Skip to main content

If College Football Had Free Agency, These 12 Players Would Get The Biggest Contracts

The line between amateurism and professional football is very blurred at this point, but one thing that clearly separates college football from the NFL is free agency.

Players can transfer and sit out a year, or leave to complete their final season of eligibility without penalty if they've already graduated from an institution. But they don't have the opportunity to offer their services to the highest bidder. 

If college football did implement free agency, we tried to project who would receive the largest contracts. We used the NFL as a guide to consider which positions garner the biggest paydays. We focused on players who we believe have multiple years of eligibility left and put an emphasis on those we've seen perform well, while including a couple of true freshman who enrolled early and have sky high potential. Therefore, you're not going to see guys like Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Deshaun Watson and Christian McCaffrey on this list, even though they are elite talents. 

It wasn't easy to narrow things down, but we came up with a hypothetical list of college football's top 12 free agents, starting with...

Get Started: No. 12 Shea Patterson >>>

12. Shea Patterson, QB, Ole Miss

The prize of Ole Miss' 2016 recruiting class, Patterson probably won't see the field this year unless something happens to Rebels starter Chad Kelly. But the future in Oxford belongs to the 2015 Elite 11 MVP.

At 6-foot-2 with all the physical tools, Patterson is the prototypical quarterback. There's a reason he was a top-five player and the No. 1 Pro-Style signal caller in the 2016 class.


If your school was looking for a quarterback to build its future on, Patterson is a solid choice.

Next: No. 11 Minkah Fitzpatrick >>>

11. Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama

Cornerbacks command big money on the NFL free agent market, and Fitzpatrick's collegiate future is very bright. 

He was Alabama's starting nickelback as a true freshman and will be one of the team's starting cornerbacks this fall. In 2015, he displayed a nose for the end zone. 

">@BestBuy highlight. http://t.co/Qx5EeLYoVf

— CBS Sports (@CBSSports)

This Alabama DB made a heads up play to put the Crimson Tide up 6-0 in the @BestBuy highlight. http://t.co/Qx5EeLYoVf

— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) October 17, 2015

">October 17, 2015

Looking to invest money in a potential lockdown corner who can impact the game on special teams and play the run as well? Fitzpatrick is your guy.

Next: No. 10 Jacob Eason >>> 

10. Jacob Eason, QB, Georgia

Here's the second early-enrollee freshman quarterback on our list. Georgia fans were jumping for joy when Eason chose them last winter and there's a very good chance he starts for them this fall.

Dawgs fans can't wait to see Kirby Smart hand the Lake Stevens, Wash. native the reins as soon as possible. 


Eason was ranked one spot behind Patterson in the class of 2016 Pro-Style QB rankings, but he's higher on this list.

Why? While Patterson is regarded as more mobile, Eason's got the prototypical build (6-foot-5, 208 pounds) and the slightly stronger arm.

Next: No. 9 Bo Scarbrough >>>

9. Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama

The first running back on this list. In the NFL, running backs aren't as precious a commodity anymore but they remain so in college football, and Scarbrough is maybe the best up-and-coming back in the nation.

After getting his feet wet last fall as a back-up to Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake, this freak-of-nature will carry the load for 'Bama this fall. He certainly looks built for the task. 

">April 22, 2016

Will Scarbrough follow in the footsteps of Henry and Mark Ingram and win a Heisman Trophy in the next couple of seasons? We wouldn't be surprised if he did.

Next: No. 8 Saquon Barkley >>>8. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

What a debut Barkley had last year. The 5-foot-11, 219-pounder broke the Penn State freshman yardage record with 1,076 rushing yards and made multiple freshman All-America squads.

With the Nittany Lions breaking in a new quarterback and a new system under first-year offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, expect them to lean heavily on Barkley in 2016

College football teams could always use running backs that can do it all on the field. That's why Barkley would command a huge salary if free agency existed. 

Next: No. 7 Calvin Ridley >>>7. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

Ridley is the first wideout on our list, and what a talent he is. As a freshman, Ridley was spectacular, hauling in 89 passes for 1,045 yards and seven touchdowns as the Crimson Tide captured the national title.

He did things like this too. 

">@AlabamaFTBL up over

Calvin Ridley with a 60 yd. TD reception from Jake Coker to put @AlabamaFTBL up over @HailStateFB 14-0. #BAMAvsMSSTpic.twitter.com/ccSCsgAC24

— SportsReport (@CFBUpdates) November 14, 2015

">@HailStateFB 14-0. #BAMAvsMSSTpic.twitter.com/ccSCsgAC24 — SportsReport (@CFBUpdates)

Calvin Ridley with a 60 yd. TD reception from Jake Coker to put @AlabamaFTBL up over @HailStateFB 14-0. #BAMAvsMSSTpic.twitter.com/ccSCsgAC24

— SportsReport (@CFBUpdates) November 14, 2015

">November 14, 2015

A speedy gamebreaker and a deep threat who can do a wealth of damage, Ridley's talents would be in high demand on the open market.Next: No. 6 J.T. Barrett >>>6. J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio StateAs a freshman in 2014, Barrett broke records before a leg injury ended his season in November and Cardale Jones took the team to a national title. If Barrett had been the full-time starter all of last season instead of Jones, perhaps OSU's offense wouldn't have struggled as much as it did at times.Now, it's officially Barrett's team again, and it's no wonder the native Texan is a Heisman candidate.Barrett is draft-eligible in 2017, and there are some who think he could declare early. We have him on this list because we're banking on him coming back to school to enhance his draft stock. A team would gladly pay top dollar for two seasons of Barrett as its starting QB.Next: No. 5 Jabrill Peppers >>>5. Jabrill Peppers, LB, MichiganA five-star recruit in 2014, Peppers has filled several roles since arriving in Ann Arbor: cornerback, safety, return man, and offensive weapon. This season, he moved to linebacker, where new defensive coordinator Don Brown is hoping to take advantage of his ample natural talents. Peppers will be a redshirt sophomore this fall, so it's possible he could leave for the NFL following this season, but if he returns for his junior season, he'd be worth a big deal. Next: No. 4 Arden Key >>>4. Arden Key, DE, LSUYou knew we'd have to include a pass rusher on here, and they don't come much better than Key.As a freshman, Key recorded 41 tackles and five sacks. He also led the Tigers in quarterback hurries with nine. 

">May 19, 2016

Key has two years left at the collegiate level, making him a prime candidate for free agency if it existed.

Next: No. 3 Derwin James >>>3. Derwin James, S, Florida State

Florida State just had a defensive back (Jalen Ramsey) selected in the top-five of the NFL Draft, and we won't be surprised if James goes somewhere in the top five in 2018.

If we had to describe James in one word, it would be "freak." "Productive" would also fit. James was second on the team in tackles as a freshman with 91, while also recording 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and five pass break-ups.

Defensive coordinators nationwide would be salivating with what they could do with James over the next two seasons.

Next: No. 2 Mitch Hyatt >>>2. Mitch Hyatt, LT, Clemson

You can't have a football team if you can't protect your quarterback, which is why left tackles make so much money in free agency. 

At the collegiate level, it's hard to find a better young blindside protector than Hyatt, who started all 15 games for the Tigers as a true freshman last year and ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week in the win over Florida State.

">September 8, 2015

There are a couple of other outstanding young tackles out there --Oklahoma's Orlando Brown and Texas' Connor Williams come to mind -- but Hyatt is our pick for this list. Next: No. 1 ??? >>>1. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLAOur top spot goes to the young man affectionately known as "The Rosen One." The No. 1 Pro-Style quarterback in the 2015 class, Rosen started for the Bruins from day one.Last year, he threw for 3,670 yards and 23 touchdowns against just 11 interceptions. Scouts are already drooling over him and he's two years away from getting drafted. 

There isn't a coach in the country that wouldn't take Rosen to lead his offense, and he'd be the most coveted free agent in college football if the system existed. 

Predicting The Next 5 College Football Coaches Who Will Win Their First NCAA Title >>>