football Edit

Breakout stars of the 2016 college football season

All season long we’ve brought you three breakout stars after each football weekend, players who had apparently taken the next step in their development and are skyrocketing up the charts in potential.

Now that the season has ended and we head into bowl games, I thought I’d take a look at my top five breakout players from those weekly lists.

Mark Pszonak contributed to this report.

BREAKOUT 2016 STARS WEEK BY WEEK: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13



The skinny: Samuel’s recruiting process came down to whether playing close to home was a priority for him. Once he realized that it wasn’t, he committed to Ohio State over Rutgers right before the start of his senior season. In Columbus, Samuel has been able to showcase his versatility during his three seasons. After being used mostly as a running back in 2014 and then a receiver in 2015, Ohio State made it a priority to get him the ball as many times as possible in 2016. This resulted in a huge season for Samuel, who has totaled 704 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground and 822 yards and seven touchdowns through the air for the Buckeyes.

Farrell’s take: Samuel was a kid coming from a school not known for producing big-time talent who was simply too explosive to ignore. He was a blur in camp settings, which lived up to his film, and Samuel has one of the best highlight videos you’ll see from the last few years. (Find it and watch it). He followed Wayne Morgan at Erasmus two years after Morgan was over-hyped, so there was some skepticism surrounding Samuel's abilities, but he showed he was the real deal throughout the process and when I first saw him. Now he’s the Percy Harvin of the Ohio State offense. Samuel's escape job in overtime against Michigan eventually led to his game-winning TD.


The skinny: Ross took official visits to Washington, Oregon, Oregon State and UCLA during his recruiting process before committing to the Huskies after the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl. For Ross, the 2016 season was the definition of a breakout. After totaling only 33 receptions, 579 yards and five touchdowns through his first three seasons, Ross exploded onto the national landscape with his performance in 2016. Teaming up with quarterback Jake Browning, Ross has 72 receptions for 1,071 yards and 16 touchdowns as well as one rushing touchdown and a kickoff return for a score.

Farrell’s take: A small but electric receiver out of high school, Ross was a high-three-star and national top-70 wide receiver his senior season, but questions about his size and catch radius remained. We thought he’d be a great fit with Troy Williams, who he played 7-on-7 with out of high school, but he has hooked up amazingly with Browning and has helped lead his team to the playoffs. He’s very hard to cover in space and his special teams play was always something to keep an eye on, but he has taken things to a level we never expected.


The skinny: Guice committed to LSU during the spring of his junior year, but then ended up taking an official visit to Alabama in January. While rumors persisted that he may look to flip, he did sign with the Tigers on National Signing Day. While he only received 51 carries as a true freshman last season, Guice was able to showcase all of the abilities that made him a five-star. This season, because of the injuries that plagued star Leonard Fournette, Guice had an expanded role for the Tigers. He responded by rushing for 1,249 yards and 14 touchdowns while averaging 8.0 yards per carry.

Farrell’s take: I loved Guice out of high school because he was mean and nasty. He was the kind of kid, similar to Eddie Lacy, who hated to be tackled and would fight hard for extra yardage and wear down defenses. He also had very good speed and vision and light feet, but it was his desire when running, something clear on tape and in person, that pushed him to five stars. Even with his lofty ranking, Guice was never happy being No. 2 at his position in his class behind Damien Harris, and this year he has shown why. We were the only major recruiting service to have him as a five-star, and he’s making us look smart.


The skinny: Thomas committed to Miami during the summer of 2013, but then took official visits to Florida State and Alabama in the weeks leading up to National Signing Day. While this caused stress to many Canes fans, in the end he stuck with his word and signed with Miami. After totaling only 25 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and one sack during his first two seasons with the Hurricanes, Thomas showcased the abilities this season that made him a five-star recruit. Totaling 33 tackles, 10.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks and one fumble recovery, Thomas has positioned himself to have a big 2017 season in Coral Gables if he doesn’t declare early for the NFL Draft.

Farrell’s take: Thomas was impressive for many reasons out of high school, first and foremost as an outside pass rusher with length and size but also because of how he handled a move inside to defensive tackle his senior season and was still dominant. A tall, skinny pass rusher as a junior, he added some bulk and showed off his strength anchoring the middle against some very good, and much bigger, competition. It was surprising that he hadn’t broken out yet as a star heading into this season, as he was behind only Myles Garrett at his position out of high school, but that was clearly the old staff not coaching him up.


The skinny: Lattimore took official visits to Ohio State, Alabama and Georgia Tech, but at the end it came down to the Buckeyes and Crimson Tide. He committed to Ohio State on national television at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Lattimore battled through hamstring injuries during his first two years at Ohio State, but he burst onto the scene this season with 38 tackles, four interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and nine pass breakups, which was seventh in the Big Ten.

Farrell’s take: We had Lattimore as an athlete coming out of high school because we felt he could play offense or defense in college, but he struggled a bit down the stretch against top competition at the U.S. Army Bowl and was surpassed in state by teammate and fellow defensive back Erick Smith in the state rankings. That was obviously a mistake, and Lattimore has emerged as one of the best defensive backs in the country.