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The 50 Most Valuable Players In College Football

For years, former ESPN and Grantland writer Bill Simmons wrote an annual "NBA Trade Value" column. In this long piece, he would rank dozens of NBA players, not by sheer ability, but by how valuable he would be in trade, taking age, contract, and other factors into account. The column spawned NFL and MLB versions once Grantland launched, but college football never received its due, and understandably so. Because there are no contracts in college sports, it becomes a bit tricky to quantify value. However, we're going to attempt to do that here.

In this exercise, we have just started a college football team, with the ability to take any player from anywhere else in the country. However, their class status, injury history, and other baggage remain. While seniors are great for individual seasons in college football, taking a great freshman or sophomore can be even more valuable, because of the extra years available. Possible early entry into the NFL is also taken into consideration. 

Without further ado, here are our 50 most valuable players in college football.

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50. Taylor Decker, Ohio State Senior Offensive Tackle
49. Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame Senior Offensive Tackle

Offensive tackles will always be at a premium, and these two seniors will be tasked with protecting young quarterbacks on teams with lofty ambitions. Stanley will be blocking for new Notre Dame starter Malik Zaire, while Taylor Decker...we'll see come Monday, when his Buckeyes have a showdown with Dadi Nicolas and Virginia Tech's stingy defense. Stanley is listed as the No. 1 offensive tackle prospect for the 2016 NFL Draft by CBS Sports, and is a likely first-round lock, while Decker should also be an early draftee, and could play himself into those first 32 picks with a big 2015.

48. Anthony Zettel, Penn State Senior Defensive Tackle

Zettel has made most of his off-season headlines because of his enigmatic off-field personality. Between tackling a tree and nearly kicking a water bottle into a freshman teammate's face for no reason, this is a man who knows how to go viral. Luckily for Penn State fans, he's even better at getting after the quarterback. Zettel recorded eight sacks and 17 tackles for loss in 2014. Perhaps more impressively, he intercepted three passes, running one back for a touchdown. That kind of playmaking ability is rare for an interior lineman.

47. Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina Junior Wide Receiver

If it wasn't for Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina's 2014 wouldn't have been the disappointment it was. It would have probably been an abject disaster. Cooper was everything to the Gamecocks' offense, posting 1,136 yards and nine touchdowns through the air, and another 200 yards and two scores on the ground. Cooper is a gamebreaker in the open field, busting a number of plays over 70 yards last season. With new quarterback Connor Mitch taking over this season, Steve Spurrier is going to need to lean on Cooper even more. Other wide receivers like D'haquille Williams and Corey Coleman might have more raw ability, but Cooper gets the nod here because of his dynamic, wide-ranging talents.

46. Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh Junior Wide Receiver
45. James Conner, Pittsburgh Junior Running Back

Pitt was mostly unremarkable in 2014, finishing 6-7 with a 4-4 conference record, but the Panthers offense does feature two of the best skill players in the ACC. Tyler Boyd was the only truly reliable target for a fairly limited quarterback in Chad Voytik. He paces Pitt with 1,261 yards and eight touchdowns. As a team, Pitt totaled 2,417 yards through the air. You can do the math there. Pitt was allowed to have such an average aerial attack because of backfield workhorse James Conner, a 240-pound monster running back who put up 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns to capture ACC Player of the Year in 2014. Pitt is not a great team overall, but they sport one of the great running back/wide receiver combos in college football.

44. Brad Kaaya, Miami Sophomore Quarterback

In the 2014 season opener against Louisville, true freshman Brad Kaaya a true freshman. Against one of the nation's top pass defenses, he went 17-for-29 for 174 yards, one touchdown and two picks. While Hurricane fans probably foresaw a long season after that start, a 31-13 loss, Kaaya's learning curve was not nearly as steep as expected. Two weeks later, he put together a masterful 16-for-24, 342-yard, four-touchdown game against Arkansas State, and wound up throwing for at least 250 yards six times on the season. While the consistency was not quite there, Kaaya is definitely one of the most promising young passers in the ACC. If by season's end people are saying "The U is back," Kaaya will likely be a main reason why.

43. Malik Zaire, Notre Dame Sophomore Quarterback

Zaire sat out in 2013, and only got meaningful snaps twice in 2014, so yes, it may be a bit aggressive to project him this highly based on that sample size. However, Notre Dame felt so comfortable with him at quarterback that they didn't seem to put up much of a fight to keep veteran Everett Golson on campus. Zaire was undoubtedly impressive in the Music City Bowl against LSU, completing 80 percent of his throws for 96 yards and a touchdown, and rushing for an additional 96 yards and a score against a very tough SEC defense. Notre Dame opened as a nine-point favorite at home against Texas in Saturday's season opener, but the Longhorn defense should be a good test for the new Fighting Irish quarterback. If he looks good against Charlie Strong's defense, it could be a big year in South Bend.


@RGR053@BuffaloYak12@StephenW716 yea, I think Im ok with this. Hello Malik Zaire!

— Adam Petrie (@adamp26) May 7, 2015


@RGR053@BuffaloYak12@StephenW716 yea, I think Im ok with this. Hello Malik Zaire!

— Adam Petrie (@adamp26) May 7, 2015

">@StephenW716 yea, I think Im ok with this. Hello Malik Zaire!

— Adam Petrie (@adamp26)

@RGR053@BuffaloYak12@StephenW716 yea, I think Im ok with this. Hello Malik Zaire!

— Adam Petrie (@adamp26) May 7, 2015

">May 7, 2015

42. Reggie Ragland, Alabama Senior Linebacker

Ragland is the prototypical super-productive Alabama linebacker. Last season, as a junior, he finished second on the Crimson Tide with 95 total tackles, with 10.5 for a loss. Ragland was named first-team All-SEC for his efforts. With Trey DePriest and Xzavier Dickson gone, Ragland is by far the most experienced player left in the linebacker group. With a huge, talented defensive line in front of him, expect Ragland to fill the stat sheet in 2015.