College Football Players Poised for Bounce-Back Years in 2018

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystMay 22, 2018

College Football Players Poised for Bounce-Back Years in 2018

0 of 9

    Deondre Francois
    Deondre FrancoisMike Stewart/Associated Press

    Deondre Francois was supposed to lead Florida State to the 2017 ACC championship, but now the Seminoles are hoping he can bounce back from a lost year to accomplish that goal this coming season.

    Francois is just one of the many college football players who had strong 2016 campaigns before putting up disappointing numbers last year. For the majority of these players, it's because an injury kept them from playing a full season. (Or in Francois' case, a full game.) But after a few months to get healthy, we expect to see them performing back at their previous level or better.

    To qualify as a bounce-back candidate, a player must have had a baseline to bounce back to. We're not looking for potential breakout guys who suddenly have a full-time job, but rather for players trying to reclaim a once-held spot atop the depth chart.

    Players are listed in alphabetical order by last name.

David Blough, QB, Purdue

1 of 9

    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    2016 Production

    Between the 57.1 percent completion rate, the 21 interceptions thrown and the 119.4 QB rating, David Blough was hardly the most efficient quarterback in 2016. But he averaged more yards per game (279.3) and touchdowns per game (2.08) than any other Big Ten quarterback. Given what Jeff Brohm accomplished with Western Kentucky's passing game in his three years as head coach of the Hilltoppers, there was plenty of reason to believe he could do something special with this Boilermaker's arm in 2017.

         

    What Went Wrong in 2017?

    Blough got out to a solid start. Despite sharing snaps with Elijah Sindelar, he was 51-of-67 (76.1 percent) for 597 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions through the first three weeks. Blough also rushed in a TD in Week 3 against Missouri in what appeared to be the game that cemented him as the primary QB moving forward. But he had nightmarish performances the following two weeks against Michigan and Minnesota, barely played again until Sindelar got injured and then suffered a season-ending ankle injury in early November.

         

    2018 Prediction

    With Sindelar recovering from a torn ACL and unlikely to be at 100 percent by Week 1, the starting job should be Blough's to lose. And considering Purdue opens the season at home against Northwestern, Eastern Michigan and Missouri, there's a good chance he locks down that gig with three straight good games. How quickly Sindelar will be available is the ultimate variable, but Blough ought to throw for at least 3,500 yards and 25 TD if given the chance.

Ventell Bryant, WR, Temple

2 of 9

    Joe Skipper/Associated Press

    2016 Production

    Building on a solid freshman campaign, Ventell Bryant was Temple's go-to receiver as a sophomore. He led the Owls in receptions (54) and yards (895), capped off by an 11-catch, 151-yard performance against Wake Forest in the Military Bowl. Even in a conference with the likes of Zay Jones, Anthony Miller, Courtland Sutton and Linell Bonner, Bryant finished eighth in the AAC in receiving yards.

         

    What Went Wrong in 2017?

    After hauling in seven catches for 79 yards in Week 2 against Villanova, Bryant simply vanished. He played in nine of the next 11 games, but he only managed 22 receptions for 201 yards with no touchdowns in them. Rather, Adonis Jennings, Keith Kirkwood and Isaiah Wright became Temple's three-headed receiving attack, each racking up at least 42 catches, 668 yards and four scores.

         

    2018 Prediction

    Logan Marchi and Frank Nutile split Temple's QB job last year, but Marchi transferred to East Tennessee State in December, leaving NutileBryant's roommate, for what that's worthas the undisputed starter heading into next season. Moreover, both Jennings and Kirkwood graduated, bumping Bryant back up the depth chart into a starting gig. At a minimum, expect a return to sophomore-year production. Something in the vicinity of 60 receptions, 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns wouldn't be a surprise.

Damarea Crockett, RB, Missouri

3 of 9

    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    2016 Production

    Rated by the 247 Sports Composite as the 539th-best recruit in the class of 2016, Damarea Crockett came out of nowhere to rush for 1,062 yards and 10 touchdowns in just 11 games as a true freshman. He gained at least 145 yards in four games, including a four-touchdown performance against Middle Tennessee and a 225-yard game against Tennessee in his final game of the season.

         

    What Went Wrong in 2017?

    Crockett hit the ground running with 202 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the season opener against Missouri State. But rushing opportunities thereafter were few and far between as Missouri was constantly playing from behind, giving up 42.0 points on average in its next five games. After the sixth game, the schedule lightened up and the defense started performing at an adequate level. Unfortunately, Crockett suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the sixth game. Thus, despite averaging better than six yards per carry, he finished his sophomore year with just 481 yards and two touchdowns.

         

    2018 Prediction

    Crockett will share touches in the backfield with Larry Rountree III, who rushed for 703 yards and six touchdowns last year as a freshman. And you know Missouri is still going to throw the ball a ton with Drew Lock back at quarterback. Still, Crockett should be looking at roughly 180 carries for 1,100 yards and maybe a dozen touchdowns. He might not lead the SEC in rushing, but if he stays healthy, it'd be a surprise if he finishes outside the top 10.

Deondre Francois, QB, Florida State

4 of 9

    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    2016 Production

    After redshirting in 2015, Deondre Francois wasted little time in proving to Florida State fans that he was worth the wait. He threw for 419 yards and two touchdowns against Ole Miss in his collegiate debut, and he went on to finish the year with 3,350 yards and 20 total touchdowns. He wasn't nearly as lethal as ACC brethren Deshaun Watson, Mitch Trubisky or Lamar Jackson, but 8.4 yards per attempt without a single multiple-interception game was still one heck of a good first year for Francois.

         

    What Went Wrong in 2017?

    Francois took a lot of physical punishment in 2016, but he somehow always got back up. However, there was no shaking off the torn left patella tendon he suffered in the fourth quarter of the Week 1 loss to Alabama. In that moment, Florida State's dream of reaching the College Football Playoff disappeared entirely.

         

    2018 Prediction

    This is the toughest prediction to make, because Francois needs to prove to a new head coach (Willie Taggart) that he is more deserving of the starting job than the guy who replaced him last year (James Blackman). Considering Francois wasn't a full participant in spring practice while continuing to recover from the knee surgery, he's already a bit behind the proverbial 8-ball in that quest. He has the talent to do it, though, and he should throw for at least 1,500 yards even if he and Blackman split the job. That wouldn't be a full bounce back to pre-injury production, but it would be a heck of a lot better than what he managed last year.

James Gilbert, RB, Ball State

5 of 9

    James Gilbert
    James GilbertMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    2016 Production

    Kareem Hunt was the only player from the MAC to average more rushing yards per game in 2016 (113.5) than Ball State's James Gilbert (111.0). The 5'8" wrecking ball ran for at least 117 yards in seven of 12 games despite playing for a team that went 4-8 and didn't have much else to boast about on offense. Gilbert's star shined brightest in a win over Buffalo in which he rushed for 264 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

         

    What Went Wrong in 2017?

    Gilbert rushed for three touchdowns in his first two games, but he only averaged 3.1 yards per carry. He was back in a big way for 92 yards on 11 carries (8.4 YPC) in Week 3 against Tennessee Tech, but he suffered a hand injury that would keep him out for the rest of the yearand that would keep Ball State from winning another game.

         

    2018 Prediction

    When healthy, Gilbert is a Jerome Bettis-style work horse. He'll rip off a 40-yard gain every once in a while, but he's the type of guy who is more likely to wear down the defensive line in five-yard increments and punch in touchdowns in goal-to-go situations. Look for him to roughly replicate his sophomore year, running the ball 240 times for 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Porter Gustin, LB, USC

6 of 9

    Ralph Freso/Associated Press

    2016 Production

    Adoree' Jackson, Sam Darnold and JuJu Smith-Schuster got most of the national attention on the Rose Bowl-winning roster, but Porter Gustin was arguably the MVP of USC two years ago. The outside linebacker led all Trojans with 13.0 tackles for loss. He also ranked second in total tackles (68) and sacks (5.5), bringing down the opposing QB as many times as a sophomore as he did as a freshman.

         

    What Went Wrong in 2017?

    Prior to the Week 3 game against Texas, Gustin underwent surgery to repair a fractured big toe. You wouldn't know from his performance that he had two screws inserted, because he had four tackles and a pair of sacks by halftime. But between the screws shifting and a partially torn biceps suffered during that half, he would only briefly appear in one other game the rest of the year. He ended up with just 16 total tackles on the season.

         

    2018 Prediction

    Gustin surprised a lot of people with his decision to return for another season. Evidently, he has some unfinished business at USC. He should be one of the top outside linebackers in the country. NFL.com's Chad Reuter listed Gustin as his No. 41 overall player to watch in 2018.

Ahmmon Richards, WR, Miami

7 of 9

    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    2016 Production

    Ahmmon Richards quickly became Miami's best vertical threat as a freshman. He only scored three touchdowns, but he racked up 934 yards on 49 receptions (19.1 YPC). More than 70 percent of those catches (35) went for at least 10 yards, and more than 20 percent of them (10) resulted in a gain of at least 30 yards. And he really turned it on late in the season. Richards had three straight games with at least 100 yards in November.

         

    What Went Wrong in 2017?

    Richards had a sophomore season book-ended by leg injuries. He missed Miami's first two games due to a pulled hamstring suffered during fall camp. He also missed the ACC championship and the Orange Bowl after tearing his meniscus in practice. But even in between, he wasn't quite the same explosive threat, finishing with just 24 catches for 439 yards in eight games played.

         

    2018 Prediction

    With both Braxton Berrios and Chris Herndon IV having graduated, Richards is the clear-cut No. 1 receiver on Miami's depth chartprovided he's fully healthy. Kick-returning speedster Jeff Thomas might be the primary home run target, and freshman Mark Pope should see a lot of action. But if anyone in this receiving corps is going to flirt with leading the ACC in receiving yards, it's Richards. Look for a 1,100-yard season, followed by a tough decision about whether to jump to the NFL or return for senior year.

Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina

8 of 9

    Sean Rayford/Associated Press

    2016 Production

    On what was otherwise an uninspiring offense, Deebo Samuel was South Carolina's do-it-all phenom. In just 10 games, he led the Gamecocks with 59 receptions for 783 yards, but he also ran the ball 15 times for 98 yards and six scores. He was dangerous on special teams, too, averaging 26.9 yards per kick return with one touchdown. A possible sign of things to come in 2017, he caught 14 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown in South Carolina's bowl game.

         

    What Went Wrong in 2017?

    While healthy, Samuel could do no wrong. He had five catches in each of his first three games, compiling 250 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Samuel also rushed for 30 yards and a score and returned two kickoffs for 97-yard touchdowns. But a broken ankle suffered in the third quarter of the third game ended his season before we even got the chance to start speculating about his Heisman potential.

         

    2018 Prediction

    No one is higher on Samuel's potential than CBS Sports' Will Brinson. He put Samuel at No. 3 in his way-too-early 2019 NFL mock draft. That seems a bit overzealous, but big things will be expected from a guy who should have the ball in his hands as often as possible. Samuel could be for South Carolina what Jaylen Samuels was for North Carolina State last year, amassing 153 touches, 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns from scrimmagebut with a fair amount of kick returns as the cherry on top.

Terence Williams, RB, TBD

9 of 9

    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    2016 Production

    After Baylor lost Johnny Jefferson (1,000 yards) and Devin Chafin (578 yards) from its 2015 roster, the door was open for Terence Williams to step into a bigger role as a sophomore. And he didn't disappoint. Despite still sharing the ball-carrying duties with Shock Linwood, Williams finished with 1,048 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Only three of his 185 carries went for 30 or more yards, but he still managed to finish sixth in the Big 12 in total rushing yards for the year.

         

    What Went Wrong in 2017?

    Williams suffered a significant shoulder injury last spring, which caused him to miss the first three games of the 2017 season. When he did get back on the field, he never looked quite right. In six of eight games played, Williams averaged 2.7 yards per carry or worse, and he only received more than 11 carries in one game. His production plummeted to just 255 yards and one TD.

         

    2018 Prediction

    Word broke in early December that Williams plans to graduate from Baylor this spring and then transfer elsewhere for the 2018 season. But more than five months later, it's still unclear where he'll be going. One possible fit could be Houston, which only had one player rush for more than 400 yards last year, and that player (Duke Catalon) left the school before spring practices. Wherever Williams lands, he should be eligible (and physically able) to contribute immediately.

                                      

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