I have watched twenty-seven college football spring scrimmages, or spring showcases, as they are sometimes referred to. In watching, I’ve attempted to identify potential offensive breakout stars both on the collegiate and ultimately professional level. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list nor is it a ranking of Devy prospects. In fact, I will likely not mention many of the top Devy prospects in hopes of unearthing some new names and talent to keep an eye on.
Evaluating how a high school kid will translate to a college player can be challenging. The level of difficulty increases exponentially when attempting to forecast that high schooler’s professional prowess. As such, I often try to temper my expectations for a prospect until I can see them on the field with other college athletes. Spring practice often provides us with our first opportunity to see that. There were several freshmen, both true and redshirt, that caught my eye during their spring camps.
Florida – Feleipe Franks
The University of Florida has a heritage of prestigious quarterbacks. 6’6″ redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks has the frame and the arm talent to join those ranks. Franks finished the day 8-14 for 119 yards with four of those completions gaining at least 15 yards. Knowing when to throw the changeup and not the fastball appears to be one of the things Franks will need to master this season. I saw a QB that looked greatly improved in the past year, and I think that bodes well for his continued development. Franks is a very good athlete; he was actually the kicker and punter for his high school team. Florida has a bevy of skill talent, and I believe Franks is the best-suited QB to take advantage of that since Will Grier.
Mississippi State – Keytaon Thompson
Staying with the theme of heritage, Dan Mullen has quite the list of QBs he played a role in developing. From Alex Smith to Tim Tebow to Dak Prescott his reputation and track record of helping a QB reach their potential is outstanding. Thompson is a 6’5″ early enrollee from New Orleans that boasts the dual-threat ability that Mullen covets. While it’s easy to look at his 6-20 for 80 yards in the scrimmage and be unimpressed, I was quite the opposite. He is raw but has the size, arm, and athleticism to be a difference-maker in the future – especially when given free-license to use his legs which he didn’t have in the scrimmage.
Missouri – Micah Wilson
Micah Wilson is a 6’3″ dual-threat QB from Oklahoma. As a senior, he completed 198 of 279 passes for 3,730 yards with 56 touchdowns and only 2 INT. He also ran for 596 yards at 8.1 ypc. Wilson, a one-time Boise State commit, is a Missouri legacy and I believe will be content in waiting for Drew Lock to move on to the NFL. He finished the scrimmage 7-15 for 68 yards and 1 INT but showed a great arm and outstanding mobility. Wilson is very unlikely to see the field this season but looks poised to lead Josh Heupel’s high octane offense in 2018 or 2019.
Texas Tech – Xavier Martin
I am a big fan of dynamic players and watching an athlete like Xavier Martin run the air raid would be a dream come true for me. Martin is listed at 6’0″ and 180 lb. so he lacks the ideal size for an NFL QB. He is also the QB in a system that often draws the ire of NFL pundits and evaluators. That said, Martin has a terrific skill set, to at the very least, succeed at the Big 12 level. The starting QB role looks soundly in the hands of Nic Shimonek in 2017, and I think a potential redshirt season would benefit Martin. ESPN lists the true freshman’s 40 time at 4.43, and he put his big arm on display during the spring game. Martin is a player that would put tremendous stress on defensive coordinators. He reminds me some of another guy I really like, Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray.
Michigan – Brandon Peters
Peters has prototypical NFL QB size. Listed at 6’5″ and 216 pounds, the 19-year-old redshirt freshman has both time and the frame to put on some additional weight. While watching the Michigan spring game, if you didn’t know what the projected depth chart was, the overwhelming majority of people would have watched Peters and been convinced he is not only their starter but a potential top tier QB in the Big 10. Peters finished the day 9-17 for 160 yards and added a rushing TD as well. Projected starter, Wilson Speight, was 9-26 with 2 INT and an outing full of really bad throws. While Speight’s experience may be too much for Peters to overcome in 2017, I believe he is poised for a productive career at Michigan and in the NFL. Peters has an NFL arm and very good athleticism. I am very high on Peters’ future at QB.
You can see Peters’ spring performance here.
Ohio State – Dwayne Haskins
“Dwayne Haskins is a future All-American, Big 10 MVP and Heisman Candidate” those were the words spoken by former Buckeye legend, Chris Spielman, following the Ohio State spring scrimmage. Dating back to signing day 2016, Urban Meyer described Haskins as, “the best QB at his age I’ve ever seen.” He went on to say his size, arm strength, release, footwork, and ability to get out of trouble are ideal. Haskins went 26-37 for 293 yards and 3 TD in the last scrimmage. Pretty impressive for a guy that is unlikely to see significant reps with the first team this fall. Haskins was the most impressive QB, of any age, I’ve watched this spring. Haskins will likely have to wait until 2018 for his breakout, but this scrimmage put the country on notice.
— Ohio State Buckeyes (@OhioStAthletics) April 15, 2017
Duke – Brittain Brown
Brown, a redshirt freshman, averaged 8.3 yards per carry as a senior in high school playing in Metro-Atlanta. The 19-year-old chose Duke over offers from Clemson, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Ole Miss and Stanford amongst others. At 6’1″ and 200, Brown has nice size and being a former safety he shows he won’t shy away from contact. In the spring game, he only carried it 5 times for 24 yards, but while watching, it was evident he was talented. He showed similar promise in the 2016 spring game and is now poised to contribute. Brown’s a great athlete, ran a 4.49 40, 4.12 shuttle and went 40.9 inches vertically. Brown will see increased work this season and take some touches from Shaun Wilson.
Arizona – JJ Taylor
2016 was looking like it was going to be the true freshman’s breakout season. After rushing 18 times for 148 yards against Hawaii and 19 for 97 in three-quarters against Washington, Taylor was sidelined for the remainder of the season with a broken ankle. Taylor has elite speed and quickness. In Arizona’s scrimmage, he looked as if he was shot out of a cannon on a long TD run. After the game, Taylor told reporters he was only 80% healthy, and if that’s true then he could really do some damage this year in the PAC 12. At 5’6″ and 180 pounds, Taylor doesn’t have prototypical NFL feature back size, but a player with his natural ability can dominate the college game and find a spot in the league. Taylor reminds me of Tarik Cohen both in size and quicks.
Arizona – Nathan Tilford
Speaking of prototypical NFL feature back size, true freshman Nathan Tilford will be splitting time with JJ Taylor and Nick Wilson in the Zona backfield. At 6’2″ and 200, Tilford is the tallest RB on the roster by at least four inches. His teammates talk about his length and power being his greatest attributes and tacklers are said to just slide off of him. Lane Kiffin supposedly offered him a scholarship to USC as an 8th grader. Arizona relies very heavily on the run game and even in a crowded backfield, I believe Tilford has the opportunity to be the most heavily featured back in 2017. While Tilford may lack elite top-end speed, he has the size and power to be a unique and dominating running back in the PAC 12 and beyond.
USC – Vavae Malepeai
Malepeai, a native Hawaiian, looked poised to contribute to the Trojans as a true freshman in 2016. However, a collarbone injury ended those hopes and he took a redshirt. Back from injury, the 6’0″ 200-pound, Malepeai, looked great in the Trojans’ spring game. It should be a crowded backfield in 2017, but I think his 8 carry for 36-yard performance in the scrimmage showed he will have a role to play in 2017. He was the Trojans’ leading rusher in the game and showed in high school he can add explosive plays as he averaged 8.3 yards per carry as a senior in Hawaii. Malepeai is a strong back that displays great vision, balance, and burst. While Ronald Jones will be the Trojans’ home run hitter, I think Malepeai can add a bruising element to this potent offense and can be a feature back down the road.
Texas – Toneil Carter
Luck is said to be where hard work meets opportunity. That is exactly the recipe that landed Carter in a place to flash this spring. Texas was down to just one healthy scholarship RB this past scrimmage and that guy was Carter. A one-time Georgia commit, he is an early enrollee that has great speed. He ran a laser timed 4.5 40 and the 100m in 10.71. In addition to nice long speed, I see great quickness, vision and a guy that is rarely brought down by the first tackler. At 6’0″ and 205 pounds, Carter has good size for a true freshman and room to add some more muscle. I do think Carter will have a role this season but I don’t expect him to be the featured back in a talented, albeit injured, backfield.
— Hookem Football (@hornsfootball) April 15, 2017
— Hookem Football (@hornsfootball) April 15, 2017
Stanford – Trevor Speights
The 5’11” 205-pound redshirt sophomore had one of the more prestigious high school football careers I’ve ever heard of. He finished with 9,868 rushing yards and 120 TDs. If that isn’t proof enough that he can be a productive feature back, his 21 carry and 2 touchdown performance in the spring will. Bryce love will be their feature guy in 2017, but Speights showed he will fit into the rotation this season. I saw everything I needed to from him – hands, vision, patience, speed and power. As a backup in 2016, Bryce Love still managed a quiet 800 yards, so there is opportunity for multiple backs to eat in this system.
Two words: Trevor Speights ?
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) April 15, 2017
FSU – Cam Akers
Often times, lots of hype can set up future disappointment. So far, through one spring camp, the production has matched the hype. Akers, a 5’11” 215-pound early enrollee from Mississippi, was the top rated national RB in the 2017 class. Akers shows elite athleticism with a 4.41 40 time and 40.6 inch vertical. Sudden cut ability, vision, and power are tremendous assets to a running back and Akers shows those consistently in his film. While FSU has a talented backfield in 2017, I expect him to get a lot of touches this season as long as he can demonstrate ball security and blitz pickups which tend to be must-haves for many coaches with young running backs. Akers finished the scrimmage with 87 rushing yards and 15 through the air but did have one fumble. Akers has the look of the top 2020 RB.
Cam Akers this weekend ???? pic.twitter.com/KmINF6Emgu
— Tailgate Heisman (@247_CFB) April 10, 2017
Kentucky – Clevan Thomas
Thomas is a Florida State legacy but an early enrollee from Miami. At 5’11” and 190 pounds, Thomas may not have the straight-line speed many guys have at his size, but he shows nice burst and is already a polished route runner. Kentucky OC, Eddie Gran, compared his mentality and work ethic as a true freshman to Benny Snell’s last year. Snell, an outstanding RB, was a major contributor for the Cats last season putting up over 1,000 rushing yards in a crowded backfield. Kentucky is still looking for consistent receivers, and I think Thomas provides them with that immediately. I believe Thomas will be highly targeted this fall and already showed he can find the end zone with a TD in the scrimmage. Thomas is described as a student of the game, and when he gets done playing football, he plans to take his talents to the FBI. My guess is that his football career lasts at least another decade.
Mississippi State – Reggie Todd
Reggie Todd, a one-time New Mexico State basketball commit, averaged 29 yards per catch on 45 grabs his senior season in high school. As previously mentioned, Todd was a basketball player, and his frame and fundamentals often reiterate that fact. The 6’5″ redshirt freshman goes 205 and runs a 4.5 40. Todd was actually a point guard which at 6’5″ goes to show his athletic upside. He came down with three grabs in the scrimmage and with the recently reported news that fellow WR, Malik Dear, tore his ACL, Todd will be in line for more targets this season. I have recently read comments from coaches talking about being able to evaluate a prospect’s upside by watching them play basketball and in watching his tape it’s clear he has talent and great natural ability.
Ole Miss – D.K. Metcalf
The 6’4″ 225-pound Metcalf looked poised to have a huge true freshman season in 2016. While he only made two catches in his two games played, both went for TD’s. Metcalf broke his foot against Wofford and ended up getting a medical redshirt. Hungry to get back on the field, Metcalf showed in the spring scrimmage that he will be a force to be reckoned with in 2017 and beyond. The first thing I notice about him is that he could be a professional bodybuilder. He is an extremely muscular player but doesn’t play stiff and looks freakishly fluid while playing. Metcalf made guys miss, showed off his strong hands and also displayed his excellent burst and long speed in the scrimmage. Metcalf looked as though he was shot out of a cannon on one play as he ripped off a huge gainer. Ole Miss has an extremely talented WR corps but they have the QB and playmaker friendly offense to get a lot of guys the ball. Metcalf is one of the more exciting prospects I’ve watched and will be a top WR in the 2019 NFL Draft. He reminds me of Falcons’ WR, Julio Jones.
— SEC Chalkboard (@SECchalkboard) September 6, 2016
You can read more about Metcalf here.
Michigan – Donovan Peoples-Jones
Donovan Peoples-Jones is a freak athlete. As a true freshman, early enrollee, DPJ just dominated the Michigan Spring Combine with a 4.41 40, 3.91 short shuttle, 6.73 3-cone, 39 inch vertical and 132.5 inch broad jump. While Michigan may have a history of inflating some numbers at these events, it’s clear that he is a special talent. DPJ looks very physically mature at 6’2″ and 190 pounds, especially considering he turned 18 just two months ago. DPJ has an outstanding catch radius to compliment his elite athleticism. He’s an excellent student both in the classroom and on the football field and I think he is the type of player that won’t let his popularity or fame hinder his development as a player. DPJ only made 3 catches for 20 yards in the scrimmage after having an outstanding camp but watching him run routes and compete it was clear to me this is a special player. Fellow freshman WR Tarik Black had the better stat line in the scrimmage and I think he will be a big weapon for them as well. DPJ is in line to play a large role in the 2017 offense, and once QB Brandon Peters takes over running this offense, he will really be in position to see just how high his ceiling is.
USC – Tyler Vaughns
Tyler Vaughns is a 6’2″ 180-pound redshirt freshman from Pasadena, CA. During the modified spring game, Vaughns showed off his hands, concentration, route running and speed to make big plays downfield. He lost a shoe on one play and on another he went up over a DB and high-pointed a back-shoulder throw in the end zone for a TD. Vaughns, the number 3 rated 2016 WR in the country according to 247 sports, has the opportunity to be a major contributor in the 2017 season. While the Trojans have arguably the most talented first team of WR in the country, they also have arguably the nation’s best QB throwing them the ball and an offense that is very friendly to playmakers. Another USC freshman WR that won’t be featured on this particular list, Michael Pittman, looks poised to pair with Vaughns, Burnett, and Jones in creating havoc in the PAC 12 over the next few seasons.
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) April 15, 2017
USC – Velus Jones WR
Velus Jones is a player whose hype has been building all spring. Trojans’ HC, Clay Helton, had this to say about him, “He’s kind of that Percy Harvin-type, the ability to run great routes, explosive plays in the pass game, but then be able to hand him the ball on the outside perimeter and do some special things. He’s a guy that I think a redshirt year really helped.” Compared to both Harvin and former Trojan, Adoree Jackson, Jones put those skills on display this spring showing off his hands, speed, and overall versatility. Jones is 6’0″ and has bulked up to 205 pounds this offseason and that should benefit him considering the number of touches he could get. I mentioned previously about the talent at the Trojans’ skill positions, but I think it’s clear Jones will be a focal point both as a runner and receiver in this dynamic offense. I am extremely excited about him and believe he has a long and productive career ahead of him in the PAC 12 and NFL.
— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) April 15, 2017
Auburn – Marquis McClain
Marquis McClain was the least heralded of Auburn’s outstanding 2016 WR recruiting haul. As such, the 6’2″ 220-pound WR took a redshirt in 2016. His first live appearance in front of the Auburn crowd was a memorable one as he caught a 69 yard TD on a contested ball. Fellow Auburn WR, Jason Smith, had this to say about him, “When he calms down and gets comfortable, it’s going to be dangerous, he’s got a ton of athleticism. … His physicality, his speed. He’s 220, and he probably runs a 4.3 (40-yard dash) at receiver. He’s the biggest receiver we’ve got in the room. I can’t wait to see him develop and grow up and make plays for our team.” I believe listening to a player’s coaches and teammates is a great way to get a read on them and it’s clear that the athletic McClain can grow into a very nice player on the Plains.
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