Spring is a popular time 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.
20: Rakim Jarrett, WR Maryland Terrapins (2023 Draft Eligible)
Profile: Jarrett’s late flip from LSU to Maryland was a huge boon for Mike Locksley’s rebuild. Jarrett looked like a seasoned veteran during his true freshman season, torching Penn State on his way to cementing himself as a high-end devy asset.
He is a stocky 200 pounds and uses his frame to create space, all while showing a firm grasp on how to create separation. He is electric after the catch, showcasing smooth acceleration and excellent long speed. Jarrett checks every box you’d want, and this may be the cheapest acquisition cost we see.
2021 Outlook: Dontay Demus Jr was Maryland’s top receiver in 2020, but Jarrett has the talent to emerge as not just the Terrapins’ top target but one of the nation’s best receivers. With Taulia Tagovailoa back with more experience, Jarrett could become a household name early.
19: Jase McClellan, RB Alabama Crimson Tide (2023 Draft Eligible)
Profile: As usual, Alabama has a deep backfield. The prospect I am most intrigued by – in a landslide – is McClellan. McClellan was a bit player in 2020 but flashed incredible talent, rumbling for over ten yards per tote as he displayed the hallmark athleticism which made him such a coveted recruit.
It was a mere 24 touches with only a single reception, but I believe McClellan has positioned himself to be the heir apparent to Najee Harris in the Tide backfield. His physical skills and versatility are simply unparalleled, and he is just viewing the horizon of his potential given he played his freshman season at 18 years old.
2021 Outlook: Brian Robinson is the established veteran in the backfield, but by Alabama standards, I consider him just a guy. Even without a full workload, McClellan should be worked in early and often. He is my bet to lead this depth chart in touches and become a high-end devy asset.
18: Drake London, WR USC (2022 Draft Eligible)
Profile: At six feet and five inches tall and just over 210 pounds, London is a jumbo receiver who uses his size to fend off defenders. His length gives him an outlandish catch radius, and he uses his sinewy frame to bully defenders in the open field. He is a one-speed player at this juncture, but fortunately he moves well given his size and has ample room to mature physically.
London’s dual-sport ability is a testament to his overall athleticism; he moonlighted as a member of the USC basketball team. Now fully focused on football, he has every opportunity to round out his game and flirt with the draft’s first day in 2022.
2021 Outlook: The departure of Tyler Vaughns and the likely suspension or expulsion of Bru McCoy leaves London as the clear top target in a high-octane passing game. While USC has brought in a ton of young receivers over the past several seasons, Kedon Slovis should lean heavily on London in 2021.
17: Kyren Williams, RB Notre Dame Fighting Irish (2022 Draft Eligible)
Profile: A relative unknown heading into the 2020 campaign, Williams quickly took hold of the Notre Dame backfield and refused to let go. He is a compact, tough-as-nails runner who will fight for each yard until his body has nothing left to give. He is more than merely an effort back, however. Williams is an excellent receiver, totaling 35 receptions in 2020 without really even be featured.
As a recruit, many schools were on Williams as a pure slot receiver; he has the goods to terrorize defenses as a receiver out of the backfield. He is a touch undersized at a listed 195 pounds, though he plays bigger and has the frame to play comfortably over 200 pounds. A high-effort back with receiving chops, he has a high floor, and is one of the nation’s more complete runners.
2021 Outlook: After a breakout season in 2020 in which Williams showed he was capable of handling a full workload, this is his backfield. With Notre Dame making changes under center, they will lean on him early and often. His draft year should be an excellent showcase before he moves on.
16: Eric Gray, RB Oklahoma Sooners (2022 Draft Eligible)
Profile: It is hard these days to stand out on the gridiron at Tennessee, yet Gray beat the odds and became a highly regarded talent despite offensive struggles. Few possess his natural running skills, as he glides in and out of traffic while operating with pace and the speed to hit the home run.
Where Gray really shines is in the receiving game; he is a master at manipulating linebackers, using his ability in space to separate and become a menace after the catch. He is an elite playmaker with massive receiving upside, and Oklahoma should help really unlock his full toolkit.
2021 Outlook: There is more competition at Oklahoma compared to Tennessee, yet the offense is going to be so efficient it is a major upgrade. Gray will work alongside two-time 1,000-yard rusher Kennedy Brooks. Despite Brooks’ effectiveness, Gray is a more explosive, complete back. The guess here is Gray proves too talented to prevent him from ascending to a 1A back, even though Brooks will still be involved.
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