100 Players to Watch for 2016: Teams 84-80

Kyle Pollock

With spring ball wrapped up and summer practices starting soon, it’s time to start looking towards the college football season. Many stars from last season such as Derrick Henry, Corey Coleman, Ezekiel Elliott, Laquon Treadwell, and Jared Goff have all graduated or left school, leading to much intrigue and excitement for this season. In this series I will go through my personal top 100 teams entering this college football season, and highlight one player to watch from each team. For some teams, they may not be the most well know players (such as Christian McCaffrey on Stanford or Leonard Fournette on LSU), but rather players who could be potential stars this year or later in their career. Let’s start out with team’s number 89 through 85.

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  1. Maryland – Tino Ellis, WR, Freshman

One of the few top recruits from Maryland who decided to stay in state, wide receiver Tino Ellis is the player to watch for from the Terps. At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds with reported 4.5 speed, Ellis could eventually step into the top receiving spot on the team. He has a shot to make an immediate impact this season, as Maryland really lacks talent at all skill positions. Ellis was also a standout safety in high school, recording 81 tackles, four interceptions, and four fumble recoveries as a senior. Hopefully new defensive minded head coach DJ Durkin doesn’t shift him to the defensive side, but this practice has become common place in college football so don’t be surprised if Ellis eventually does switch to defense.

  1. Akron – Jerome Lane, WR, Junior

While you may remember his father for shattering backboards at Pitt, Jerome Lane quietly had one of the most underrated seasons in the country last year. Even though he is still listed as a linebacker on Akron’s team website, he was the team’s leading receiver and touchdown scorer last season. He certainly has the frame to play linebacker at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, but with an impressive .38 dominator rating and 11.8 yards per target Lane is no slouch at the receiver position. This is his first time playing the position, and he only switched over from defense last preseason. Having finally found a position, Lane is one of the players I’m most excited to monitor this year.

  1. Ohio – Sebastian Smith, WR, Senior

Sebastian Smith returns as the Bobcats number one target, a role he thrived in last season. His dominator rating of .32 is good enough for 24th best among all returning receivers with at least 30 receptions, and I expect these numbers to improve this season. At 6-foot-3, 187 pounds Smith is a lanky receiver. I find it hard to believe that he will ever have an impact at the NFL level, but he could be one of the top receivers in the MAC this year.

  1. Syracuse – Steven Ishmael, WR, Junior

With new head coach Dino Barbers coming in, Steven Ishmael could be in for a huge season. Now that the Orange appear to have found their quarterback in Eric Dungy, they will finally have stability at the position. Barbers worked wonders at Bowling Green, and lead receivers Roger Lewis and Gehrig Dieter to 1,000 yard seasons last year, and Ismael could also have one in his future. At 6-foot-2 and 203 pounds he already has the build to take on the majority of the team’s receiving work. He essentially did that last season by posting a .34 dominator rating, but I expect that Ishmael could have an even more dominate season this year. Watch what Ishmael can do with a good play caller and stability at quarterback this year.

  1. Kentucky – Drew Barker, QB, redshirt Sophomore

As a true freshman, Drew Barker outplayed the incumbent starter, Patrick Towles, and started the last two games of the season. Towles transferred to Boston College and is still generating NFL buzz, yet no one seems to be talking about Barker. A four-star prospect and the No. six quarterback in his class, he possesses ideal size at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds. He has above average arm strength, and displayed good precision in high school. While his two starts didn’t inspire much confidence, coach Mark Stoops named him the starter early in spring ball. Barker has long been considered the savior of Kentucky football, the much ballyhooed recruit who turned down big time programs to stay home and resurrect his state’s university. This season will truly show us if he is capable of living up to those expectations.