College football’s top 10 potential breakout players for 2021
College football’s top 10 potential breakout players for 2021 are the best college football players in 2022. These athletes have a lot of potential to make an impact on their team and be recognized as one of the best players in the country. Read more in detail here: best college football players 2022.
“The Human First Down” is arguably the most charming nickname for a running back, and it only took Arizona State’s Rachaad White four games to acquire it.
That is, at least, the abbreviated version of the tale. White’s 2020 season was cut short by COVID-19 setbacks for Arizona State and the Pac-12 as a whole, but he made the most of his first year in Tempe by rushing for 571 yards on just 50 total touches — an incredible 11.4 yards per touch, hence the nickname — and leading the Sun Devils in both rushing and receiving. With at least 40 run attempts, he averaged almost 2 yards per touch more than any other athlete in the nation. An explosive play is defined by coaches as a run of 12 yards or a catch of 16 yards. Last season, more over a quarter of White’s touches were explosive.
In sum, White’s four-game debut in 2020 was as thrilling as anybody else’s.
White stated, “I was simply fortunate to get four games.” “I was simply having a good time training and treating it as though it were my last opportunity.”
Chances were harder to come by for everyone in 2020, as COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the calendar, and White is one of ten players we’re eyeing as possible breakouts in 2021 following a glimpse of brilliance last season.
The difficulties of the 2020 season, on the other hand, do not tell the whole picture for White. He isn’t a one-hit wonder, and despite the fact that his Pac-12 resume is still just four games old, he has shown himself time and time again.
White had a few discussions with coaches at FBS colleges after graduating from high school in Kansas City, Missouri, but no offers came. He was frail and had mostly served as a receiver. He couldn’t seem to find a niche, and no one wanted to take a chance on him. He enrolled at Division II Nebraska-Kearney but was unable to play, redshirting as a freshman in 2017. Despite this, he felt he had more to contribute.
White stated, “I had goals and aspirations to play in the NFL.” “I was training and disappointed that I had not been offered a Division I scholarship, and I began to notice improvements. I noticed a difference in my physique. As a result of this sequence of events, I ended myself in juco.”
White moved to Mt. San Antonio Junior College and ran for 1,264 yards in his second season, establishing himself as a serious possibility. Suddenly, he was receiving offers from colleges that had previously passed him up in high school. He arrived at Arizona State, where he soon became entangled in a backfield-by-committee situation, waiting for a season that never came.
Shaun Aguano, the running backs coach, stated, “He went about every rep like a professional.” “And just seeing his fluidity as a runner, but also his route-running, his vision, and his lateral agility, the way he one-cuts, we just knew we had to get him the ball.”
White’s first game at Arizona State was against USC on the road. He rushed for 76 yards on 12 attempts and threw for 70 yards and a score. After then, there was a lengthy gap. Arizona State didn’t play for almost a month after that. White continued to practice and improve. He added 106 all-purpose yards in his following game, against UCLA. He ran for 133 yards against Arizona a week later. White had his finest game yet in the Sun Devils’ season finale against Oregon State, running for 158 yards and two scores.
It was just four games, after all. It was a trailer for a big-budget film, with continuous highlights that didn’t truly reveal the whole story. It served as a starter for the main course of 2021.
“I’m the kind of person who thinks the past is in the past, and I’m aiming to beat 10 [yards per carry],” White said. “Every year, I strive to improve.”
White bulked up this summer, now weighing 210 pounds, and focused on his blocking, which Augano claimed he already excelled at, all in the hopes of becoming an every-down player for the whole 12-game season. He understands the difficulties of fulfilling such high expectations repeatedly over the course of a much lengthier campaign.
White, on the other hand, is driven by the task. He had a dream of playing big-time college football two years ago, but he may have been the only one who really thought it might come true. Building on a strong four-game start no longer seems to be such a daunting task.
“I know it’ll be difficult,” White added, “but that’s the kind of ballplayer I am.” “I’m constantly worried that I’m not doing enough.”
While White seems to be a safe bet for a big 2021, here are nine other up-and-comers hoping to make 2021 a breakthrough year.
Injuries forced Jhamyr Gibbs to miss three games in 2020, but he still managed 763 scrimmage yards in seven games. USA TODAY Sports/Paul Rutherford
Gibbs caused a missed tackle per 1.8 runs last season, which was the most in the nation, and he averaged 3.7 yards per carry after first contact. The only other running back in the nation to come close to those numbers was Javonte Williams of North Carolina, who was drafted 35th overall in this year’s NFL selection.
Why he’s on the verge of a breakthrough: Gibbs, an ESPN 300 prospect, had a great rookie season in 2020, but injuries and a weak offensive line restricted his effectiveness. Despite missing three games, he still managed 763 scrimmage yards in seven games. He was electrifying with the ball in his hands, averaging an explosive play (12-yard run, 16-yard reception) on 18% of his touches, second only to Texas’ Bijan Robinson among returning running backs with at least 100 touches. More remarkably, Gibbs accomplished all of this despite sharing a backfield with a true freshman quarterback (Jeff Sims) and playing behind a shaky offensive line. Gibbs ranked 130th among backs with 75 or more runs, averaging just 1.5 yards before contact per carry. However, Gibbs is now healthy, Sims has a year of experience, and the Yellow Jackets have bolstered their offensive line with the addition of Vanderbilt transfer Devin Cochran. Gibbs may be the most exciting runner in the nation, and if the Yellow Jackets’ supporting cast improves as well, this season may be something spectacular for the sophomore.
What they’re saying is as follows: “He’s a really gifted individual. He didn’t play against us last year, but based on what we saw on video, he’s the most gifted tailback we’ve ever seen. I assumed he was a high-ranking official. I’m relieved we won’t be facing them [in 2021].” Coach Dave Doeren of NC State
Stat comparison: Billingsley played sparingly through Alabama’s first six games, but prorate his numbers over the same number of snaps that Texas A&M’s Jalen Wydermyer received, and Billingsley would’ve had an edge in yards (737 to 506), TDs (8 to 6) and first downs (35 to 30).
Why he’s poised for a breakout: There was a time when tight ends like O.J. Howard and Irv Smith were dynamic focal points of the Alabama offense, but it has been a few years since the position made that type of impact. That could change in 2021, as Billingsley looks to build on a terrific finish to his sophomore season. Despite seeing minimal action until late November, he finished with seven grabs of 16 yards or more — the same total as Wydermyer, the Texas A&M star. At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, Billingsley can line up anywhere on the field — even kick returner, where he fielded five kicks for 89 return yards last season. The key, Nick Saban said, is buy-in. “He’s also got to buy in to the principles and values of the team and be a good teammate,” Saban said. It’s not fun getting on Saban’s bad side, but it also suggests the coach is invested in getting the most out of a talented player.
What they’re saying is as follows: “In terms of what he can accomplish, Jahleel is a unique talent. He has the stature of a tight end but the agility of a wide receiver.” Nick Saban, Alabama’s head coach
Isaiah Thomas of Oklahoma was named to the preseason All-Big 12 team, but Duke’s pass-rush performance was just as impressive. Duke’s pressure rate was 12.8 percent, while Thomas’ was 12.5 percent. Duke was only a smidgeon behind Thomas in terms of gaining initial pressure per pass rush with 11.1 percent (11.2 percent ). Similarly to Thomas, Duke faced pressure on 13 occasions that ended in an incomplete pass. What’s the difference? Duke’s efforts were mostly in vain, as K-State only had one sack on his pressured plays, while Oklahoma had ten.
Why he’s on the verge of a breakthrough: Surprisingly, Duke completed the 2020 season with just three tackles for loss and one sack. Those figures just do not reflect his actual performance. Indeed, despite a lesser pressure rate of 9%, his own linemate, Wyatt Hubert, racked up 13 TFL. According to K-State coaches, Duke’s summer has been excellent, and the more productive contribution will ultimately convert to a stronger stat line. It also says something about Duke that his finest game of 2020 came against Oklahoma, with nine tackles, two QB hurries, and a TFL.
What they’re saying is as follows: “He’s still honing his skills, honing everything that makes a great football player. He has a great deal of skill. He’s a football fanatic, and that’s a huge deal. It’s all about paying attention to the little things. People will game-plan for you when you become a man; you’ll only have so many chances, and you can’t afford to miss out on them. But he’s a gifted athlete with all the physical tools to be a great pass rusher.” Buddy Wyatt, Kansas State’s offensive line coach
Miles Battle had an instant impact for Ole Miss after switching from wide receiver to cornerback. Icon Sportswire/Steve Nurenberg
Battle didn’t play for Ole Miss until the sixth game of the season, when they faced Auburn. He played 62 coverage plays after that, was targeted eight times, and did not allow a completion. During that time, the remainder of Ole Miss’ defensive backs allowed a 55 percent completion percentage.
Why he’s on the verge of a breakthrough: Battle, a former blue-chip wide receiver, moved to defense five games into the 2020 season. Battle acknowledged that the finer aspects of the position were far from polished, and his tackling style needed to be improved, thus it was a trial by fire. However, his natural abilities — as well as his 6-3, 195-pound physique — were more than enough to make an immediate impression. Despite only playing 62 plays in coverage, Battle was able to intercept four passes on eight targets. None of the eight objectives were successfully completed. That’s a high standard to set for his follow-up, but Battle seems to be up to the task. During spring practice, he ran with the starting defense, and he’s bulked up his body to better manage the job’s physical demands. He’s also had an offseason to acclimate to the position. If Ole Miss wants to take the next step toward contending for an SEC West championship, the defense, especially the secondary, must improve significantly. The Rebels may just find the component they’re searching for in battle.
“He’s got tremendous length and ability, and he’s done well transitioning from wide receiver,” they add. – Lane Kiffin, head coach of Ole Miss
Last season, Mafe had a 12.6 percent pressure rate and six sacks produced in less than half the plays of Miami edge rusher Jaelen Phillips (11.6 percent pressure rate, 11 sacks made), who went on to be selected with the 18th selection in the 2021 NFL draft.
Why he’s on the verge of a breakthrough: The 2020 season was intended to be Mafe’s breakout season, but COVID-19 pushed up the start date and disrupted the schedule even when the Gophers returned to the field. The end result was a six-game preview of what could be in store for 2021. Mafe had 18 solo tackles, including 5.5 for a loss, two pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and two quarterback hurries. In 2020, he received pressure on almost 13% of his pass rushes, behind only Ohio State’s Zach Harrison and Tyreke Smith, as well as Indiana’s Micah McFadden, among Big Ten edge rushers. His 10.7% pass rush disruption rate (sacks, fumbles, incompletions, and penalties drawn per rush) places him in the top ten nationally.
What they’re saying is as follows: “It’s a shame his season was cut short last year since he had 4.5 sacks in six games, not including training camp and everything else. Last year, he was on track for a real breakthrough year, but his season was cut short. People are going to see what he can accomplish this year, I believe.” P.J. Fleck, Minnesota’s coach
Last season, Zappe passed for 1,833 yards and 15 touchdowns, putting him on pace with Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford (1,883 yards, 16 TDs). The only difference is that Clifford had to play nine games to get those statistics. Zappe completed the task in four minutes.
Why he’s on the verge of a breakthrough: You may forgive yourself if you haven’t heard of Zappe, who spent his first three seasons at FCS Houston Baptist, but he got a taste of the spotlight early last season when the Huskies played a truncated schedule against three FBS opponents due to the postponement of COVID-19. In those three games, Zappe passed for 1,453 yards and 12 touchdowns, including a ludicrous 567 against Texas Tech. Now he’s at Western Kentucky, where he’ll be joined by Zach Kittley, his former Houston Baptist offensive coordinator, and the air-it-out offense may take the Conference USA by storm.
What they’re saying is as follows: “Mike Leach, Kliff Kingsbury, Lincoln Riley, and Zach Kittley are all part of the Air Raid tree, which is a highly unique and prolific tree. The game is constantly evolving and changing, and you must stay ahead of the curve. That’s why I set out to find Zach Kittley. I believe we’ve arrived at a nice point. And you need a trigger guy to pull it off, which is why we went out and recruited Bailey. We’re ecstatic about him.” Tyson Helton, head coach at Western Kentucky University
Josh Downs of North Carolina is a wide receiver.
Stat comparison: In his only significant action last season, Downs caught four passes for 91 yards and two touchdowns in UNC’s bowl game against Texas A&M. That stat line looked nearly identical to that of Florida’s Kadarius Toney (7 catches, 92 yards, 2 TDs) against the Aggies. Toney went on to become a first-round draft pick.
Why he’s on the verge of a breakthrough: North Carolina said farewell to two of its most established receivers in Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome, but the Tar Heels’ passing game isn’t in jeopardy. The yards will come with QB Sam Howell still at the helm, and there’s little question that Downs, a quick slot receiver, will get his fair share. Brown’s coming-out celebration in the Orange Bowl, which he missed due to an opt-out, was just the beginning. UNC’s defensive backs have praised the 7-on-7 competition, hailing Downs as a possible All-ACC performer in 2021.
What they’re saying is as follows: “We are aware of what is expected of us. We have a few conversations here and there, pushing each other. We discuss our objectives. You can make it happen just by saying it, and Josh Downs is going to be something amazing.” UNC’s corner Tony Grimes is a British actor.
Austin Stogner of Oklahoma is one of the greatest blocks in the nation, despite being an offensive-minded tight end. USA TODAY Sports/Kevin Jairaj
Despite having far fewer targets than any of them, Stogner had 11 explosive plays for Oklahoma last season, more than Clemson’s Braden Galloway (9), Georgia’s Arik Gilbert (8), or Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer (7).
Why he’s on the verge of a breakthrough: Stogner had a great start to the 2020 season, rushing for more than 70 yards in four of his first seven games and scoring three touchdowns, until a knee injury and a serious infection caused him to miss the last two regular-season games as well as the Big 12 championship game. He’s gotten back into form, however, and he has a potential to be one of the country’s most puzzling matchup issues. He’s a nuisance as an outside receiver and out of the backfield because of his flexibility, but at 6-6, he’s also one of the finest blocks in the nation, which is an uncommon benefit for offensive-minded tight ends.
What they’re saying is as follows: “Austin has overcome a lot to return to the field for us this season. We’re looking forward to putting his unique skill set to use.” Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma coach
Only six corners, including Boykin, return for 2021 after allowing fewer than 33% completions and 4 yards per target on at least 19 targets. Northwestern’s Greg Newsome, who was chosen with the 26th overall selection in this year’s NFL draft, is the only other corner with similar statistics from 2020 who will not return.
Why he’s on the verge of a breakthrough: The former Notre Dame blue-chip prospect was forced to sit out the 2019 season after transferring to UMass. COVID-19 upended the Minutemen’s season, which came down to four road games spaced out over a month and a half in late October and November, giving him just a tiny glimpse into his potential in 2020. However, that sneak glimpse was amazing. Opposing quarterbacks targeted Boykin 19 times, but just one throw for more than 20 yards was completed. Boykin had three pass breakups, a forced fumble, and a sack to go along with his three pass breakups. All of this was accomplished despite playing on a defense that gave up 40 points a game. Boykin and UMass will have a much stronger foundation in 2021, and although the Minutemen are unlikely to be the season’s surprise team, their star-in-waiting cornerback will be well worth watching.
What they’re saying is as follows: “With a shortened schedule and little practice time last year, he was able to shake off the rust. He’s doing very well now.” UMass head coach Walt Bell
The best college basketball player 2021 is a list of the top 10 players that could breakout in college football in the upcoming year.
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