Hits and Misses of the 2014 Preseason All-America Teams
We're officially less than two weeks away from college football season, so close to opening kickoff that we can count the days on two hands and one foot.
Which means, of course, that we have reached the point of the preseason where media All-America teams start rolling in. Bleacher Report's own won't come out until next week, but outlets such as USA Today and Sports Illustrated have already gotten in on the fun.
With only three of 22 position players returning from last year's Associated Press All-America first team—quarterback Jameis Winston, defensive end Vic Beasley and safety Cody Prewitt—there was plenty of room for new faces to move up the ranks. That holds doubly true since two of those three returning first-teamers from 2013 were not consensus first-teamers this preseason.
So let's take a thorough look at the early All-America releases, adding Phil Steele's roster from June to the two sources mentioned above.
What did and didn't make the most sense?
Miss: Jameis Winston on USA Today's Second Team
Honestly, this feels like it's an accident. Like the voters wanted to get cute by voting for Marcus Mariota, knowing that it wouldn't matter because all the other voters would vote for Jameis Winston, ignorant that everybody else was doing the same exact thing.
Let's call it the college football bystander effect.
There's no other good way to explain how Mariota made the first team over Winston—which is not meant as a slight at Oregon's quarterback but rather a reminder of the brilliance of Florida State's.
We've spent the offseason picking apart his mechanics and musing about how he's not a finished product, but the fact of the matter remains that Winston (a) is 14-0 as a starter, (b) won the Heisman Trophy, (c) won the national championship and (d) had a QB rating more than 10 points higher than anybody else's in the country.
What more could he possibly have done?
Note: Steele also had Mariota ranked ahead of Winston, but USA Today's is harder to comprehend because a panel of voters is supposed to have inherent checks and balances. Steele's list comes from just the one person.
Hit: USA Today Includes Four 5-Star Sophomore Defensive Backs
The 2013 recruiting class might go down as one of the best for defensive backs in a long, long time.
Less-heralded names such as Virginia Tech's Brandon Facyson and LSU's Tre'Davious White—the latter of whom actually made the second team at SI—ensure some quality depth, but for the most part, it's the core four of top-20 overall recruits who carry the banner.
Cornerback Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech) and safety Su'a Cravens (USC) both made the first team at USA Today, and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (Florida) and safety/do-it-all defensive back Jalen Ramey (Florida State) both landed on the second team.
You can squabble about the order all you like—in this case, there honestly are no wrong answers—but the fact that all four made it is what's important.
SI, by contrast, actually included Fuller, Hargreaves III and Ramsey together on the first team but left Cravens off the list entirely.
Hit: Sports Illustrated Puts Melvin Gordon on the First Team
Georgia's Todd Gurley was an across-the-board selection at one running spot, with the other spot coming down to a preference call between Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah.
It didn't feel right saying USA Today was a "miss" for listing Abdullah, because…well, he's Abdullah. He had more rushing yards last season than any returning player in the country. That should matter.
Still, Gordon had more rushing yards last season than any returning player in the country besides Abdullah, and he did it on 206 carries to Abdullah's 281. Gordon didn't even lead Wisconsin in carries, trailing James White, who rushed for 165 fewer yards on 15 more attempts.
But now, finally, the backfield belongs to Gordon, and he's got his mind set on being the No. 1 running back in the country.
"When I'm running sprints and lifting, I'm not just thinking about the guys in our room," he told Chris Low of ESPN The Magazine. "I'm not just competing with them. I'm thinking about Gurley. I'm thinking about [T.J.] Yeldon, Abdullah and the new guys coming in."
Let's skew positive, and call SI a "hit" for including him.
Miss: Amari Cooper Snubbed by USA Today
If we could go back in time to the beginning of last season, knowing what we know now, don't you think we would have had more faith in Sammy Watkins to bounce back from his "sophomore slump"?
Because Amari Cooper is in basically the same situation.
After breaking out with 58 catches for 999 yards and 11 touchdowns as a freshman, Cooper's numbers dropped across the board last season, but he's not any worse of a player for it. Alabama just divvied up targets across a deep cast of receivers, throwing at Cooper only 74 times and three other players (Christion Jones, Kevin Norwood and DeAndrew White) at least 41 times, per Football Study Hall.
Cooper is not forced to produce like a workhorse receiver, but that doesn't mean he's incapable of being one. He's still one of the two or three hardest players in the country to keep up with.
Sports Illustrated and Steele both rated him accordingly, listing Cooper next to Baylor's Antwan Goodley on their respective first teams. USA Today, however, didn't only put USC's Nelson Agholor over Cooper on the first team (forgivable), it also put Kansas State's Tyler Lockett and Florida State's Rashad Greene over Cooper on the second team.
It's hard to argue against any of those players explicitly—and all of them might put up superior tangible numbers—but omitting Cooper still feels like an overreaction to last year's stats.
It feels like watching Watkins taught us nothing.
Hit: Some Danny Shelton Love from USA Today
Washington's Danny Shelton represents one of the most lovable archetypes in football: the massive defensive lineman with a high motor. He's terrifying and delightful at the same time.
At 6'2", 339 pounds, Shelton does the normal job of a nose tackle—occupying space, collapsing the pocket etc.—as well as just about any player in America, but against smaller, faster teams such as Oregon, you can also see him sprinting down the field to make plays.
His contributions often go overlooked because he's tucked away in the Pacific Northwest, but USA Today gave Shelton some much-deserved love by listing him on the second team next to better-known players from bigger-name schools, such as Ole Miss tackle Robert Nkemdiche and Ohio State linemen Michael Bennett and Joey Bosa.
Steele, by contrast, did not have Shelton on any of his four teams.
There are not 16 better linemen in the country.
Hit: Consensus Along the Offensive Interior
For the most part, hypothetical first teams care more about offensive line balance than hypothetical second teams. The latter sometimes devolves into a case of four tackles around a center—sort of a like a basketball team with four three-point shooters around one "big"—but the former typically includes the traditional, two-guard formation.
This year, there seems to be a running consensus on whom those three interior lineman should be: Oregon center Hroniss Grasu, South Carolina guard A.J. Cann and Florida State guard Tre Jackson.
That was the exact alignment on all three of the teams that we looked at, and it's hard to find a fault with that. Auburn's Reese Dismukes would be a solid alternative for Grasu, but Cann and Jackson are the two best guards in the country by a modest-to-significant margin.
At this point, it's mandatory to remind everyone that Cann didn't even make the Preseason All-SEC first team at media days.
Swing and a miss.
Miss: Jalen Ramsey (Badly) Snubbed by Phil Steele
As alluded to earlier, Sports Illustrated had Florida State safety Jalen Ramsey on its first team, and USA Today had him on its second.
Steele shut him of his preseason listings entirely—and he, unlike the others, had four teams to choose from.
That seems a little ridiculous after the freshman season Ramsey just had. He became the first FSU player since Deion Sanders to start at cornerback in his first career game, and after being asked to slide to safety in the middle of the season because of an injury to Tyler Hunter, he ended up playing just as well (if not better).
Which is why Ralph Russo of the Associated Press said the following:
I am judging all preseason All-America teams on 1 criteria: Does it have Florida St. S Jalen Ramsey on the first team? If no, I'm skeptical.— Ralph D. Russo (@ralphDrussoAP) July 15, 2014
Putting Ramsey on a second team team leads to skepticism. Putting him on a third or fourth team might lead to confusion. But not putting him anywhere leads to downright incredulousness.
For the second time on this list: What more could a contributing freshman on a national championship team have done last season?
Or is this just a case of voter fatigue?
Note: All recruiting info refers to the 247Sports composite rankings.
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT