We’ve seen what the AAC is capable of in terms of competing with Power 5 conferences. There’s talent on every team, and some teams have multiple players with NFL ability. So, who are the best players in the conference? We begin a series looking at the Top 50 players in the AAC.
Honorable Mention: CB Brandon Moore, UCF; RB Kevin Mensah, UConn; NT Alex Turner, ECU; RB Corey Dauphine, Tulane; WR Tre Nixon, UCF; RB Gerrid Doaks, Cincinnati;
50. QB Malcolm Perry, Navy
The 5-foot-9 senior will enter the 2019 campaign as the starting quarterback after giving up the job in the middle of last season. He was moved to slotback in favor of Zach Abey and Garret Lewis despite being the most dangerous weapon Navy has to offer.
He’s dynamic with the ball in his hands, which is evident by his career average of 8.2 yards per touch, but even if Navy does not throw much, Perry must do better than his 37 percent completion percentage. With the aforementioned QBs no longer with the program, offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper has to find ways to make the offense work for Perry as the play caller.
49. RB/WR Johnny Ford, USF
With Jordan Cronkrite returning as well, the Bulls offensive staff needed to find a way to get Ford and Cronkrite on the field together. Both are dynamic with the ball in their hands, and USF’s offense needs them both. Ford will slide out to receiver, but will also be used as a running back too.
Ford finished averaging 6.8 yards on his 115 carries with eight touchdowns. He only caught three passes last year, but averaged 26 yards per reception. That was just a small sample size of his ability in space.
48. RB Xavier Jones, SMU
Injuries have robbed Jones of more productive college career. He received a medical redshirt for the 2016 season and battled an ankle injury for much of last year. But when on the field, Jones has proven he’s more than capable of carrying the load.
He led the team with 1,075 yards on 182 carries his redshirt-sophomore season, scoring nine touchdowns. Barring another injury-riddled season, Jones should be the bulk of the carries and wouldn’t be a surprise if he hits the thousand-yard mark again to close out his collegiate career.
47. QB Blake Barnett, USF
The former four star has bounced around from Alabama to Arizona to USF, but enters his second year as the starter for the Bulls. Injuries have limited his playing time, but he’s capable of torching defenses with his arm.
Barnett completed 61.1% of his passes last year with 12 touchdowns, but also threw 11 interceptions. There’s still plenty to work on, but a healthy Barnett makes this offense dangerous.
46. WR Isaiah Wright, Temple
There are few players in the conference that possess the all-around game that Temple gets from Wright. The reigning AAC Special Teams Player of the Year returned three kicks for touchdowns (two punt returns and one kickoff), one of three players in the nation to have both a punt and kick return for a score.
In addition to his three returns for scores, he had three receiving touchdowns and one rushing. He also takes snaps at quarterback, and in 2017, he became just the sixth player in the FBS to record a kickoff, punt, rushing, receiving and passing touchdown in the past decade.
45. DE Brendon Hayes, UCF
Big play potential in a long frame. Hayes can be a game changer when he wants to be, and his raw athleticism jumps out on film. He broke out last year with 11 tackles for loss on the edge.
Teams avoided his side simply because their tackles couldn’t block him. His long arms prevented him from getting blocked easily, and his violent pass rush makes life difficult for the blocker to succeed.
44. TE Joey Magnifico, Memphis
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: this is one of the best names in the country (if you haven’t noticed by now, two Joe’s wrote this piece, and one is more magnificent than the other). He’s proven to be a durable player at one of the toughest positions on the football field as the 6-foot-4-inch tight end has seen action in every game since being redshirted.
Many tight ends get judged based on their receiving numbers as offenses are throwing now more than ever, and Magnifico certainly holds his own as a receiver, but he is also a fantastic run blocker that helped pave the way for Darrell Henderson and Patrick Taylor’s huge numbers the last two seasons.
43. WR Jalen McCleskey, Tulane
McCleskey was extremely dangerous in the Big 12, so he’ll fit right in the AAC. Anyone who’s watched him play knows that speed is the name of his game, and secondaries will find that out quickly. For his career, he’s averaging over 11 yards per reception with 17 touchdowns. Now, he’ll line up opposite of Darnell Mooney, giving the Green Wave one of the better receiving duos in the conference.
42. WR Keith Corbin, Houston
After a quiet sophomore year in which he learned from the likes of Linell Bonner and Steven Dunbar, Corbin exploded onto the scene his junior season. He finished second in the AAC with 10 receiving touchdowns while averaging 17.3 yards per reception.
Corbin’s gifted athletically, and that’s evident when he runs and jumps for passes, but he needs to refine his game (too many drops last year). With the Coogs expected to once again have one of the top offenses in the nation, double-digit scores isn’t out of the question again for Corbin.
41. RB Otis Anderson, UCF
He’s the Swiss Army Knife for the Knights offense. Anderson lines up nearly anywhere, the UCF’s coaching staff finds numerous ways to get the ball in his hands. Whether that’s at running back, in the slot, or as a punt returner, Anderson’s a threat anywhere.
We did see a dip in his production thanks to the emergence of Greg McCrae, but he’s capable of bouncing back in 2019. With his skillset and a new quarterback, there’s plenty of room for him to make an impact like he did as a freshman.