Decade Debate: 15 Best College Football Players

Judging which college football player was the best over the past decade can be a tricky endeavor. Do you rank a player that has won a Heisman higher than one that has not? Do you penalize a player if he played in a pass-happy system that allowed him to put up lofty numbers? Do you judge his performance based on the talent around him or the difficulty of his competition? As part of our ongoing Decade Debate series, here is a top 15 ranking of the best college football players of the past decade. Perhaps more than any of our lists in this decade series, this one could be debated the most given the factors that surround it.

15. C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson

If you want to be entertained, try turning on a Clemson game and watching Spiller for three-plus hours. He’s a terrific runner, an electrifying return man and one of the deadliest weapons in college football. He is the only player besides Reggie Bush to post 2,500 yards rushing, 1,500 yards in kickoff returns, 1,000 yards receiving and 5,000 yards in punt returns. He’s also tied a NCAA record for most kickoff returns for touchdowns with six. If it weren’t for a lackluster junior season, he’d probably rank higher on this list.

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Fantasy Quick-Hitters: Boldin, Pierre, Berrian and more

Anquan Boldin returned to a limited practice. Boldin said, “It’s only week one. I’d rather sit out game one as opposed to sitting out four or five other games. You just have to use your discretion.” That doesn’t sound good for his prospects of playing in Week 1. Steve Breaston would be first in line to start, but he’s dealing with a sore knee, so Jerheme Urban could potentially eat into Breaston’s snaps.

Pierre Thomas has been officially ruled out for Week 1. Mike Bell, Mike Bell, Mike Bell. I wrote on Tuesday that Thomas owners (and even non-owners) should grab Bell. He’s a solid RB2/flex play against the hapless Detroit rush defense.

Cassel is questionable for Week 1. Not a big surprise here. Owners should probably keep Cassel on the bench even if he does play. The Ravens are a bad matchup for any passing game.

Bernard Berrian and Kevin Walter are both game-time decisions. It would be wise to sit both players even if they do play, assuming that you have a decent option to plug in. It’s tough to battle back from a hamstring injury and be effective right away.

Kyle Orton will start against the Bengals. It’s not a terrible matchup, but Orton’s preseason performance is not encouraging. Only use him if you’re desperate (or you’re in a 2 QB league). It does help that Brandon Marshall is behaving.

Raiders name Darren McFadden as their starting RB. He has had a very impressive preseason, so this is just a formality. Even if he didn’t start, he’s going to play a ton of snaps because he is easily the Raiders most explosive player. (And he better perform, because I started him over Santonio Holmes this week!)

Russell solid in preseason debut

Reports coming out of Raiders training camp surrounding JaMarcus Russell have been mostly negative as the third-year quarterback continues to struggle with consistency and trying to get his timing down with his receivers.

But in Oakland’s 31-10 win over Dallas in the Raiders’ preseason opener on Thursday night, Russell showed the poise that once made him the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. He completed six of his nine pass attempts for 50 yards and while his average pass only went for a messily 5.6 yards, it was a promising start for a player who is expected to turn the corner this year as a quarterback.

Granted, one preseason game in which he only threw for 50 yards isn’t going to tell us whether or not Russell is finally developing. But he has looked so poorly at times during his short career that it’s worth mentioning when he resembles a NFL quarterback.

Of course, Russell wasn’t the key performer in Oakland’s first preseason win and neither was former first round pick Darren McFadden, although he did rush four times for 63 yards (15.8 average).

That distinction goes out to former seventh round pick Chaz Shilens, who hauled in five passes for 52 yards. Shilens, who has a nice blend of size, speed and hands, is starting to emerge as a nice go-to receiver for Russell in the passing game and could turn out to be the Raiders’ best playmaker this season.

Ten second-year NFL breakout candidates

Players like Matt Ryan, Chris Johnson and Joe Flacco have already pulled a seat up to the proverbially NFL dinner table after turning in solid rookie seasons. But which second-year players (who didn’t have great success in their rookie campaigns) are set for breakout seasons in 2009?

Here are 10 that jump out to me:

(Note: I consider players like Ryan, Johnson, Flacco, Jonathan Stewart, Matt Forte and Steve Slaton as already having breakout seasons, so you won’t find them on this list.)

In no particular order:

1. Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders
Justin Fargas is a favorite of head coach Tom Cable’s in Oakland, but the Raiders didn’t select McFadden with the fourth overall pick in last year’s draft not to take full advantage of his talents. Thus far this summer, the Raiders have lined McFadden up not only at running back, but also at receiver and even quarterback. With Cable calling the offensive plays this season, McFadden is set to see plenty of opportunities to excel in Oakland’s offense and as long as he can stay healthy (a turf toe injury slowed him down last season) the former top 5 pick could emerge as the Raiders’ most potent offensive weapon. The one part of his game that he’ll need to improve on, however, is his ability to run between the tackles. If he can’t, the hard-running Fargas will steal plenty of McFadden’s touches this season.

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Offseason Blueprint: Oakland Raiders

Notable Free Agents: Nnamdi Asomugha (re-signed), CB; Shane Lechler (re-signed), P; Chris Johnson (re-signed), CB; Jake Grove, C; Cooper Carlisle, G.

Projected 2009 Cap Space: $4,000,000

Draft Order: 7

Top Needs: Not unlike other teams selecting at the top of the draft, the Raiders are mostly in need of offensive line help. Defensive line, wide receiver and linebacker could also be addressed.

Offseason Outlook: The Raiders’ top priority was to ensure that cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha didn’t hit the open market, and they accomplished that by inking him to a new three-year, $45 million contract. Asomugha’s deal is complex and you can read more details here, but the bottom line is that he’ll once again anchor the Raiders’ secondary in 2009.

Al Davis also re-signed punter Shane Lechler to a four-year, $16 million contract. That might not be big news to some, but considering how much the Raiders punt during the regular season, re-signing Lechler was a wise move.

The biggest challenge Davis now faces is how will he free up enough cap space to address other needs. The Raiders were sitting at $4 million under the cap before the re-signings of Asomugha and Lechler. Are cuts coming? If so, who will be shown the door?

One name that has recently come up in trade speculation is defensive end Derrick Burgess, who the Raiders are rumored to be shopping. Burgess becomes a free agent after the 2009 season so it would make sense that Oakland would trade him now in order to gain compensation. If they were able to trade him, they would free up $3.5 million in cap space, which isn’t a huge amount but it would help.


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