B/R College Football's 2017 All-Spring Practice Team

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMay 2, 2017

B/R College Football's 2017 All-Spring Practice Team

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    Spring practice always brings breakout performers, and the 2017 offseason has featured dozens of them, both familiar and new. Our challenge was finding the best of the bunch.

    Five members of Bleacher Report's college football staff—Matt Hayes, David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Brad Shepard and Greg Wallace—nominated players for the all-spring team.

    At each position, first-place votes received the most points. Total points varied because the system included two quarterbacks, three linebackers, five offensive lineman, etc.

    Being featured on the all-spring team is not indicative of future success, but it's a reward for a quality start to the offseason.

Quarterback: Jarrett Stidham, Auburn

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    Todd J. Van Emst/Associated Press

    Class: Redshirt sophomore

    Measurables: 6'3", 214 lbs

    Spring highlights: While returning starter Sean White watched the spring from the sideline, Jarrett Stidham stepped into the spotlight. After an impressive spring capped by a 16-of-20 scrimmage, the Baylor transfer might not relinquish it, either.

    White understands the challenge Stidham has presented.

    "He probably has a little bit of an edge, I have to admit, because he's been through spring and scrimmaging and got more reps than me," White said, per Brandon Marcello of 247Sports.

    2017 expectations: Stidham should be the starter this season, though his presence alone isn't enough to give Auburn balance. That burden partially falls on development at receiver. Regardless, Stidham looks comfortable throwing to all areas of the field, so the Tigers will have a renewed focus on a complementary passing game.

Running Back: Cam Akers, Florida State

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    Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

    Class: Freshman

    Measurables: 5'11", 213 lbs

    Spring highlights: Cam Akers fumbled once in the spring game. And that was basically the only negative with the standout true freshman, who tallied 87 yards during the exhibition.

    "I feel like his production will be better than his talent and that's a good attribute to have," said quarterback Deondre Francois, according to Curt Weiler of the Orlando Sentinel. "I can't wait to see what the future holds for him."

    2017 expectations: Jacques Patrick served as the top backup to Dalvin Cook in both 2015 and 2016, but the junior running back might end up holding the same role this season. If Akers doesn't emerge from fall camp as the starter, he will receive regular snaps and/or eventually bump Patrick from No. 1 on the depth chart.

Running Back: Tavien Feaster, Clemson

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Class: Sophomore

    Measurables5'11", 210 lbs

    Spring highlights: Clemson has a three-man battle to replace All-ACC runner Wayne Gallman, and Tavien Feaster appears ready to earn a portion of the available snaps. 

    "I thought Tavien really, really came on (this spring), running backs coach Tony Elliott said, according to Dan Hope of the Anderson Independent Mail. "Started to see just a totally different demeanor, pad level was down."

    2017 expectations: In addition to sharing the backfield with C.J. Fuller and Adam Choice, Feaster may also contribute on special teams. During the spring game, he returned four kickoffs for 102 yards. Feaster won't occupy a featured spot, but he'll likely contribute in multiple ways for the reigning national champions.

Wide Receiver: Jerry Jeudy, Alabama

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    Michael Chang/Getty Images

    Class: Freshman

    Measurables: 6'1", 184 lbs

    Spring highlights: Most of the fallout from Alabama's spring game focused on Tua Tagovailoa's sterling debut, but Jerry Jeudy put together an impressive scrimmage, too. He caught five passes for 134 yards and earned A-Day MVP honors.

    "He's improved well," head coach Nick Saban said, per Marq Burnett of SEC Country. "He had a good day today. We obviously need some young guys to come through for us at receiver. It's not a position where we have a lot of depth."

    2017 expectations: Saban mentioned Alabama's lack of depth at receiver. Behind Calvin Ridley, the Crimson Tide have highly recruited talents who are still looking to make their first significant impressions in the fall. Jeudy will have every opportunity to earn a weekly role—which he should doand potentially a starting spot.

Wide Receiver: Dez Fitzpatrick, Louisville

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    Class: Redshirt freshman

    Measurables: 6'2", 200 lbs

    Spring highlights: Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson had another impressive spring game, and Dez Fitzpatrick was the primary beneficiary. The wideout snared nine passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns, highlighted by an 80-yard score.

    That wasn't the first time Fitzpatrick demanded attention in the spring. In early April, Steve Jones of the Courier-Journal noted head coach Bobby Petrino said the freshman had a great week of practice while showing off his ability to run after the catch.

    2017 expectations: The immediate reaction to a 176-yard performance is Fitzpatrick will be Louisville's No. 1 receiver. But let's not forget Jaylen Smith, who posted 27 catches for 599 yards and six touchdowns in 2016. Fitzpatrick should help the Cardinals overcome the loss of James Quick and Jamari Staples.

Tight End: Ian Thomas, Indiana

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    Class: Senior

    Measurables: 6'5", 250 lbs

    Spring highlights: Ian Thomas sure looks like he's ready to capitalize on his final opportunity in college.

    To decide the rosters for the spring game, Indiana used a fantasy draft format. However, both teams had an opportunity to "sign" one offensive and defensive player prior to the scrimmage. Defensive coordinator Mark Hagen picked Thomas.

    And the tight end rewarded that faith, catching a 23-yard touchdown during the exhibition. Thomas also was named the Most Improved Player on offense and received a Fly Wheel Award for his contributions on special teams, per the school.

    2017 expectations: One of the great spring proclamations is how the offense plans to use the tight end more often. Will the Hoosiers follow through? Their leading receiver at the position last year managed seven catches. New coordinator Mike DeBord found a pair of tight ends 21 times each at Tennessee in 2016, so Thomas has the opportunity to gain a meaningful role.

Offensive Line: Luke Campbell, Michigan State

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Class: Redshirt freshman

    Measurables: 6'5", 300-plus lbs (listed at 297)

    Spring highlights: Kodi Kieler's departure created a void at right tackle, but Michigan State didn't have an obvious replacement.

    Until now.

    "Luke Campbell has solidified himself at the right offensive tackle," head coach Mark Dantonio said, according to Chris Solari of the Detroit Free Press. "He's gotten bigger, he's over 300 pounds now. He's a good athlete, he can run, he's tough."

    2017 expectations: The Spartans are looking to bounce back from a dismal 3-9 campaign, so the proverbial leash may be short for everyone. Nobody truly knows how the first-time starters will respond. Campbell should begin the 2017 season at right tackle, but that's the only realistic expectation for now.

Offensive Line: Trey Smith, Tennessee

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    Trey Smith
    Trey SmithCredit: Scout

    Class: Freshman

    Measurables: 6'6", 313 lbs

    Spring highlights: There might not be a player in the country who received more praise during the spring than Trey Smith, who enrolled early and stood out on the practice fields.

    "Trey Smith is very impressive," defensive end Jonathan Kongbo said, per Wes Rucker of 247Sports. "He came in here and just put his head down and kept working. I've got a lot of respect for him. Every day we push each other to get better. There's times he gets me, there's times I get him."

    2017 expectations: No Tennessee lineman is a "must-start" player, so Smith can push for a No. 1 role. Depending on the coaching staff's flexibility, Smith could shift inside. We don't know where Smith will line up in 2017, but he'll at worst be a rotational piece.

Offensive Line: Connor McGovern, Penn State

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    Class: Sophomore

    Measurables: 6'5", 310 lbs

    Spring highlights: After working into the starting lineup at guard as a freshman, Connor McGovern has shifted to center. The position switch comes with increased responsibility, since he's charged with calling out what the defense is showing. So far, so good.

    "It's not naturally him, but he's more vocal than he was last year," fellow O-line starter Ryan Bates said, according to John McGonigal of the Centre Daily Times. "He's considered one of the older guys now. He's got to be more vocal."

    2017 expectations: Penn State boasts a terrific QB-RB tandem with Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley, so there is considerable pressure on the offensive line to excel. That must begin with better run blocking, where McGovern was inconsistent last year. Still, he should remain the starter throughout the season, barring injury.

Offensive Line: Connor Williams, Texas

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    Tim Warner/Getty Images

    Class: Junior

    Measurables: 6'6", 320 lbs

    Spring highlights: For two seasons, Connor Williams quietly excelled at Texas while earning freshman All-America and then second-team AP All-America honors. He's starting to be heard.

    "It's awesome having a guy like that in our room," fellow lineman Jake McMillon said, per Steve Helwick of the Daily Texan. "He's talented, incredibly talented, and he pushes us every day with everything he brings to the table. Lately, he's stepping in and taking more of a vocal role. He's working really hard as well and leading by example as well."

    2017 expectations: Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, in his way-too-early 2018 mock draft, pegged Williams as the No. 4 overall pick. That will be a popular sentiment leading up to the season, and it should perfectly describe the expectations for Williams in 2017.

Offensive Line: Orlando Brown, Oklahoma

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    Class: Redshirt junior

    Measurables: 6'8", 360 lbs

    Spring highlights: Oklahoma's running backs simply cannot be expected to match the efficiency Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon combined to create. But thanks to a cornerstone in Orlando Brown, the Sooners can still be confident in their strength up front.

    "The offensive line's going to create some good holes," head coach Bob Stoops said, per Jenni Carlson of the Oklahoman, adding "[t]hat experience up front, I believe, is a big boost as well."

    2017 expectations: Similar to his counterpart Connor Williams at rival Texas, Brown has already garnered first-round attention. Matt Miller listed Brown as the No. 14 overall pick. He excelled in pass protection last season, and the Sooners will need more of the same from Brown in 2017 while the offense reloads on the outside.

Defensive End: Rashan Gary, Michigan

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Class: Sophomore

    Measurables: 6'5", 287 lbs

    Spring highlights: "Effusive" comes to mind about the type of praise Rashan Gary garnered during his first spring at Michigan. Coaches could hardly contain themselves.

    "You watch him, every drill he goes through, it's important," Jim Harbaugh said, per Angelique S. Chengelis of the Detroit News.

    "He's out here early, he stays late. He's trying to lift others around him. He's got the highest football character you can have. He's serious about being great, knows it's not enough to just be good. It would be a sin to just be good when you were sent to be great like he is."

    2017 expectations: After spending 2016 as a spark plug on a defensive line that included three 2017 NFL draft picks, Gary will now be the featured player. Alongside a dominant tackle in Maurice Hurst and a potential breakout star in Chase Winovich, Gary should help the Wolverines remain an imposing front.

Defensive End: Daelin Hayes, Notre Dame

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Class: Sophomore

    Measurables: 6'3", 255 lbs

    Spring highlights: Last year, Notre Dame's defensive line consistently failed to pressure the quarterback. The team only mustered 14 sacks, and the unit accounted for just three.

    Daelin Hayes is ready to change that fact. He notched four tackles for loss—including three sacksduring the spring game.

    "I think it's pretty clear that Daelin Hayes is going to be around the football and be a disruptive player for us," head coach Brian Kelly said, according to Lou Somogyi of Rivals.

    2017 expectations: As long as he can't stay healthy, Hayes will be a starter. That's easier said than done for the talented defensive end, who has battled shoulder injuries since high school. But if the Fighting Irish can keep Hayes between the white lines, he should be their most productive pass-rusher.

Defensive Tackle: Marlon Tuipulotu, USC

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    Marlon Tuipulotu
    Marlon TuipulotuCredit: Scout

    Class: Freshman

    Measurables: 6'3", 295 lbs

    Spring highlights: USC is certainly grateful Marlon Tuipulotu flipped his commitment from Washington late in the process and managed to edge the school's enrollment cutoff date.

    Otherwise, the Trojans would've missed the spring's breakout star.

    "Marlon has a bright future, believe me when I say it," safety Chris Hawkins said, per Joey Kaufman of the Orange County Register. "I've seen some dudes come in here at the beginning and he's really, really good. He's only 17 years old. To be so young and be able to get the job done like he is right now, it's crazy. He's going to be a big key to our success this year."

    2017 expectations: Tuipulotu still needs to beat out Kenny Bigelow Jr. (torn right ACL) once the senior returns. However, freshmen aren't simply handed first-team reps. It's clear Tuipulotu will have an impact on the defensive line this season.

Defensive Tackle: Dre'Mont Jones, Ohio State

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Class: Redshirt sophomore

    Measurables: 6'3", 295 lbs

    Spring highlights: Dre'Mont Jones collected 52 tackles as a freshman, and he was still turning heads during the spring.

    "Dre'Mont Jones is really turning into a fine player here for us," Urban Meyer said, per Ryan McGlade of Scout. "Inside guys [on the defensive line], probably Dre'Mont is the most improved."

    Additionally, McGlade notes Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson used a former player of his, Tamba Hali, as a comparison for Jones. That is enormous praise, considering Hali has accumulated 89.5 sacks throughout his 11-year NFL career.

    2017 expectations: Jones' biggest responsibility this season will be making teams pay for doubling any of the Buckeyes' outstanding defensive ends. If the sophomore can maintain his presence as a run-stuffer, Ohio State will boast a well-rounded front.

Linebacker: Shaq Smith, Clemson

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    Class: Redshirt freshman

    Measurables: 6'2", 240 lbs

    Spring highlights: Clemson's offensive departures gained the most notoriety, but the defense lost several key contributors, too. After redshirting in 2016, Shaq Smith is competing for that available playing time and off to a great start.

    The imposing linebacker recorded a game-high 10 tackles during the spring-ending scrimmage.

    "He's anxious," defensive coordinator Brent Venables said, according to Scott Keepfer of the Greenville News. "He's put a lot of hard work in and has really made a strong investment."

    2017 expectations: Even if Kendall Joseph, Dorian O'Daniel and Tre Lamar are the starters, Clemson can use Smith on a weekly basis. He'll probably serve as the backup to Joseph, regularly appearing on defense and also contributing on special teams.

Linebacker: Devin Bush Jr., Michigan

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Class: Sophomore

    Measurables: 5'11", 232 lbs

    Spring highlights: Although Michigan needs to replace leading tackler Ben Gedeon, Devin Bush Jr. has just about eliminated any concern about the upcoming transition.

    After impressing coaches and teammates early in the spring, Bush notched three tackles with two sacks during the scrimmage.

    "We saw a lot of Devin Bush," quarterback Wilton Speight said, according to Land of 10's Kevin Goheen. "He's just so explosive, so fast, and he just has such football savvy. He sees plays develop very quickly and acts upon it."

    2017 expectations: Bush logged most of his snaps as a freshman during blowouts, but he'll be relied upon as a fixture in the middle this season. The Wolverines will expect him to clean up any messes that filter through the defensive line at least as effectively as Gedeon did in 2016.

Linebacker: Jon-Michael Terry, Oklahoma

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    Brett Deering/Getty Images

    Class: Redshirt freshman

    Measurables: 6'2", 246 lbs

    Spring highlights: Jordan Evans collected 274 tackles during his three starting seasons, never finishing below No. 2 on the team. But now he's off to the NFL, and the Sooners are looking for Jon-Michael Terry to fill the vacancy.

    "He's doing really well. He's a big, physical guy," Stoops said, per George Stoia of the Oklahoma Daily. "Got a lot of range to him, explosiveness, so it’s just getting comfortable in there with all the reads and defenses, but he's coming along really pretty well. He's light years ahead of where he was."

    2017 expectations: Terry will battle Ricky DeBerry and Curtis Bolton for the starting role. Assuming he's a big part of the rotation, we'll get our first look at Terry in a college game this fall. Heaping expectations on the redshirt freshman would be unfair.

Cornerback: Byron Murphy, Washington

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    Class: Redshirt freshman

    Measurables: 5'11", 187 lbs

    Spring highlights: Byron Murphy has embraced the challenge of replacing Sidney Jones and Kevin King, a pair of second-round draft picks. According to Adam Jude of the Seattle Times, Murphy led the Huskies in interceptions during the March and April practices.

    "He's had a really good spring," head coach Chris Petersen said, per Jude. "If he keeps working hard through the spring and summer, he'll be an exciting guy come fall."

    2017 expectations: At this point, you can pencil in Murphy as a regular piece for the Washington secondary. The only question is whether he'll claim a starting spot alongside Jordan Miller, and those odds seem favorable, too. Murphy's main competitors are Austin Joyner, Kentrell Love and Myles Bryant.

Cornerback: Isaiah Johnson, Houston

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    Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

    Class: Redshirt junior

    Measurables: 6'4", 205 lbs

    Spring highlights: Remember in the 2016 spring game when Isaiah Johnson exploded for nearly 300 receiving yards? Now he's trying to stop wideouts. What a difference a year makes.

    Johnson impressed his co-defensive coordinator this spring while capping it with an interception in the scrimmage.

    "Two things about Isaiah: No. 1, he's got some length. And No. 2, he's got some speed," said Clay Jennings, per Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle. "Those are two things that you can't teach.

    2017 expectations: Jeremy Winchester will likely secure a starting role, but the rest of Johnson's competition has about as much in-game experience at cornerback as he does. Johnson should at least grab a rotational role in 2017.

Safety: Ed Paris, LSU

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    Class: Senior

    Measurables: 6'1", 203 lbs

    Spring highlights: Ed Paris arrived at LSU as a 4-star prospect, but his first three seasons in Baton Rouge included just two starts and 17 total tackles. The switch to safety might be exactly what Paris needed to spark his college career.

    "That's a natural spot for him," head coach Ed Orgeron said, according to Nick Suss of SEC Country. "I didn't think corner was a natural spot. I think he'll do fine at safety."

    2017 expectations: Following the departures of Jamal Adams and Rickey Jefferson, LSU has a clear starter in John Battle and one openingwhere Paris is the favorite. He must beat out several young players, including heralded early enrollees JaCoby Stevens and Grant Delpit.

Safety: Jake Gervase, Iowa

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    Class: Redshirt junior

    Measurables: 6'1", 210 lbs

    Spring highlights: If everything had gone as planned, Iowa wouldn't have watched Jake Gervase snatch three interceptions in the spring game. But after a torn left ACL ended Brandon Snyder's 2017 before it truly began, Gervase's day was a welcomed sight.

    "It was sad to see Brandon Snyder go down," cornerback Manny Rugamba said, per Land of 10's Bobby La Gesse. "But Jake comes in and he takes that leadership role. He understands the defense well, and he was ready for this moment."

    2017 expectations: Gervase still hasn't locked down a starting job, but since he likely would've been Snyder's backup, it's reasonable to suggest he will soon. The junior needs to hold off Amani Hooker, who like Gervase rarely played in 2016.


    All recruiting information via Scout. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.