Projecting College Football's 2019 All-Breakout Team
While returning stars typically offer the foundation for college football teams, breakout players can boost a team from simple bowl qualifier to conference or national title threat.
Identifying those players prior to the season is always a satisfying task.
Analysts have been wrong before and will be again, but we're confident in this group. The following 10 players enter 2019 with varying levels—but always a minor amount—of previous production.
The list features five potential standouts on both sides of the ball and is ordered from the offensive backfield to defensive secondary.
Tommy DeVito, QB, Syracuse
2018 stats: 44-of-87, 525 yards, four TD, three INT; one rush TD
Syracuse is hoping to follow up its 10-win breakout year in positive fashion, but a new quarterback will be leading the way.
Tommy DeVito will replace multiyear—though oft-injured—starter Eric Dungey, who provided a mobile threat. DeVito is a more typical pocket passer, so the offense will be noticeably different in 2019. It's still nothing a Dino Babers squad hasn't shown at his previous stops.
Over his five seasons as a head coach at Syracuse and Bowling Green, Babers' teams have ranked no lower than 41st nationally in passing yards per game.
DeVito's top targets will be Sean Riley, Taj Harris, Nykeim Johnson and Michigan State transfer Trishton Jackson.
Ricky Slade, RB, Penn State
2018 stats: 45 carries, 257 yards, six TD; one reception, 12 yards
Ricky Slade technically served as the backup last season while Miles Sanders and quarterback Trace McSorley shouldered a strong majority of the rushing load. Both players are gone, and new signal-caller Sean Clifford will rely heavily on his arm.
The 2019 season sets up perfectly for Slade.
Considered the No. 1 all-purpose back in the 2018 class, he'll also contribute as a receiver. He shouldn't be expected to post Saquon Barkley-like numbers, but anticipating a greater impact than Sanders' 5.8 yards per catch is reasonable.
As long as he's a reliable target, Slade has a great chance to collect at least 1,200 yards from scrimmage this fall.
Demetris Robertson, WR, Georgia
2018 stats: Four carries, 109 yards, one TD
During his first season at Georgia, Demetris Robertson had zero catches. Yet in 2019, he could be the Bulldogs' leading receiver.
Jeremiah Holloman figured to hold that distinction, but the program dismissed him amid an investigation into an alleged 2018 assault. Suddenly, the receiving corps has very little returning production—well, very little while at Georgia.
Along with Miami transfer Lawrence Cager, Robertson brings a good bit of experience from a previous stop. He caught 57 passes for 837 yards and seven touchdowns in 14 appearances for Cal.
For UGA to match its billing as a national title contender, Robertson must develop into a top target for quarterback Jake Fromm.
Osiris St. Brown, WR, Stanford
2018 stats: Eight receptions, 204 yards, one TD
The trio of JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Trenton Irwin and tight end Kaden Smith combined for 170 catches, 2,379 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2018. All of them are chasing NFL dreams now, though.
Someone needs to catch the ball for Stanford.
Osiris St. Brown didn't have the debut year Cardinal fans hoped to see, snaring just eight passes. On the bright side, four of those receptions covered 45-plus yards. His big-play ability should be a more regular sight as his role increases.
Between him and Connor Wedington, Stanford has a great chance to boast two of the Pac-12's true breakout receivers.
Brevin Jordan, TE, Miami
2018 stats: 32 catches, 287 yards, four TD
If we said Brevin Jordan had 32 receptions as a freshman, you might think he's beyond "breakout" territory. But when you consider he averaged a little under nine yards per catch, the tune changes.
The inefficiency of Miami's 2018 offense is reflected in Jordan's numbers; only four of his catches covered 15-plus yards.
Fortunately for him, new coordinator Dan Enos has brought a more modern approach. The former Alabama and Arkansas assistant has a history of success at Jordan's position. Since 2015, Enos has coached four tight ends who tallied at least 33 receptions and averaged 11.5 or more yards per catch: Jonathan Nance, Jeremy Sprinkle, Hunter Henry and Irv Smith Jr.
Provided Jordan is healthy, he could stand out as the ACC's most productive tight end.
Xavier Thomas, DE, Clemson
2018 stats: 33 tackles (10.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks), four hurries
As a freshman, Xavier Thomas had no choice but to wait behind future NFL draft picks Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant. That didn't prevent him from making a substantial impact.
Thomas contributed on a tackle for loss in eight games, including both College Football Playoff contests. The defensive end had a three-game streak of two-plus tackles for loss in October, too.
And remember, he was a backup.
Yes, Thomas is a widely popular breakout choice. Given his production in a limited role, though, all the evidence points to budding stardom.
K'Lavon Chaisson, OLB, LSU
2018 stats: Five tackles (one TFL, one sack)
Although this ascent was supposed to happen in 2018, a torn left ACL in the opener halted K'Lavon Chaisson's rise.
But heading into the fall, Chaisson is ready to obliterate backfields again. He provided 27 tackles with 4.5 for loss as a freshman in 2017. Chaisson has some coverage responsibilities as an outside linebacker, but there's no question what his primary value will be.
"The more that we can free him up to rush and not have him drop, the better we'll be," defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said, per Brandon Adam of the Daily Reveille.
LSU will afford Chaisson every opportunity to get around the football, and few SEC linemen will stop him consistently.
Joseph Ossai, LB, Texas
2018 stats: 20 tackles (one TFL, one sack)
Joseph Ossai truly announced his presence with an eight-tackle showing in the Sugar Bowl win over Georgia, and expectations for his sophomore campaign have only climbed since then.
Like, really climbed.
"What people don't understand is Joseph Ossai is not coming off the field," a team source told Chip Brown of 247Sports.
Ossai has been heralded as an ideal B-backer in Todd Orlando's defense, but the versatility to shift inside is what may vault him from contributor to key breakout player.
Palaie Gaoteote IV, LB, USC
2018 stats: 38 tackles (4.5 TFL, two sacks)
Because of injuries to Cameron Smith and John Houston Jr., the 2018 season brought a handful of starts for Palaie Gaoteote IV. He even posted nine and 11 tackles in consecutive October weeks.
Gaoteote only showed a small portion of his potential, though.
Smith's departure means Houston will shift to the middle, and Gaoteote will replace his teammate at weak-side linebacker. The 6'2", 250-pound sophomore has an imposing physical presence to complement his superb instincts and outstanding quickness.
Barring injury, Gaoteote should be among USC's best at causing havoc in the backfield—along with battling Houston for the tackles lead.
Jeffrey Okudah, CB, Ohio State
2018 stats: 32 tackles, eight pass breakups
It appears the pipeline of elite Ohio State defensive backs will continue with junior cornerback Jeffrey Okudah.
Last season, per Pro Football Focus, he allowed a catch rate of just 37.5 percent. That's the lowest mark among returning Big Ten corners who played at least 200 snaps in coverage.
Most impressively, Okudah achieved the efficient year as the Buckeyes' No. 3 corner. He sat behind Kendall Sheffield—a fourth-round pick in the 2019 NFL draft—and Damon Arnette on the depth chart. In 2019, the lineup will feature Okudah opposite Arnette.
Okudah's combination of speed and awareness will frustrate quarterbacks and receivers alike.