College Football 2012: 15 Class of 2011 Players Who'll Avoid Sophomore Slumps

Edwin WeathersbyAnalyst IAugust 16, 2012

College Football 2012: 15 Class of 2011 Players Who'll Avoid Sophomore Slumps

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    The 2011 class of prospects was one of the most talented classes we've had in awhile. I really enjoyed covering this class, which was led by DE Jadeveon Clowney, among several other outstanding talents. The class went on to see a number of prospects make an impact as true freshmen, and some are already stars at their respective schools.

    The sophomore slump is dreaded by every second-year player in every sport, college football included. For some reason, it is tough to repeat and improve upon a solid first year. Duplicating and maintaining success is the foundation for greatness, and the following 15 sophomores from the Class of 2011 will look to do just that.

    Here are 15 players that will avoid sophomore slumps.

15. Blake Countess, CB, Michigan

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    Blake Countess is a 5'10", 180-pound DB for Michigan that saw action in 12 games last season. He made 44 tackles and broke up six passes, doing more than just getting his feet wet.

    Having attended national power Our Lady Good Counsel as a prep player, Countess is on track to earn a starting role for Greg Mattison's defense. Look for him to grow into a solid Big Ten CB this season.

14. Aundrey Walker, LT, USC

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    Aundrey Walker was viewed as a guard prospect in 2011, but USC has moved him to LT. In high school, he was north of 360 pounds in a 6'6" frame.

    However, Walker has lost a ton of body fat and is listed at just 300 pounds these days. He is set to be Matt Barkley's blindside protector and replace All-American LT and Top Five NFL draft pick Matt Kalil this year.

13. Kenny Hilliard, FB/RB, LSU

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    LSU is set to make another SEC and national-title run, and Kenny Hilliard should play a key role. He has grown to be 6' and over 230 pounds, becoming a versatile fullback-running-back combo player.

    Hilliard runs well behind his pads and excels in short-yardage and goal-line situations. With Zach Mettenberger being a better passer than last year's QB, Jordan Jefferson, LSU will have more goal-line scoring chances.

    Look for Hilliard to top his eight-TD freshman season this year.

12. Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Georgia

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    Malcolm Mitchell, I thought, was viewed as a CB prospect in 2011 recruiting, but Georgia couldn't resist his speed and potential as a WR.

    He became one of Aaron Murray's top targets last year, netting 45 receptions for over 660 yards and four TDs. Mitchell is 6'1", 192 pounds nowadays and looking to get his first 1,000-yard receiving season in his sophomore year in Athens.

11. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

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    Physical development is so crucial for these high-school prospects, and we tend to forget that. Teddy Bridgewater is a prime example of that, as he is 6'3", 218 pounds now after coming to L'ville at barely 185 pounds.

    He took over the huddle midseason, and this 2012 Cardinals team is his. Last year, he completed nearly 65 percent of his passes for 2,129 yards and 14 scores.

    Bridgewater is ready to take the next step in his development.

10. Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

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    Timmy Jernigan is a 6'2", 300-pound disruptive force in Tallahassee these days and has even made the Outland Trophy preseason watch list. Last year saw him get his name on the college-football map, and this year, he's back to take it over.

    Jernigan appeared in 13 games, registering 30 tackles, six TFLs and 2.5 sacks. The 'Noles are looking to make a run into the BCS, and Jernigan avoiding a sophomore slump would help that run come to fruition. 

9. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State

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    Braxton Miller was the top dual-threat QB in the country for 2011 and became the Buckeyes' starting QB four games into the season. He finished the year throwing for 1,159 yards, 13 TDs and four picks.

    With Urban Meyer now bringing his spread-option offense to Columbus, Miller should excel in this scheme. Look for the 6'2", 210-pounder to be firing on all cylinders of his game later this season, as he fully adjusts to the new scheme.

8. Nick O'Leary, TE, Florida State

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    Nick O'Leary should start at TE this year for FSU because he's basically the only seam player with any game action on the roster. At 6'3" and 240 pounds, he caught 12 balls for 164 yards and one TD in 2011.

    He is a tough bully on the field that doesn't back down from anybody. That mentality, plus the structure of the roster, should help his role in the offense expand this season for Florida State. 

7. Lamar Dawson, LB, USC

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    When you wear No. 55 as an LB at USC, you have to produce, and Lamar Dawson is set up to do just that.

    At 6'2", 235 pounds, he is the starting Mike 'backer for Lane Kiffin and looking to make Junction City, Ky. proud. Dawson totaled 25 tackles last season and will have to make some crucial plays for USC's defense to continue growing.

6. Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida

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    Marcus Roberson looked pretty good as a true freshman CB for the Gators, starting 10 games. Then came a neck injury versus South Carolina that was temporarily career-threatening.

    This year, the 6', 178-pounder is back and ready to go. He's set to see a ton of snaps this fall after finishing last season with 22 tackles and one interception. Look for Roberson to grab a starting job and become UF's best cover corner this year.

5. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU

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    With the "Honey Badger" out, Odell Beckham could be called upon to take on the punt-returner duties for LSU this season. He should be up for it after experiencing a true freshman season that saw him start nine games, catch 41 passes for 475 yards and score twice.

    That 6', 187-pounder will be a prime target for Zach Mettenberger, and his speed should give opposing defenses fits.

4. De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon

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    The Black Mamba may be small, but he packs a powerful bite if you ask defenses. De'Anthony Thomas, at just 5'9" and 176 pounds, is one of the most electric offensive players in the country.

    He appeared in all 14 games for the Ducks and rushed for 595 yards and seven TDs, averaging over 10 yards per carry. Thomas also chipped in 46 receptions for 605 yards and another nine TDs.

    Oh, then he was kind enough to total 983 yards and two more scores as a kick returner. With LaMichael James gone, look for Thomas to be an even more prominent weapon for Chip Kelly.

3. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

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    Sammy Watkins became a superstar for Clemson as a true freshman and returns as one of the best WRs in college football. He'll miss the first two games for an off-field arrest, but big things are still expected.

    The 6'1", 200-pounder has great speed, quickness, instincts and athleticism. His strength can be deceptive, and he is clearly Tajh Boyd's No. 1 target.

    He may not top his 82-reception, 1,219-yard, 12-TD performance as a true freshman, but Watkins will still have a great 2012 season. 

2. Marqise Lee, WR, USC

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    Coming into last year, many thought George Farmer was the incoming WR prospect that would have the success Marqise Lee enjoyed. However, now Farmer is fighting for the No. 3 WR spot at USC, while Lee is a Biletnikoff Award candidate.

    The 6', 195-pounder netted 73 catches for 1,143 yards and 11 TDs as a true freshman last year. He also returned 10 kicks for 285 yards and a TD.

    Lee has been working very hard this offseason and comes into 2012 hungrier than he was as a true freshman.

1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

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    The highest-rated 2011 prospect in the country turned out to be arguably the best freshman in the country last year. Jadeveon Clowney is set to really take off this season, with Melvin Ingram now rushing passers for the Chargers.

    Standing 6'6" and just about 260 pounds, Clowney had 32 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, six sacks, five forced fumbles and even broke up a pass in his first year in Columbia.

    I expect his tackle and sack stats to double as a sophomore, thus successfully avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump.

    Edwin Weathersby has worked in scouting/player personnel departments for three professional football teams, including the New York Giants, Cleveland Browns and the Las Vegas Gladiators of the Arena League. He spent a year evaluating prep prospects and writing specific recruiting and scouting content articles for Student Sports Football (now ESPN Rise-HS). A syndicated scout and writer, he's also contributed to, and Diamonds in the Rough Inc., a college football and NFL draft magazine.