Trying to discover the next huge talent is the holy grail of football analysis. Like players like Joe Burrow and Zach Wilson seems out of nowhere to dominate college football, everyone wants to know who will be “that guy” for the upcoming season and into 2022 NFL Draft. Will there be a similar rise this season? We are looking at some potential breakouts and sleepers in the 2021 college football season.
Below are in no particular order 11 players that can be set for breakouts in the college football season 2021. Let’s first look at the offensive players.
Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
The pride of the Texas Longhorns’ 2020 recruiting class, Bijan Robinson, was the top-ranked runner back from high school just a year ago. After a slow start to his college career, the former five-star recruit had a sort of breakout late last season. Robinson rushed over 100 yards in three of the Longhorns’ last four games. He also added 4 touchdowns with 3 goals in the Kansas State Finals season.
Robinson, strong, fast and elusive, will be at the forefront of the Texas offense under Steve Sarkisian. If the new Longhorns head coach finds a way to utilize Robinson in the same way he did with Najee Harris in Alabama we could see the most devastating breakout of the 2021 college football season. Al gas. No brakes. Texas is back.
Josh Downs, WR, North Carolina
The nature of college football means that in most seasons a team will have to replace a significant production that is lost to NFL. This season, the North Carolina Tar Heels are no exception. Not only did they lose a couple of productive running backs, but also in Dazz Newsome and Dyami Brown, they have lost over 1,750 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns.
Luckily for Mack Brown’s team, they have an internal replacement in Josh Downs. Although he only had 3 receptions through the regular season of his freshman campaign against Texas A&M, the youngest passer demonstrated why he is ready to be one of the breakouts of the 2021. college football season. Downs caught 4 receptions in 91 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Orange Bowl defeat to the Aggies.
Look for Downs as the go-to guy for the quarterback Sam Howell this coming season.
Devon Achane, RB, Texas A&M
The Aggies team from 2021 is full of talent on both sides of the ball. Alone in the back room, they have several rushers who would be the number 1 guy in most offenses. Isaiah Player is one of those the best retrospective prospects in the 2022 draft NFL. Ainias Smith poses a double threat as a rusher and receiver. And yet, no matter how good the two are, Devon Achane may very well be the best in the room.
A dynamic rushing threat, 5’9 ″ ran back, is one of the fastest players in the country. After winning the Orange Bowl victory over North Carolina, Achane has spent the offseason setting personal records in the 100 and 200 meters as part of A & Ms track team. His 140 yards on 12 carries with 2 touchdowns against Tar Heels should be the springboard for a breakout college football season in 2021.
CJ Stroud, QB, Ohio State
Some of the best programs in the country will have to reset at the quarterback position this fall. All four teams that included the 2020 College Football Playoffs have lost their quarterback to the NFL. Although Clemson is DJ Uiagalelei is a popular breakout candidate for the college football season 2021, he feels like an obvious choice to have on this list. After all, we’ve seen him in action against Notre Dame and Boston College. We know what he can do.
At this point, we do not even know if CJ Stroud is the guaranteed starter for Ohio State. However, he is my favorite to win the starting job. In addition, he has the talent – and more importantly, the surrounding talent – to succeed this season. Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson give him one of the best receiving tandems in the nation. The Buckeyes also have impressive pieces to protect him on the offensive with Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere.
Kayshon Boutte, WR, LSU
Kayshon Boutte had to share goals with Terrace Marshall Jr. as a true novice last season. However, the first-year passers-by still managed to lead tigers in receiving yards. While the LSU quarterback position is still uncertain at this point, it is not that Boutte will be the best guy for the offense this season.
The 6’0 ″, 185-pound receiver put up 735 yards to an impressive 16.3 yards per carry. Catch last season. Most of this yardage came from a fascinating performance against Ole Miss. Boutte set the single-game SEC receiving record with 308 receiving yards showing his speed, strength and post-catch ability.
There’s every chance he’ll break 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns as one of college football’s breakout stars of the 2021 season.
Jaylen Hall, WR, Western Michigan
Although most of the breakout candidates for the 2021 college football season are young players who have not yet established themselves, age and experience do not exclude a player from going on the list. Western Michigan’s Jaylen Hall will be a red-haired senior next season, but he may be on the verge of producing the best football of his career.
Hall’s production has steadily increased during his three years with the Broncos. Despite securing just 12 receptions last season, he received 7 touchdowns for an offense that included second-round NFL draft picks Wayne Eskridge. While Eskridge was famous for his big-play ability, Hall actually led the nation in yards per game. Catch last season. With an expected increase in goals, Hall could be the next Western Michigan receiver on his way to the NFL.
Which defensive players are set to be breakouts in the 2021 college football season?
Adam Anderson, OLB, Georgia
Georgia’s pasrusher Adam Anderson has been a major player for the Bulldogs for the past three seasons. With more players going to the NFL, the senior outside linebacker must seize the opportunity with both hands to become one of the breakouts of the 2021 college football season. Anderson is explosive, athletic, and when he gets the chance to hit, he does so in a dominant way.
There is no doubt about his ability to get the job done. Anderson is predominantly used on third downturns and has been a huge pass-rush threat. He has collected 10 tackles for losses, 8 sacks and 1 forced fumbling in limited playing time. With a gigantic defensive tackle Jordan Davis returns to pull double team, Anderson must be able to eat this season. It would not be a surprise to see him resemble his career production in just one season.
Justin Flowe, ILB, Oregon
With Noah Sewell earning rave reviews for his performances in his true freshman season, it’s easy to forget who was the top recruiter in Oregon’s 2020 recruitment class. That would be Justin Flowe. The 6’2 ″, 225-pound five-star recruit was the No. 1 ranked linebacker in the country just a year ago. In addition, he is the second highest ranked recruits in the program history behind Kayvon Thibodeaux.
Unfortunately, Flowe only made a start for the Ducks last season after suffering a meniscus tear. His only contribution in his freshman season was a solo tackle against Stanford.
In high school, however, Flowe lived in the backyard of the opposition, collecting 30 tackles for losses, 14 sacks and 5 forced fumbles in his senior season alone. If he can return in full fit and replicate that form, Flowe should be one of the 2021 football season breakouts.
Clark Phillips III, CB, Utah
After landing an astonishing amount of transfer portal players, Utah could be one of the surprise packages in the Pac-12 this season. Nevertheless, one of the potential college football outbursts of 2021 is already on the Utes list.
Clark Phillips III was a surprising addition to Utah’s 2020 recruiting class by choosing Utes over Ohio State, USC and Alabama.
Phillips impressed in a disrupted beginner season and logged 2 tackles for losses, 2 deflections and one interception returned for a score. The Utah cornerback has the speed, fluency and ball skills to become one of the leading cornerbacks in the nation. If Utah’s recent acquisitions help the team compete in the Pac-12, Phillips will show off his skills on the national stage next season.
Daxton Hill, S, Michigan
Daxton Hill is a former five-star recruiter who combined his incredible high school career into an impressive rookie campaign for Michigan in 2019. Security No. 1 in the 2019 recruiting class was named Wolverines’ Defensive Rookie of the Year. However, his opportunity to build on that as a sophomore was traced by the entropy of last year’s college football season.
As a result, Hill is poised to be one of the breakouts of the college football season of 2021. Michigan safety has the ideal size, speed, and playability to be disruptive at the heart of Michigan’s secondary. Hill has an average of 3.5 deflections and 1 interception in each of his two seasons to date.
Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
Clemson has several defensive breakout candidates ahead of the 2021. college football season. Myles Murphy and Bryan Bresee were both able to establish themselves as household names by the end of the year. On the other hand, cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. can be one of best cornerbacks in the nation in its first full season starting.
Heading into this season, Booth has as many career moves as he starts. His feature film is a highlight roll with acrobatic tapping and deflections. Booth possesses the ball skills of a wide receiver while not being afraid to get involved in the driving game.
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Oliver Hodgkinson is an NFL Draft Analyst for the Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @ojhodgkinson.