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2017 ESPN college football preseason All-America team

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Will Darnold be college football's best QB? (1:23)

USC's Sam Darnold is ESPN's pick for the top QB in college football, but several other quarterbacks could give him a run for his money. (1:23)

There's a new look -- several, actually -- to the preseason ESPN college football All-America team thanks to graduations and the NFL draft.

Which players are moving into spots last held by the likes of Deshaun Watson, Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette? We have all the answers.

Here's your ESPN 2017 preseason All-America team.


OFFENSE

QB: Sam Darnold, USC

And to think, a year ago, he wasn't good enough to start. Darnold begins his redshirt sophomore season with a nine-game winning streak as the starter and a national reputation to uphold. That's what happens when you complete two of every three passes, average 12.5 yards per completion, throw for more than 3,000 yards and have a 31-9 TD-pick ratio. And win the Rose Bowl. There's plenty left to achieve: the Pac-12 title, the playoff, the Heisman. Can't wait to see what happens.

RB: Saquon Barkley, Penn State

Think about the junior's career this way: If Barkley duplicates last season, when he rushed for 1,496 yards, he will be the leading career rusher in Penn State history, surpassing legends such as Blair Thomas, Curt Warner, D.J. Dozier and the leader, Evan Royster (3,932 yards). Barkley combines size (5-foot-11, 223 pounds) with swivel and giddyup. That's pretty much the whole package, along with 28 receptions for 402 yards. He scored 22 touchdowns last season, and he has four returning starters on the offensive line. In other words, watch out.

RB: Derrius Guice, LSU

You can make a case that Guice's tally of 1,387 yards last season is skewed. He rushed for 537 yards in two games. He had only two carries against Alabama and gained just 8 yards. Or you can believe that Guice is a player on the rise. After all, Guice gained all that yardage in making only six starts while Leonard Fournette tried in vain to get healthy. Fournette is in the NFL now, and the job belongs to Guice. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada will open up the field, a concept Les Miles refused to bring to Baton Rouge. Once defenses have to respect the LSU passing game, Guice becomes much more dangerous.

WR: Calvin Ridley, Alabama

The heir to the Julio Jones/Amari Cooper legacy was held back last season by the inconsistency of freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts. Ridley's yards per catch dipped from 11.7 as a freshman in 2015 to 10.7 last season. But he still found a way to get open, and Hurts depends on him (72 catches). Hurts will depend on Ridley more this season -- no other Tide receiver caught more than 14 passes in 2016. The bet here is that Hurts will emerge as a better passer thanks to new coordinator Brian Daboll. Ridley is ready to help.

WR: James Washington, Oklahoma State

A skill position player who's a senior. Anyone remember them? Washington, who has started 29 games, is one of the stars of a senior class that was thrown onto the field three years ago and has been growing ever since. He has averaged about 20 yards a catch over the last two seasons, a tribute to the rhythm he has developed with classmate Mason Rudolph. Washington also plays in the Big 12, where defense goes to die. All that adds up to a reason to put off the NFL for a season. Thank goodness.

TE: Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin

A Wisconsin tight end is an old-school tight end. He has to catch, and he has to block. Let other offenses spread the field. That was especially true last season, when coach Paul Chryst rotated two young quarterbacks and two veteran tailbacks. Fumagalli is the sixth man on a veteran O-line, so the Badgers still plan to move the pile and the sticks. But Fumagalli is a big target (6-6, 248) and a proven one. Now that the quarterback job belongs to sophomore Alex Hornibrook, expect him to know where Fumagalli is at all times -- especially third down.

C: Billy Price, Ohio State

The senior with 25 starts at left guard and 16 at right guard meets the two jobs in the middle. Price replaces All-American Pat Elflein, who moved from guard to center a year ago, and the Buckeyes shouldn't miss a beat. Price has the size (6-4, 312), the strength and the experience to quarterback the Ohio State offensive line. He came to the Horseshoe as a defensive lineman, and that aggressive mentality has attracted penalty flags. But it also has made him a player to watch, even in the middle of the offensive line.

T: Orlando Brown, Oklahoma

One look at the 6-8, 345-pound junior and you will question whether there ever will be a limit to how big a guy can be and remain athletic enough to play football. "He's incredibly flexible for a guy that big," Sooners coach Lincoln Riley said on the Campus Conversation podcast. "I've seen him run down the field and hurdle guys on a screen play. A man that big should not be doing that." Brown has started every game since he enrolled in Norman two years ago. Watch him continue to grow.

T: Connor Williams, Texas

As the Tom Herman era begins, the new head coach's effect on Williams will help measure how well Herman can transfer his success at Houston to the Forty Acres. Williams arrived on Charlie Strong's team as a plug-and-play. He already has started 23 games. Williams is emblematic of the expectations put on Herman. The talent is there. Strong didn't win enough, so now Herman is there, too. The success of the offense, with Williams as the bell cow on the O-line, will be a telling yardstick.

G: Cody O'Connell, Washington State

The 6-8, 368-pound senior emerged as a game-changer on the line that gave Luke Falk the time and space to throw for 4,468 yards and 38 touchdowns last season. The Cougars gave up 29 sacks, but they also threw 664 passes. One sack every 23 attempts sounds a lot better, no? Not to mention that O'Connell himself gave up only one of those sacks. He is nicknamed the "Continent," but it doesn't take a tectonic shift for him to move. In fact, he has great flexibility. Falk again will have plenty of time to throw. Watch the scoreboard light up.

G: Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame

The redshirt junior, a three-year starter, and tackle Mike McGlinchey make the left side of the Irish offensive line one of the most talented in the nation. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is bringing the spread to the Golden Dome. But Nelson already has proved himself an effective run-blocker and pocket protector. Tailback Josh Adams should benefit from an improved passing game. The 6-5, 329-pound Nelson gives Notre Dame a big step forward toward returning the Irish offense to its once-explosive state.


DEFENSE

DE: Harold Landry, Boston College

The Eagles sacked the quarterback 47 times a year ago, and Landry accounted for more than a third of those. He had 16.5 sacks in 51 tackles, another 5.5 tackles for loss, 7 hurries and a pick. That adds up to the offense knows where the 6-3, 250-pound senior is at all times, and even then, no matter. Landry will draw attention away from junior Zach Allen, the other defensive end. The Eagles, per usual, will go as far as the defense takes them. And this is a good defense.

DE: Bradley Chubb, NC State

As a 225-pound defensive end at Powder Springs (Georgia) Hillgrove High, Chubb projected as a linebacker. That was four years ago, before he added 50 pounds and kept doing what he can do on the D-line. The senior had 10.5 sacks, another 11.5 tackles for loss and 7 hurries last season. He's a big reason the Wolfpack kept 11 of 13 opponents below 30 points last season. Eight starters return, led by the 6-4 force of nature that is Chubb.

DT: Christian Wilkins, Clemson

The 2017 definition of a barroom discussion at the Esso Club in Clemson is deciding which Tigers defensive lineman is the best: Wilkins, the junior, or sophomore Dexter Lawrence. The latter had more sacks last season, even as a true freshman. But Wilkins' experience won out, as did his 9.5 tackles for loss and 10 deflected passes. And that shirtless shimmy with the national championship trophy in Tampa. That looked so good it makes you want to see Clemson repeat.

DT: Ed Oliver, Houston

The best thing you can say about the 6-2, 290-pound sophomore is that he has been everything everyone said he would be when former Cougars coach Tom Herman persuaded Oliver to stay at home to play college football. Herman has gone, but Oliver remains, with even greater expectations this season. Now that he has proved himself, Oliver must play to the standard he set: 18 tackles for loss, 9 deflected passes, 7 hurries, 5 sacks. Betcha he will.

LB: Azeem Victor, Washington

The Huskies' two losses, to USC (26-13) and Alabama (24-7), shared a telling lack of offense. But here's an illustration of what the 6-3, 231-pound senior meant to the U-Dub D last season. He missed the last 4½ games after breaking his leg in the second quarter against the Trojans yet still finished only four tackles shy of leading the defense in stops. In two games against ranked opponents (Stanford and Utah), Victor had 11 and 16 tackles, respectively.

LB: Arden Key, LSU

The junior provided bona fides regarding his pass rushing last season with a school-record 12 sacks and 11 hurries. No one else on the defense had more than 6.5 and five, respectively. He took time off from school for personal reasons and had shoulder surgery in the offseason that has limited him during August practice. But even if he begins slowly, 6-6, 238-pound Key is such a physical handful that he will be a difference-maker.

LB: Tegray Scales, Indiana

If you like underdogs, here's one to root for. The 6-foot 230-pounder from Cincinnati didn't get an offer from Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame or even hometown Cincinnati. But after two years of steady progress in Bloomington, Scales blew up into a star last season, leading the Big Ten with 126 tackles, 23.5 of them behind the line. The latter led the FBS. Let's see how new Hoosiers head coach Tom Allen deploys Scales on a defense with nine returning starters.

CB: Tarvarus McFadden, Florida State

McFadden led the FBS with eight interceptions and broke up another 14 passes. At 6-2, 198 pounds, he has unusual physical range for a corner. His progress over the course of last season mirrored that of his defensive teammates. He gave up four touchdowns in the first half of the season. He shut down his sideline in the second half. Likewise, the unit that allowed 63 points at Louisville in September gave up 54 points combined in the last four games of the regular season.

SS: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama

This is how good the 6-1, 202-pound junior from New Jersey is. He started 10 games as a nickel as a true freshman for the most demanding defensive backs coach in the game: Nick Saban. He started eight games there last year, moved to strong safety for the last seven and dominated at both positions. He took home two pick-sixes last season, one at each position. What's left to prove? Fitzpatrick is moving to left corner, where he said he would be more comfortable. Uh-oh, offenses.

FS: Derwin James, Florida State

No one is looking forward to this season more than this third-year sophomore, who tore the meniscus in his left knee in the second game and missed the rest of last season. It's no coincidence that, in the two games after James was hurt, the Seminoles gave up 63 and 37 points, respectively. The 6-3 211-pounder has the physical tools and the prowess to play any position in the secondary. He has the motivation to show what he can do, too.

CB: Jaire Alexander, Louisville

The junior showed a taste for arriving big in big games. His 69-yard punt return on the fourth play of the second half against Florida State sealed any question about the 63-20 rout of the Seminoles. Two of his five picks last season were thrown by Deshaun Watson of Clemson. Alexander acknowledged this summer that he needs to rely more on technique and less on his speed and closing ability. That's how young players become All-Americans.


SPECIAL TEAMS

PK: Daniel Carlson, Auburn

The senior has been automatic for three seasons. He has made every one of his 141 PATs and 69 of his 83 field goal attempts. He also allowed only 15 kickoffs to be returned out of 72. Carlson has been especially valuable as the Tigers' offense has struggled during his career. Against the last three FBS opponents last season -- Georgia, No. 1 Alabama and No. 7 Oklahoma -- Auburn gained a total of 378 yards and Carlson kicked six field goals. Auburn has a new offensive coordinator and a new quarterback this season. The Tigers hope Carlson does less.

P: Mitch Wishnowsky, Utah

The latest Ute Aussie picked up at Rice-Eccles Stadium where Tom Hackett left off. Wishnowsky was first-team All-American and won the Ray Guy Award last year, and he proved to be so much fun to watch that he makes you root for his offense to struggle. Try a net average of 44.6. Try 30 punts of 50 yards or more. You can say that he makes half his kicks at altitude. To which I say, so?

AP: Quadree Henderson, Pittsburgh

Here's a guy tailor-made for the modern offensive philosophy of using the entire field. The junior is only 5-8, 190, but try to lay a hand on him in the open field. Henderson took it to the house on four of 46 returns last season (three kickoffs, one punt) and averaged nearly 11 yards per touch on 86 rushes and receptions. With that kind of production, you have to believe that Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi will figure out how to get Henderson more touches.