The Human Highlight Reels Who Will Be College Football's Viral Stars in 2017

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystJuly 21, 2017

The Human Highlight Reels Who Will Be College Football's Viral Stars in 2017

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    There will be a lot of Lamar Jackson highlights again in 2017.
    There will be a lot of Lamar Jackson highlights again in 2017.Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    College football's human-highlight reels come in all shapes and sizes, from speedy Heisman candidates and 300-pound linemen to projected MVPs of title contenders and kick returners for 10-loss teams.

    What they all have in common, though, is the ability to leave our collective jaw on the floor with their on-field performances.

    On the following slides, we've selected one player and a runner-up from each position groupeven offensive linemost likely to make at least one cameo appearance in the eventual 2017 "year in review" highlight reels.

QB: Lamar Jackson, Louisville

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    2016 Stats: 3,543 passing yards, 30 TD; 1,571 rushing yards, 21 TD

    To say the least, Lamar Jackson made some impressive plays last season. Through the first four weeks of the season, he averaged 6.25 total touchdowns and 471.5 total yards per contest, including the incredible performance in the 63-20 win that cemented Louisville as a title contender and made it impossible to consider anyone else for the Heisman.

    The hurdle against Syracuse was arguably the most memorable play of the season, but Jackson did at least one "You have got to be kidding me" thing per game. Most of them came on zone reads when he proceeded to outrun everyone on the field while making cuts that left defenders trying to tackle air.

    Jackson's arm is just as noteworthy as his legs, though. He proved on numerous occasions that he can casually drop back and hit a receiver in stride with a 50-yard spiral. Expect to see a lot more of that as he works on his transition from college football to the NFL, but there will undoubtedly still be some scrambling entertainment in his future.

              

    Runner-Up: Quinton Flowers, South Florida

    If there's any possible way for these two quarterbacks to meet in a bowl game, here's hoping someone can make that happen, because it would be astonishingly fun to watch them go head to head. Over the second half of last season, Flowers put up better numbers and highlights than Jackson did, but not enough people were paying attention to him or South Florida. Now that the Bulls will likely enter the season as a top-20 team, it's time for more people to appreciate Flowers' absurd athleticism and vision.

RB: Derrius Guice, LSU

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    2016 Stats: 1,387 rushing yards, 15 TD; 106 receiving yards, 1 TD; 223 kick-return yards

    When Leonard Fournette was able to play, Derrius Guice was an afterthought in LSU's offense. Guice did have one huge 252-yard performance against Arkansas, but in Fournette's other six games, Guice had just 232 combined rushing yards.

    When Fournette wasn't out there, though, the field became Guice's personal playground. He had at least 138 rushing yards in each of those five games, averaging 180.6 yards and 2.4 touchdowns. Guice had 11 carries of at least 30 yards, including a pair of runs that went for at least 70. When he finds a hole and kicks it into another gear, he simply leaves defenders in the dust.

    He's much more than just breakaway speed, too. Guice can juke, spin and stiff arm like a pro, and he's plenty strong enough to break free from arm tackles. After averaging 7.8 yards per carry in his first two seasons behind Fournette, he might be a 2,000-yard rusher as a junior.

              

    Runner-Up: Saquon Barkley, Penn State

    Few running backs break out the hurdle as often as Barkley does, but he can also jump cut or spin a defender right out of his cleats. His 306 all-purpose yards in the Rose Bowl are a big reason why so many people expect him to be in the Heisman conversation for the entire 2017 season, but he was executing highlight-reel plays long before he got to Pasadena.

WR: Dante Pettis, Washington

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    2016 Stats: 53 receptions, 822 yards, 15 TD; 287 punt-return yards, 2 TD; 89 passing yards, 1 TD

    Hard to believe someone with 18 total touchdowns could be overshadowed by multiple teammates, but that's exactly what happened to Dante Pettis, whose incredible junior year was lost behind what Jake Browning and John Ross accomplished for the Huskies.

    With Ross off to the NFL, though, get ready to see a lot more of Pettis.

    Whether you like one-handed grabs, sideline snares or jump-ball dominance from your highlight-reel wide receiver, Pettis has you covered. He's only listed at 6'1", but his long arms and speed make him seem like a much bigger target than he is. Throw the ball in his general direction and he's probably going to go get it.

    But Pettis is the top choice among wide receivers because he does more than just make impressive catches. He also has five punt returns for touchdowns in the past three seasons and even aired out a few deep balls on trick plays last season. One way or another, he's a mortal lock to make a few #SCTop10 appearances.

                

    Runner-Up: Jeffery Mead, Oklahoma

    Mead only made 10 receptions last year, but two of them featured prominently in the team's 2016 highlight reel. He had a touchdown against Iowa State in which he caught the ball near the sideline and spun twice to dodge defenders on his way to pay dirt. The following week, he hauled in a one-handed grab against Baylor. Oklahoma is in need of playmakers after losing Dede Westbrook, Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, and Mead just might be what the doctor ordered.

                

    Second Runner-Up: Linell Bonner, Houston

    Wide receivers are always showing up in the highlights, so we opted for two honorable mentions. Also, it would be a crime to not include Bonner, given the three sensational catches he made last season. He was quietly the most reliable receiver in the nation last year.

TE: Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin

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    2016 Stats: 47 receptions, 580 yards, 2 TD

    Troy Fumagalli only topped 60 yards in a game three times last season, but he had a knack for having his best performances when the most people were watching. He led all players with 100 receiving yards in the season opener against LSU and was the top receiver again in a Week 6 overtime loss to Ohio State.

    He saved his best for last, though, making six receptions for 83 yards and a touchdown in the Cotton Bowl against Western Michigan. And it seemed like every catch was of the circus variety. He got the party started with a ridiculous one-handed (four-fingered) grab in the first quarter and proceeded to make two more acrobatic catches, including what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.

    Both in that game and the one against LSU, Fumagalli did almost all of his damage with Bart Houston at quarterback. We'll have to wait to see if he can foster a similar rapport with now full-time QB Alex Hornibrook, but that season-ending performance could be a precursor to a monster senior year.

             

    Runner-Up: Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State

    The only FCS player on the list, Goedert used every inch of his 6'5" frame to make an incredible one-handed touchdown grab last season. No tight end at the FBS level reached 1,000 receiving yards last season, and only one (Michael Roberts of Tulsa) had more than eight TDs, but Goedert terrorized opposing secondaries to the tune of 1,293 yards and 11 touchdowns.

OL: Brian O'Neill, Pittsburgh

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    2016 Stats: 2 carries, 29 yards, 2 TD

    A lineman scoring a touchdown is always a crowd pleaser, but those points typically come from fumbles, laterals or something equally unplanned. In the case of Brian O'Neill, however, both of his touchdowns were by design.

    In the above video, Pitt set up a rarely (never) seen OT screen and caught the entire Georgia Tech defense off guard. Not only did O'Neill scamper into the end zone untouched, but two of his leading blockers didn't have to do anything.

    Three minutes into a scoreless game is a great time for some trickery, but O'Neill's second touchdown came with Pitt trailing by eight in the fourth quarter. He got the ball on a reverse and rumbled five yards into the end zone. Virginia Tech's Brandon Facyson tried to dive to force O'Neill out of bounds, but he barely managed to alter the trajectory of the man who outweighs him by more than 100 pounds.

    Pittsburgh lost offensive coordinator Matt Canada to LSU, so we might not see any more of those gadget plays from the Panthers this season. But opposing defenses will be keeping a close eye on O'Neill any time he tries to do something out of the ordinary.

            

    Runner-Up: Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame

    Offensive linemen don't often make cameos on SportsCenter, but McGlinchey should make some highlight reels as potentially the first offensive lineman selected in the 2018 NFL draft. And he did have one reception for a four-yard loss last season, so at least we know he can catch the ball.

DL: Arden Key, LSU

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    2016 Stats: 55 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 11.0 sacks, three passes defended, two fumbles forced, one safety

    The hype surrounding Arden Key isn't quite as high as it was a few seasons ago for year No. 3 of the Jadeveon Clowney experience, but it's close. In the dozen or so way-too-early mock drafts that show up on the first two pages of a Google search, he's a unanimous top-10 pick with most ranking him in the top five.

    To put it lightly, all eyes will be on Key. And they're going to like what they see.

    Key's explosive first step is second to none, so when he reads the snap count correctly, it's game over. It's almost comical to watch offensive tackles or tight ends spin around and helplessly try to do anything about the fact that Key blew by them in an instant.

    But he's more than just speed, as exhibited in the sack against Missouri (3:38 in the above clip). Key simply shoved Sean Culkin (6'6", 250 lbs) backward about five yards in order to wrap up the QB.

    Circle Sept. 23 on your calendar if you really want to see Key put on a clinic. That's when the Tigers face Syracuse, which allowed 3.2 sacks per game last season.

             

    Runner-Up: Tai'yon Devers, Minnesota

    Harold Landry, Bradley Chubb and Dorance Armstrong Jr. are all deserving of this spot as guys who had at least 20 tackles for loss and 10 sacks last season. But watch out for Tai'yon Devers. In the first half of the first game of the true freshman's career, he recorded a strip-sack on back-to-back possessions. A few weeks later, he had a third strip-sack with this vicious, helmet-popping hit on Colorado State's Collin Hill.

LB: Malik Jefferson, Texas

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    Malik Jefferson
    Malik JeffersonEric Gay/Associated Press

    2016 Stats: 60 tackles, 9.0 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks

    Unfortunately, the best (and one of the only) highlight videos of Malik Jefferson on YouTube is set to background music with NSFW lyrics, so a photo will have to suffice for now. But know that this stud is going to show up in a lot of highlights in 2017 before potentially becoming a top-10 pick in the 2018 NFL draft.

    Whether he's rushing the quarterback, stuffing the run or chasing down a receiver, Jefferson has the speed, power and instincts to regularly deliver bone-crushing hits. And perhaps most important of all, he has elite patience. When he isn't blitzing, Jefferson plays linebacker similar to the way Le'Veon Bell plays running back. He often reads the play and waits that extra fraction of a second to find the right gap to shoot in order to break up what would be a big offensive play with an even bigger defensive play.

    He only got better as the season progressed. He had 23 tackles, 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble in his final four games, not including the strip-sack returned for a touchdown against Baylor that was called back. We're still waiting on his first career interception at the collegiate level, but he's so solid in coverage that it would be a safe bet he'll have a pick six by the end of this coming season.

              

    Runner-Up: Shaquem Griffin, UCF

    Griffin didn't do much in his first few seasons at UCF, but the move to linebacker and into the starting lineup suited him beautifully as a junior. He had 92 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, seven passes defended, two fumbles forced, two fumbles recovered and an interception. Oh, and he did it all with only one hand! Per Shannon Green of the Orlando Sentinel, Griffin had his left hand amputated at the age of four due to a rare congenital birth defect. If he puts up similar numbers as a senior, he'll be a viral sensation.

DB: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama

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    2016 Stats: 66 tackles, 1.5 sacks, six interceptions, two TDs, one forced fumble

    Alabama had five defensive players selected in the first two rounds of the 2017 NFL draft, but one could easily argue that the best piece of last year's No. 1 defense is back for another season, as Minkah Fitzpatrick had a knack for coming up big in the Crimson Tide's biggest games.

    The road trip to Arkansas was supposed to be one of Alabama's stiffer challenges, but Fitzpatrick picked off three passes in the span of four Razorback possessions, including the 100-yard pick six shown above. His fourth-quarter interception against LSU more or less sealed the outcome of that rivalry game. His first-quarter pick six in the SEC championship game is what opened up the floodgates against Florida's defense. And just for good measure, he stole a meaningless Jake Browning Hail Mary at the end of the Peach Bowl.

    He has returned two interceptions for touchdowns in each of the past two seasons. If he can keep that going for a third year, he'll remain a highlight-reel hero.

              

    Runner-Up: Kyle Queiro, Northwestern

    Following a September injury, Queiro played much of the 2016 season with a club on his left hand. That didn't stop him from making a one-handed, full-extension interceptionafter which he raised that club into the air in celebration. Queiro also had the game-sealing interception in Northwestern's win over Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl, so he clearly has a flair for the dramatic.

KR/PR: Janarion Grant, Rutgers

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    2016 Stats: 6 kick returns, 195 yards, 1 TD; 7 punt returns, 112 yards, 1 TD; 20 receptions, 210 yards; 16 carries, 138 yards, 3 TDs; 21 passing yards, 1 TD

    Rutgers didn't have much to celebrate last year in the process of going 2-10 and getting shut out four times, but Janarion Grant was one heck of a star in September. He amassed all the above statistics in just 3.5 games prior to suffering a season-ending ankle injury.

    One benefit of being the primary kick returner at Rutgers is you're guaranteed to get a lot of on-the-job training. Even though he lasted less than a month into the 2016 season, the Scarlet Knights have given up so many points over the past four years that Grant has more kick-return yards than any other player since the start of the 2013 season. During that time, he has returned five kickoffs and three punts for touchdowns.

    As you can see in the above video, Grant has moves that make it look like someone is mashing the buttons on a video game controller. He goes straight from a spin move into a pair of jukes that sent would-be tacklers to the ground in helpless heaps of humiliation. Combine that body control with a ton of speed and it should only be a matter of time before he's making 2017 highlight reels.

              

    Runner-Up: Quadree Henderson, Pittsburgh

    Like Grant at Rutgers, Henderson is involved in everything Pittsburgh does. He had 252 punt-return yards, 286 receiving yards, 631 rushing yards and 914 kick-return yards last season, including four touchdowns on returns. It's going to be hard for anyone to show clips of a Panthers game without including something impressive that Henderson did.

               

    Kerry Miller covers college football and college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.

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