The pool for ESPN’s 2020 preseason All-America team was considerably smaller, which is weird. But what hasn’t been weird about this preseason, this offseason, this summer?
In short, you won’t see any players from the Big Ten, the Pac-12, the Mountain West or any of the conferences not scheduled to play this fall because of coronavirus concerns. The same goes for any players who have decided to opt out this season.
Even so, there were some difficult choices, particularly at the wide receiver, defensive end and linebacker positions.
As an annual reminder, this is not a list of the top NFL draft prospects, although many of these guys will end up as longtime pros. It’s not necessarily a career achievement award, either, but rather a projection of what we think the All-America team will genuinely look like come December.
QB: Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Had the Big Ten not opted out this fall, this would have been a tough call between Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields. Both guys have what it takes to be franchise quarterbacks at the next level. Lawrence didn’t have his best stuff against LSU in the national championship game a year ago, but he has gotten better every year and is primed for a blockbuster junior season, especially with all of the talent surrounding him.
RB: Travis Etienne, Clemson
Dabo Swinney has proved to be a master recruiter, but the best recruit the Tigers landed this offseason was holding on to Etienne, who decided to return for his senior season. The 5-foot-10, 205-pounder can do it all. He rushed for 1,614 yards a year ago, emerged as a key weapon in the passing game and had 64 plays from scrimmage of 10 yards or longer, which leads all returning FBS players. In other words, just get him the ball.
RB: Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State
Not only does Hubbard have one of the best nicknames in college football (Canada’s Cowboy), but the Alberta, Canada, native also has one of the best all-around games. As a redshirt sophomore a year ago, Hubbard showcased his sprinter speed to lead the country with 2,334 all-purpose yards and rushed for 150-plus yards seven times. With Tylan Wallace also returning, Oklahoma State will boast one of the most dynamic running back/wide receiver combos in the country.
WR: DeVonta Smith, Alabama
The Alabama wide receiver room was brimming with talent last season, with multiple guys who will play in the NFL. Getting Smith back for his senior season was a coup for the Crimson Tide. He’s averaged 17.9 yards per catch during his career and caught 14 touchdown passes a year ago. Smith is incredibly explosive, but also catches everything that comes his way. Alabama just keeps churning out elite wide receivers, and Smith is next in line.
WR: Tutu Atwell, Louisville
Atwell led the country a year ago with four plays from scrimmage of 70 yards or longer and posted six 100-yard receiving games. The 5-foot-9, 165-pound junior is a blur with his sub-4.3 speed in the 40-yard dash, and that’s whether he’s turning a short toss into a big gain or racing past a defender. Atwell led the ACC last season with 1,276 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns, and the fun really starts after he catches the ball.
TE: Charlie Kolar, Iowa State
Kolar had a breakout season a year ago as a redshirt sophomore with 51 catches for 697 yards, the best ever for an Iowa State tight end, and also pulled in seven touchdowns. The 6-foot-6, 257-pound Kolar, who earned first-team Academic All-America honors a year ago, also has the benefit of one of the top quarterbacks in the country throwing him the ball. Brock Purdy passed for 3,982 yards and 27 touchdowns last season.
OT: Alex Leatherwood, Alabama
Saying he had “a lot more to offer,” Leatherwood elected to return for his senior year despite being projected by many as a first-round NFL draft pick. He’s been a force for the Crimson Tide at both guard and tackle, but will remain at left tackle for a second straight season after allowing just two sacks and three quarterback hurries a year ago. The 6-foot-6, 312-pound Leatherwood will anchor an Alabama offensive line that should be the best in the country.
OG: Trey Smith, Tennessee
Smith was one of the best stories in college football last season. He fought back from blood clots in his lungs in 2018 to earn first-team All-SEC honors and establish himself as one of the most dominant interior offensive linemen in the country. The 6-foot-6, 330-pound senior mauls his opponents in the run game and will be even better from his left guard spot in 2020 now that he’s healthy enough to practice on a more consistent basis.
C: Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma
One of three finalists a year ago for the Rimington Trophy as the top center in the country, the 6-foot-5, 320-pound Humphrey is back for his redshirt junior season. He’s made 26 consecutive starts at center, and with great players coming and going at the skill positions for the Sooners, it’s always nice to have a rock in the middle of that offensive line the caliber of Humphrey.
OG: Deonte Brown, Alabama
The 6-foot-4, 350-pound redshirt senior missed the first four games of the 2019 season after being suspended the year before for the College Football Playoff, but settled in as the Tide’s right guard. He could slide over to left guard this season to give the Tide an imposing left side with Leatherwood also at tackle on that side. Brown is a powerful blocker in the run game and also moves extremely well in space for a guy his size.
OT: Samuel Cosmi, Texas
The 6-foot-7, 309-pound Cosmi is back for his redshirt junior season at left tackle to protect Sam Ehlinger’s blind side. Cosmi’s blend of size, quick feet and experience makes him one of the most complete offensive linemen in college football. He played right tackle two years ago for the Longhorns and enters the 2020 season with 26 career starts.
AP: Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said Waddle will be an “every-down” target for the Crimson Tide this fall, which means opposing defenses and opposing coverage units on special teams will get a heavy dose of the 5-foot-10, 182-pound junior. Waddle had six receiving touchdowns last season and also had a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Auburn as well as a 77-yard punt return for a touchdown against LSU.
DE: Quincy Roche, Miami
The Hurricanes were poised to have the two best bookend pass-rushers in the country until Gregory Rousseau decided to opt out for this season. Nonetheless, Roche remains after transferring from Temple, where he had 19 tackles for loss last season, including 13 sacks. You don’t have to look too hard the last few seasons to find transfers who had big impacts. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Roche could be that guy this season.
DT: Marvin Wilson, Florida State
The 6-foot-5, 305-pound senior had his season cut short a year ago after undergoing hand surgery. Nonetheless, he was still one of only four defensive tackles nationally with multiple games in which he had at least three tackles for loss. Wilson finished with 8.5 tackles for loss and 5 sacks in nine games and is hungry to prove himself as the best interior defensive lineman in college football.
DT: Darius Stills, West Virginia
The Mountaineers will again have a double dose of Stillses in the defensive line, Darius and his younger brother Dante. Darius led the team with 14.5 tackles for loss from his nose guard spot a year ago, some impressive numbers for a guy facing constant double teams. He may also play some at the defensive tackle spot this season. Wherever the 6-foot-1, 285-pound senior lines up, he’s a disrupter in the middle of that West Virginia defensive line.
DE: Chris Rumph II, Duke
One of the most explosive pass-rushers in the country, the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Rumph added some bulk during the offseason and is equally effective when it comes to chasing down ball-carriers. He will play more snaps in 2020, which means his production will only go up. And that’s after collecting 13.5 tackles for loss, including 6.5 sacks, and registering 11 quarterback hurries a year ago.
LB: Dylan Moses, Alabama
Losing Moses to a season-ending ACL tear just days before the season opener a year ago was a huge blow to the Alabama defense. But the 6-foot-3, 240-pound senior is once again healthy and says he’s determined to “put a punctuation mark on the back end of my Alabama career.” Not only is Moses a dependable playmaker from his middle linebacker spot, but he’s also a guy who knows the ins and outs of Nick Saban’s defense, which will help clean up mistakes.
LB: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame
More than ever in today’s game, defensive coordinators are looking for linebackers who can play all three downs. Owusu-Koramoah is the ultimate hybrid defender for the Irish and will even line up some at rover. He has tremendous speed and instincts and blossomed a year ago after breaking his foot early in the 2018 season. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound redshirt junior led Notre Dame with 13.5 tackles for loss last season, and those numbers figure to only go up in 2020.
LB: Jabril Cox, LSU
It will be a different-looking LSU team in 2020 with all of the personnel losses from a year ago and players opting out this season, which makes landing a graduate transfer as talented as Cox all the more valuable. A two-time FCS All-American, the 6-foot-4, 231-pound Cox was part of three national championship teams at North Dakota State. A few weeks ago, LSU coach Ed Orgeron said Cox looked like the best player on the field, and that was when Ja’Marr Chase and Tyler Shelvin were still around.
S: Trevon Moehrig, TCU
Good luck in finding a better tandem of safeties in college football than Moehrig and Ar’Darius Washington. Moehrig, a 6-foot-2, 202-pound junior, is a magnet for the football from his free safety position. A year ago, he ranked among the Horned Frogs’ leaders in total tackles (62), passes broken up (15), interceptions (4) and forced fumbles (2). Moehrig developed into an All-Big 12 player as a sophomore. He’ll make the jump to All-American status in 2020.
S: Richard LeCounte, Georgia
The Dawgs’ defense should be plenty salty in 2020, and it’s always nice to have a senior eraser on the back end like the 5-foot-11, 190-pound LeCounte. He doesn’t have prototypical size for a safety, but is always making plays, whether it’s intercepting passes, recovering fumbles or forcing fumbles. LeCounte is one of the best coverage safeties in college football and also combined for 135 total tackles the last two years.
CB: Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
For all of the offensive firepower on that LSU national championship team a year ago, the Tigers were equally loaded on defense. Right there at the top of the list was Stingley. It’s hard to believe he will only be a sophomore after earning consensus All-America honors as a true freshman. He led the SEC with six interceptions. The phrase “shutdown corner” is probably used too often, but few corners thrive in man coverage the way the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Stingley does.
CB: Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
If not for Stingley, Surtain would be the top cornerback in the country and could still have something to say about that before the 2020 season is complete. He has great size (6-foot-2, 202 pounds) and the instincts and athleticism to go along with that size. The talented junior forced three fumbles and intercepted two passes a year ago. Alabama has produced some elite cornerbacks under Nick Saban, but Surtain could wind up being the best yet.
PK: Nick Sciba, Wake Forest
Sciba isn’t automatic, but he’s about as close as it gets. He made an NCAA-record 34 field goals in a row before missing a 48-yarder last season against Syracuse. He ended last season 24-of-25 on field goal attempts, and for his career, is 7-of-8 between 40 and 49 yards. The Clover, South Carolina, product heads into his junior season having made 43 of 47 field goal attempts and has yet to miss a PAT in 97 attempts.
P: Max Duffy, Kentucky
The Ray Guy Award winner a year ago as the top punter in college football, Duffy returns for his junior season. The Perth, Australia, native led the country last season with a 48.1-yard average. Only 11 of Duffy’s 49 punts were returned, and 24 were downed inside the 20-yard line. He had 22 punts of 50-plus yards, and as a bonus, also has three career tackles.
KR: Joshua Youngblood, Kansas State
Youngblood burst onto the scene a year ago as a true freshman with three kickoff returns for touchdowns against Texas, Texas Tech and Iowa State, and he only had 13 chances to return kickoffs all season. The Wildcats hope to get the ball in his hands even more in 2020 as a receiver on offense. A former quarterback in high school, the 5-foot-10, 181-pound Youngblood is a big play waiting to happen.