One Hidden Gem on Each Top 10 College Football Team in 2018
Georgia's Elijah Holyfield, Oklahoma's Marcelias Sutton and Auburn's Devan Barrett are hidden gems who could be huge factors atop college football's 2018 rankings.
Even the favorites to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff have players on their rosters most casual/national fans couldn't pick out of a lineup.
Team rankings are based on a consensus top 10 taken from The Athletic's Stewart Mandel, CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd and Sporting News' Bill Bender, each of whom published post-spring rankings in early May.
The following players are generally those who could put up big numbers in 2018 despite likely not being the No. 1 option at their positions. In the case of some defensive players or niche specialists, though, it's OK if they're clearly going to be starters, since they're at lower-profile positions.
There won't be any quarterbacks on the list, though. Even No. 2 QBs on the depth chart are never hidden gems.
10. Auburn Tigers
The Hidden Gem: Devan Barrett, RB/WR
Goodbye, Kerryon Johnson. Goodbye, Kamryn Pettway.
Hello, Devan Barrett?
Kam Martin figures to be the starting running back for Auburn, but Barrett should jump up to No. 2 on the depth chart of a team that has ranked in the top 25 in the nation in rush attempts per game in each of the last five seasons.
Barrett didn't get a ton of touches last year as a true freshman, but the 247Sports 4-star recruit was one of the top players in Auburn's 2017 class. He was almost a bigger factor as a receiver than a rusher, though, hauling in 10 catches to go along with a mere 14 carries.
"Devan's got a unique skill set," Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said this spring, per SEC Country's Justin Ferguson. "He was very good on the perimeter last year, and he can catch the ball. I mean, he catches the ball like a wide receiver. It's good; I think it's good for our team and good for him moving forward being able to be versatile like that."
Barrett should continue to factor into the passing game, but with Johnson and Pettway gone, it's a foregone conclusion that he will also average more than one carry per game. Barrett could have the type of season that Jamal Morrow had last year at Washington State, accounting for 522 rushing yards and 506 receiving yards.
9. Miami Hurricanes
The Hidden Gem: Trajan Bandy, CB
Get ready to see a lot of the turnover chain for a second straight season, as Miami is loaded with returning weapons on defense. Jaquan Johnson, Michael Jackson and Sheldrick Redwine combined for 10 interceptions and 14 passes broken up last season, and they'll all be back as seniors in the secondary.
It might be a sophomore who steals the show, though.
Trajan Bandy is one of the top candidates for the starting cornerback job opposite Jackson. Bandy played in all 13 games with three starts as a true freshman. He only managed 25 total tackles, but he broke up six passes and had a pick-six in the statement, blowout win over Notre Dame.
Because of the career-ending neck injury that Malek Young suffered in the Orange Bowl, Bandy should be headed for a significant uptick in playing time, regardless of whether he gets a starting job.
Total speculation here, but don't be surprised if this speedster factors into the punt return game, as well. With Braxton Berrios out of the picture, the 'Canes need a replacement in that department.
8. Michigan State Spartans
The Hidden Gem: Antjuan Simmons, LB
Two of Michigan State's three linebacker spots are effectively set in stone with both Joe Bachie and Andrew Dowell returning as the team's leading tacklers. But with Chris Frey graduating, Antjuan Simmons is a strong candidate to take over the starting "Sam" linebacker job.
As a true freshman last year, Simmons appeared in every game, making 33 total tackles.
It didn't take long for him to demonstrate why schools like Ohio State and Notre Dame were aggressively recruiting him out of high school. In fact, his biggest games of the season came against the Buckeyes and the Fighting Irish with seven and five tackles, respectively.
Brandon Randle had a strong spring while Simmons was playing at less than full strength, so the former may have bypassed the latter on the 2018 depth chart. But whether Simmons is the starter on the strong side or the primary reserve on the weak side, he figures to be a major contributor on defense. Look for him to finish top-five in tackles for the Spartans.
7. Washington Huskies
The Hidden Gem: Chico McClatcher, WR
Chico McClatcher is the only repeat offender on the list, as he was also our projected hidden gem for Washington last year. With John Ross graduating, all signs pointed toward McClatcher becoming the No. 2 target for Jake Browning and the Huskies. He amassed 705 yards from scrimmage with six touchdowns as a sophomore and figured to be the next man up in 2017.
Unfortunately, he suffered a broken ankle in the third game of the season and was unable to return to the field.
But now that Dante Pettis is also out of the picture, a healthy McClatcher could be the No. 1 receiving option in the Huskies offense.
At any rate, there isn't a blatantly obvious leader in the clubhouse for the job. Among returning wide receivers, Aaron Fuller (26 receptions, 291 yards, one TD) was the most productive player in 2017, and the rising junior hasn't had a game with more than 76 receiving yards yet in his career.
There isn't much of a deep threat on the roster, either. Aside from Kamari Pleasant—who made just one catch for 20 yards—no Husky averaged better than 15.5 yards per reception last year. With the exception of the occasional deep ball to Pettis, it was a mostly a dink-and-dunk passing attack. But McClatcher's speed will help open up what Washington is able to do.
6. Oklahoma Sooners
The Hidden Gem: Marcelias Sutton, RB
The top of Oklahoma's depth chart at running back is pretty well set in stone. Rodney Anderson led the way last year with 1,161 rushing yards and 13 TDs. Trey Sermon was a quality backup at 744 yards and five TDs. Both guys averaged better than six yards per carry and made decent contributions in the passing game. Barring injury, there's little question they'll remain the primary and secondary running backs.
No. 3 running back is another story.
Abdul Adams was averaging better than 10 yards per carry prior to an early November fumble (which was overturned, for what it's worth) that resulted in a reduction in touches and playing time for the rest of the season. He transferred to Syracuse in the offseason, paving the way for Marcelias Sutton to play a bigger role in 2018.
Sutton was already Oklahoma's primary kick returner last season, so he obviously has some speed. He also rushed for at least 50 yards and a touchdown in two of the team's first three games prior to almost no action on offense the rest of the way. According to his bio on SoonerSports.com, Sutton also ran for 907 yards and 10 touchdowns as a sophomore at JUCO Lackawanna College.
Between kick returns and carries, Sutton probably won't get more than 80 touches this year. He's a threat to do something big with each and every one of them, though.
5. Wisconsin Badgers
The Hidden Gem: Chris Orr, LB
Several years ago, it seemed Chris Orr was destined to become the next great linebacker in Wisconsin history. He started six games at inside linebacker as a true freshman in 2015, ranking sixth on the team in total tackles that season.
Orr was a key piece of one of the stingiest run defenses in the nation, and that was expected to be the case for at least the next two seasons.
Unfortunately, he suffered a torn ACL on the first defensive snap of the 2016 season and was forced to take a medical redshirt. By the time he was able to get back on the field this past year, both T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly had bypassed him on the depth chart. Orr did make eight starts in 2017, but his 37 total tackles were a far cry from what Connelly (88) and Edwards (81) amassed.
With both Connelly and Edwards back for another year, Orr will presumably enter fall camp at No. 3 on the ILB depth chart. Starter or not, though, Orr will be a key contributor if he's able to stay healthy as a redshirt junior.
4. Georgia Bulldogs
The Hidden Gem: Elijah Holyfield, RB
Georgia has to replace a lot of rushing production from last season, as Sony Michel and Nick Chubb combined for 379 carries, 2,572 yards and 31 touchdowns as seniors.
D'Andre Swift (618 yards, 7.6 yards per carry) is the top returning back. Both James Cook and Zamir White—if the latter fully recovers from a torn ACL suffered last fall—should be major factors as true freshmen. But Elijah Holyfield is also one of the many viable options at the Bulldogs' disposal.
As Georgia blew out the likes of Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Missouri and Florida early in SEC play, Holyfield put up strong numbers. He rushed for at least 48 yards in each of those four consecutive games, averaging 8.3 yards per carry with a pair of touchdowns.
But his numbers tapered off from there. Holyfield didn't even record a touch in either of Georgia's College Football Playoff games.
The speedy Swift will likely be the primary ball-carrier for the Dawgs, but expect this between-the-tackles bruiser to have a more consistent role in 2018.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
The Hidden Gem: Demario McCall, RB/WR
In J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber, Ohio State could have a one-two punch at running back on par with what Michel and Chubb brought to Georgia last season. The young Buckeyes duo combined for 2,029 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns in 2017.
They also still have H-backs Parris Campbell and K.J. Hill, which will make it tough for anyone to gain any ground on the backfield depth chart.
Demario McCall has proved he can be a valuable contributor when given the opportunity, though.
As a true freshman in 2016, McCall rushed for 270 yards and three touchdowns in just five games. Dobbins soared right past that mark last year, but prior to that, McCall's rushing total was the highest by a true freshman at Ohio State since Beanie Wells (576 yards) in 2006.
His role was reduced last year. He only appeared in three games and got almost all of his stats for the season in one 56-0 win over Rutgers. But McCall had an excellent past few months, capped off by 165 total receiving yards and two touchdowns in Ohio State's spring game after a shift to H-back.
McCall probably won't have a starting job at the beginning of the year, but he should be a significant X-factor for the Buckeyes.
2. Clemson Tigers
The Hidden Gem: KJ Henry, DE
Rated by 247Sports as the 14th-best player in this year's recruiting class, KJ Henry isn't so much a hidden gem as a buried one.
Henry has long been regarded as one of the most athletically gifted players for his age. In addition to an affinity for sacking quarterbacks, Henry played both tight end and basketball at West Forsyth High School. In fact, had the 6'5 ½", 235-pound forward for Chris Paul's AAU squad (Team CP3) opted to pursue a career in hoops instead of pigskin, he would have been almost as much of a coveted commodity on the recruiting trail.
At probably 125 of the 130 FBS schools, he would be a starter at defensive end as a true freshman.
At Clemson, however, not only will Henry not be a starter, but he might even redshirt because of a lack of opportunity. All four of last year's starters on the defensive line—Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant—are back for the Tigers, and they signed an even higher-rated defensive end than Henry (No. 3 overall Xavier Thomas). Factor in Chris Register and Justin Foster as returning reserves, too, and there's no room at the inn.
But who knows? Maybe he'll impress this summer and fall and land a job as a top reserve as a true freshman. Or maybe there will be an injury or two, forcing him into action and a starring role earlier than expected.
If not, though, just wait until 2019. Henry is going to be the next big thing in Dabo Swinney's defense.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
The Hidden Gem: Quinnen Williams, DL
It's always hard to find hidden gems on Alabama's roster, considering so many of the key contributors were well-known, 5-star recruits once upon a time.
Quinnen Williams is an exception to that rule, as he was only rated by 247Sports as the 155th-best high school senior in the country prior to redshirting the 2016 season.
But heading into spring practice last year, AL.com's Michael Casagrande tabbed Williams as the next possible Jonathan Allen.
"That's the guy you need to know," Allen said of Williams. "He's going to be a baller."
Coaches raved about his work on the scout team during his redshirt year as he bulked up and prepared to contribute in 2017. He wasn't a starter last season, but he played in every game, racking up 20 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks.
With Daron Payne and Da'Shawn Hand out of the picture, there's a good chance Williams lands a starting gig on the defensive line alongside Raekwon Davis and Isaiah Buggs. If that's the case, this gem won't be hidden for long.