10 of College Football's Fastest Players in 2021

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistFebruary 9, 2021

10 of College Football's Fastest Players in 2021

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    Tony Ding/Associated Press

    There are few things in college football better than watching a player get to the second level and make a house call while pulling away from defenders. Or, on the other side of the ball, closing the gap with a ball-carrier in double time and arriving with an impact.

    Acceleration is a revelation between the lines.

    You can't teach speed, and when a player is fast and can translate that while in pads, it's a beautiful thing to see and can make a huge impact in every facet of the game. 

    Not every player who can scamper past others winds up affecting games, and some of the players on this list are still waiting to break through. Others have used their amazing "wheels" to become some of the most electrifying players in the sport.

    Most of these guys are on Power Five teams, and some of them are playmakers you already know. Then there's a Group of Five star you need to know.

    When you've got speed to burn like these guys, though, it's up to coaches to find ways to get the ball in their hands. Let's take a look at some of college football's speediest weapons. Watch out for scorch marks.

Theodore Knox, Mississippi State Wide Receiver

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    It's always fun putting a couple of newcomers on a list like this, even if it is difficult to know just how accurate speed measured in high school is and how it will translate on the football field.

    One of the players to know who definitely fits on the list, though, is 4-star Mississippi State wide receiver signee Theodore Knox of The Woodlands High School in Texas.

    Though his 40-yard dash is listed at just 4.42 seconds, that's not the only way to measure speed. Looking at how fast he gets over a long distance is a good gauge, too, and, boy, is Knox fast. Speed is the name of his game.

    According to 247Sports' Gabe Brooks, Knox posted verified times of 10.40 seconds in the 100 meters, 21.03 in the 200 meters and 4.42 in the 40 while in high school in Baton Rouge before transferring to Texas. Those are some pretty amazing numbers, and it's going to be fun to watch him in Mike Leach's offense.

    You'd be hard-pressed to find a better 100-meter time of any incoming college football prospect. It's also going to be interesting to watch him develop since he's a 4-star prospect and one of the top 300 freshmen in the country.

    If Leach can utilize that speed, he's going to have him a good one in Starkville.

Christian Leary, Alabama Wide Receiver

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Perhaps the fastest player in the 2021 class certainly believes he is.

    That would be 4-star Alabama signee Christian Leary, who tweeted in May he was "the nation's fastest recruit." 

    Well, the Edgewater High School star from Orlando, Florida, certainly doesn't lack for confidence. 

    At 5'9", 190 pounds, Leary isn't the biggest prospect, but he's exactly the kind of super athlete coach Nick Saban can burn teams with, much the way he did with Jaylen Waddle. The Crimson Tide have a couple of do-it-all burners in this class with Leary and JoJo Earle.

    When Alabama's official Twitter account tweeted Leary's signing, it did so with the words "SPEED, SPEED, SPEED," so get ready in Tuscaloosa for this dude's afterburners. He's going to be one of the most electrifying players in a class full of elite talent.

    Leary is a top-100 player who can do a lot of things with the ball in his hands. He ran a 10.5-second 100-meter dash (according to Bama Central's Tyler Martin), and the Orlando Sentinel's Chris Hays wrote that Leary's fastest 40 time is 4.39 seconds.

    He's going to play with the best, against the best and be coached by the best at Alabama, so you can expect Leary to develop that speed into elite skills that are translatable to the pros. He may be another of the great ones in a long line of UA pass-catchers from the Sunshine State.

Kayshon Boutte, LSU Wide Receiver

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    Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

    So many players bolted for the NFL or opted out after LSU's national championship season two years ago, coach Ed Orgeron basically had to start from scratch to find playmakers in 2020.

    He found more than a few in a year that had plenty of bumps along the way.

    One of those was 6'0", 180-pound true freshman pass-catcher Kayshon Boutte from New Iberia, Louisiana, who stayed at home to leave scorch marks on the playing surface at Tiger Stadium. With 4.37 speed, Boutte was impossible to keep off the field as a first-year player.

    Boutte didn't disappoint, either. On an offense that needed star receivers after Ja'Marr Chase opted out and Justin Jefferson was starring in the NFL, Boutte played Robin to Terrace Marshall Jr.'s Batman. He finished the season with 45 catches for 735 yards and five touchdowns.

    It wasn't uncommon to see him ripping past defenders and racing toward the goal line.

    When it comes to star pass-catchers, the Bayou Bengals have churned plenty out in recent memory, and Boutte looks like the next great one.

    He has a couple of more seasons to do it on the college level, though.

Chris Tyree, Notre Dame Running Back

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    Matt Cashore/Associated Press

    With Ian Book off to the NFL, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are going to need to rely more on their running game in 2021 if they're going to get back to the College Football Playoff.

    Wisconsin transfer signal-caller Jack Coan could blossom into a playmaker, but coach Brian Kelly knows what he has already in Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree. The former is an every-down back who became a star in 2020, and Tyree is the burner who carved his niche as a true freshman.

    With a larger sample set, everybody is going to see just how fast (and how good) Tyree is. He rushed for nearly 500 yards and four scores last year, and he's going to do bigger and better things in 2021 if he stays healthy.

    At The Opening event back when he was in high school, the Virginia native beat Ohio State's Julian Fleming "by several steps," according to The Spun, and he was timed at 4.37 in the 40-yard dash. That's plenty of giddy-up.

    More importantly, like a lot of players on this list, Tyree can do more than just fly. He has the potential to be an every-down back after Williams heads to the NFL, he can catch passes out of the backfield is playing for a coach in Kelly who knows how to get him the ball.

    He's in for an exciting career in South Bend.

Kelee Ringo, Georgia Cornerback

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    Credit: 247Sports

    The Georgia Bulldogs lost a burner from their secondary to the NFL draft when Tyson Campbell decided to leave early to make his millions in the pros.

    They're going to replace him with another kid who is blazing-fast, though.

    The college football world had to wait a year on 2020 5-star prospect Kelee Ringo because of an injury. Though he stands 6'2" and 205 pounds, that doesn't affect his wheels.

    It's ridiculous a player that size can run so fast, but Ringo ran a laser-timed 4.35 40-yard dash at the Rivals 5-star Challenge when he was in high school, according to the Arizona Republic's Richard Obert, and rehabbing a shoulder injury for a year in a college weight-training program hasn't slowed him.

    Recently, according to Ringo's Instagram, he was clocked at 22.3 mph during practice (via SI.com's Brooks Austin), which was the fastest on the team, followed by Arian Smith.

    That number for a guy the size of Ringo is wild. It's going to be fun to watch him play in red and black for the next couple of years.

Jaylen Hall, Western Michigan Wide Receiver

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    Al Goldis/Associated Press

    Jaylen Hall is a threat to score every time he touches the football.

    As a matter of fact, he almost did in 2020.

    Hall finished the short season with 12 catches for 323 yards, and seven of those grabs went for touchdowns. That means he averaged nearly 27 yards per catch, and with Kaleb Eleby throwing him the ball, that was a deadly combination for the Broncos.

    Sure, D'Wayne Eskridge was the biggest playmaker on the roster, but Hall provided the most explosive plays. What's even more remarkable is Hall is no little guy, either.

    He is 6'4", 170 pounds and runs an eye-popping 4.32 40-yard dash (according to the Detroit News' David Goricki), and that's why he's a star in coach Tim Lester's offense. He led the nation in yards per catch this year, and with a couple of seasons of eligibility remaining, his best football may be yet to come.

    Hall routinely rolled past defensive backs and burned them for long touchdowns, but it was a short one that provided one of college football's most memorable highlights of the year in Eleby's fake-spike game-winner over Toledo.

    The rising senior is more than just a speedy pass-catcher, and he could post huge numbers in 2021.

Corey Wren, Florida State Running Back

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Florida State coach Mike Norvell has not gotten the chance to install his full offense yet with the Seminoles—not the way he had things clicking while he was at Memphis.

    Maybe when he does, underclassman running back Corey Wren will be able to play the Kenneth Gainwell role.

    Wren was once committed to Georgia before flipping to play his college football in Tallahassee, and though the 2020 3-star prospect couldn't find the field in his first year, the John Curtis High School product from Louisiana is almost certainly going to make a way there soon.

    How can he not with the kind of speed he has?

    When he was in high school, Wren ran the second-fastest 100-meter dash in the nation at 10.41 seconds, according to Warchant.com's Corey Clark. His 40 time is a little bit slower than a couple of guys on this list at 4.31, but he is still one of the fastest players in the country.

    At 5'10", 185 pounds, Wren isn't the biggest back in the country, but he is exactly the kind of super-utility player who Norvell can move around and put in places to make plays. After a year in a college strength and conditioning program, Wren is going to develop soon.

    He's going to be running past defenders on a television set near you. 

Daxton Hill, Michigan Safety

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    Tony Ding/Associated Press

    Michigan's Daxton Hill is one of the most athletic players in the nation, and though he hasn't busted out the way many thought he would a couple of years ago when the Wolverines won a hotly contested battle for his signature over Alabama, the Big Blue defensive back has been just fine.

    The Tulsa, Oklahoma, native finished the abbreviated 2020 season with 44 tackles in six games. He also had an interception and four passes defended.

    Hill's speed translates extremely well on the back end of Michigan's defense, and at 6'0", 192 pounds, he does more than just cover ground. He's a big hitter, plays the ball in the air well and could even shift over to cornerback in 2021 if Michigan needs him to.

    He may be better there, anyway.

    According to the Detroit Free Press' Nick Baumgardner, Hill ran a 4.3 at The Opening when he was a senior in high school, tying him with LSU's Derek Stingley Jr. (also on this list) for the fastest there. Though Stingley has gotten more headlines so far in his college career, Hill's are coming.

    The Wolverines could take a big step forward in 2021 if they can find quality quarterback play, and there are a lot of pieces on the other side of the ball to make moving on from ousted defensive coordinator Don Brown a better transition.

    Hill is a player to watch for a major breakout campaign, and it's because his game is catching up to his superb speed and things are slowing down for him.

Derek Stingley Jr., LSU Cornerback

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    Sam Craft/Associated Press

    The most talented player in the country is LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., who didn't quite have the follow-up campaign to his breakthrough All-American true freshman season as he would have liked in 2020.

    That was pretty much the story for the entire Bayou Bengals team.

    Stingley will rebound, though, and his physical talents are as immense as anybody who is playing at the amateur level. To watch his ball skills and ability is something to behold, and he can cover some ground, too. That's why it's paramount coach Ed Orgeron finds ways to get him the ball.

    The rising junior can impact a game in special teams and even on offense, and it's in part because of his blazing 4.3 speed. That's the kind of speed you just can't teach, and it's kind of unfair considering everything else Stingley does so well.

    He's really just biding his time until the NFL comes calling after the 2021 season, and he's going to make millions as a shutdown corner in the league for a long, long time. Everybody is going to be able to watch his difference-making speed on Sundays.

    For one more year, at least, Orgeron needs to find more ways to showcase his star's immense talent all over the place.

Lorenzo Lingard, Florida Running Back

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The Florida Gators haven't enjoyed a difference-making running back in their offense in a long time, and it remains to be seen whether Miami transfer Lorenzo Lingard will be able to provide one.

    He could be a home run hitter for coach Dan Mullen.

    Lingard transferred to Gainesville from Coral Gables a season ago and mustered just five carries in the Gators offense in 2020. That's pretty difficult to imagine considering his potential to impact the game with his feet.

    Mullen told Rivals' Zach Abolverdi in October that Lingard got banged up in preseason drills, and that was why he wasn't a part of the rotation. Maybe he just never got healthy. If he does, he could team with Clemson transfer Demarkcus Bowman to give UF a one-two punch.

    Lingard clocked a 4.27 40-yard dash with the Hurricanes as a freshman, according to 247Sports' David Lake, which is pretty unreal.

    With that kind of speed, Mullen must find a way to get the ball in his hands.