Ranking the Best Sidekicks to College Football Superstars in 2017

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMay 12, 2017

Ranking the Best Sidekicks to College Football Superstars in 2017

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    College football is a team game, but superstars still attract the most attention. That time in the spotlight is deserved, but it sometimes keeps high-quality teammates from being recognized.

    Let's try to change that in 2017.

    For a quarterback, his premier sidekick may be a running back, wide receiver or lineman. Otherwise, the Robin to someone's Batman is typically a fellow player in the positional unit, whether it's a defensive tackle to an end, cornerback to a safety and so on—with one exception at Boston College.

    Superstars are both established and projected, though not every one is a household name—which may seem counterintuitive, but standout players on winning teams get the most press.

    That shouldn't stop the college football world from thinking of players like Cody O'Connell, Bradley Chubb and Quenton Nelson as superstars. And they all have sidekicks, too.

17. Darren Andrews, WR, UCLA

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    Superstar teammate: Josh Rosen, QB

    Andrews' past: After spending two years—one while redshirting—mostly on the sideline, Darren Andrews has developed into a leading target for UCLA. He reeled in 42 passes for 429 yards and one touchdown as a sophomore, then collected 55 receptions, 709 yards and four scores last season.

    2017 outlook: Andrews put together a seven-game streak with at least four catches in 2016, and the final five happened with Rosen sitting out due to injury. A healthy campaign for the quarterback should lead to larger numbers for Andrews, who is otherwise the most proven talent on the offense.

16. Jaylen Smith, WR, Louisville

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    Superstar teammate: Lamar Jackson, QB

    Smith's past: Jaylen Smith worked his way into Louisville's rotation in 2015, posting 29 catches for 376 yards and one touchdown. Last season, he emerged as the team's premier deep threat and averaged 22.2 per catch, which ranked third nationally among qualifying players. He totaled 27 receptions, 599 yards and six scores.

    2017 outlook: Dez Fitzpatrick stole the spotlight during the spring game thanks to a 176-yard, two-touchdown outburst. But it's typically wiser to trust the player who has "been there, done that." Smith is Louisville's only returning receiver with at least 500 career yards.

15. Dre'Mont Jones, DT, Ohio State

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    Superstar teammates: Nick Bosa and Sam Hubbard, DE

    Jones' past: As a freshman in 2016, Dre'Mont Jones helped fill an unexpected void. Tracy Sprinkle's season-ending injury in the opener led to more playing time for Jones, and he posted 52 tackles with four stops for loss. Jones earned a place on the Football Writers Association of America's freshman All-American team.

    2017 outlook: Between Tyquan Lewis, Bosa and Hubbard, Ohio State has a stellar defensive front. Bosa put together a spectacular freshman season, and Hubbard is already a three-down monster. Jones will be tasked with controlling the interior against the run.

14. Nick Thurman, DE, Houston

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    Superstar teammate: Ed Oliver, DT

    Thurman's past: Over the last two years, most of the attention paid to Houston centered on either former coach Tom Herman or Oliver, the standout defensive tackle. During that time, Nick Thurman has been a quality under-the-radar performer. He's recorded 53 total tackles with 10.5 for loss, adding a total of six hurries.

    2017 outlook: Cameron Malveaux and B.J. Singleton used up their eligibility, leaving several hundred snaps to be filled. Thurman should be the largest beneficiary and hold a featured role next to Oliver, who earned first-team AP All-America honors as a true freshman.

13. Connor Strachan, LB, Boston College

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    Superstar teammate: Harold Landry, DE

    Strachan's past: Boston College has fielded a terrific defense for three straight seasons, and Connor Strachan has been a major contributor during the last two. He finished second on the team with 75 tackles in 2015 and led the Eagles with 80 total stops last year, registering a total of 23.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.

    2017 outlook: While Landry dominates off the edge, Strachan will be the steady presence inside. He's a reliable run-stopper and occasionally joins the pass rush, where he's often disruptive despite limited chances. Boston College needs to replace a few pieces in the front seven, but Landry and Strachan give the unit a solid foundation.

12. Mark Andrews, WR, Oklahoma

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    Superstar teammate: Baker Mayfield, QB

    Andrews' past: Mark Andrews has stood out as a reliable red-zone option for two years. In 2015, the then-freshman caught five of his seven touchdowns inside the 20-yard line. Last season, Andrews snagged four red-zone scores. Through two seasons, he's accumulated 50 catches, 807 yards and 14 touchdowns.

    2017 outlook: Following the departure of Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma will expect bigger numbers outside of the red zone from the converted tight end. That's a big jump in responsibility for the 6'5", 253-pounder, who battled a shoulder issue in 2016. However, a clean bill of health should aid the junior in his adjustment to an expanded role.

11. Sony Michel, RB, Georgia

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    Superstar teammate: Nick Chubb, RB

    Michel's past: Once a 5-star recruit, Sony Michel has backed up that billing in college. The "problem" is that Nick Chubb—save for a half-season missed due to injuryhas secured a larger workload. Michel has been a terrific change-of-pace back for three years, accumulating 2,911 yards from scrimmage and 22 total touchdowns.

    2017 outlook: Michel's versatility will give him several avenues to playing time, but an insanely deep group of running backs may limit the senior's carries. He'll battle Brian Herrien, Elijah Holyfield and D'Andre Swift for reps behind Chubb. The Bulldogs should try to use Michel more often as a receiver, given the combination of a backfield logjam and inexperience at receiver.

10. Chase Winovich, DE, Michigan

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    Superstar teammate: Rashan Gary, DE

    Winovich's past: As a backup in 2016, Chase Winovich tallied 34 stops with nine tackles for loss. His 5.5 sacks tied Chris Wormley—a recent third-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens—for second-most on a terrific Michigan defense. Winovich added four hurries.

    2017 outlook: If you're looking for a lesser-known potential breakout star, remember Winovich. The departures of Taco Charlton and Wormley have opened the door for Winovich, who could see his snap count double this season. He and Maurice Hurst will be tremendous complements to Gary.

9. Tarvarus McFadden, CB, Florida State

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    Superstar teammate: Derwin James, S

    McFadden's past: Tarvarus McFadden's first half-season as a starting corner included a couple of highs but a concerning amount of lows. Nearly every week for a month included either a touchdown or a long reception against him. But McFadden's personal turnaround coincided with the team's, and he grabbed a nation-best eight interceptions along with 20 tackles and six pass breakups.

    2017 outlook: Although we know James is an elite safety, McFadden hasn't really played alongside the talented athlete. James missed most of 2016 due to a knee injury, and McFadden was a seldom-used reserve in 2015. Florida State should boast one of the country's best corner/safety duos this year.

8. Ronnie Harrison, FS, Alabama

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    Superstar teammate: Minkah Fitzpatrick, SS

    Harrison's past: Following a freshman campaign with 17 tackles and two interceptions, Ronnie Harrison moved into a full-time role and matched expectations. He ended the year with 85 stops, which ranked second on the team. Harrison also collected three takeaways and scored two defensive touchdowns.

    2017 outlook: Alabama needs to address the departures at cornerback, but he and Fitzpatrick constitute what could be the nation's premier safety duo. Though Harrison needs to improve his consistency in coverage, his reliable tackling is an ideal complement to a ball hawk in Fitzpatrick.

7. Jalen McCleskey, WR, Oklahoma State

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    Superstar teammates: Mason Rudolph, QB, and James Washington, WR

    McCleskey's past: In Oklahoma State's system, the receiving corps needs someone who can handle a high volume of targets and create after the catch. Jalen McCleskey has carved out a place in that niche role, securing 102 passes for 1,065 yards over two years.

    2017 outlook: McCleskey's per-catch average will probably never be impressive because he's so active behind or near the line of scrimmage. But he provides much-needed balance next to Washington, who is an excellent downfield threat. McCleskey should be among the Big 12's leaders in receptions again this year.

6. Trace McSorley, QB, Penn State

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    Superstar teammate: Saquon Barkley, RB

    McSorley's past: Christian Hackenberg's departure opened the door for Trace McSorley to start in 2016, and he took full advantage. The gunslinger notched a 57.9 completion percentage, throwing for 3,614 yards and 29 touchdowns while running for 365 yards and seven more scores.

    2017 outlook: Penn State is looking for Juwan Johnson to seamlessly replace Chris Godwin on the outside, and that transition—along with the development of DaeSean Hamilton and DeAndre Thompkins—may affect McSorley. But as long as Barkley is healthy, the Nittany Lions can be confident in their backfield.

5. Andre Dillard, LT, Washington State

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    Superstar teammates: Luke Falk, QB, and Cody O'Connell, LG

    Dillard's past: Although it took the better part of two seasons for Andre Dillard to make his college debut, he shined after becoming the full-time left tackle. Dillard allowed a few sacks throughout the year, but he was a steady performer for an explosive offense.

    2017 outlook: Considering his background—a basketball player with a rapid metabolismDillard is still working on fitting the typical lineman mold. His awareness also needs to improve, since 2016 included a recurring issue: false-start penalties. But Dillard should be a punishing tackle next to O'Connell, a returning first-team AP All-America guard, and in front of Falk.

4. Justin Jones, DT, North Carolina State

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    Superstar teammate: Bradley Chubb, DE

    Hill's past: For two seasons, Justin Jones has been a menace in ACC backfields. He's collected a total of 73 tackles with 13 stops for loss and five sacks. Additionally, Pro Football Focus has credited Jones with 31 hurries during that span.

    2017 outlook: Throw in fellow D-tackle B.J. Hill, and North Carolina State has an elite defensive front that the country needs to know more about. Chubb is the headliner because of his ability to rack up sacks, but Jones should be a truly dominant run-stuffer.

3. Mike McGlinchey, LT, Notre Dame

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    Superstar teammate: Quenton Nelson, LG

    McGlinchey's past: The order of this pairing may come as a surprise, since Mike McGlinchey is likely the more recognizable player. However, Quenton Nelson has been a more consistent standout than McGlinchey, who is a strong run-blocker but can stumble in pass protection. Still, he was third-team AP All-America in 2016.

    2017 outlook: Notre Dame is breaking in a new quarterback for the upcoming year, but it's certainly a luxury for Brandon Wimbush to look left and see this duo. McGlinchey has the physical ability to become a dominant tackle and eliminate pressure off the edge. While that's a lofty goal, it's the final step in his development.

2. Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson

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    Superstar teammates: Christian Wilkins, DE/DT, and Dexter Lawrence, DT

    Ferrell's past: A 4-star recruit two cycles ago, Clelin Ferrell never left the sideline in 2015 because of injury. But it was difficult to keep the defensive end off the field last year. Ferrell recorded 44 tackles with 12.5 stops for loss and six sacks while helping Clemson win both the ACC and the national championship.

    2017 outlook: The Tigers will shuffle the defensive front to replace Carlos Watkins, but Ferrell's role won't change. While he's not yet a force against the run, Ferrell has the makings of a dominant pass-rusher—especially since opponents must devote extra attention to Wilkins and Lawrence in the middle.

1. Ronald Jones II, RB, USC

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    Superstar teammate: Sam Darnold, QB

    Jones' past: Justin Davis and Ronald Jones II essentially split carries in both 2015 and 2016, but it was always clear which running back had the higher ceiling. Jones accumulated 2,069 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground during his freshman and sophomore seasons combined.

    2017 outlook: The good news and bad news is that Aca'Cedric Ware, Dominic Davis and 5-star Stephen Carr will create a similar time-share. Jones won't have a massive workload and take another hundred hits, but he likely won't have eye-popping numbers. However, in true sidekick form, Jones should be efficient with those opportunities alongside the team's superstar in Darnold.


    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.