football Edit

Ten breakout players for 2017

The 2017 college football season is upon us, so it’s time for our breakout players heading into the season. Last year this list was led by UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky, so keep a careful eye on the players we have selected this season.

Mark Pszonak contributed to this report.

Bryce Love
Bryce Love (USA TODAY)

The skinny: Love took a fall official visit to Virginia and then January visits to Stanford and North Carolina before committing to the Cardinal a few days before National Signing Day. Love waited his turn in Palo Alto while Christian McCaffrey carried the Stanford offense the last two seasons, but now the spotlight is on him. And he looks ready to carry that burden. With McCaffrey sitting out the Sun Bowl last season, Love excelled, and with 180 yards on only 13 carries during Stanford’s season-opening win against Rice, a big season is likely.

Farrell’s take: Love tops the list not only because he had a great first game but also because he showed serious flashes of talent last season filling in for McCaffrey at times. Love was a four-star out of high school known for his ability in space as well as his receiving ability, so he fits in greatly as a replacement for McCaffrey. He won’t match the numbers, no one will, but he will be very good.

The skinny: Michigan State and Purdue were considered the leaders for Evans, until a visit to Ann Arbor quickly put Michigan in the lead. Only a couple of weeks later he committed to the Wolverines in June. While Michigan lost a majority of its skill offensive players from last year’s team, Evans returns as its leading rusher. Rushing for 614 yards on only 88 carries last season as a true freshman, Evans will likely be relied on to carry the offense at times this season, while many of the new pieces in the Michigan offense adjust to the college game.

Farrell’s take: Evans was a three-star athlete out of high school because he could do so many things and potentially play running back, wide receiver or defensive back. He’s found his home in the Michigan offense, beating out some more highly regarded players last season and, with Jim Harbaugh’s mix of run and pass, he should put up bigger numbers this season.

The skinny: Duvernay had an interesting recruiting process as he initially signed with Baylor, before the sexual assault scandal surrounding the Bears’ program caused him to look for different options. After trimming his list to Texas and TCU, he committed to the Longhorns last summer. Duvernay grabbed 20 receptions for 412 yards and three touchdowns last fall as a true freshman, but now bigger things are expected, especially with new coach Tom Herman’s wide-open offense.

Farrell’s take: Speed, speed and more speed was what impressed about Duvernay at the high school level, especially in game situations. Oddly, when I saw him in camps he never really dominated as he could have with his jets and sometimes blended into the crowd, but on film and at Under Armour Week (in a few instances) you could see how fast he played the game. With speed like that and the ability to play outside or in the slot, it was clear he was going to make a difference for someone. This could be his year at Texas.

The skinny: Wimbush initially committed to Penn State, where he was thought to be the heir apparent to Christian Hackenberg. However, a visit to Notre Dame quickly changed everything as he flipped to the Irish. After getting minimal playing time during his first two years in South Bend, despite showing potential, Wimbush inherits the starting job after Deshone Kizer’s move to the NFL and Malik Zaire’s graduate transfer to Florida. A great deal is expected out of Wimbush this season and he has the physical abilities and football smarts to deliver.

Farrell’s take: Wimbush developed from a young high school kid with a cannon arm but little accuracy to a polished player by his senior season. He isn’t tall by quarterback standards, but he is thick and powerful as a runner, and his character and leadership have always stood out. Now he has his chance to show what he can do in an offense that fits him perfectly and he will excel.

The skinny: Lamar trimmed his list to Clemson, Alabama and Auburn, before a July visit to Death Valley put the Tigers over the top. Despite having to replace Ben Boulware, the Tigers do have Dorian O’Daniel and Kendall Joseph back at linebacker this fall. Taking over Bouleware’s void in the middle will be Tre Lamar. Lamar had 22 tackles last fall as a reserve and has shown potential during the spring and summer this year.

Farrell’s take: Lamar was a five-star out of high school because he was big, powerful but also rangy and solid in coverage. To add quickness at the college level he actually gained weight and power to add to his explosion. Now he’s ready to dominate in the middle for Clemson this season.

The skinny: Brown took official visits to Auburn, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Georgia and Alabama before committing to the Tigers on National Signing Day. While Brown’s true freshman season took some time to hit its stride, it finished strongly. Expectations are high that he continues to improve and lives up to former five-star ranking this fall, especially with the Tigers needing to fill a few holes on their defensive line this fall.

Farrell’s take: Montravius Adams is gone and Brown moves inside full time to take over the role of dominator at defensive tackle. He has the power, the quickness and ability to crush the pocket to get the job done. He’s not quite as athletic as Adams, but he is more powerful. In high school evaluations he was always a bit up and down. He was inconsistent, but his ceiling was too high to keep him from that fifth star.

The skinny: Gary took official visits to Michigan, Clemson, Auburn, Ole Miss and USC, but with his ex-high school coach, Chris Partridge, hired at Michigan, the Wolverines were seen as the heavy favorite. To nobody’s surprise he then committed to Michigan on National Signing Day. While he was not a starter during his true freshman season, Gary was regular part of the defensive line rotation and finished with 23 tackles and five tackles for a loss. Now after a very impressive off-season, everyone is expecting Gary to take the next step.

Farrell’s take: Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley are gone, and now Gary gets to show his talents full time. He is arguably the most athletic player in the country for his size and pushed to our No. 1 overall spot based on his ability to play end or tackle with ease and dominate at both. He has No. 1 overall pick potential; he’s that freaky. I remember his improvement in high school from a kid who was very upright and raw to a terror by his senior year.

The skinny: Kelly committed to Oklahoma over Alabama, Notre Dame, USC, Oregon and Texas on National Signing Day to keep the California-to-Oklahoma movement going. After a big summer camp, Kelly finished his true freshman season with 36 tackles, three tackles for a loss and one sack. However, it was his performance in Oklahoma’s victory over Auburn in the Sugar Bowl that has Sooner fans most excited. Finishing with 12 tackles and one tackle for a loss, it will be very interesting to see if he can build on that performance this fall.

Farrell’s take: Kelly is big, he’s long and he can cover a ton of ground. At the high school level, he was also adept at getting the proper depth in his drops and disrupting passing lanes, something crucial for Big 12 play. Kelly does his best work downhill and is very good in space for a bigger linebacker so he should eat up a ton of tackles this season for an improved OU defense.

The skinny: There was no drama in Campbell’s recruiting process as he committed to Ohio State a week after the class of 2013 National Signing Day. To this point, Campbell has done a little bit of everything for the Buckeyes, but he has not taken his game to the next level. Now with Curtis Samuel in the NFL, Campbell is the most likely option to help replace the versatility that Samuel possessed. Look for him to get many touches in different ways and to bring an extra spark to the Buckeyes' offense and special teams.

Farrell’s take: Campbell has athleticism, we all know that, and while he was raw out of high school, his versatility was impressive. He played running back for the most part in high school, so the transition to receiver was a tough one as his route running was weak. However, he was a burner and you could see it would take time for him to develop and eventually he would get it. This year could be the year he puts it all together.

The skinny: Shaw took his official visit to Wisconsin in September but waited until late January to commit to the Badgers. He also considered Vanderbilt, Minnesota, South Carolina and Nebraska at the time of his decision. Shaw rushed for 457 yards and five touchdowns on only 88 carries last fall, but definitely opened eyes by finishing the season strong. While he will likely battle Chris James and Taiwan Deal for carries this season, he is the most likely of the trio to have a breakout season behind Wisconsin’s always strong offensive line.

Farrell’s take: A national Top 150 prospect with the perfect skillset and build for Wisconsin, it’s now his turn to shine. He’s a downhill runner but has good feet and vision. In Wisconsin’s run-heavy offense, he will wear down defenses and could be the workhorse they covet.