April is a popular month to embrace #StartupSZN. For devy owners, it is an opportunity to pore through data on incoming recruits and reflect on the previous season which was. Of course, 2020 came with unpredictable and challenging circumstances overall, and we saw this manifest itself on the gridiron.
College athletes were particularly challenged, as delayed or truncated seasons along with contact limitations led to a season not seen in our lifetimes. As such, I am giving it a bit of leeway to true freshmen who failed to make a significant impact. More than any year I can recall, your view of the individual’s talent level plays a bigger role than what we may have seen during a brief 2020 season. These are not excuses to butcher the rankings (unless you buy it as a reasonable excuse) but more an illustration of the unique outlook this past year was approached with.
As always, your mileage may vary. Beyond the very elite, devy rankings are going to be incredibly fluid and unique and the differences should be embraced. Hate mail can be delivered on Twitter, to @FF_TravisM.
85: Gary Bryant Jr, WR USC Trojans (2023 Draft Eligible)
Profile: The diminutive Bryant is electric in space, separating with ease and providing the proverbial security blanket for the quarterback given his ability to win his route immediately. A big, local recruiting win during a period in which those were rare for Clay Helton and company, Bryant spent most of his time on the sidelines in 2020 despite a skill-set that dictated he could contribute early.
More an agile athlete than sprinter, Bryant has nonetheless added speed as his 170-ish pound frame has matured. He is dripping with pure receiving skills. He just needs time for his frame to catch up with his skills.
2021 Outlook: With the experienced Tyler Vaughns on the outside and Amon-Ra St. Brown doing consistent work over the middle, 2020 was never ticketed to be a breakout campaign for Bryant. 2021 sees the return of Kedon Slovis, with the Trojans’ top two receivers – Drake London and Bru McCoy – operating as perimeter weapons. It is a golden opportunity for Bryant to emerge as the third weapon, one who wins in the intermediate game.
84: LJ Johnson, RB Texas A&M Aggies (2024 Draft Eligible)
Profile: We often discuss loaded SEC backfields, yet have never included the Aggies in the mix. No more. With star Isaiah Spiller leading the way and complemented by all-purpose weapon Ainias Smith and speed demon Devon Achane, Jimbo Fisher’s crew is loaded. Enter Johnson, another gifted runner who should demand touches despite the program’s depth.
Johnson is a classic back, with a well-built 5’10” frame and excellent burst. His build allows him to bounce off defenders with ease, scooting into the open field and showcasing excellent speed for a back who could push 220 pounds by the time his career has concluded. He has few weaknesses, and has the type of workhorse profile which should endear him to coaches.
2021 Outlook: As mentioned, this backfield is deep. Spiller is the lead back, Smith the chess piece, and Achane the change-of-pace athlete with upside for days. Johnson figures to be eased in, though he has the tools to replace Spiller assuming the Aggies lead runner opts to enter the NFL Draft in 2022.
83: Master Teague, RB Ohio State Buckeyes (2022 Draft Eligible)
Profile: Profiling Teague is rather straightforward. He is a well-built, burly back who can run with force and utilize his breakaway speed to produce chunk plays. He is not a back who will create a ton for himself, as he lacks agility and the ability to manipulate defenders in the open field.
Of course, there is always a home for big, tough backs with wheels. It just may limit him to a backup role, though we may see more from Teague as he is further removed from his torn Achilles.
2021 Outlook: Gone is Trey Sermon, leaving an opportunity for Teague to establish himself as the lead runner. Unfortunately for him, TreVeyon Henderson hits campus, and Henderson is the type of talent who can take over a backfield despite limited experience. The most balanced expectation is Teague is part of a committee, raising questions about what his upside as a lead back at the next level is.
82: Jahleel Billingsley, TE Alabama Crimson Tide (2022 Draft Eligible)
Profile: We’re seeing more and more unicorn prospects at tight end, and few prospects push the envelope of expectations as much as Billingsley. He weighs in at what may be 230 pounds, with a sinewy build which allows him unusual movement skills. In fact, he moves so well he returned kicks during the latter portion of the year for the Tide. It allows Billingsley to line up and run receiver routes, showcasing the skills which make him an appealing ‘Move’ tight end prospect.
As do many smaller TE prospects, the Illinois product struggles with in-line blocking, though he has shown improvement. Still, it is his receiving work that will be his ticket to an NFL payday, and his combination of athleticism and length are rare at the position. He could develop into a special prospect at the position.
2021 Outlook: While not as decorated, the Tide’s receiving room will once again be loaded in 2021. It limits Billingsley’s upside, though we saw Nick Saban get more comfortable finding ways to utilize his star tight end as the season wore on. Something similar to Irv Smith Jr’s final season (44-710-7) is within reach.
81: Kedon Slovis, QB USC Trojans (2022 Draft Eligible)
Profile: Slovis was a revelation as a true freshman, taking over for an injured JT Daniels and never looking back. His sophomore year featured more bumps in the road, but he still built on his game as he builds towards the 2022 NFL Draft. Slovis features a quick release, good decision-making, and credible foot speed.
He benefits from USC’s wide-open attack but can push defenses with his arm, showing the stones to throw the football into tight spaces, giving his talented receivers an opportunity to make plays. The offense and his receivers give him excuses to not always be consistent with his mechanics, which fortunately is something that can be learned.
Slovis is not particularly big, athletic, or physically talented, but he has enough of each and appears to have Shane Falco-levels of moxie. He will not be for everyone but looks like a potential first rounder at quarterback.
2021 Outlook: Slovis returns as the clear starter, and has the weaponry again to post monster numbers. In his third year as the triggerman, there are no excuses to not excel. He should handle himself just fine in his first year of draft eligibility.
- Devy 100: 85-81 - April 5, 2021
- 2021 NFL Draft Prospect: DeVonta Smith, WR Alabama - March 31, 2021
- 2021 NFL Draft Prospect: Chuba Hubbard, RB Oklahoma State - March 30, 2021