College Football

Which redshirt freshmen can break out in the 2021 college football season?

The NCAA’s decision to grant an extra year of eligibility because of COVID-19 restrictions resulted in minimal redshirts for top-ranked college football prospects last season.

Immediate experience for these touted players, while not affecting their eligibility clock, was a no-brainer for most coaching staffs. However, injuries and stacked depth charts still led to several big names from the 2020 class watching from the sidelines.

Every year, some redshirt freshmen emerge to make an impact as soon as they see the field. Spencer Rattler was the headliner who redshirted in 2019 and broke out in the 2020 season. Here are six prospects from the Class of 2020 who may be able to do the same.

OLB Chris Braswell
Alabama Crimson Tide
2020 ESPN 300 rank:
7

Yes, Bama is loaded at linebacker with Will Anderson Jr., Christian Harris and the addition of Tennessee transfer Henry To’o To’o, but coming off spring practice, it appears the Crimson Tide would like to find a role for Braswell as a designated pass-rusher.

The former five-star prospect could possibly move into their “rabbits” package, where the defensive ends move to DT and their outside linebackers become pass-rushers. Think of this role being similar to how we were first introduced to Rashaan Evans or, more notably, Tim Williams.

Braswell has bulked up since high school and blends an explosive first step with great speed-to-power off the edge. He posted three sacks in the Tide’s spring game.

CB Kelee Ringo
Georgia Bulldogs
2020 ESPN 300 rank:
8

Despite the addition of Derion Kendrick through the transfer portal, Ringo is poised for a breakout year. The Bulldogs lost Eric Stokes (a first-round NFL draft pick this April) and Tyson Campbell (second round) on the perimeter, and Ringo, a former No. 1-ranked cornerback, along with Jalen Kimber, are the only two corners left from the 2020 recruiting class.

Ringo is returning from labrum surgery and could be the fastest player on Georgia’s roster outside of teammate Arian Smith. His contribution to the secondary has been long awaited, and his skill as a one-on-one cover man should leave Georgia in more than capable hands.

Safety Avantae Williams
Miami Hurricanes
2020 ESPN 300 rank:
51

Williams missed the 2020 season because of an unspecified medical condition but emerged as a driving force for the Hurricanes this spring. Despite the return of Bubba Bolden and Gurvan Hall Jr., Williams is a big hitter with strong instincts and maturity. He has added about 20 pounds of muscle since high school while retaining his sub-4.6 speed.

The former No. 1-ranked safety started the spring game in place of Bolden and recorded five tackles and two pass breakups. Williams has become a factor at the deepest position group on Miami’s defense, which speaks volumes about his talent.

RB MarShawn Lloyd
South Carolina Gamecocks
2020 ESPN 300 rank:
56

Lloyd was the No. 8-rated running back prospect coming out of high school with comparisons to Gamecocks great Marcus Lattimore given his three-down skill set. He has an explosive combination of speed and power, along with excellent ball skills out of the backfield.

Unfortunately, South Carolina fans didn’t get to see the verified 4.5 speed and 38-inch vertical jump in action last fall, as Lloyd tore an ACL on one of the first days of preseason camp, which opened the door for Kevin Harris to top 1,000 yards rushing.

Word out of Columbia is Lloyd is fully healed, which puts this former high school All-American on our top breakout list.

WR Troy Omeire
Texas Longhorns
2020 ESPN 300 rank:
180

Like Ringo at Georgia, much was expected of Omeire as a true freshman before he sustained an ACL tear in fall camp.

But Longhorns fans should feel pretty excited about Omeire’s presence, especially based on how Steve Sarkisian utilized H-back/WR Jahleel Billingsley last year with Alabama.

The former four-star wide receiver is a matchup nightmare — his 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame makes him look like a tight end, but he moves like a wide receiver. Plus, he can play both inside and outside. His makeup and versatility are reminiscent to that of first-round draft pick Kyle Pitts.

Omeire forces opponents to decide how they categorize him in various personnel groupings, and if he can even remotely flash as an in-line blocker, Texas will have even more of an advantage against nickel defenses.

TE Jalin Conyers
Arizona State Sun Devils
2020 ESPN ranking:
Four stars

The former No. 2 TE/H signed with Oklahoma but did not play in 2020 for the Sooners, instead opting to join Arizona State in January 2021. He did not waste time making his presence known in offensive coordinator Zac Hill’s offense.

In the Sun Devils’ spring game, he caught five total passes, including two touchdowns, from two different quarterbacks. With his 6-4 frame, much like Omeire at Texas, Conyers can create personnel matchup problems against opposing defenses.

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