Predicting college football’s top 15 breakout stars for the 2017 season

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Potential 2017 College Football breakout stars

Potential 2017 College Football breakout stars

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Face it: college football lost a ton of star power from the 2016 season. Deshaun Watson? Leonard Fournette? Christian McCaffrey? Myles Garrett? All of them, and more, are gone.

But when college football loses its stars, it tends to gain more. Here are the 15 players primed for a breakout effort in 2017.

Some of these names are already recognizable from recruiting hype. Some aren’t because they redshirted or played a limited role last year. Some played last season, but take on a bigger role this year. Hopefully by season’s end, they’ll be household names or close to it. What they all have in common is they are in a position as a starter or heavy contributor to take a big leap forward.

The primary takeaway is to get familiar with newer faces and/or lesser known names. Like every list, it’s incomplete. If there’s a player you feel is primed for a breakout season, feel free to share in the comments.

RB Cam Akers, Florida State: This is probably a copout pick seeing as I predicted, boldly, that Akers could win the Heisman as a freshman. Still, Akers was the No. 1 running back recruit for 2017, per 247Sports. He, along with Jacques Patrick, will fill the shoes left by Dalvin Cook. Akers has the skill for a big year, but he also plays in an offense where he’ll be featured right away and on a team that should win a lot of games. Recruiting folks and college football die-hards know about Akers now; the entire college football world should know him soon.

OL Ben Bredeson, Michigan: Great name, obviously. Bredeson had an excellent freshman season at left guard with eight starts and an All-Big Ten honorable mention. It’s rare for a freshman to come in right away and make an impact in the trenches like that. With the Wolverines replacing well, pretty much everyone, Bredeson suddenly becomes one of the guys the offense must lean on for success.

WR Devin Duvernay, Texas: Collin Johnson would have been an acceptable choice here, too. But Duvernay, a sophomore, gets the nod here as a speedster and an absolutely ridiculous athlete. Duvernay was the Longhorns’ second-leading receiver last season with 412 yards and three scores. Once a Baylor commit, Duvernay was a big-play guy at 20 yards per catch. He can also contribute in the return game as well. He had a solid first effort, but with more rapport with quarterback Shane Buechele, Duvernay is primed to have a huge role in an offense that features a lot of raw skill at wideout.

RB Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma: The Sooners have a major gap to fill in the backfield with the departures of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. Anderson was a touted recruit out of Katy, Texas, just outside of Houston, in 2015; however, he has missed most or all of the past two seasons with injuries. The Sooners’ coaching staff has been high on him, though, and now that he’s healthy, he should be a feature back for the preseason Big 12 title favorites.

DB Byron Murphy, Washington: The Huskies have an absurd front seven, but the secondary has some new faces looking to make a name for themselves. Keep an eye on Murphy. A 4-star recruit in 2016, he was a scout team MVP in his redshirt year and a spring football name to know. That buzz has carried over into preseason camp.

DL Derrick Brown, Auburn: The announcement that Jarrett Stidham should be Auburn’s starting quarterback was a boost for the Tigers’ SEC West title hopes. But the Tigers need to replace some studs along a defensive line that lost Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson. Brown can be one of those next great D-line players. He appeared in all 13 games for the Tigers as a freshman and recorded 12 tackles and a pair of sacks.

OL Colton McKivitz, West Virginia: The Mountaineers have a legit quarterback in Will Grier. Now, they have to protect him. McKivitz started 10 games last season as a redshirt freshman, but was thrust into that role because of an injury. His role should be even bigger this time around. The Mountaineers have some more veteran players at guard, so the tackle positions will be ones to watch. Also, West Virginia doesn’t have great O-line depth. That starting five, including McKivitz, needs to have a big year.

DB Chauncey Gardner, Florida: The Gators have been blessed with riches at defensive back. Gardner had three interceptions and three pass break-ups as a freshman. With Teez Tabor gone, Gardner can slide in to a prominent corner role alongside Duke Dawson and the Gators will once again have one of the better secondaries in college football. However, Gardner is versatile enough to play safety and give Florida a ton of options.

WR D.K. Metcalf, Ole Miss: Truth is, you could pick one of two or three wideouts from Ole Miss here and not be wrong. The Rebels have a lot of size, talent and potential at this position. Metcalf’s true freshman campaign was cut short by injury, but he showed a ton of upside in the short time he was on the field; seriously, you can’t do much better than two touchdowns on two catches. At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, Metcalf should be a red zone force for quarterback Shea Patterson.

LB Zach McCloud, Miami (FL): /extremely Chris Traeger voice I am literally more excited about Miami’s defensive front seven than I am about any other unit on any other team in college football. It has depth, talent and its best days are still ahead of it. "Inside the U" noted that McCloud was one of the most improved players in the offseason after finishing with 37 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss as a freshman. The Hurricanes have a trio of great sophomore linebackers who made an impact last year. Of those three, McCloud could be in for the biggest jump in Year 2.

TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe, USC: The Florida transfer caught 17 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns last season, so he’s not a complete unknown. However, the Trojans may need some help at pass-catcher beyond receiver Deontay Burnett. Imatorbhebhe should be a reliable option if he is able to stay healthy; he currently has a hip injury that’s limiting him in preseason camp.

DB Jordan Fuller, Ohio State: This time last season, Malik Hooker was a relative unknown for the Buckeyes. He would go on to be a first-team All-Big Ten and All-American selection, and was drafted in the first round into the NFL. Can Fuller, currently entrenched in a battle with Erick Smith, have a breakout campaign of his own? The Buckeyes have recruited so well that they are truly one of the few programs capable of reloading without much of a drop-off, and they’ve been especially prolific getting defensive stars. Fuller made an impact as a freshman on special teams. He should be a major contributor in the secondary on a team with national title hopes.

DL Jaelan Phillips, UCLA: He was the No. 1 overall recruit in 2017, per 247Sports, and word out of preseason camp is that Phillips is already showing off his freakish athleticism. "He’s going to be special," Bruins offensive lineman Kenny Lacy told reporters, via the Los Angeles Daily News. "I’m looking for him to make some plays for us in the first game." Phillips could be the next great edge rusher to make an impact right away.

WR Amari Rodgers, Clemson: The reigning national champs have a lot to replace, but there’s no shortage of capable guys to step up. One of those newcomers is Rodgers. Fellow wideout Tee Higgins was the 5-star prospect, but Rodgers is a blue-chipper himself and has been turning heads in preseason camp. Chances are, Rodgers and Higgins make an impact right away, but the way Clemson coaches talk about where Rodgers is mentally transitioning to the college game is encouraging.

DL Daelin Hayes, Notre Dame: A sophomore, Hayes was a spring game star for the Irish. Notre Dame had one of the worst pass rushing units last season with just 14 sacks, and a lack of domination in the trenches was a big reason for the 4-8 record. There’s a lot to prove for this defensive front, meaning Hayes has an opportunity to steal the spotlight this fall as a disruptive edge rusher.

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