College Football Freshmen We're Most Intrigued to See in 2021 Spring Games

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistFebruary 8, 2021

College Football Freshmen We're Most Intrigued to See in 2021 Spring Games

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    J.J. McCarthy
    J.J. McCarthyCredit: 247Sports (Andrew Ivins)

    National signing day has wrapped up, and spring practice is the next marquee topic on college football's offseason calendar. As usual, early enrollees will land plenty of attention.

    It's only becoming more popular for prospects to enroll during the winter semester and grab the spotlight in the spring. Although a strong performance in March and April doesn't guarantee anything for September and beyond, a standout freshman often generates hype.

    For most viewers, their only opportunity to watch is during the spring game. In the meantime, we're closely watching several of these potential star freshmen.

    While the list is limited to the class of 2021, each player highlighted has a good-to-great chance at earning a starting job in the fall. The choices are subjective but consider the potential impact of these players on a conference or national title contender.

Nyland Green, CB, Georgia

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    Georgia returns a strong majority of its production in the front seven, but the secondary must be rebuilt.

    At cornerback alone, the Bulldogs lost Eric Stokes, Tyson Campbell, Tyrique Stevenson and DJ Daniel, along with nickelback Mark Webb. They'll be looking to youth in 2021, and 4-star corner Nyland Green is a candidate for a regular role.

    Green, who's listed at 6'2" and 183 pounds, will be challenging Kelee Ringo, Ameer Speed and Jalen Kimber at corner. Even if Green doesn't start, the position is thin and inexperienced enough to suggest Georgia will use a deep rotation.

    But with a full spring to compete, Green has a clear opportunity to play for a national title threat.

TreVeyon Henderson, RB, Ohio State

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    Because of the coronavirus pandemic, 5-star running back TreVeyon Henderson didn't have a senior season in Virginia. There's no question he's ready to hit the field in the spring.

    Now, can he start?

    Ohio State lost Trey Sermon to the NFL, leaving a talented but question-filled position. Master Teague III will definitely have a role, but is he more of a lead runner or complementary option? If the latter, who will be the backup? Steele Chambers, Miyan Williams and Marcus Crowley combined for 25 carries last year.

    Henderson, who ran for 2,424 yards and 45 touchdowns in 2019, can establish himself as a key member of the backfield.

Sam Huard, QB, Washington

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    Prior to COVID-19 issues ultimately ending the team's season, Washington was in position to reach the Pac-12 Championship Game in 2020. Quarterback Dylan Morris played decently well, but he didn't exactly tear it up, either.

    At the very worst, Washington is set for a competition with Morris, transfer Patrick O'Brien and 5-star addition Sam Huard.

    During his last two high school seasons, Huard threw for 8,309 yards and 98 touchdowns. Immediately unseating the returning starter will be a difficult task, given both Morris' role in 2020 and Huard not having a senior season to play.

    Still, because none of UW's options have major Pac-12 experience, Huard has a great opportunity to rise the depth chart.

Jason Marshall, CB, Florida

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    Kaiir Elam is a guaranteed starter at cornerback. After him, however, Florida shouldn't feel settled.

    Last year, the Gators ended 88th nationally with 7.8 yards allowed per pass attempt. While the season-length disparity must be mentioned, only Arkansas State ceded more touchdown passes than Floridaand the Gators managed just nine interceptions.

    It's unfair to label 5-star Jason Marshall as the answer to UF's problems, but he certainly can be a part of the solution.

    For a program with championship hopes, settling the cornerback position is crucial. Marshall's hopes of immediate snaps begins with surpassing some combination of Jaydon Hill, Jahari Rogers, Avery Helm and Kamar Wilcoxson on the depth chart.

J.J. McCarthy, QB, Michigan

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    Much of the criticism surrounding Jim Harbaugh at Michigan can be traced back to struggles at quarterback. The Wolverines have lacked an elite player at the position during his six years.

    Rightfully so, though, fans are excited about 5-star J.J. McCarthy.

    McCarthy has joined Cade McNamara and Joe Milton in a competition that's unlikely to end this spring. McNamara, who replaced Milton after a 1-3 start, totaled six touchdowns and zero interceptions but tallied just 6.0 yards per passing attempt.

    The spring game is a glorified scrimmage, but seeing how McCarthy compares to McNamara and Milton will be a notable storyline for both Michigan and the Big Ten.

Ga'Quincy McKinstry, CB, Alabama

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    Ga'Quincy McKinstry could eventually suit up for Alabama's basketball team, but football will be his priority in Tuscaloosa.

    His top-level athleticism is incredibly intriguing, and it might be on display this fall.

    Following the departure of top corner Patrick Surtain II, McKinstry has a path to contributing immediately. The 5-star talent will battle Brian Branch, Marcus Banks, Ronald Williams Jr., Jalyn Armour-Davis and others for the right to start opposite Josh Jobe and nickelback Malachi Moore.

    McKinstry, who caught 45 passes as a high school senior, is a unique playmaker joining the nation's most dominant program.

Ty Thompson, QB, Oregon

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    Similar to Huard at Pac-12 rival Washington, Ty Thompson may provide Oregon with a fascinating dilemma.

    Tyler Shough had a promising half-season and helped the Ducks win the league. However, he also struggled later in 2020, leading to Anthony Brown taking significant snaps during both the Pac-12 Championship Game and the Fiesta Bowl.

    Both players are back, and so are Jay Butterfield and Robby Ashford, who were 4-star recruits in the 2020 class.

    By the end of spring practice, where will Thompson sit on the depth chart? Should the accelerating hype be slowed or permitted? The answers to those questions might be impactful in Eugene.

Billy Bowman, ATH, Oklahoma

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    Billy Bowman needs a position.

    Checking in at 5'10" and 175 pounds, he's a 4-star athlete who thrived at both receiver and cornerback in his senior year. He caught 86 passes for 1,207 yards, adding 32 tackles, four interceptions, six pass breakups and two forced fumbles on defense.

    "I don't have the first clue where he's going to play for us, but it's going to be somewhere," Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley said of the incoming freshman.

    The Sooners will start figuring out "somewhere" for Bowman soon, and that result will be watched closely around the Big 12.


    All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from, or B/R research. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.