Michigan State DE William Gholston is part of an elite class of pass-rushing freaks that will dominate college football in 2012.
The football players that acquire the “freak” label defy logic with their unique abilities on the gridiron.
Players of that caliber are game-changing talents that either redefine the normal prototypes for their respective positions or smash traditional athletic barriers altogether.
College football will head into the 2012 season having to replace its fair share of freaks—Trent Richardson, Robert Griffin III and Morris Claiborne, to name a few—who have moved on to the NFL.
However, a new batch of rare specimen are ready to emerge. Some molded such athleticism from various other sports or positions, while others prove it in the weight room. Still others are scary because they're primed to scrape their undeniable potential.
Here are college football’s 25 most freakish athletes ready to take the nation by storm this fall.
Williams is an unstoppable force on the Crimson Tide's defensive line.
The 6’4”, 320-pound Williams gets the honor of representing a Crimson Tide roster littered with potential candidates for this list.
The native of Brisbane, Australia, grew up playing rugby and basketball before finally taking up football at the age of 15.
This season, he will anchor the Tide’s defensive line by lining up at nose tackle, where his athleticism and size give Nick Saban’s defense a formidable run-stuffer in the middle of its 3-4 alignment
Gayle weighs 260 pounds but runs a sub-4.5 time in the 40-yard dash.
Gayle figures to burst onto the national scene this fall after posting solid numbers (51 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and 11 sacks) in his first two seasons in Blacksburg.
But what makes the 6’4”, 260-pounder special is his blinding speed off the edge—as evidenced by the ridiculous reported 4.45 time in the 40-yard dash.
Offensive tackles in the ACC will have their hands full trying to keep Gayle from wreaking havoc this fall.
Faulk is a mammoth left tackle (6’6”, 325 lbs) who overpowers defensive linemen as a run-blocker and is nimble enough to slide his feet in pass protection.
His agility stems from the experience of playing center on his high school basketball team, and that mobility has helped him transform into a dominant left tackle in a league filled with elite pass-rushers.
That freakish combo of size and athleticism has helped position the second-team All-SEC performer (recorded 73.5 knockdown blocks last season) as one of the top left tackles eligible for next year’s NFL draft.
Lawrence finished second in the SEC last season with 123 tackles.
Lawrence played four different positions during his freshman season in Starkville—quarterback, receiver, safety and linebacker.
Since then, Lawrence added some muscle and transformed into a 6’3”, 230-pound linebacker who recorded 123 tackles, six tackles for loss, two sacks and two interceptions in 2011.
But in adding weight, he did not sacrifice any of his speed or his ability to cover in space—which makes him one of the SEC’s versatile playmakers at linebacker.
Jeffcoat is one of the most feared pass-rushers in the Big 12.
Jeffcoat and fellow defensive end Alex Okafor form one of the best defensive end tandems in the nation, but the younger Jeffcoat is primed to finally harness the enormous potential he possessed as a former 5-star prep recruit.
The son of former NFL standout Jim Jeffcoat, the 6’4”, 250-pound junior racked up impressive numbers as a sophomore—63 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and a team-high eight sacks—in his first year under new Longhorns defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
Heading into 2012 as a projected first-round pick, Jeffcoat is a natural pass-rusher who has the agility and speed to play linebacker in a 3-4 scheme or as a traditional defensive end in a 4-3 alignment at the next level.
Jones is one of the few big LBs with enough speed to cover RBs and TEs.
The Seminoles defense is littered with athletic specimen (players like defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and corner Xavier Rhodes could have easily made this list), but the 6’4”, 240-pound Jones is ready to bust loose this fall.
The son of former Seminole and NFL defensive lineman Willie Jones, Sr., the younger Jones has the size of a middle linebacker with the agility of a safety—which helps him cover tight ends and running backs flaring out of the backfield.
Couple those skills with his ability to makes plays behind the line of scrimmage (nine tackles for loss and six career sacks), and Jones could play an enormous role in helping the ‘Noles end their ACC title drought in 2012.
Lee is one of the best WRs in the nation and a standout on USC's track and field team.
Lee was a standout defensive back in high school, in addition to starring in basketball and on the track team (he’s still a long jumper on the USC track team) on the prep level.
The 6’1”, 200-pounder was the 2011 Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Co-Player of the Year after hauling in 73 passes for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns.
He and former prep teammate Robert Woods give star quarterback Matt Barkley the nation’s best tandem of receivers to throw to.
Short is one of the nation's strongest DTs.
Short has produced on the field (142 tackles, 34 tackles for loss, 11 sacks and a pair of interceptions in his three years in West Lafayette), but he possesses some unique traits away from the gridiron.
The 6’3”, 310-pound Short was a former prep standout on the hardwood—but instead, he’s morphed into one of the nation’s best defensive tackles.
Add to the fact that he can squat over 600 pounds and bench press more than 400 pounds, and the picture becomes clearer as to why he will be a candidate to hear his name called early in next April’s NFL draft.
Eifert is the nation's best pass-catching TE and an instant mismatch wherever he lines up.
Brian Kelly said goodbye to freakish wide receiver Michael Floyd, but with the 6’5”, 251-pound Eifert electing to stay in South Bend for his senior season, his offense is guaranteed to have at least one mismatch wherever Eifert lines up this fall.
Kelly is experimenting with ways to flex Eifert out as a traditional wide receiver, which would cause nightmares for any defensive coordinator that has to game plan against the Irish this season.
Eifert (90 receptions, 1,155 yards and seven touchdowns over the last two seasons combined) is simply too fast to be covered by linebackers, and he’s too big for safeties and corners—which is part of what makes him one of the best athletes in college football this season.
Thomas is the most dynamic athlete playing QB on the college level in 2012.
Thomas was ranked as the nation’s top prep tight end in the class of 2009 after a high school career that saw him line up at quarterback, receiver and defensive back.
Three years later, the 6’6”, 262-pounder with a position record 315-pound power clean enters 2012 as one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks.
Given his enormous size and athletic ability, Thomas will undoubtedly pick up comparisons to former Auburn star and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton.
Less than a year after breaking his ankle, the 225-pound Davis ran a sub-4.4 in the 40-yard dash.
Davis, who missed the 2011 season after breaking his left ankle in the offseason, is somewhat of a medical marvel considering that he ran a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash one week before Arkansas began spring drills.
He posted a few more beastly numbers (squatting 570 pounds and benching 415 pounds) that seem to indicate that his injury concerns are a thing of the past.
The 6'0", 225-pound Davis sent a message that he is ready to get back to the form that saw him produce the best numbers for a running back in the SEC in 2010 (1,322 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns).
This picture is probably close to what opposing DBs are seeing when trying to slow down Watkins.
Just one year into his college career, Watkins has already established himself as a once-in-a-generation type of talent.
Watkins became the first true freshman in ACC history to be named a first-team All-American after a breathtaking debut season that helped the Tigers claim the ACC title for the first time in more than two decades.
Before arriving in Clemson, Watkins claimed the 200-meter dash (and finished second in the 100-meter) Florida state title as senior at South Fort Meyers high school, which is a testament to the 6’1”, 200-pounder’s ridiculous wheels.
His freakish status was cemented when ESPN NFL draft guru Todd McShay mentioned that Watkins would have a first-round grade were he eligible for the 2012 NFL draft.
Amerson is big and physical corner with the ball skills of a wideout.
The fact that Amerson is a ball-hawking corner who led the nation with 13 interceptions (five more than his closest competitor) last season is only part of the reason he is on this list.
What makes him special is that he plays with the nimbleness of a 5’9”, 180-pounder (with the hands of a receiver) while tipping the scales at 6’3”, 195 pounds.
His rare blend of cover skills and size are part of the newest trend of bigger corners, but his aerial acts of thievery set him apart from the nation’s best.
Collins' biggest asset is his versatility, which has helped him transform from a quarterback at the prep level into the most feared pass-rusher in Conference USA heading into the 2012 season.
In between, Collins played safety as a freshman and linebacker as a sophomore before finally settling into the defensive end position as a junior.
Regardless of where he has lined up in his college career, the 6’3”, 240-pounder has produced—and in the process, Collins possesses a package of skills unrivaled by any defender in the country.
Georgia coaches are in a tug of war on deciding which side of the ball Mitchell will line up on this season.
After a stellar debut season as a freshman All-SEC wide receiver, Georgia head coach Mark Richt decided to move Mitchell—who was rated the top corner in the country for the class of 2011—to the secondary to help them deal with personnel issues at that spot.
Moving a player with the potential to be one of the best pass-catchers in the SEC is a bold move, but the 6’1”, 184-pounder is capable of playing both ways this season if called upon.
The fact that the coaches feel good enough about Mitchell’s ability to contribute on both sides of the ball is proof of his extraordinary athletic ability. Note that the last Bulldogs player to attempt such a move was Champ Bailey.
Blessed with sprinter's speed, Thomas will be one of the nation's most explosive players in 2012.
The 5’9”, 175-pound former 5-star athlete was at one point recruited to play corner at USC, but instead opted to terrorize Pac-12 defenses as an all-purpose weapon in Oregon’s fast-paced offensive attack.
With former Ducks star running back LaMichael James off to the NFL, Thomas—who averaged nearly 16 yards every time he touched the ball last season—should get his hands on the ball more often this fall.
Unless you are a defensive coordinator in the Pac-12, grab some popcorn and enjoy the show.
Lotulelei is a freakish blend of power, athleticism and speed wrapped in a 325-pound package.
NFL scouts are already enamored with the 6’3”, 325-pound Lotulelei, who has been compared to Ravens defensive tackle and uber-freak Haloti Ngata.
That is a strong statement, but the former JUCO product warranted high praises after claiming the Morris Trophy for being the Pac-12’s best defensive lineman in 2011.
Some project Lotulelei as the top defensive lineman selected in next April’s NFL draft due to his ability to make plays despite being double- or triple-teamed.
Allen was recruited by several of the nation's top programs to play safety.
A former 5-star recruit as a safety, Allen has spent the last two seasons causing nightmares for defenses as an electric wide receiver with a combo of size and speed that simply overwhelms his opponents.
The 6’3”, 205-pounder enters his junior season with a highlight collection suitable for his NFL draft reel. While that moment could come following this season, he has at least another year to make defenses in the Pac-12 look silly.
Despite the Golden Bears' inconsistency at quarterback during his two seasons in Berkeley, Allen’s production (98 receptions, 1,343 yards and six touchdowns last season) resembles past freakish Bears stars Marshawn Lynch and DeSean Jackson.
Hankins' ability to chase ball-carriers at 335 pounds is what makes him a rare talent.
Hankins is a 6’3”, 335-pound defensive tackle who has the unique ability to make plays away from the line of scrimmage.
Even with John Simon—another freakish talent on the Buckeyes defensive line—flanking him, Hankins was the third leading tackler among Big Ten defensive linemen with 66 tackles last season.
It’s no surprise that NFL personnel are drooling over the junior’s potential. His ability to move in quick bursts to beat blockers at the point of attack is a big reason why he will be a coveted prospect whenever he moves on to the next level.
Ford may be the strongest pound-for-pound player in the country.
On a team filled with an elite junior class (players like defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, free safety Eric Reid and corner Tyrann Mathieu could have filled this spot), Ford may be the biggest star of the Tigers’ freak show this season.
LSU's leading rusher is a beast in the weight room considering that he’s recorded a bench press of 425 pounds, squatted 510 pounds and power cleaned 352 pounds. Oh, and he has a 42-inch vertical jump.
The 5’11”, 215-pound Ford is one the strongest pound-for-pound talents in the nation and one of the SEC’s best running backs entering the 2012 season.
Taylor has the size of a lineman but the agility of a skill player at 6'7", 260 pounds.
Taylor may have been the quietest monster on the Gamecocks defensive line last season, considering he lined up alongside Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney (more on him later) in 2011.
But in terms of athleticism, the former 215-pound freshman has transformed into a 6’7”, 267-pound cyborg with the leaping ability of an NBA small forward and the agility of a cover corner.
He’s produced enough (27 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks in his career), and he will likely be a candidate to produce eye-popping numbers at next year’s NFL scouting combine.
Seferian-Jenkins is one of the top TEs in the nation and a power forward on the Huskies basketball team.
In addition to being one of the top tight ends in the country, the 6’7”, 258-pound Seferian-Jenkins joined the Huskies basketball team in January and helped them win the league title (team went 13-4 after his arrival).
Seferian-Jenkins averaged 17 points and eight rebounds as a high school senior, but he was one of the nation’s top football recruits in the class of 2011. He validated that praise by nabbing freshman All-American honors after grabbing 41 receptions for 538 yards and six touchdowns.
Considering the history of tight ends with basketball backgrounds (Tony Gonzalez, Jimmy Graham and Antonio Gates, to name a few), Seferian-Jenkins is well on his way to adding his name to that club of unique dual-sport stars.
Gholston is an integral part of Michigan State's defense, which was statistically the best in the Big Ten a year ago.
If you were creating a defensive end from scratch, chances are that the final product wouldn’t differ much from the 6’7”, 280-pound man child currently residing in East Lansing.
A former 5-star recruit, Gholston was a dominating force who helped the Spartans finish sixth nationally in total defense last season.
His combination of athleticism, instincts and brute power make him the most feared pass-rusher in the Big Ten.
Hunt weighs nearly 290 pounds, but clocks under 4.7 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
You want measurables?
How about a 6’7”, 288-pound defensive end with absurd strength (35 bench press reps of 225 pounds), speed (4.7 seconds in 40-yard dash) and leaping ability (36-inch vertical jump)?
His vast potential is largely untapped considering his limited production thus far (just seven-and-a-half sacks over his three-year career, although he has blocked a ridiculous 14 kicks in his career), but he enters 2012 with the momentum of a career-best three-sack outing in SMU’s bowl victory over Pittsburgh.
The Estonia-born Hunt is still raw considering he’s only played football for a few years, but with his size and unrivaled skill set, chances are that the former aspiring track and field athlete has found a new career path.
Clowney is the biggest freak in college football for 2012.
Mike Farrell of Rivals.com called Clowney—the consensus top recruit in the class of 2011—the best high school prospect he’s ever seen, in part because of the 6’6”, 260-pounder has the speed and agility of a wide receiver.
Clowney is a rare specimen who possess the blend of power, strength, athleticism and speed in one dynamic package—which helped him produce an eye-popping 12 tackles for loss, eight sacks and five forced fumbles as a true freshman.
As impressive as those numbers may be, quarterbacks in the SEC should shudder at the thought that he’s only scratched the surface of his enormous potential.
In a year filled with elite pass-rushers, Clowney has a chance to be college football’s most destructive force this fall.