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  • Tom Luginbill.


ESPN Analyst

    • Senior National Recruiting Analyst for ESPN.com
    • Coaches in four professional football leagues
    • Graduated from Eastern Kentucky and Marshall.
  • Craig Haubert.


ESPN employee

    • National recruitment analyst and analyst for UNSPSC.
    • Over a decade of experience in higher education and professional management.
    • Graduate of Indiana and Nebraska-Omaha.

Our list of sophomores for the 2021 college football season focuses on players with limited steals in 2020 and names that aren’t necessarily obvious like LSU’s BJ Ojulari or Georgia’s Jalen Carter who made a big impact in 2020.

We decided to focus more on players who will either flash in 2020 or wait for their chance behind a proven veteran. In some cases, we’ve chosen players who need to make a big jump to help their team or meet individual expectations.

This list does not include players like Alfred Collins and D.J. Collins of Texas. Wiagalay of Clemson, as we expect them to continue their upward trajectory based on their performance in 2020.

Without further ado, here are 10 students ready for a breakthrough season.

QB Bryce YoungAlabama Crimson Tide2020 ESPN 300 rated: 5

When Alabama Young, the best quarterback in the 2020 class, signed, many thought he would take over from star striker Tua Tagovailoa. Mack Jones had other plans, but he eventually stepped in, led the Crimson Tide to a national championship explosion and put Young in the role of alternate.

Bryce Young, fifth in the class of 2020, is expected to be Alabama’s starting quarterback at the start of the 2021 season. Today is Nelson Chenault’s sports day in the United States.

All signs point to 2021, when the old five stars will star. In a season where he learned offensive skills and gained some experience, Young has what it takes to become Alabama’s strongest offensive players. He’s a precise passer with a quick release who can make plays in the air, but the dimension he adds to the offense that he didn’t have with Jones is his mobility.

Young is a true dual threat who has shown that he can make big plays and pressure defenses with his feet just as easily as he can with his arm. Yes, there is a new offensive coordinator and there will be a new staff around him, but Young is capable of seizing the opportunity and quickly becoming one of the best sharpshooters in the country next season.

DE Desmond Evans
North Carolina Tar Heels
2020 ESPN 300 ranked : 2

Last fall, Evans got off to a slow start, mainly due to two things: a lack of weight and strength, and a non-VIDOC-related illness that knocked him out in the first month of the season. However, he showed great promise in the second half of the season and finished the 2020 campaign with 10 tackles, 1 bag and 1 awkward recovery. Mack Brown needs Evans to make a big jump in 2021.

North Carolina has focused primarily on the defensive front the past two years in hopes of closing the gap on Clemson in the CCA. It’s time for Evans to take on that task. He’ll be in better shape and better able to manage the workload of each participation, and we know what he’s got.

RB Zach EvansTCU Birdfrogs2020 ESPN 300 grade : 16

Evans’ recruiting journey has been eventful and the five-star alumnus, who had some issues with discipline as a graduate of North Shore High School, landed at TCU long after last year’s National Signing Day. Talent has never been an issue for Evans, as he has always been at the top of his class in 2020.

Since joining the Horned Frogs, things have calmed down on the field and he finished his first season strong. He had 54 rushes for 415 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 7.7 yards per carry. At 1.80m and 80kg, he is a big, aggressive and sharp runner with excellent speed. Evans can be a very productive and great player.

He didn’t have to carry this burden last season and probably won’t, as TCU returns a group of talented young running backs, but few running backs in college football are as talented as he is and if he continues this positive development, his touch and impact will increase.

WR Julian Fleming
Ohio State Buckeyes
2020 ESPN 300 Ranking : 1

The Buckeyes will have a new quarterback in 2021, and whoever wins the position will have one of the most talented groups of receivers in the country to throw to proven targets and young talent like Fleming.

2 Connected

Fleming, the top of the 2020 class, was a contributor last season, but he has the tools to make a big jump in year two. Six of his seven catches have been in the last two Ohio State Big Ten, and he’s getting more comfortable as a runner.

With a 6-2 goal, 200 pounds, and a great combination of speed, body control, and ball skills, Fleming could be a constant presence in the big game. He’s not alone, as teammate and former ESPN 300 WR Jackson Smith-Njigba also showed promise as a rookie and could play a bigger role in 2021.

WR Troy Omeir
Texas Longhorns
2020 ESPN 300 Ranking : 180

Omeir tore his wrist on the 16th. In August, just before last season, the cruciate ligament. The 6-3, 226-pound offshore would start in the first year. It’s a real imbalance for opposing defenders because he moves like a wide receiver and looks like an H-back.

With his health and the arrival of Steve Sarkisian, Omeir is someone who can move around the field and dictate to the defensive staff. He’s a revolutionary candidate.

LB Nick Herbig
Wisconsin Badgers
2020 ESPN 300 ranked : 144

Had the Badgers not had a shortened season, Herbig could have made the All-American rookie team, as he has already shown promise. A highly motivated player with good feet and instincts, Herbig was a leader on the defensive line at Hawaii High School in St. Louis.

Herbig came to Madison with the tools to become a good college linebacker. After curtailing a number of opportunities, he was somewhat disappointing at the national level last season despite being one of Wisconsin’s best tacklers. With a year of experience under his belt, the former ESPN 300 linebacker is ready to establish himself as one of the best linebackers in the country.

WR Arian Smith
Georgia Bulldog
2020 ESPN 300 Evaluation : 25

No matter how good Georgia’s receivers are (when healthy), no one else has Smith’s speed and explosiveness.

Georgia will be counting on Smith, who holds the under-20 record in the 4×100 relay after suffering a knee injury for most of the year. It’s also a 10.39 100-yard veil that could be another version of Mecol Hardman in Georgia’s offense as a target and as a return man.



JT Daniels throws through the middle to Arian Smith for a 31-yard touchdown to extend Georgia’s lead over South Carolina.

Despite the small number of catches, Smith finished the season with two catches and an amazing average of 43 yards per catch. He’s an explosive play waiting to happen on the field.

RB Devon AchanTexas A&M Aggies2020 ESPN 300 ranked: 200

Yes, Isaiah Spiller and Ainias Smith are back in the background for what could be a loaded offense for the Aggies, but Achan has started to shine in this 2020 straight, and his performance in the Orange Bowl against North Carolina was certainly a highlight of the upcoming event.

Remember, Smith is just as much a slot machine and a utility player as a running back. If three of them are on the field at the same time in 2021, it could be frightening for opposing defenses.

Achan averaged 8.5 yards per carry in just 43 attempts, including two games in which he averaged 11 yards per carry.

DT Tim Smith
Alabama Crimson Tide
2020 ESPN 300 Rank : 160

During the 2020 campaign, Smith slowly crept up the depth chart, losing nearly 30 pounds after arriving on campus last winter.

The national champions’ defensive front was clearly crowded, but Smith stood out in the rotation each week and shined with his occasional tackles for defeat, rush to the QB and his clumsy recovery. This is a two-way, fast-breaking nose flap that could become a force in 2021.

Р. R. Brennan Presley
Oklahoma State Cowboys
2020 Recruitment Rankings : Three stars.

The Cowboys’ victory over Miami in the Cheez-It Bowl offered an exciting glimpse of what electric Presley can do with a larger role in the offense.

Before the bowls game he had just one catch on the season, but in this game he exploded with 118 receiving yards and three touchdowns. The 5-8 year old might have been a little forgotten in high school, but with his lightning speed he showed he could be a nightmare in space and make great plays. He could be the Cowboys’ next great offensive weapon.

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