With summer practices wrapped up and just over a week until the season starts, 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.
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- Texas A&M – Christian Kirk, WR, Sophomore
Remember when A&M had two elite quarterback recruits and the nation’s best young receiving core? Oh how the times have quickly changed in College Station, with Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray both transferring out and Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones failing to live up to their five star hype. Seals-Jones still has a good shot to make it to the NFL, as do fellow receivers Josh Reynolds and Christian Kirk. Kirk is the team’s most talented playmaker on offense, and stepped in and made an immediate impact as a true freshman last year. He is also one of the best punt returners in the nation, as he averaged over 24 yards per return and scored two touchdowns. At 5’11”, 200 pounds, Kirk is built like a running back, which leads him to excel in the return game and on screens. He also has great hands, and is a decent route runner for a young player. One concern is that he doesn’t run a full route tree, and this could impede his route running ability at the next level. He might be the single most dangerous receiver in the nation with the ball in his hands, and should help alleviate the Aggies quarterback issues this season.
- Temple – Jahad Thomas, RB, Senior
Last year, I attended the Penn State Temple game in Philadelphia, and Temple beat Penn State for the first time in over 40 years. It was a crushing defeat as a Penn State fan, and I was concerned that a supposedly elite run defense couldn’t stop some no name running back named Jahad Thomas. It turned out that Thomas ended up having an outstanding season last year, rushing for over 1200 yards and 17 touchdowns as Temple had one of its best seasons in school history. He’s a shifty runner who seems to always be eluding defenders, but is also strong enough to break tackles. However at just 5’10”, 188 pounds, he has a slight frame that likely wouldn’t hold up at the NFL level. He also benefits from playing weak competition, and having a solid offensive line that could continuously open up big holes for him. With such an outstanding running back class this year, I’m not sure if Thomas will get drafted, but he has a shot to make a roster as a UDFA.
- Northwestern – Justin Jackson, RB, Junior
Jackson has quietly been extremely productive for the Wildcats the past two years, but in such a loaded running back class it’s understandable that some ball carriers will get swept under the rug. After rushing for over 1,100 yards and ten touchdowns his freshman year, he ran for over 1,400 yards last season. While his touchdowns dipped significantly from ten to five, he did maintain a consistent role in the receiving game, as he caught 21 passes his freshman year and 22 last year. Jackson is a solid back, but he doesn’t really have a special trait that defines his game. He’s shown that he can handle a heavy workload, as he had over 10 carries in every game last year, and over 25 carries in six games. But with a slighter frame at 5’10”, 193 pounds, I’m not sure he’ll be able to hold up to this load in the NFL. Jackson also doesn’t appear to be a special athlete, as he lacks top end breakaway speed and has only average lateral movement skills. Overall, I think Jackson will be a much more effective college back than pro back, but he could potentially stick around on an NFL roster for a few seasons.
- Wisconsin – Corey Clement, RB, Senior
Clement is a favorite of Nick Whalen’s as he has him as a top five running back for the 2017 class. While I’m not high on him, if you want to read Nick’s perspective on Clement make sure you check out the Devy Report. He played in only four games last year due to a nagging sports hernia injury, but should be fully healthy this year. At 5’11”, 219 pounds, Clement has a great build for the position, and has an especially thick lower body. This allows him to get great drive in his legs and push piles, which fits perfectly with his physical running style. He seeks out contact, which also plays right into his physical style. He’s not the fastest prospect, but I wouldn’t call him slow either. A few concerns include his injury history, the system he comes from (many Wisconsin running backs have failed to meet expectations in NFL), and not having one area of his game that you can clearly say he “wins” with. It will be interesting to see if Clement dominates the Badgers backfield, or if he splits time with Taiwan Deal and Dare Ogunbowale.
- Utah – Joe Williams, RB, Senior
Williams has had a long journey to get to Utah. He initially enrolled at Connecticut and played there for one year before transferring to ASA College, and playing there for a season before enrolling at Utah last year. He is projected to take over for Devontae Booker, who was drafted by the Denver Broncos and could see significant playing time this year. The Utah team site lists Williams as the teams’ fastest returning player, running a 4.35 forty yard dash. This would be an elite forty time for Williams, who weighs in at 205 pounds. While the number is likely inflated, this still means he likely runs a time in the 4.4’s, which is impressive in its own right. Williams was great filling in for Booker when he went down late in the year, averaging 28 carries, 133 yards, one rushing touchdown, and two receptions per game in the team’s final three games. I’d expect him to be very productive for the Utes this year, and look forward to seeing if his 4.35 speed is legit.
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