Image via @_keaganj

The following players are my favorite incoming athletes (per composite rankings) in the 2021 class. Players with the “EE” designation will enroll early in the spring.

Tier 1 – Immediate college stud and NFL potential 

NameSignedHtWtPosOffersMajor schools
Billy BowmanOklahoma (EE)5’10”175WR32Alabama, Auburn, UF, UGA, ORE, TEX

I am infatuated with Billy Bowman. I think he should be a top 10 wide receiver in this class, and is one of the most impressive movers of the incoming freshmen. His body control is really something to behold, as he navigates the field with grace. It is not hyperbole to say that the game just looks easy for him the way it did for the multi-dimensional Percy Harvin.

There is not an official confirmation he will play offense but reading the tea leaves, Bowman de-committed from Texas when they told him he would play in the secondary. I’d imagine Lincoln Riley knows where his bread is going to be buttered. Bowman will enroll in the spring and we should get confirmation on his position sooner rather than later.

Notable departures: Charleston Rambo Incumbents: Marvin Mims, Jadon Haselwood, Theo Wease, Trejan Bridges

NameSignedHtWtPosOffersMajor schools
A.J. GreenArkansas5’11”194RB16LSU, OK, SCAR, TAMU

I could end the paragraph with four numbers: 10.38. That is his personal best in the 100 meter dash, which translates into a solid 4.4 or even 4.3 forty yard dash. This speed shows up easily on the tape as he is routinely blasting past defenders and there is no chance he is caught once in the open field. He has some wiggle and running back instincts to pair with world class speed, but should continue to refine his craft in Fayetteville.

Starting out with his speed at 194 pounds is enough to make me want to roster him right away. The depth chart is also open as only 185 pound Trelon Smith returns with any meaningful production to his name. Green could be an immediate producer and secure a majority role in the backfield with a 75 yard run on any given play.

Notable departure: Rakeem Boyd Incumbents: Trelon Smith

Tier 2 – Talented with open depth charts and NFL potential

NameSignedHtWtPosOffersMajor schools
Keagan JohnsonIowa6’1″180WR8ISU, KSU

Keagan Johnson is actually the inspiration for this article. My colleague Austin Nace highlighted him on a recent Campus Life podcast and then made the observation that “athletes” often get overlooked but can provide some nice value in deep formats. Keagan Johnson really pops right away.

He has a strong frame and is a smooth mover, showing good nuance at the line as well as a variety of routes and tools to get open. I didn’t see extreme speed but that is an overrated attribute for receivers as it’s only a small part of how players can get open. I think Johnson can manipulate defenders during routes in short, intermediate and deep parts of the field. I really liked what I saw and Johnson will walk into a wide receiver room begging for a new playmaker.

Notable departure: Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Brandon Smith Incumbent: Nico Ragaini

NameSignedHtWtPosOffersMajor schools
Ja’Tavion SandersTexas6’3″235TE 23ALA, UF, UGA 

Sanders is the player on this list I feel least comfortable projecting on the offensive side of the ball. New Texas head coach Steve Sarkesian has already said he will try Sanders out at both tight end and defensive end. Should he stick on offense, he has tremendous upside as an uber athletic but undersized weapon much like Jonnu Smith or Jordan Reed before him.

Honestly, watching the tape I think he may be most impactful on the defensive line as his athleticism would give lineman fits. He’s still ranked high for me because the upside is very large as a move tight end. If you’re playing in a C2C league with individual defensive positions, then Sanders would be a much easier pick to take and enjoy his dominance wherever he lands.

Notable departure: none Incumbent: Cade Brewer

NameSignedHtWtPosOffersMajor schools
Devrin WeathersKansas St6’1″195RB3Navy

It appears that Kansas St has done it again! First they struck gold with diminutive but explosive Deuce Vaughn who collected over 1200 all-purpose yards as a true freshman. Weathers looks every bit as fast as Vaughn but comes in a super-size version, pushing 200 pounds as a teenager. He was the MaxPreps Missouri Player of the Year in 2020.

I can’t say I have the utmost confidence in the level of competition in the Central Ozark Conference however he shows tremendous speed and acceleration once into the open field. He has a limited set of moves to create yards on his own but will utilize a jump cut juke then explode up field. I like his speed at 195 pounds as a freshman and think he could develop into a complete back at Kansas State. 

Notable departure: none Incumbent: Deuce Vaughn

Tier 3 – Quality college players

NameSignedHtWtPosOffersMajor schools
Isaiah NewcombeUCLA6’1″185WR18Boise, Washington, Utah

Isaiah Newcombe may not wow you with highlight reel grabs but he appears to do many things well and will have an opportunity to shine early at UCLA. I saw a player who uses his long frame to snag receptions and also can maneuver in the short area around the line of scrimmage to beat man coverage.

He is probably not a supremely gifted athlete but showed enough that I think he at least meets athletic minimums to be productive. He would fall into a category of WRs that are savvy and smooth rather than explosive and powerful. He has a documented 100 meter dash of 11.04 which equates to roughly 4.6 forty which is just fine for me to project success both at the college and even NFL level.

Notable departure: none Incumbent: Kyle Phillips

NameSignedHtWtPosOffersMajor schools
Eli SandersIowa St6’0″190RB11AZ, AzSt, Iowa

Speed, speed and more speed is what Sanders shows on the film. Multiple breakaway runs where he pulls away from defenders even once already down field. His best 100 meter dash time does not imply he has world-beating wheels, but Sanders looked like a home run hitter on most of his tape. He has good enough size to develop into a high volume back and in 2022 the RB room will be wide open for new talent.

Notable departures: none Incumbent: Breece Hall

Tier 4: Projects with tools

NameSignedHtWtPosOffersMajor schools
Roc TaylorMemphis6’2″212WR12UF, SCAR, AUB

A strange story from signing day involved Taylor getting his Tennessee offer pulled with new coach Josh Heupel running the show. However, it may have been a blessing in disguise to leave the dumpster fire in Knoxville for the offensive carnival in Memphis. He should be able to body up defenders in the AAC much like he did in high school, but the big WR/TE hybrid shows smooth movement for a guy his size.

The hope from a fantasy angle would be that he can work on some explosiveness and be a WR in college and get a chance there in the NFL should he perform. He’s just too small to be a legitimate TE candidate long term. In a perfect world he could be in the Anquan Boldin mold of a strong possession receiver.

Notable departures: Damonte Coxie Incumbent: Calvin Austin III, Tahj Washington

NameSignedHtWtPosOffersMajor schools
Trentan HowlandIND6’2″218RB8ISU, MIN, NEB, PUR

The Indiana offense was supposed to be much improved in 2020 but COVID threw a wet blanket on that plan. Almost every player on that side of the ball regressed from 2019 level from quarterback Michael Penix to receiver Whop Philyor. Now departed Stevie Scott saw his efficiency drop for the second straight year since a nice freshman season and Sampson James was even less impressive. I like Penix to get back on track and hopefully the offense looks more explosive in 2021.

Enter Trentan Howland who already has great size and is a smooth mover on tape. Despite his size he shows some nimble feet using a few spin moves and side steps to avoid defenders. There isn’t much evidence of long speed, but that’s ok for a running back who can eat up 5-10 yards and get into the second level with some burst.

Notable departures: Stevie Scott III Incumbent: Sampson James   

NameSignedHtWtPosOffersMajor schools
Chamon MetayerCincinnati6’5″220TE16AUB, UF, MIA.FSU

I am not concerned that Josh Whyle is there for Metayer’s freshman season. In all likelihood, this jumbo athlete will need time to bulk up and refine his game before he’s ready to take the field. What is very nice is that Cincinnati has another promising quarterback to take over once Desmond Ridder goes off to the NFL so the offense should stay productive.

Metayer shows really impressive athleticism for his long frame and excels at the catch point. He looks like a dangerous red zone threat already and will be able to beat college defenders on jump balls right away. Given his 6’5” frame, it’s not out of question for him to put on 30 pounds in college and wind up as an intriguing NFL prospect in 4 years. This is the kind of athlete you want to take a chance on at the tight end position.

Notable departures: none Incumbent: Josh Whyle   

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