Ranking College Football's Top Big-Play Threats

Tyler Brooke@TylerDBrookeSenior Analyst IIMarch 3, 2020

Ranking College Football's Top Big-Play Threats

0 of 5

    Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

    The art of the big play requires skill and athletic ability more often than it does pure luck, which is why college football's top big-play threats find the end zone so often.

    Last season featured some electric skill players as big-play threats, including Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor, Alabama's Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III, Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb and a handful of others.

    Despite so many big names heading to the NFL, there are still some exciting players to keep an eye on next year. While quarterbacks can certainly make big throws, skill players are typically the ones creating plays once the ball is in their hands.

    Quarterbacks like Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields are already getting enough attention heading into 2020, so let's take a look at some of those skill players who will be making the biggest plays on upcoming Saturdays.

5. Rondale Moore, Purdue

1 of 5

    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    College football fans might have forgotten about the dynamic abilities of Purdue's Rondale Moore after an injury-riddled season. However, a fully healthy Moore heading into 2020 could strike fear in Big Ten defenses once again.

    Moore took college football by storm as a true freshman for the Boilermakers, earning All-American honors and the Paul Hornung Award as the nation's most versatile player in 2018. He finished the season with 114 receptions, 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns while adding another 213 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

    Unfortunately, Moore was sidelined for all but four games in 2019. He caught only 29 passes for 387 yards and two scores before a knee injury against Minnesota at the end of September kept him sidelined for the rest of the year.

    Now, Moore has a chance to return to the big stage and help bring the Boilermakers back to prominence. The only issue could be the uncertainty at the quarterback position, especially after all the injuries at the position last season. 

    No matter who is throwing Moore the ball next year, he's certain to be one of the most explosive players in college football as long as he stays healthy. 

4. Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State

2 of 5

    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    It was a surprise to many when Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard decided to return to the Cowboys in 2020 instead of declaring for the NFL draft. However, he now has a chance to put on another show at the college level, even potentially making a run at the Heisman trophy.

    As a redshirt sophomore in 2019, Hubbard took the Big 12 by storm. He finished the season rushing for 2,094 yards and 21 touchdowns, averaging 6.4 yards per carry. He was a finalist for the Doak Walker Award and Walter Camp Player of the Year Award while also being named the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-American.

    Hubbard's big-play ability was on display a lot last season as he led all FBS running backs in rushes of at least 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80 and 90 yards. His 2,000-yard season with Oklahoma State was only the second in program history, and the legendary Barry Sanders is the only other running back to hit that mark.

    Playing against Big 12 defenses certainly doesn't hurt Hubbard's production, but he's still an explosive running back and a big-play threat whenever he touches the ball. After the season he had last year, Cowboys fans should be excited to see what he can do as an encore.

3. DeVonta Smith, Alabama

3 of 5

    Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

    Playing behind superstars like Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III would make life hard for most wide receivers, but DeVonta Smith is much more extraordinary than most other players at his position.

    Along with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa before he was injured, Smith was part of the electric group that took the Alabama passing offense to new heights. While his teammates also put up big numbers, he finished the season with 68 receptions, 1,256 yards and 14 touchdowns.

    His 18.5 yards per reception are what really stood out, and his biggest game of the year was one of the most impressive by any receiver in the country. He caught 11 passes against Ole Miss for 274 yards and five touchdowns.

    Now that Jeudy and Ruggs are off to play in the NFL, Smith will have an opportunity to be the No. 1 target for the Crimson Tide in 2020. His production may dip a bit with defenses focusing more on him, but his explosiveness and deep-threat ability will still make him a big-time playmaker. 

2. Travis Etienne, Clemson

4 of 5

    Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press

    When you think about explosive playmakers at the running back position, Clemson Tigers star Travis Etienne has to be one of the first names to come to mind.

    Etienne has been a force to be reckoned with in the Clemson backfield the past two seasons, running for at least 1,600 yards in both 2018 and 2019. During that two-year span, he went for 3,272 yards and 43 touchdowns while averaging an absurd 8.0 yards per carry.

    What makes Etienne even more terrifying for opposing defenses is how he's developed as a receiver out of the backfield. He caught 37 passes for 432 yards and four touchdowns last season, helping him amass over 2,000 yards from scrimmage.

    Even as a larger running back at 5'10" and 210 pounds, Etienne has next-level explosiveness that allows him to take it to the house whenever he finds an open rushing lane. While Trevor Lawrence deservedly gets a lot of credit for Clemson's success the past two years, Etienne continues to carry a strong running game to give the Tigers balance on offense.

    With most of Clemson's top playmakers returning for the 2020 season, Etienne should continue to get opportunities to burn opposing defenses.

1. Ja'Marr Chase, LSU

5 of 5

    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    When it comes to big-play threats, no one can really hold a candle to LSU Tigers wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase.

    After a modest freshman season with the Tigers, Chase exploded onto the national stage this past year with the help of quarterback Joe Burrow and passing game coordinator Joe Brady, who both made sure to get him heavily involved in the offense. He finished the campaign with a remarkable stat line, catching 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns while averaging an incredible 21.2 yards per reception.

    Those numbers helped Chase break SEC records for both receiving yards and touchdowns. Not surprisingly, he was also named a unanimous All-American and the 2019 Fred Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation's best receiver.

    Chase's game is on another level, and a number of future NFL cornerbacks claimed he was the hardest receiver to cover while they were interviewing at the NFL combine in Indianapolis this past week.

    At 6'1" and 200 pounds, he makes plays on contested catches like he's a few inches taller and a few dozen pounds heavier. He also has the breakaway speed and strength to turn any play into a big one once the ball is in his hands.

    Even following Burrow's departure, Chase should still make plenty of big plays. His athletic profile and contested-catch ability should help put him in the Heisman conversation next season, even as a receiver.