The Top 25 D-I Men’s College Players 2020 (Part 1: #1-10)

Which player would you most want leading your team?

College ultimate is filled with stars. Some play in high profile environments, get reps for elite club teams, or play in international competition. Others compete with deep squads that don’t always make them the headliner for their team. Still others ply their trade for off-the-radar programs that dim their limelight. But our coverage team tries to see them all.

So who are the best players in college ultimate right now? To try to clear away as much of the white noise created by circumstance as possible and get to the heart of each individual’s value and contribution, we asked a diverse group of ten members of our coverage team to weigh in on the following prompt:

If you were starting a college team right after the end of the regular season, with the express goal of winning a hypothetical 2020 College Championships still scheduled for Memorial Day weekend, how would you rank the players within the division? You aren’t building a team of all your selections, so don’t worry about how the players complement each other. Consider each pick the first pick of a team, drafting in order, only you can’t pick the players you’ve already ranked above. All current D-I players are eligible to be drafted, but with their current injury status. Because it’s a hypothetical tournament this spring, don’t worry about any eligibility concerns that could come into play with a delayed College Series.

We each listed out our top 25 players, then combined our lists to create a composite ranking. Any player who fell outside of a voter’s Top 25 was assigned a value of 30 when calculating average rankings.

Here’s how the Top 10 shook out (the rest of the top 25 will be available for our subscribers).

RANKPLAYEREdwardAlexPatSeanSteveKeithCharlieEndersAVERAGE
1Joe White (Carleton)116113111.9
2John Randolph (Brown)381261243.4
3Michael Ing (Pittsburgh)253732433.6
4Tannor Johnson (Massachusetts)825328524.4
5Liam Searles-Bohs (North Carolina)632654674.9
6Jordan Kerr (Brigham Young)1364445396.0
7Elijah Long (North Carolina)57810107857.5
8Cole Jurek (Minnesota)49105910787.8
9Quinn Finer (Colorado)71098869108.4
10Dillon Lanier (Carleton)2047127919610.5

With the composite list in place, we discussed our selections, our snubs, and our pet favorite players. But first, a bit more on how we each approached this thought experiment.

What criteria felt most important to you when ranking players?

Alex Rubin (Staff Writer): I looked for players who could carry their teams on their own and have proved it. I want to know if can they be the best player on the field? How about against a top 10 team?

Players moved up if they have a “superpower” that forces other teams to adapt to their talent. If that superpower is versatility and I’d be able to put them anywhere on the field, that helped a lot too.

Edward Stephens (Staff Writer): I haven’t checked, but this will probably be a pretty close riff on my answer to this question from last year: give me the players show the greatest combination of raw talent, versatility, and (because I can’t think of a better word) attitude.

Sean Brady (Men’s Division Contributor): I was thinking mostly about which players would add immediate tangible value to any team. That could be through a particular skill or role in which they clearly excel (Jurek, Randolph) or through a level of experience and consistency that makes them an extremely good option in just about any role on a team (Finer, Ing, Juengst).

Keith Raynor (Senior Editor): The number one thing I looked for was takeover ability, those players who could dominate a game in multiple contexts with their abilities. Proven ability to compete at an elite level — whether that be through club, international, or just high-level college play — really informed how I evaluated players.

Joe White (Carleton) was #1 on six of eight ballots, despite a lengthy injury history. Are people just confident that he’s healthy now or is this about his ceiling simply being that much higher than everyone else?

Charlie Eisenhood (Editor-in-Chief): His ceiling is possibly an order of magnitude above everyone else’s. In the last year, we’ve watched him lead the U24 Mixed US National Team to a gold medal, deliver far beyond expectations for the Machine offense, and flash the kind of takeover ability that few college players can.

I can see the argument for picking John Randolph (Brown) — he’s been pretty bulletproof and a winner at every level — but when it comes down to it, deep in the Nationals bracket, I want Joe White to be on the field for my team.

Patrick Stegemoeller (Senior Staff Writer): And based on his track record there is about a 40% chance you’re not going to have him on the field for your team because of injury. The durability concerns with White are way too much of an issue for me to take him with my top pick. Let’s not forget, we haven’t seen him actually dominate at a college Nationals in his career. He was up and down his freshman year, barely had a pulse in 2018, and his injuries contributed to CUT missing Nationals all together last season.

Bulletproof is the right word for Randolph, because that’s exactly the level of assurance I want with my top pick.

Raynor: Charlie’s overstating the difference between White’s ceiling and others, today. Remember when Randolph scored 10 goals in semifinals? What’s White gonna do? Throw 10 greatests?

White is obviously an immense talent, and if it was just that, I’d probably take him first and Tannor Johnson (Massachusetts) second. But the results haven’t been there, and he can even be mercurial when healthy. Randolph — and to a lesser extent, Michael Ing (Pittsburgh), who I also had above White — have proven, consistent track records of well-rounded team-carrying excellence.

Stephens: Pat and Keith, respectfully, you’re thinking yourselves out of the obvious answer. White’s the guy, and everyone else is just playing catch-up.

Rubin: Keith, to your point about Tannor’s talent: they’ve each led their team to a game-to-go loss the same amount of times. Joe > Tannor, but I understand your argument if you value reliability above pure talent and high ceiling.

Our Player of the Year, Jordan Kerr (Brigham Young) fell outside the Top 5 in our collective opinion. Is this a new case of BYU players not getting the respect they deserve?

Stephens: It’s partly that I haven’t seen him at Nationals, although I’m not really worried about how he’d perform there. It’s more of the sense I get that Kerr adds a dimension to the game that puts CHI over the top — a dimension that works because he has so much excellence around him — than that he is the building block on his own. I ranked my three BYU players in a tight bunch for this very reason. Much like Anders Juengst (North Carolina), Kerr fits the profile of an excellent player, but not the unstoppable force that could drive any team to a great season.

Raynor: This isn’t anything new. In fact, it’s the same old story: no Regionals, no Nationals, no elite club. Kerr’s built a resume almost exclusively on regular season play. Granted, BYU plays the toughest regular season of any team, but we still have no evidence he can hold up under the pressure of Nationals, of being heavily game planned, and he hasn’t played at Club Nationals or for Team USA.

I put him at #5 out of respect for what he shows on tape, but even I feel like I’m out on a limb with that, when I have guys behind like Elijah Long (North Carolina), Tannor Johnson, Quinn Finer (Colorado), and Cole Jurek (Minnesota), who have all the stuff listed above and then some.

Brady: It’s more of a case of, this season being what it was, BYU and Kerr in particular had more of a chance to play defining roles in this year’s story, without the recency effect of having BYU-less Regionals and Nationals.

Still, when I stepped back and looked at overall individual talent rather than a narrow focus on the last two months of ultimate, there were a few (not many) players I felt were more outstanding.

After being a near-unanimous Top 10 pick last year, Dillon Lanier (Carleton) inspires a much wider range of opinions this year. What changed? Should he be closer to #4, like Alex Rubin thinks, or closer to #20, where Edward Stephens has him?

Eisenhood: Edward and I share a lower assessment — not that it should be seen as much of a diss to be ranked 20th instead of 10th — of Lanier. I can’t speak for Edward, but what I would say is that I never saw Lanier step up as the go-to player in a season where I expected him to reach new highs. His talent is obvious, but the same is true for everyone on this list. I just think there are players who have been having better seasons. Lanier strikes me as a player who is a better fit on an elite club team than being an alpha on a college squad.

Rubin: I simply think his talent speaks for itself, and he is more impressive than some other names on this list.

I’ve also been disappointed with his performance this season — the fact that he can’t lead a U24 team minus Joe White to a win over UT Dallas has been widely pointed out. But this isn’t about winning a March game at Smoky Mountain Invite, it’s about winning a national championship. Lanier was an O-line starter for a perennial semis team in the club division! I’d much rather have him taking the reigns for my offense than some of the names towards the bottom of this list.

Stegemoeller: CUT’s reliance on White has gotten so pervasive that they don’t actually play real offense anymore, and the team completely falls apart when he’s not on the field as a result. Lanier has been one of the biggest casualties of this, but his skill set is undeniable and in a different environment he likely thrives as he has everywhere else in his career.

Stephens: I’m with Charlie in saying that Lanier hadn’t really stepped up this season in the way I would have expected given the kind of player I know he is and the opportunities available to him. Still, I get the perspective on his skillset.

Here’s what I want to know: Patrick and I may not see eye-to-eye here, but I thought Elijah Long had the stronger season for their Ring of Fire team last year, speaking of different environments. (Lanier was definitely great too, though.) So given their actual performance in college, where Long has been a lynchpin of a perpetual semis squad for several years now, what’s the argument for Lanier in the Top 5?

There was a bit more consensus around the Top 10 than in years past — only three people had someone inside their Top 10 land outside the collective Top 10, and only Edward Stephens disagreed with more than one. Why do we think that is?

Stegemoeller: Because Edward’s trollery par excellence has incepted himself?

Stephens: That’s why I never go to sleep on airplanes.

Raynor: This class in the men’s division is really experienced. There’s a lot of veterans we’ve had years to watch and evaluate. Many of them play elite club or with a national team or both. There are so many good players we didn’t get to recognize; the men’s division is very deep right now.

Eisenhood: Basically everyone in the Top 10, except Jordan Kerr, has been an established elite club player for multiple seasons. That’s far less true as you get outside the Top 10.

Two pairs of teammates made the Top 10. Would you rather have Carleton’s Joe White and Dillon Lanier or North Carolina’s Liam Searles-Bohs and Elijah Long?

Charlie Enders (Men’s Division Contributor): If health isn’t an issue, White and Lanier hands down.

Rubin: White and Lanier seem to have a higher ceiling — mostly due to White being far and away the most talented player in the division — but Long and LSB have a higher floor. Long and LSB can also play defense, so I’ll take them as the more well-rounded duo.

Enders: Long can play defense, no doubt. Is LSB a good defender?

Stegemoeller: One of those duos has never failed to reach the semifinals of any National tournament whenever they’ve played together.

Eisenhood: I’ve been going back and forth here. Very tough. All elite players with high-level reps in club. I think I have to go with White and Lanier given White’s upside.

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