Top 15 CFB Players You'll Fall in Love with in 2020

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistFebruary 14, 2020

Top 15 CFB Players You'll Fall in Love with in 2020

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    Get ready for a new era of college football superstars.

    Many of the names you know, but several guys aren't yet household names—including a few who probably should be. These players are ready for breakout seasons and will have the opportunity to shine.

    They're the type of emerging stars you'll fall in love with in 2020.

    Even if you hated LSU, it was hard not to love football "gym rat" Joe Burrow and his quiet confidence. We've all come to appreciate the immense talent of Clemson running back Travis Etienne and loved the charisma and class of former Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts.

    You had to love watching defensive star Chase Young of Ohio State get after quarterbacks, and former Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa's impeccable timing throwing open receivers. 

    All but Etienne are off to the NFL, so with Valentine's Day here, it's time to cut out those proverbial paper hearts and find other players who'll make us go pitter-patter on Saturdays next season.

Jerrion Ealy, Ole Miss Running Back

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    Remember how nobody knew much about Florida Atlantic running back Devin Singletary until Lane Kiffin took over the program, and the bowling-ball runner with the big-play propensity morphed into a Doak Walker Award semifinalist and an NFL draft pick?

    Get ready for Jerrion Ealy to do the same in Oxford.

    Kiffin is taking over as Ole Miss' head coach, and he always finds ways of getting the ball in the hands of his best players. There's no question the rising sophomore running back, who is also a standout baseball player, is one of, if not the best player on the Rebels.

    Dual-threat quarterback John Rhys Plumlee may be the other, but Ealy has breakout player written all over him. He's also a stellar kid who is impressive behind a microphone and has the type of charisma cameras gravitate toward.

    A season ago, he piled up 722 rushing yards and averaged 6.9 yards per carry as a true freshman, but he played on an awful team with a lame-duck coach in Matt Luke. This year, the Rebels will have the attention of fans everywhere because of how outspoken Kiffin is, but his coaching chops stand out, too.

    If the coach's latest chance on a Power Five stage is going to rekindle the magic that made him a young star, it will hinge on difference-makers such as Ealy. The Rebels need more of them and likely will get them if Kiffin's recruiting history repeats itself.

    Either way, fans will love Ealy as he goes from quiet killer to one of the SEC's premier running backs. Tune in this spring if you want to see the future MLB prospect hit a baseball for the Rebels too.

Sam Howell, North Carolina Quarterback

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    If you don't know Sam Howell's name, it's probably because he was a freshman signal-caller on a team that didn't exactly ripple the national waters.

    Get ready for the North Carolina Tar Heels, though, as coach Mack Brown looks to take them another step forward in year two after they trounced Temple 55-13 in the Military Bowl to go 7-6.

    Howell threw for 3,641 yards, 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions, so, yeah, a lot of people know who he is after that record-setting first season in Chapel Hill. But if you haven't watched him, make sure to.

    You'll love his swagger, his ability to make any throw and his courage to try anything. He's got some gunslinger in him, and as the games progressed and outcomes were on the line, Howell was at his best. Publications glowed about his in the fourth-quarter gumption all season.

    Everybody talks about Clemson's Trevor Lawrence in the ACC, and he's superb. The offseason headlines have ramped up on Miami transfer D'Eriq King. But don't sleep on Howell, who could post the most gaudy numbers of any quarterback in the league and some of the best in the nation.

Jahmyr Gibbs, Georgia Tech Running Back

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Let's stay in the ACC, shall we?

    While we're talking about rebuilding programs that look ready to pop, Georgia Tech head coach Geoff Collins is flipping a roster built for the triple-option attack and outfitting it with a bunch of quality young players to run a more modern offense.

    The Yellow Jackets grabbed a couple of centerpieces in this year's recruiting class with quarterback Jeff Sims and running back Jahmyr Gibbs, the latter of whom proved Collins can close even when bigger programs come calling.

    Gibbs verbally committed to the Yellow Jackets out of Georgia's Dalton High School in May 2019, but as Georgia, LSU, Ohio State, Alabama, Florida and others kicked the tires, Gibbs delayed signing.

    He stuck to his commitment on national signing day, though, and Collins got his offensive bell cow. At 5'9", 191 pounds, Gibbs is a compact playmaker, and his vision and burst make him a next-level talent.

    He deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as elite runners in this year's class such as Texas' Bijan Robinson, Auburn's Tank Bigsby and the uncommitted Zachary Evans. He's that good, if not better.

    Gibbs handled the recruiting cycle with quiet class and eschewed some of the hot names to build something at home. There's something to be said for a kid who has that type of character—and it's recruiting decisions like his that could expedite the rebuilding process in Atlanta.

Zach Harrison, Ohio State Defensive End

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    Everybody tuned in when Ohio State played last year. Offensively, it was to watch the glitz and glamour of quarterback Justin Fields and running back J.K. Dobbins. Defensively, it was to see Chase Young wreak havoc.

    Young is off to the NFL, so the Buckeyes need to break in another defensive star. The prime candidate is rising sophomore end Zach Harrison, who is on a similar trajectory as the future top-three NFL draft pick.

    The 2019 5-star prospect finished last season with 24 tackles, including 5.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks. Those numbers are better than those of Young's freshman season (18 tackles, five for loss, 3.5 sacks), and with a larger sample set in 2020, Harrison could be an All-American.

    Those are big expectations, but the 6'6", 255-pound Buckeye has a lot of talent surrounding him, so offenses can't solely focus on him, freeing him to make plenty of plays. If he develops the way he should, fans will love his physical ability.

    If you aren't sold yet, listen to the way he carries himself.

    "I think I can count the times on my hands my parents have taken sick days, off days," Harrison told The Lantern's Andy Anders. "They're workhorses, so I've gotta keep that up in my house."

    That's a wise-beyond-his-years statement for a teenager, and it's that type of attitude and effort that will turn his talent up a notch. Get ready for big things as early as this year.     

Kyu Blu Kelly, Stanford Cornerback

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    The least-known name on this list is probably that of Stanford cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly.

    As a true freshman in 2019, Kelly took the field out of necessity for a Stanford Cardinal team that was ravaged by injuries in a forgettable season.

    He took his lumps but also realized he can play at a high level.

    The 6'1", 176-pound defender from powerhouse Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas played in 11 games, starting the final nine and finishing with 34 tackles, including 1.5 for a loss and a sack. He added five pass breakups and an interception, and with fellow corner Paulson Adebo returning for another year, Kelly will complete a great one-two punch.

    With other players such as Jonathan McGill and Kendall Williamson, coach David Shaw has a quality group on the last level of a defense that kept its centerpiece in Adebo. That means Kelly could get a lot of opportunities to make plays as quarterbacks look away from the rising senior.

    Kelly is more than up to the task. This will be a breakout season for the long-armed, toolsy prospect who can follow the bloodlines of his father, Brian, who was an 11-year NFL veteran.

Giles Jackson, Michigan Wide Receiver

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    Michigan's 2020 skill-position group will be exciting to watch develop.

    With receivers Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black and quarterback Shea Patterson gone, the Wolverines have question marks. But they also have thrilling potential as head coach Jim Harbaugh looks for other playmakers to go with receiver Nico Collins.

    Quarterbacks Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton are intriguing options and should give the team a quality signal-caller, and then there is a stable of versatile running backs and a receiving corps that will be bolstered by incoming freshman A.J. Henning.

    But a name to learn is Giles Jackson.

    This dude is a 5'9", 188-pound package of dynamite ready to explode from any point on the field. Teams will have to account for him in all phases of the game.

    Last year, he joined Gil Chapman (1972) as the only players in Michigan history with touchdowns scored via kick return, receiving and rushing in their freshman season, according to his official team profile. In the Citrus Bowl loss to Alabama, he had his best game as a receiver, grabbing four passes for 57 yards.

    Jackson has a clearer path to playing time in 2020, and Harbaugh needs to find ways to get him the ball in every facet. Jackson is a do-it-all, Swiss Army knife player in the mold of a Rondale Moore out of Purdue or, for you throwbacks, Florida's Percy Harvin.

Bru McCoy, USC Wide Receiver

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    USA Today

    You probably know Bru McCoy's name for all the wrong reasons. At first, he was a 5-star athlete who could play on offense or defense. But then he signed with USC as an early enrollee last year only to enter the transfer portal mere weeks later and head to Texas.

    Before long, McCoy realized his original decision was best, headed back into the portal and returned to the Trojans. In the process, he became the poster child for everything that's wrong with today's transfer era in college football.

    But with all that behind him, McCoy probably just wants to play and make on-field headlines again—and his potential says he can.

    With two starting receiver positions available, McCoy and fellow redshirt freshman Kyle Ford could fill them and turn into budding stars. But with Tyler Vaughns, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Drake London all back, McCoy will be in a battle for reps.

    When McCoy finally started practicing around Christmas before the Holiday Bowl game, offensive coordinator Graham Harrell liked what he saw.

    "You hear so much about Bru, and I've never got to see him play live," Harrell told the Orange County Register's Adam Grosbard. "To see him out here, even limited, no matter how much he's doing, it's fun to watch him."

    He's good enough to get reps, though, and is a physical marvel who's too talented to take off the field. With Kedon Slovis flinging him the ball, look for him to be one of the centerpieces of a Trojans offense that is capable of posting a lot of points.

John Metchie III, Alabama Wide Receiver

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    Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III left for the NFL, so the Alabama Crimson Tide have a couple of premier rooms with flashing vacancy signs. Yes, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle will fill two of the receiver spots, but with the new passing frenzy in Tuscaloosa, plenty of catches are up for grabs.

    Enter John Metchie III, a 6'0", 195-pound pass-catcher from Canada who, most of the time, was the first receiver off the bench for Alabama a season ago after the Big Four. Though he had just four catches for 23 yards, he could start in 2020.

    A hot name this offseason is receiver Slade Bolden, and he could have an impact along with freshman Thaiu Jones-Bell, but Metchie looks like the ideal player to step into the "Z" receiver spot vacated by Jeudy.

    Metchie is not a game-breaker, but he is physical and makes a lot of tough catches in traffic, which is ideal for the Tide. 

    Fans will love him for his yeoman's approach to the game and his no-holds-barred attitude toward getting the tough yards. The 2019 A-Day MVP will get the chance to shine on the big stage this fall.

Joe Ngata, Clemson Wide Receiver

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    Continuing the run of wide receivers, Clemson's Joe Ngata could fill the cleats of the NFL-bound Tee Higgins. While Justyn Ross and Amari Rodgers have star potential, the rising sophomore should make an impact.

    The Tigers have recruited exceptionally well in recent years, and Frank Ladson Jr. and incoming freshmen E.J. Williams and Ajou Ajou could fill out the rotation. But Ngata looks like the next big thing, especially with Lawrence throwing him the ball.

    When the star QB leaves, D.J. Uiagalelei will be plenty capable too.

    Ngata is a 6'3", 215-pound receiver from Folsom, California, who finished his freshman season with 17 catches for 240 yards and three touchdowns. When you factor in just how crowded that receiving corps was, the numbers are even more impressive.

    Ngata was 2019's No. 52 prospect, and the fact that he carved out a role on the nation's No. 2 team makes his an exciting ceiling to watch. He is physical enough to catch passes in traffic, and he can break away from defenders.

    Rodgers is a different type of receiver as a tough-catches guy, but Ngata will team with Ross to stretch the field. That's a combination fans will love because of Ngata's elite all-around ability. There's nothing he can't do with the ball in the air.

    The future is bright for the California native in South Carolina, and he'll take a major step forward this year. 

Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma Quarterback

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    Wonder why the Oklahoma Sooners were not more active in the quarterback transfer market after landing Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts over the past few years?

    It's likely head coach Lincoln Riley is content with what he already has on campus.

    That would be Spencer Rattler and Tanner Mordecai, and the signal-calling duo will have an interesting battle for the starting gig this spring. Mordecai is a redshirt sophomore who might have the edge, but it will be hard to keep Rattler off the field.

    He's the future, and, most likely, the present.

    Rattler will be a redshirt freshman with just 11 pass attempts (and seven completions) under his belt, but 2019's top-ranked pro-style passer and 5-star signal-caller has huge potential despite being only 6'0", 198 pounds.

    He doesn't have elite physical skills or a dynamite arm, but Rattler is a precision passer who can make all the throws, move the pocket and extend plays. If he develops his leadership and takes care of the ball, he could fit in the mold of a Mayfield type who can win big games.

    It will be fun to watch Rattler develop, and in a year when there aren't expected to be a lot of high-profile youngsters starting at quarterback for title contenders, the spotlight will be on him.

Wan'Dale Robinson, Nebraska Wide Receiver

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    Nebraska's 2019 season was a disappointment. A campaign that started in the Top 25 shouldn't have ended with a losing record, but that's what happened with the 5-8 Cornhuskers.

    Though head coach Scott Frost is far from the hot seat in Lincoln, the favorite son needs to produce this season in a big way to get back in excellent graces with the patient-but-hungry Cornhuskers faithful.

    A lot of it hinges on quarterback Adrian Martinez, but the signal-caller needs playmakers around him, and that's where Wan'Dale Robinson comes in. The do-it-all athlete had a brilliant freshman campaign as Frost's utility player, and that role will only expand.

    He was used the way Michigan should use Giles Jackson this year, and Robinson is probably a better prospect.

    In 2019, he did everything on offense, rushing for 340 yards and three touchdowns while catching 40 balls for 453 yards and two more touchdowns. He was sixth in the Big Ten with 102.9 all-purpose yards per game and proved why he was a coveted prospect.

    Frost got him to flip from Kentucky late in the recruiting process last year, and he paid immediate dividends. There aren't enough players like him on Nebraska's team, and that's why Frost needs to get him the ball more.

Noah Sewell, Oregon Linebacker

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    Noah Sewell
    Noah SewellCredit: 247Sports

    A lot of recruiting analysts (including me) are higher on Justin Flowe's long-term potential when it comes to the dynamic duo of freshmen Oregon linebackers.

    But you need to watch out for Noah Sewell too.

    There's a reason the mid-term enrollee was a 5-star prospect, and a man that is pushing 270 pounds should not be able to move from sideline to sideline the way Sewell can. Everybody already assumes he's a terrific athlete since his brother, Penei, is probably the nation's top offensive lineman.

    The younger Sewell will get his chance to shine in 2020, and while Flowe probably has a higher ceiling, Sewell's earlier arrival at school, his football IQ and his ability will allow him to perhaps get on the field a little sooner. He's going to be extremely difficult to keep off it.

    With linebacker Mase Funa entrenched for coach Mario Cristobal's Ducks, Sewell could slot in beside him—maybe even pushing Flowe to the outside linebacker spot if he secures a spot.

    Sewell probably needs to whittle down his frame, but he doesn't carry a lot of bad weight. With Oregon losing three starting linebackers, plenty of snaps are available for Sewell and Flowe, and you don't sign 5-stars to have them stand on the sideline.

    Look for Sewell to get every opportunity to crack the rotation, if not the starting lineup, and you're going to love watching the way he attacks the game, the fire and leadership abilities he and Flowe display at such young ages.

Henry To'o To'o, Tennessee Inside Linebacker

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    If you want to watch a throwback linebacker from interior position, you should watch Tennessee's rising sophomore Henry To'o To'o.

    His name is pronounced Toe-oh Toe-oh, and you'll probably need to learn it.

    He started from basically the first day he arrived on campus for the Volunteers and became a leader beside senior Daniel Bituli. To'o To'o made several crucial plays, including being in on the fourth-down stop of Lynn Bowden Jr. in UT's fourth-quarter, goal-line stand to beat Kentucky in November.

    To'o To'o finished with 72 tackles, including five for a loss and half a sack. He was a force against the run, showed well for a first-year player in coverage and proved he could do it all. The Vols will count on him to line up the defense in 2020 with Bituli off to the NFL.

    Those are huge shoes to fill, but To'o To'o is capable. He was a pivotal part of Tennessee's late-season surge that flipped the script on an awful start and gave coach Jeremy Pruitt an 8-5 season in his second year on Rocky Top.

    With young linebackers Quavaris Crouch, Roman Harrison and Kivon Bennett, the Vols may not miss a beat this season as they try to continue to build a defense that can help them compete with the likes of Alabama, Georgia and Florida in the SEC.

    To'o To'o was coveted by most programs and chose to go to Knoxville rather than play at Alabama, Oregon or USC. That recruiting victory paid major dividends last year and should continue to.

Ar'Darius Washington, TCU Safety

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    The Big 12 isn't known for its defenses, but several young guys had breakout campaigns a season ago. You may already be familiar with Oklahoma State's Kolby Harvell-Peel, whose impressive sophomore season gained him recognition.

    You may not be as familiar with Ar'Darius Washington. He quietly posted a huge redshirt freshman season for coach Gary Patterson's Horned Frogs, and he will team with rising junior safety Trevon Moehrig for a strong one-two punch for TCU.

    Moehrig finished with four interceptions and 11 pass deflections and got much of the notoriety among Horned Frogs defenders in the All-Conference discussion. But Washington has a higher ceiling because of his football acumen.

    He finished with five interceptions and deflected another couple of balls, and his future is extremely bright. At 5'8", 175 pounds, Washington packs a big punch to for such a small defensive back.

    "He's not as fast as you want him to be. He's not as big as you want him to be. But he just makes plays," Patterson told Horned Frog Blitz's Jeremy Clark. "He's just a guy who loves the game. He's one of those guys when he plays, he loves the game."

    You have to love a player who gives everything he has, plays much bigger than his size and creates havoc every time he steps onto the field. Washington squeezes every morsel out of his talent. 

Jordan Whittington, Texas Athlete

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    When Texas landed 5-star recruit Jordan Whittington, he was a do-it-all, 6'0", 198-pound athlete who could play running back or receiver. During his freshman year in 2019, he bulked up to 215 pounds to play running back, but injuries sidelined him for all but one game.

    This week, coach Tom Herman told reporters Whittington would move back to slot receiver. This is the same position where Devin Duvernay thrived in '19 and got a few carries.

    If the Longhorns are smart, they'll utilize Whittington's running ability as well as his ball skills in a hybrid role.

    Roschon Johnson is expected to stick at running back rather than move to receiver, and new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich also will get a new toy in 5-star running back Bijan Robinson.

    But Whittington's potential is limitless, and he could team with rising sophomore Jake Smith to form a terrific duo. The Longhorns need impact receivers with Duvernay and Collin Johnson off to the NFL.

    With Sam Ehlinger back for his senior season at quarterback, he will have a lot of potentially exciting players around him, and Whittington could be one of the brightest stars in his second season in Austin.

    Yurcich is the ideal offensive mind to devise ways to get him the rock. Whether it be jet sweeps, direct handoffs, quick passes or stretching the field, Whittington can do it all, and you'll love watching him turn into one of the young, bright stars in the Big 12.

    It's hard to call him a slot receiver when the vision for him is expansive. The Longhorns need to think out of the box with guys like him, and this could be a huge season for him and Smith.

    Don't be surprised if one or both of them eclipse 1,000 receiving yards.


    Recruit ratings/rankings via 247Sports unless otherwise noted.