The 25 Most Explosive College Football Athletes in 2012

Sean MerrimanCorrespondent IMay 9, 2012

The 25 Most Explosive College Football Athletes in 2012

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    What do LaMichael James, Chris Rainey and Robert Griffin III all have in common?

    Well yes, they were all selected in this year's NFL Draft, but they were also among the most explosive players in college football this past season.

    With those guys off to bigger things in the NFL, who is there to take over the new role of being the most explosive playmakers in 2012?

    No worries, we have a big list of them right here.

    Let's go ahead and break down the 25 most explosive college football athletes in 2012.

    Bleacher Report Style!

25. Marqise Lee

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    Is that Superman flying throughout the air in this photo?

    No, that's USC wide receiver Marqise Lee, who is one of the closest things college football will have to Superman in 2012.

    Lee is a phenomenal athlete, who has a knack for making big-time plays in USC's potent offensive attack. As a freshman this past year, Lee hauled in 73 catches for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns. Yes, that's right, as a freshman!

    It's up for debate which is more scary- the fact that Lee still has room to get better, or the fact that he's not even the top receiving option on USC's team in 2012.

    This kid can flat-out make plays.

24. Ray-Ray Armstrong

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    When you stand at 6'4", 215 pounds, you really aren't supposed to be able to run a 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds.

    But Miami's Ray-Ray Armstrong is an exception to that.

    When you think of the word "explosive", speed and power come to mind, and Armstrong has plenty of both.

    Armstrong had a monster sophomore season at Miami and followed that with an up-and-down junior campaign. But non-the-less, this kid has all the tools needed to be an elite level defensive back in 2012 and he is among the most athletic players in the country, without a question.

    Look for big things from this playmaking defensive back in 2012.

23. Odell Beckham Jr.

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    With former LSU wideout Rueben Randle leaving early for the NFL, look for Odell Beckham Jr. to make a huge splash in his sophomore season.

    Beckham Jr. came in as an under-the-radar prospect last year and wowed coaches with his athletic ability right off the bat. He worked his way up the depth chart and became the Tigers' second best receiver midway throughout the season, hauling in 41 catches for 475 yards as a freshman.

    Beckham Jr. has great speed and exceptional leaping skills, which he displayed on several occasions last season.

    When you talk about breakout athletes in 2012, don't forget to include this kid on that list.

22. Onterio McCalebb

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    When talking about the fastest running backs in college football, Auburn's Onterio McCalebb is right there near the top of that list.

    This speedster is explosive with the football and near impossible to tackle once he gets in space. Standing at only 5'10", 170 pounds, McCalebb isn't built as an every-down back, but with the departure of Michael Dyer, he might take on that role for the Tigers in 2012.

    To prove how explosive McCalebb is, take a look at his stat line and highlight videos. This kid averaged less than 10 carries-per-game in 2011, but yet there wasn't a single game he played in where he didn't have a rush of 10-yards-or-more.

    That right there defines the term "explosive athlete."

21. Brodrick Brown

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    Don't be surprised if Brodrick Brown is in the conversation for "best defensive back in the country" in 2012.

    This kid is an athletic freak with lightning speed and big-play ability. He only stands at 5'8" on a good day, but when you can run a 4.34 40-yard dash time, height doesn't matter all that much.

    Brown was a second-team All-American (Sports Illustrated) and first-team All-Big 12 player last season for Oklahoma State. He had five picks last season and could very-well top that number in 2012.

    This kid is as good as it gets.

20. Kenjon Barner

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    Kenjon Barner is one of the best running backs in college football, but you wouldn't know it because he has been playing behind LaMichael James all these years.

    Well now that James bolted for the NFL, Barner should take over the starting role at Oregon, and fans should expect big things from this explosive playmaker.

    Barner rushed for 939 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011, while serving as a backup to James. With his speed and power, this kid has the chance to make a big play every time he touches the ball. He had runs of 68 and 84 yards last year, and a 54-yard catch that resulted in a TD against Wisconsin in the 45-38 win in the 2012 Rose Bowl.

    When it comes to the top athletes in college football, this guy is near the top of that list.

19. Quincy McDuffie

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    Quincy McDuffie is one of the best kept secrets in all of college football.

    This is a kid who is coming off an injury, but when healthy, he has blazing speed and the ability to break away from anyone and everyone who gets in his way.

    McDuffie ran a sub 4.4 40-yard dash time last season, which makes him one of the fastest players in all of college football. But this kid is not only a very good runner and receiver, but also one of the top return men in football.

    When you can run, catch and return kicks, I think that deserves the right to be called an "explosive athlete."

18. John White

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    How much do you want to bet me that No. 10 for USC missed this tackle?

    Well, he wouldn't be alone, because that's what Utah's John White did for a living last season.

    He simply made defenders miss.

    White is a speedy back, who has major big-play ability, despite only standing at 5'8", 186 pounds. He rushed for more than 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns this past season, which was among the best in all of college football.

    Utah may not be among the elite teams in the Pac-12 this season, but White will certainly be among the elite backs in the country.

    And the best athletes.

17. Greg Reid

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    This picture right here should tell the story as to why Greg Reid is on this list.

    Reid is a freakish athlete who has been putting moves like this on his opponents since the second he first put on a Florida State football uniform. In fact, during his freshman season, Reid led the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision in punt returns with an 18.4 yard average, piling up 387 yards on 21 returns.

    In addition to being a sensational return man, Reid is also an elite cornerback as well. He has blazing fast speed and the athletic ability to make your mouth drop in awe.

    This list simply wouldn't be complete without Reid somewhere on it.

16. Montee Ball

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    This photo should say it all right here.

    Wisconsin's Montee Ball is the top returning running back in the country, being a Heisman finalist while rushing for more than 1,900 yards and an eye-popping 33 touchdowns in 2011.

    Ball has a unique combination of elite speed and power, which are the two main factors that truly define an "explosive athlete."

    The Big Ten should be a true gauntlet again this year with regulars Wisconsin and Michigan State battling it out again, as well as the emergence of Michigan. But with Montee Ball, the Badgers always have a chance.

15. Marquess Wilson

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    Washington State isn't exactly known as a powerhouse college football program, but people are beginning to notice that despite their lack of wins, they do have a true star on that roster.

    Junior wide receiver Marquess Wilson is big, fast, and loves to make huge plays out on the gridiron.

    In his 2011 sophomore campaign, Wilson hauled in 82 catches for 1,388 yards and 12 touchdowns.

    So what makes him an explosive athlete?

    Well, outside of the fact that he runs a 4.4 40-yard dash and can leap over defensive backs to catch the ball, he averaged just under 17 yards-per-catch last season, which just goes to show what a true home run threat this guy is.

    Marquess Wilson is a name that college football fans will be hearing a lot of next season.

14. Marcus Lattimore

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    South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore would probably have been in the top-five on this list had it not been for a season-ending leg injury last year.

    But, assuming Lattimore comes back from his injury and returns to his old self, this guy is as good as they come.

    Lattimore rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and 17 touchdowns as just a freshman. He showed the college football world what an athletic freak he was, using his power and speed to bounce off defenders and find the end zone.

    If Lattimore is able to return to full strength, college football fans should be in for a true treat next season.

13. Andre Debose

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    The Florida Gators have been down the past couple of years, ever since the departure of Tim Tebow. But make no mistake about it, the excitement hasn't gone away in Gainesville.

    One reason for that is the play of Andre Debose.

    Debose is as fast as they come in college football, running a 4.3 40-yard dash. Once he gets the ball in space, forget it, no one is going to catch this guy.

    To prove how explosive Debose really is, take a look at his stats from last season. This speedster hauled in just 16 receptions, but still managed to lead the Gators in receiving yards, averaging a total of 27 yards-per-catch.

    If Florida wants to get back to their winning ways, they better make it a point to get the ball in Debose's hands more in the 2012 season.

12. Keenan Allen

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    Wide Receivers who stand at 6'3", 205 pounds really aren't supposed to be able to run a 4.4 40-yard dash.

    Unless, of course, your name is Larry Fitzgerald, Julio Jones or Calvin Johnson.

    Well, add another soon-to-be NFL wide receiver to that list-- Cal's Keenan Allen.

    This kid has blazing speed as well as exceptional height and big-play ability. He caught 98 passes last season for 1,343 yards as just a sophomore.

    In other words, expect huge things from this explosive athlete not only next college football season, but in the NFL as well.

11. Giovani Bernard

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    Giovani Bernard is a guy who not many people knew about heading into 2011, but he hit the college football scene hard in his freshman season.

    Bernard came out of nowhere to lead the Tar Heels in rushing with 1,253 yards and 13 touchdowns. He topped the 100-yard rushing mark on seven separate occasions last year, including a 202 yard, two touchdown outburst against Georgia Tech in the fourth game of the 2011 season.

    This kid has blazing speed and is an exceptional receiver out of the backfield as well.

    Look for Bernard to top those outstanding numbers in 2012 and keep moving his way up this list of explosive college football athletes.

10. Da'Rick Rogers

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    Was there a more underrated receiver in all of college football last season than Tennessee's Da'Rick Rogers.

    This guy's name is almost as awesome as athletic ability out on the football field.

    Rogers is a big-play receiver who can stretch the field with his size (6'3") and speed. He can go up and make just about any catch, which became obvious last season when he hauled in 67 passes for over 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns. Keep in mind that he did that with a backup quarterback playing the majority of the time.

    With a healthy Tyler Bray in 2012, this could be one of the best quarterback-wide receiver combos in all of college football.

9. Andre Ellington

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    Clemson has a history of producing those electric running backs, but Andre Ellington could very-well be the best, and most athletic, of any of them

    Ellington had a breakout year in 2011, rushing for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns. But this guy's speed and big-play ability is what makes him a true joy to watch.

    In Clemson's 14 games last season, there were only two where Ellington didn't have a rush of 15-or-more yards. In fact, he had six games where he had runs of 25-or-more yards and four runs of 55-or-more yards.

    This kid is a home run threat every time he touches the ball.

8. Joseph Randle

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    Joseph Randle rushed for more than 1,200 yards and an eye-popping 24 touchdowns while playing alongside Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon last season.

    Now, can you imagine what type of numbers this freakishly athletic running back is going to put up with both of them off to the NFL?

    Well, keep in mind that this kid also caught 43 passes this season, which makes him one of the most versatile players in the nation. He has 4.4 speed and good size as well, standing at 6'1", 191 pounds.

    In a 2012 college football highlight package, don't be surprised to see Joseph Randle featured in it plenty of times.

7. Kenny Stills

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    Kenny Stills is going to hit the scene in a big way this year, mark my word.

    Well, I guess that's if you call 61 catches for 849 yards and eight touchdowns in 2011 not breaking out.

    Stills is as athletic as they come, with great hands, great leaping ability and blazing fast speed. His variety of moves that he is able to put on defenders in the open field is simply incredible to watch from a fan's perspective.

    In fact, don't be surprised to see Landry Jones and Kenny Stills form the best 1-2 quarterback-wide receiver combination in the country next season.

    He is that good.

6. Sammy Watkins

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    Was there a more enjoyable player to watch during last year's college football season than Sammy Watkins?

    I'm going to go with no, but that's up for debate.

    Watkins took college football by storm last season, putting together one of the most impressive freshman seasons of all time. This Clemson receiver hauled in 82 catches for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns, and yes, he was just a freshman.

    Watkins is beyond explosive when he catches the ball, using his speed to blow by defenders or his nifty open field moves to maneuver around them. He reminds me of a younger Julio Jones, but even more explosive, if that's possible.

5. Tavon Austin

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    There's fast....

    And then there's Tavon Austin.

    This kid is beyond enjoyable to watch out on the football field. He has been clocked at running the 40 yard-dash in 4.3 seconds and he utilizes that lightning fast speed whenever the ball is in his hands.

    Austin was Geno Smith's go-to target last season, hauling in more than 100 catches for 1,186 yards and eight touchdowns.

    So what makes this guy so explosive other than the fact that he's arguably the fastest player in college football?

    How about the fact that he had eight catches of 30-or-more yards last season, including an 11-catch, 187 yard outing against the best secondary in college football.

    This kid can flat out fly.

4. Robert Woods

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    If you were looking at this photo and asking yourself, "Did Robert Woods catch that ball?" I can almost assure you that the answer to that question is "yes," because Robert Woods literally catches just about anything thrown his way.

    Woods was good in his freshman year, but he was sensational during his 2011 sophomore campaign.

    This former five-star recruit makes everything look easy out on the football field. He caught more than 100 passes for 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns this past season.

    When Woods catches the ball he has another gear that makes him near impossible to stop.

    This kid is the best receiver in college football.

3. Denard Robinson

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    He may not be the best passer in college football, but have we ever seen a quarterback this athletically gifted?

    Denard Robinson is not only the fastest quarterback in the nation, but one of the fastest players, regardless of position. He has the ability to make players miss with his nifty moves, and if he gets by that first line of defense, well, forget about it.

    If Robinson could perfect his passing skills, the sky would be the limit for this kid.

    But when it comes to the most explosive athletes in college football, you simply can't finish that thought without including Denard Robinson in the mix.

2. De'Anthony Thomas

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    When you watch Oregon play and the ball is in De'Anthony Thomas' hands, don't blink, because chances are you will miss him.

    This guy is that fast.

    Thomas exploded on the scene last season, despite being part of a crowded Oregon backfield. He rushed for 595 yards and seven touchdowns during his 2011 freshman campaign.

    You don't think those numbers are too impressive?

    Well, how about the fact that those 595 yards came on just 55 carries, which means that this kid averaged 10.8 yards-per-carry last year. That included a 91 yard touchdown run to help the Ducks secure a 45-38 victory over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.

    College football fans have to be excited to see this guy take the field in 2012.

1. Tyrann Mathieu

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    He was the most electric college football player in the nation last season, so what would make us believe that it wouldn't be that way again in 2012.

    LSU's Tyrann Mathieu is simply as explosive as they come. He is an elite cornerback and return man, with the ability to make big plays whenever he is near the football.

    Mathieu fearless style out on the football earned him the popular nickname "They Honey Badger" this past season. On defense, he not only led the Tigers in tackles this past season, but he also set a school record for fumble recoveries. He ranked No. 1 nationally in fumble recoveries and is second nationally in punt return average at 16.2 a return this past season.

    Mathieu's electric playmaking ability made him a Heisman finalist last season and he should be an early season favorite to win the award in 2012.

    There is fast.

    There is explosive.

    And then there is Tyrann Mathieu....