The State of College Football: 2021 Breakout Players
We continue our look at the 2021 breakout players with a look into the offensive skill position players. Running backs, receivers and tight ends don’t get the love they deserve when it comes to Heisman Trophy voting, but they will here. These five running backs, receivers and tight ends are set for a huge 2021 season.
Bijan Robinson, Sophomore, Texas
“I’ve been fortunate enough that I’ve had a 1,000-yard rusher every year I’ve called plays in college football, so there’s definite belief in running the football.” - Steve Sarkisian
After an outstanding, and under utilized, freshman season, Bijan Robinson is poised for college football stardom, and it seems like new head coach, Steve Sarkisian is going to feed Robinson in 2021. In 2020 Robinson was given a ridiculous 86 carries but turned those carries into 703 yards and four touchdowns - 8.2 yards per carry! With Texas returning four starters on the O-line and Sarkisian's philosophy on running the football, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Robinson rush for 1,500 yards in 2021.
Zach Evans, Sophomore, TCU
It took a minute for Evans to decide where he was going to play his college football but he too had a phenomenal freshman season and will be taking on a bigger role in 2021. Evans rushed for 415 yards and four touchdowns with an average of 7.7 yards per carry in nine games for the Horned Frogs and will still share a workload with fellow running back Darwin Barlow in 2021. I expect Evans to see the bulk of those carries and to flirt with a 1,000-yard season. Even though his numbers don’t pop off the page and he will see shared carries, Evans will still wow fans with his exciting blend of elusiveness and power.
Jase McClellan, Sophomore, Alabama
The crowded backfield at Alabama may not produce a 1,000-yard rusher in 2021 but it won’t be due to a lack of talent. Senior Brian Robinson Jr. returns with sophomores Trey Sanders and Roydell Williams also looking to take carries, but the name to watch is sophomore Jase McClellan. McClellan took just 23 carries as a freshman but averaged 10.7 yards per carry for 245 yards and two touchdowns. Robinson is the favorite to be the lead rusher but that won’t stop McClellan from shining when he is on the field.
Jerome Ford, Junior, Cincinnati
Speaking of Alabama running backs, Jerome Ford spent the 2018 and 19 seasons on roster for the Crimson Tide before transferring to Cincinnati in 2020. Ford made the most of his carries with the Bearcats, averaging 6.6 yards per carry and eight touchdowns in 2020. Ford split carries with Gerrid Doaks in 2020 but Doaks has moved on and Ford will be the lone feature back in 2021.
Sincere McCormick, Junior, UT-San Antonio
The only player to rush for more yards than McCormick in 2020 was 2018 breakout player Breece Hall. McCormick had a remarkable 1,467 yards and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2020 after his 983 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman in 2019. Somehow McCormick STILL isn’t getting the attention he deserves but that will change this season. UTSA returns all five starting offensive linemen and senior quarterback Frank Harris. The Roadrunners will hit the ground running behind running back Sincere McCormick in 2021.
Drake London, Junior, USC
The numbers don’t pop for Drake London, but they will in 2021. London has already pulled in 72 catches for 1,069 yards and eight touchdowns in two seasons at USC - one was a six game shortened 2020. And, all that was as the No. 3 or 4 receiver. Now London is the No. 1 target in the Trojans pass happy offense. Assuming we have a full schedule of games in 2021, London will be a 100-catch candidate for the Trojans in 2021.
Treylon Burks, Junior, Arkansas
Even though the Razorbacks went 3-7 last year they seem to be trending in the right direction. The talented receiver, Treylon Burks is going to be directly responsible for most of Arkansas’ offensive success in 2021. After his 51 catches, 820 yards and seven touchdowns in 2020, Burks has the production to be on the National stage, and in 2021 he’ll be a top receiver prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Jordan Addison, Sophomore, Pitt
Not many freshmen had the production Jordan Addison had in 2020. His 60 catches led all freshmen and went for 666 yards and four touchdowns. Addison brings back quarterback Kenny Pickett for a super senior season and the duo looks to lead the ACC in total scoring after finishing second in 2020. The biggest hurdle for Addison will be correcting the number of drops he had, 10, in 2020.
Josh Moore, Junior, Texas
The Steve Sarkisian hire brings a lot of hype but will it bring production? Alabama had one of the most productive offenses in the Nation under Sarkisian and last season Sark had receiver DeVonta Smith win the Heisman Trophy in his offense. While I do NOT expect Moore to be a Heisman candidate, I do expect Moore to lead the ‘Horns in receiving and to build on his 30 catches, 472 yards and nine touchdowns from 2020.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Sophomore, Ohio State
The receiving corps at Ohio State is historically good. Much like we saw at Alabama over the last few seasons, Ohio State has three or four future first round draft picks and one, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, is not getting talked about enough. Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson will be the top targets for *insert whoever plays quarterback at Ohio State* in 2021 but Smith-Njigba has already proven he is the next in line - if he doesn’t jump the line this season.
Jahleel Billingsley, Junior, Alabama
Jahleel Billingsley is going to get Kyle Pitts comparisons but don’t be too upset. Billingsley is next in line for this new era of tight end. Guys that can flex out to the slot, play outside receiver, OR play traditional inline tight end. Most of Billingsley's reps will come from the receiver positions but it won’t matter where Billingsley lines up, he’s going to be hard to stop anywhere. At 6’4”, 230 lbs, Billingsley is a matchup nightmare in college football and will jump drastically up the targets list in 2021 with Bama losing 188 catches, 2,872 yards and 31 touchdowns combined from DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle and Najee Harris in 2020.
Darnell Washington, Sophomore, Georgia
If not for fellow freshmen tight ends Arik Gilbert and Michael Mayer, more people would already be talking about Darnell Washington. Washington is a massive tight end at 6’7”, 260 lbs and can be the traditional tight end Georgia wants. Quarterback JT Daniels was a late edition in 2020 and I look for the Georgia offense to explode in 2021. Washington might not see many targets but he’s hard to miss on the field, both paving ways for ball carries and making tough grabs.
Cole Turner, Senior, Nevada
Nevada quarterback, and 2021 breakout player, Carson Strong is going to light up the stat book in 2021 and tight end Cole Turner is going to be on the receiving end of a lot of those numbers. Turner brought in 49 catches for 605 yards and nine touchdowns in just nine games in 2020 and bring back 10 starters on offense for 2021- only have to replace a guard. Turner will finish 2021 as a John Mackey award candidate and begin to receive love from NFL scouts sooner than later.
Austin Stogner, Junior, Oklahoma
Much of the Oklahoma hype is going to Spencer Rattler’s Heisman campaign and star receiver Marvin Mims. But don’t sleep on tight end Austin Stogner to get even more involved in the Sooners passing game. Stogner is a huge redzone target at 6’6”, 262 lbs and his 26 catches, 422 yards and three touchdowns in 2020 were just a sample of what the big tight end can do.