10 Players Set to Shock the College Football World in 2019

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2019

10 Players Set to Shock the College Football World in 2019

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    Brody Schmidt/Associated Press

    College football is in need of an upcoming group of breakout stars, and, boy, are they ever on the way.

    A bunch of players are set to shock the sport's world this year for a variety of reasons.

    Several players on this list were just role players a season ago but now have major opportunities after the departures of stars. 

    Then there are some underclassmen and even some incoming freshmen who have massive opportunities and are going to light things up as soon as they get major reps.

    Players such as Clemson receiver Justyn Ross and Oklahoma's rising sophomore running back Kennedy Brooks don't qualify for this list because they're already emerging stars considered as future household names and perhaps All-Americans.

    This list is reserved for players on the cusp of stardom who simply haven't gotten the reps yet.

    Let's take a look at 10 prime candidates to shock college football in 2019.

De'Gabriel Floyd, Texas Linebacker

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Let's start out with a true freshman, a player in Texas coach Tom Herman's loaded class who will have both the opportunity and the talent to do huge things right away in Austin. 

    That would be California linebacker De'Gabriel Floyd, an early enrollee who is still waiting to be medically cleared for contact this spring after a neck injury suffered in high school, according to Horns247's Chip Brown

    It won't matter in the long run as long as he eventually gets on the field. The 6'½", 232-pound former Westlake Christian High School standout was a major coup out of Pac-12 country, and he has the physical ability to compete right away.

    The Longhorns need instant-impact guys on the second level, and Floyd will be competing with another former high-profile recruit in Ayodele Adeoye for reps. Adeoye was limited a year ago with injuries as well, and people tend to forget about his promise.

    The bottom line is the 'Horns need linebackers, and this spring is big for all of them to help improve a defense that needs to get better if they're going to compete for the national title. Floyd will be fine once the season rolls around, and he's going to be a major part of coordinator Todd Orlando's defense.

    His ability and work ethic will ensure he is one of the top freshman defenders in the nation.

Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State Running Back

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    As a freshman in 2018, Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard was one of the most versatile playmakers in college football you probably didn't hear about.

    Backing up Justice Hill, he had 740 rushing yards and seven scores on the ground, adding 229 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns. With Hill gone, Hubbard is going to be a star, putting up some of the top numbers in the Big 12.

    New offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson will be breaking in a new quarterback in either Dru Brown or Spencer Sanders, and though the Cowboys are always going to have receiving weapons (led by Tylan Wallace), coach Mike Gundy's offense has proved it utilizes running backs in a big way.

    Hubbard showed his promise last year with 100-plus-yard rushing efforts against West Virginia and Missouri.

    "Expect the hype to build for the next five-plus months," Tulsa World reporter Mark Cooper wrote of the rising sophomore. "Hubbard already possessed the speed. He showcased greater physicality and durability down the stretch than perhaps some expected."

    Gundy consistently does an excellent job getting the ball in his playmakers' hands, and Hubbard is probably the second-best player on his offense behind Wallace.

    If the Cowboys are going to rebound from a so-so season a year ago, Hubbard needs a breakout campaign. You're going to be surprised by just how talented this kid is.

Tommy DeVito, Syracuse Quarterback

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    Eric Dungey left Syracuse as one of the most decorated, beloved quarterbacks in school history. Though he struggled to stay healthy, he was a gamer who made big plays and helped coach Dino Babers return the Orange to the national conversation.

    Even through all that, it was still hard keeping backup Tommy DeVito off the field.

    In seven games a year ago, DeVito threw for 525 yards and four touchdowns, flashing the ability to make quality plays at the offense's most vital position. Dungey was still a major catalyst who accounted for 33 touchdowns (18 passing and 15 rushing), but the rising redshirt sophomore was still important.

    He led the Orange to wins over Florida State and North Carolina, proving he can do just fine with the game in his hands.

    DeVito isn't the dual threat Dungey was. Instead, he's known for his live arm and can make any throw on the field. If he can do just enough with his athleticism to keep defenses honest, it's going to be a big year again for 'Cuse, which just had its best season in 17 years.

    The combination of arm strength and accuracy makes DeVito a perfect candidate to be one of the top young signal-callers in the nation. He's already in his third year knowing Babers' scheme, and he is familiar with all the players on offense already.

    Syracuse's defense helped it win a ton of games a year ago, and Dungey was a catalyst as well. But while his predecessor's leadership will be tough to replace, DeVito's ability gives him a chance to take command of his team.

Palaie Gaoteote IV, USC Linebacker

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    You may have thought that rising sophomore Palaie Gaoteote IV was going to slide into the huge, vacated shoes of Cameron Smith to be USC's next force at middle linebacker.

    He played there as a true freshman a year ago when Smith was injured, and it seemed a natural fit. But so far this spring, he's mostly practicing outside while senior Jordan Iosefa is slotted in Smith's place, according to J. Brady McCollough of the Los Angeles Times. No matter where Gaoteote plays, he's going to be a star.

    A season ago, he flashed on a team that desperately needed playmakers everywhere. Now, after a year in the system, he's going to become a household name. Looking for defensive stars? He's going to be one now.

    With Smith hurt last season, Gaoteote started against Colorado and had nine tackles. Orange County Register reporter Joey Kaufman quoted several Trojans who were impressed.

    "I wasn't surprised," cornerback Ajene Harris said. "I already knew he was a great player. It was very impressive just to see it for myself, all the tackles he was making."

    “Sky's the limit for that kid,” safety Marvell Tell said.

    Gaoteote finished the year with 38 tackles, including 4.5 for a loss and a pair of sacks. He was all over the field, and the 6'2", 250-pounder proved why 247Sports ranked him as the top inside linebacker in the 2018 recruiting class.

    With ample opportunity, he'll eclipse 100 tackles this year for a USC team that will be drastically improved on defense. 

Donovan Peoples-Jones, Michigan Wide Receiver

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Donovan Peoples-Jones has tantalizing talent, but the 6'2", 208-pound pass-catcher has come nowhere near realizing just how good he is during his first two seasons in Ann Arbor.

    After piling up just 277 receiving yards during his freshman year, he finished with 47 catches for 612 yards and eight touchdowns a year later. Ho-hum.

    His junior season will be anything but ordinary.

    Michigan made the perfect hire at offensive coordinator in Josh Gattis, who will be able to unlock Peoples-Jones' potential. With quarterback Shea Patterson poised to take a giant leap, he needs a top target, and Peoples-Jones is going to be that guy.

    Gattis' pedigree is as a wide receivers coach at Penn State and last year at Alabama, where he helped mold perhaps the most talented group of pass-catchers in the history of the prestigious program, led by Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy.

    The new OC is going to be great for Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins, Tarik Black and others.

    MLive.com's Aaron McMann wrote recently about Gattis' offensive style, which in the coach's own words included "explosive," "aggressive" and "score." All of those things would be improvements for a unit that really lagged behind a dominant defense a season ago.

    Late in the year, the Wolverines offense was simply pedestrian in losses to Ohio State and Florida, and with the way coach Jim Harbaugh has recruited players on both sides of the ball, they just need the right coaches to bring out the best in them.

    The union between Peoples-Jones and Gattis is going to produce immediate results.

Demetris Robertson, Georgia Wide Receiver

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    Unless you're a Georgia fan, you've probably forgotten about Demetris Robertson. 

    Prepare to be reminded of his immense ability in 2019, and the glimpses of it may come as early as this spring. The 6'0", 190-pound Georgia high school product shocked a lot of folks when he elected to head across the country to play for the California Golden Bears out of high school. 

    One of the nation's fastest prospects went to the Pac-12 and thrived as a freshman in Sonny Dykes' offense, catching 50 passes for 767 yards and scoring seven touchdowns.

    Then, he fell off the college football map, transferred back home to UGA and failed to crack the rotation a year ago. But with the Bulldogs losing their top four receivers off the 2018 team, opportunity abounds.

    Robertson will be healthy, and his game-breaking ability is just the X-factor new Georgia offensive coordinator James Coley and head coach Kirby Smart need in their offense.

    With junior quarterback Jake Fromm getting ready to throw him the ball, Robertson should be in perfect position to get in space and make plays. Do not be surprised if he's one of the top receivers in all of the SEC.

    Yes, Alabama's receivers and signal-caller Tua Tagovailoa get most of the headlines, but Fromm is one of the top five quarterbacks in the country, and now he's got the Robin to his Batman in the receiving game in Robertson.

    Expect huge things.

Ricky Slade, Penn State Running Back

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    Say what you want about Penn State's offensive struggles in 2018, but coach James Franklin knows how to produce playmaking running backs.

    Of course, the great Saquon Barkley led the Nittany Lions a couple of years ago, but junior Miles Sanders stepped in last year and eclipsed 1,200 yards. Now, there's another void.

    While plenty of players are good enough to step up in the backfield, the most electrifying option is speedster Ricky Slade, who was a 247Sports 5-star, 5'9", 185-pound all-purpose back from Woodbridge, Virginia. He amassed 257 rushing yards and six touchdowns in spot duty as a freshman.

    This year, he'll have more chances, and it's about time for there to be another home run hitter in Happy Valley.

    Those who've seen him play in high school and on the camp circuit believe it's just a matter of time, and he'll shine now with the upperclassmen out of his way.

    "He's been groomed for this," said Michael Fletcher, a longtime coach at Nike's The Opening who watched Slade blossom from an early age, according to the Centre Daily's John McGonigal. "He embraces his opportunity. ... He's made for this."

    The best thing for Slade is that the competition around him is going to make him better. Notre Dame transfer C.J. Holmes will help and is probably more of an every-down type. Journey Brown is back as well, and a freshman duo of Noah Cain and Devyn Ford will turn heads.

    But Slade is a star waiting to happen. If Franklin is smart, he'll find multiple ways to get him the ball in space and watch the fireworks follow.

Derek Stingley Jr., LSU Cornerback

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    Credit: 247Sports

    LSU has done nothing in the past few years to tarnish its claim as Defensive Back University. Of course, Florida and Alabama like to boast that moniker too, and Washington has enjoyed its run of producing quality DBs, as has Ohio State.

    But the Bayou Bengals place secondary stars in the NFL with the best of them. Greedy Williams is going to be the next one to go, and safety Grant Delpit may be the top returning defender in all of college football. Cornerback Kristian Fulton looks like the next player at his position to hop on the conveyor belt to the NFL.

    Watch out for Derek Stingley, too.

    247Sports' top-ranked cornerback decided to stay at home and play in his home state of Louisiana, and he's already turning heads this spring.

    Coach Ed Orgeron used the word "outstanding" and said he was "real impressed" with the 5-star prospect and mid-term enrollee, according to the Times-Picayune's Amie Just, and this is just the beginning.

    The 6'0½", 188-pound defender from Baton Rouge is athletic enough to start as a true freshman, and he has the ability to help the team in the return game as well. That's just the type of skill set  in a true freshman that can shock the nation.

    If he happens to break a couple of touchdowns in the return game and shows a nose for the ball, watch out. The hype machine around the Tigers is huge, especially in the secondary, and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is as good as they come.

    This is a prime situation for Stingley to thrive.

Keith Taylor, Washington Defensive Back

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    Speaking of opportunity, there are few Power 5 contenders who will get longer looks at multiple positions than Washington players. The Huskies must replace nine defensive starters and virtually all their offensive playmakers.

    It's a rebuild on both sides of the ball, but thankfully for the Pac-12 champions, coach Chris Petersen has stockpiled the players to make the team potentially even better.

    One prime candidate in the secondary is 6'2", 186-pound junior Keith Taylor, who played in all 14 games last season, starting two and making an impact in games such as the Pac-12 Championship Game against Utah and the win over Stanford (one of the contests he started).

    The Huskies will have to replace versatile defensive backs Byron Murphy and safety Taylor Rapp, who both could be picked high in the NFL draft. Defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake has a ton of options. 

    He told 247Sports' Scott Eklund that Taylor "played a huge role for us this past season, made some big-time plays, especially in the Pac-12 Championship Game, really played excellent football for us down the stretch…"

    Several of the talented players who could join Taylor in filling the void are fellow junior Elijah Molden and redshirt freshmen Dominique Hampton, Julius Irvin and Kyler Gordon.

    Lake turned down overtures from Alabama's Nick Saban to stay in Seattle, and he has reason for excitement about all the young guys. Lake has described Taylor as a "veteran" presence, and he's going to be a star this year.

Xavier Thomas, Clemson Defensive End

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    The biggest no-brainer on this list is sophomore Clemson defensive end Xavier Thomas. It may not shock you that he's primed to break out with all that elite talent gone from the Tigers' front seven.

    But it's going to be a surprise just how few people are able to block the 5-star 2018 recruit.

    He is a force, and though the Tigers had a ton of playmakers who'll hit the NFL later this year, they didn't have anybody like Thomas. The former IMG Academy standout piled up 33 tackles, including 8.5 for a loss with 3.5 sacks, despite being behind a slew of stars.

    Thomas is talented enough to be a first-team All-American as a sophomore. As a matter of fact, if he gets help from classmate K.J. Henry and some of the young interior linemen, he may wind up the best defensive player in the nation. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables is the perfect person to mold his talent.

    Perhaps the best thing about Thomas a year ago was just how polished he looked when he got on the field. He already has an array of moves, and he also has elite speed coming off the edge. He's going to terrorize ACC quarterbacks when he's able to pin his ears back and go.

    There's no question Clemson's defense will take a step back in 2019, but that's no reason to believe it will be bad. The Tigers are going to need some time to work out a rotation and find some dependable playmakers around which to surround their star defensive end.

    Thomas is ready. He proved that a season ago, and if he's healthy, he'll be one of the nation's top two defensive ends along with Ohio State's Chase Young.

    It'll be shocking to see just how good he is when a lot of people don't even know his name yet.


    All recruiting information is from 247Sports, and rankings are from the 247Sports composite.

    Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.