Top 15 Student Athletes Who Make the Most NIL Money
The landscape of college athletics changed in 2021 when athletes finally became able to profit and receive compensation from their name, image and likeness (NIL). Schools still can’t pay their athletes, but brands and companies can.
With the NIL Era now in its third year, some athletes have leveraged their brands to the tune of millions of dollars. Among amateur athletes that have profited from the ruling, you’ll see trends like famous last names, a male athlete majority (13 of 15) and a preference for football and basketball players (14 of 15). Four colleges – USC, Texas, LSU, Colorado – have multiple athletes listed while just one high schooler made the cut after legislation was passed that allowed high school athletes to profit off NIL as well, although it's only allowed in certain states.
Here are the 15 highest-paid student-athletes via NIL valuations.
12. Quinn Ewers — $1.2 Million (Tie)
School: University of Texas
Note: Valuation numbers were sourced from an On3 report and are current through September 2023.
Bottom Line: Quinn Ewers
You could argue that Quinn Ewers was the first face of NIL considering what he did to take advantage of his budding name. Ewers was the top prospect in the Class of 2022 but skipped his senior season of high school in suburban Dallas and reclassified to the Class of 2021 in order to be compensated a year earlier.
He couldn’t profit from NIL as a Texas high schooler, and he spent the 2021 season as a backup at Ohio State. He then transferred closer to home in 2022 and became the Texas Longhorns’ starting quarterback.
12. Hansel Enmanuel — $1.2 Million (Tie)
School: Austin Peay State University
Bottom Line: Hansel Emmanuel
The name of Hansel Enmanuel may not ring a bell, but his appearance likely will. He is a one-armed basketball player from the Dominican Republic who went viral thanks to a Gatorade commercial showing off his skills. As expected, Gatorade is one of his NIL deals.
Enmanuel had his left arm amputated below the shoulder at six years old after a cinderblock wall came down on him, and that forced him to give up his preferred sport of baseball for basketball. He averaged 25.9 points and led his Florida high school team to a state title, played one year at Northwestern State and transferred to Austin Peay for the 2023-24 season.
12. Bryce James — $1.2 Million (Tie)
School: Notre Dame High School (California)
Bottom Line: Bryce James
The only high school athlete on this list, Bryce James is the younger son of LeBron James. That connection obviously carries lots of weight when it comes to endorsements, and Bryce has an NIL deal with Klutch Sports Group — a sports agency founded by LeBron’s agent Rich Paul.
Bryce spent his first two years of high school playing alongside older brother Bronny at Sierra Canyon but then transferred to Notre Dame in Sherman Oaks. Bryce James is considered a three-star prospect by 247sports and is the No. 14 shooting guard in the Class of 2025.
12. Jordan Travis — $1.2 Million (Tie)
School: Florida State University
Bottom Line: Jordan Travis
Being the starting quarterback of a powerhouse program like FSU has its perks, and Travis has had over 15 NIL deals since breaking out in 2021. These include DirecTV, Barstool Sports and Leaf Trading Cards amongst others.
But these opportunities would never have been presented to Travis if his play on the field didn’t warrant it. He was an All-ACC selection as a junior in 2022 and is one of four active college players with 5,500 passing yards and 1,700 rushing yards. Travis could have been a first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, but perhaps the compensation he would have earned wouldn’t have been that much greater than what he’ll make from NIL deals, so he elected to put the draft on hold for another year.
10. Marvin Harrison Jr. — $1.3 Million (Tie)
School: Ohio State University
Bottom Line: Marvin Harrison Jr.
Being the son of a Pro Football Hall of Famer got Marvin Harrison Jr.’s foot in the door, but his play has also earned him recognition from sponsors. He enters his junior season widely regarded as the best wide receiver in the country and is expected to be a top 10 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.
That kind of potential has gotten the attention of Hollywood’s elite when it comes to NIL deals. Mark Wahlberg partnered with Harrison Jr. on a sponsorship with Chevrolet of Columbus, while Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson launched an NIL campaign in conjunction with ZOA Energy with Harrison Jr. as one of the faces.
10. J.J. McCarthy — $1.3 Million (Tie)
School: University of Michigan
Bottom Line: J.J. McCarthy
You could say that J.J. McCarthy manifested one of his NIL deals into existence with his pre-game habits. Before each game, McCarthy saddles up next to the goal post pad and practices mindfulness. Well, wouldn’t you know, this meditative act eventually spawned a deal with Alo, a wellness brand that specializes in mindful movement.
McCarthy’s pre-game habit appears to be one he’ll keep up in 2023 as in his first year as a starter in 2022, he led the Michigan Wolverines to a win over Ohio State, a Big Ten Championship and an appearance in the College Football Playoff.
9. Shedeur Sanders — $1.4 Million
Bottom Line: Shedeur Sanders
Shedeur Sanders is the youngest son of Deion Sanders, who is also his head coach at Colorado. Shedeur played under Deion in high school in Dallas, and then followed his father to Jackson State in 2021.
There, the younger Sanders signed an NIL deal with Gatorade, thus making him the first student-athlete from an HBCU to do so. He later signed with Tom Brady’s apparel company, BRADY, as well as Beats by Dre. When Deion Sanders took the job at Colorado, Shedeur followed him again, making Boulder the third destination where Deion will coach Shedeur.
7. Drake Maye — $1.5 Million (Tie)
School: University of North Carolina
Bottom Line: Drake Maye
Whenever you’re in contention to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, you’re sure to attract some attention. That’s the position UNC quarterback Drake Maye is in as last year he averaged over 300 passing yards and led the Tar Heels in rushing, joining Patrick Mahomes and Johnny Manziel as the only players to pull off that feat over the last decade.
Maye manages to tie for No. 7 in NIL valuation despite not having a large social media presence as his 69,000 combined followers on X (formerly Twitter), Instagram and TikTok are by far the fewest on this list.
7. Travis Hunter — $1.5 Million (Tie)
Bottom Line: Travis Hunter
Travis Hunter shocked football fans across the nation when the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2022 turned his back on Power Five Conferences and flipped his commitment from Florida State to Jackson State, an HBCU in Mississippi. Hunter became the first five-star to ever sign with both an HBCU and an FCS program, and part of the reason he did so was to play under Deion Sanders.
Ironically, Sanders is an FSU alum, and after playing at JSU for one year, Hunter then followed Sanders to Colorado. In addition to Sanders, Hunter has another Hall of Famer’s support as he’s signed a brand marketing deal with Michael Strahan’s Rolodex of companies.
5. Angel Reese — $1.7 Million (Tie)
Bottom Line: Angel Reese
With five million social media followers, Angel Reese ranks as the third most popular athlete on social media from this list. She’s one of two females among the top 15 — both hailing from the same school — and her national profile blew up during LSU’s run to the national championship in the spring.
Reese has a who’s who of NIL deals with the likes of Amazon, Xfinity, Bose and Wingstop. She’s also become a part of pop culture as she was parodied on Saturday Night Live, posed for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2023 issue and even got name-dropped by Cardi B in one of her songs.
5. Bo Nix — $1.7 Million (Tie)
Bottom Line: Bo Nix
You may not have expected the Auburn-turned-Oregon quarterback to crack the top five, as Bo Nix doesn’t have the resume nor pedigree of others on this list. But he does have a unique name and that matters, as Bo Nix landed deals with Bojangles and Bose.
Transferring to Oregon also helped his brand as he’s now under the umbrella of Nike founder and Oregon alum Phil Knight, who also co-founded Division Street, which helps Oregon student-athletes build their brands. One NIL expert called Division Street “the model” for NIL collectives, so being at the right school has certainly benefited Nix.
4. Caleb Williams — $2.6 Million
Bottom Line: Caleb Williams
Arguably the most accomplished player on this list, Caleb Williams won the Heisman Trophy in 2022 in his first year at USC. He had some recognition while at Oklahoma and was No. 16 in NIL valuation when he transferred to USC.
But being in Los Angeles has its benefits and just three days after announcing he was joining the Trojans, he partnered with LA-based Beats by Dre. Since winning the Heisman in Dec. 2022, all of the big brands have come knocking at his door and he’s partnered with AT&T, PlayStation and United Airlines.
3. Arch Manning — $2.9 Million
School: University of Texas
Bottom Line: Arch Manning
The highest-ranked football player, Arch Manning is the nephew of Peyton and Eli Manning and is seen as a talent on par with his uncles, who were both No. 1 overall picks in the NFL Draft. The Manning Family intentionally limited Arch’s media exposure in high school as he didn’t do interviews and had private social media accounts, but the lid is off now that he’s at the University of Texas.
He only has one NIL deal so far, Panini, but his placement on this list shows the power of his last name and future potential. Manning isn’t expected to start as a freshman in 2023, instead giving way to No. 15 on this list, Quinn Ewers.
2. Livvy Dunne — $3.3 Million
Bottom Line: Livvy Dunne
LSU gymnast Livvy Dunne is one of two female athletes on this list and is the only student-athlete on this list who doesn’t compete in football or basketball. She has 12 million followers on social media, and 7.5 million TikTok followers.
Dunne has deals with many wellness and sports apparel brands, and she’s the most sought-after student-athlete when it comes to social media posts, generating as much as $500,000 for a single paid post. As for her accomplishments as a gymnast, Dunne was a 2021 All-American on the uneven bars and has a career-best finish of ninth place at the NCAA Gymnastics Championships.
1. Bronny James — $6.2 Million
Bottom Line: Bronny James
The eldest child of LeBron James, Bronny James tops all student-athletes in NIL valuation, social media followers (13.5 million) and Instagram followers (7.7 million). While most student-athletes don’t truly profit from NIL until they reach college, James tops this list before even stepping foot onto USC’s campus.
His first NIL deal was with PSD Underwear, and he also partnered with the Fast & Furious series as he appeared in a Fast X commercial. James has just a handful of NIL deals, and most have some sort of connection to his father, as the younger James leverages his social media following to get a high NIL valuation. James entered USC as a four-star prospect and is given a decent chance to make the NBA, according to scouts, which would be his father’s dream.