falling in the forest” conundrum. If a guy leads the nation in receiving by 288 yards, but he does so on a team that was even worse than its 4-8 record, does anyone notice?
Well, we did. Isabella went bonkers over the final seven weeks of the regular season, racking up at least 174 receiving yards in five of those games. Just in those seven contests, he made 73 catches for 1,248 yards and nine touchdowns. For goodness sake, that’s almost exactly what Marquise “Hollywood” Brown managed in 13 games (75 receptions, 1,318 yards, 10 TD).
Too bad the Minutemen would’ve needed at least one more Isabella to overcome their atrocious defense.
WR3 Antoine Wesley, Texas Tech: 88 receptions, 1,410 yards, 9 TD
Similar to Wallace, Antoine Wesley kind of came out of nowhere. He appeared in just one game in 2016 and made 10 catches for 137 yards last year.
But someone had to pick up the slack after Keke Coutee, Dylan Cantrell and Cameron Batson left, right? It’s not like the Red Raiders were going to suddenly become a run-first offense.
Wesley emerged in a huge way, and he probably deserves extra consideration for having to play with three different quarterbacks, none of whom had attempted more than 46 passes in college before this season.
T.J. HockensonMatthew Holst/Getty Images
T.J. Hockenson, Iowa: 46 receptions, 717 yards, 6 TD
Iowa has a tight end who might be a top-10 draft pick in a few months. At the very least, Noah Fant figures to be the first selected at the position.
But that’s not the Iowa tight end who won this vote.
Rather, T.J. Hockenson led the Hawkeyes in both receptions (46) and receiving yards (717).
The sophomore had 125 yards on just three catches in a near-win over Wisconsin in September—when that type of result felt like an achievement. Two games later, he hit triple digits again, this time finishing with 107 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Indiana.
He made multiple catches in every game and had at least 30 receiving yards against each of Iowa’s 11 FBS opponents.
Next year will be the litmus test that clues us in on whether Hockenson is a top-notch tight end or whether he was just the beneficiary of opposing teams’ worry over slowing Fant. But we’ll assume the former and name him the tight end of the year.
Jonah WilliamsMichael Woods/Associated Press
Tackles: Jonah Williams, Alabama; Mitch Hyatt, Clemson
Jonah Williams and Mitch Hyatt were the anchors for two of the country’s best offensive lines. Both Alabama and Clemson allowed close to one sack per game. The Tigers led the nation in yards per rushing attempt, and the Crimson Tide averaged better than 200 rushing yards per contest.
Moreover, both teams did it after entering the season with uncertainty at quarterback and with a host of rushing options. Though there was flux in the backfield, these tackles were the dominant constants.
Guards: Michael Deiter, Wisconsin; Beau Benzschawel, Wisconsin
Much like Iowa has arguably the country’s two best tight ends, the two best guards reside on one Big Ten roster. After helping pave the way for Taylor to rush for close to 2,000 yards for a second straight season, both of these redshirt seniors will likely be among the first 10 guards drafted in April.
In particular, Michael Deiter has been a Swiss army knife for the Badgers over the years. After splitting starts between left guard and center in 2015 and 2016, he spent all of last season as Wisconsin’s left tackle. But he moved back to left guard this year and didn’t miss a beat.
Center: Michael Jordan, Ohio State
The start of Michael Jordan’s transition from guard to center was a bit of an adventure, as he had some issues with snapping the ball at the proper height early in the season against TCU. But he eventually got it down to a science and repeatedly put Haskins in position to make the quick reads needed to lead the nation in passing yards.
Sutton SmithCarlos Osorio/Associated Press
DE1 Sutton Smith, Northern Illinois: 56 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, 15.0 sacks, 4 fumbles forced, 3 fumbles recovered
Sutton Smith gambled on himself and won. Rather than leaving for the NFL after a redshirt sophomore season with 14 sacks, he returned to Northern Illinois and was every bit as dominant. For the second straight year, he tied for the national lead in sacks.
He was particularly impressive over the season’s final month.
Against Toledo, he blocked a punt and ran it back 27 yards for a touchdown. In the regular-season finale against Western Michigan, he set a career high with four sacks and returned a fumble 85 yards for a touchdown. And in the MAC Championship Game win over Buffalo, Smith had 10 total tackles, including 3.5 for loss and a pair of sacks.
DE2 Jaylon Ferguson, Louisiana Tech: 60 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, 15.0 sacks, 2 fumbles forced, 1 fumble recovered
Here’s the guy Smith tied with for the sack lead this season. Jaylon Ferguson also tied for third in sacks in 2016 with 14.5.
He is so close to catching Terrell Suggs atop the FBS career sacks leaderboard. The former Sun Devil had 44 in the early 2000s, and Ferguson will enter the Hawaii Bowl with 42.5. (And Hawaii ranked 117th in sacks allowed this season, so there’s a decent chance he’ll get there.)
Ferguson has never scored a touchdown and doesn’t force fumbles like Smith does, but he’s a more-than-worthy No. 2 defensive end.
Quinnen WilliamsKevin C. Cox/Getty Images
DT1 Quinnen Williams, Alabama: 66 tackles, 18.0 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks
Alabama went from Jonathan Allen to Daron Payne to Quinnen Williams without so much as a hiccup. Must be nice to reel in the No. 1 recruiting class year after year.
Williams wasn’t particularly dominant early on. In five September games, he had 4.0 tackles for loss and no sacks—and he got 3.5 of those TFLs in the opener against Louisville. He came on strong down the stretch, though. Including the SEC Championship, Williams had at least one sack in each of his final five games, recording six or more tackles in four of those contests.
And he was at his best in the biggest regular-season game. In the process of helping shut out LSU, Williams led the Crimson Tide with 10 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He finished the season ranked third on the team in total tackles.
DT2 Christian Wilkins, Clemson: 46 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries
Clemson’s entire defensive line was predictably sensational. The Tigers were No. 1 in the country with 2.4 yards allowed per rushing attempt, and they led the nation with 4.08 yards allowed per play. It would be easy to make the case for Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant and Dexter Lawrence as first-team defensive linemen, too.
But Christian Wilkins gets our vote, both because he is the primary run-stopping force and because he rushed in two touchdowns of his own on offense. Combine that with his receiving touchdown against Troy in 2016, and it seems there isn’t much that this 300-pound man can’t do.
Ben Burr-KirvenOtto Greule Jr/Getty Images
LB1 Josh Allen, Kentucky: 84 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 14.0 sacks, 5 fumbles forced, 4 passes defended
Josh Allen might be the football version of Stephen Curry. He was so far below the national radar that the 2-star recruit doesn’t even have a photo from high school on 247Sports. Suffice it to say, there was no nationally televised hat ceremony when he committed to a five-win Kentucky team that appeared to be going nowhere.
Fast-forward four years, and Allen was arguably the best defensive player in the nation as the Wildcats won at least nine games for the first time since 1984.
Like Quinnen Williams, Allen put his best foot forward when everyone was watching. Playing as an AP Top 25 team for the first time since 2007, Kentucky beat South Carolina behind eight tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble from Allen.
LB2 Ben Burr-Kirven, Washington: 165 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, 6 passes defended, 4 fumbles forced, 3 fumbles recovered, 2 interceptions
That’s quite a few tackles. In fact, if he gets at least nine more in the Rose Bowl, he’ll have the most tackles in a single season since Boston College’s Luke Kuechly racked up 191 in 2011.
Ben Burr-Kirven rarely ventures into the backfield, but he is always there just beyond the line of scrimmage ready to deliver a big hit. (Or to break up the occasional pass attempt.) Perhaps the most impressive part of Burr-Kirven’s big year is he wasn’t replacing someone from last season. He led the Huskies with 84 tackles in 2017, but he nearly doubled that total as a senior.
LB3 Devin Bush, Michigan: 66 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 4 passes defended
Save for the season finale against Ohio State, Michigan had the nation’s best defense. Devin Bush was the centerpiece of that virtually impenetrable unit, ranking second on the team in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks, as well as fourth in passes defended.
LB4 Devin White, LSU: 115 tackles, 12.0 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, 5 passes defended, 2 fumbles forced, 2 fumbles recovered
Similar to Bush, Devin White was all over the place for one of the stingiest defenses. (Take out the seven-overtime game against Texas A&M, and LSU allowed 16.1 points per contest.) White led the Tigers in tackles, tackles for loss, fumbles forced and fumbles recovered—this despite not being allowed to play in the first half against Alabama thanks to a controversial targeting call.
Deandre BakerEd Zurga/Getty Images
CB1 Deandre Baker, Georgia: 40 tackles, 9 passes defended, 2 interceptions
What you don’t see in these stats is that opposing quarterbacks avoided Deandre Baker as much as they could, instead opting to test their luck with Richard Lecounte and J.R. Reed. It wasn’t quite a “Revis Island” situation, but it was close.
According to The Athletic’s college football staff, Baker did not allow a touchdown in 2017 or 2018 when his man was targeted, which is kind of ridiculous, considering Georgia has allowed 32 passing touchdowns over the past two seasons. Baker is a mortal lock to be a first-round draft pick in a few months.
CB2 Julian Love, Notre Dame: 61 tackles, 15 passes defended, 3 fumble recoveries, 1 interception
Notre Dame’s secondary ranked among the nation’s best, allowing just seven passing touchdowns during the season—a massive improvement from the 23 TDs it gave up last year.
Julian Love’s individual numbers were better last season (68 tackles, 20 passes defended, 3 interceptions), but don’t read that as proof that he got worse. He was great in 2017, and he was great again this year. His supporting cast just wasn’t anything special last season. Thanks to the arrival of Alohi Gilman and the emergence of Jalen Elliott and Troy Pride Jr., we could better appreciate Love’s talent.
Grant DelpitGerald Herbert/Associated Press
S1 Grant Delpit, LSU: 73 tackles, 5.0 sacks, 5 interceptions, 9 passes defended
Remember how much we were all drooling over the return of Derwin James a couple of years ago? There wasn’t any national season preview content that didn’t at least mention Florida State’s do-it-all safety who was destined to become a first-round pick.
Get ready for more of that with Grant Delpit this offseason.
The sophomore safety led LSU in both sacks and interceptions, which is a bizarre combination. In fact, Delpit was the first player to record at least five picks and five sacks in a single season since Alabama’s Javier Arenas in 2009.
In LSU’s key win over Mississippi State, Delpit finished with 10 tackles, two interceptions and one sack. Even though the 6’3″ Delpit is about half a foot taller than the former Pittsburgh Steeler, it’s almost inevitable that he’ll draw comparisons to Troy Polamalu, because of his ability to both knife into the backfield and drop back in coverage to break up passes.
S2 Deionte Thompson, Alabama: 70 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 5 passes defended, 3 fumbles forced
If Alabama were to have a weakness this season, it would’ve been the secondary. The Crimson Tide lost all five of their starters from 2017, but redshirt junior Deionte Thompson became the leader of the defense.
Thompson opened the season with an interception and three other pass breakups against Louisville, but he became a lumber-laying enforcer after that. He finished second on the team in tackles and led the Crimson Tide in forced fumbles.
Alabama wasn’t quite as dominant on defense as it was last year, but those early concerns about this being the program’s worst defense in a decade were overblown. The Crimson Tide still finished fourth in points allowed per game and ninth in total yards allowed per contest. They simply wouldn’t have been that good without Thompson.
Michael WalkerWoody Marshall/Associated Press
Kicker: Cole Tracy, LSU, 25-of-29 FG, 38-of-38 PAT
Cole Tracy was money all year. He only missed one field goal closer than 40 yards, and it was a meaningless one in the fourth quarter of an ugly loss to Alabama. In LSU’s big 22-21 road win over Auburn in September, Tracy canned the game-winning 42-yarder as time expired. It was arguably the biggest kick of the season, since both teams were ranked in the AP Top 15 at the time and since LSU would’ve lost had he missed.
Punter: Braden Mann, Texas A&M, 47 punts, 51.1 yards per punt
Braden Mann has a howitzer of a foot. He punted five times in A&M’s game against Alabama, and four of those traveled at least 60 yards. And in the big win over Kentucky, he crushed an 82-yarder in the first half and had a 60-yard punt late in the fourth quarter that helped get the game into overtime.
No other punter in the past decade has averaged better than 48.4 yards per punt, but Mann went nearly three full yards over that mark. Quite impressive.
Kick/Punt Returner: Michael Walker, Boston College, 20 punt returns, 274 yards, 1 TD; 40 kick returns, 1,020 yards
There were two players this season who averaged at least 25 yards per kickoff return and 10 yards per punt return: Boston College’s Michael Walker and Temple’s Isaiah Wright.
The latter had a combined total of three return touchdowns, which is always a good way to boost the ol’ averages. But Walker returned more kickoffs than anyone, finishing more than 200 yards ahead of the next-closest players. Kudos to him for not only continuing to return kickoffs during a time when so many are opting for the fair catch option, but for also maintaining a strong average without even taking one to the house.