Of course, explosives are very important. It could be a scary returner, a great trucker (or catcher!), a pass rusher who explodes into the backfield, or a former running back.
Most of the most explosive players in college football in 2020 are preparing to find out where they will be recruited, but many are returning to school this fall. However you define the pick, here are the most explosive players in college football (based on specific ranking criteria and my own creative liberties).
Best deep ball pitchers
Few things in sports are as fascinating as a good deep ball. This is one of the only explosive games viewers can prepare for. The crowd let out a rising, buzzing sound before exploding as the pass was completed. And some are much better at these throws than others.
Scoring criteria: minimum 10 passes with an escape distance of at least 20 meters. Players are ranked by batting average, yards per hit, catch percentage and interception percentage, with the first two categories being the most important.
5. Dustin Crum, Kent State
Lineup: 18 attempts, 50% completion rate, 38.8 yards per completion, 56% catch rate, 0% INT completion rate.
Bring it down and throw it sideways repeatedly, then hit it vertically. Attacking Kent State is fun.
4. Caleb Eleby, Western Michigan
Statistics: 27 attempts, 41% completion rate, 45.4 yards per attempt, 52% completion rate, 0% INT
With his extreme accuracy on short balls and willingness to go deep, Eleby had a 65% success rate last season and averaged 17.3 yards per completion. The Broncos could be a real challenge for Michigan and Pitt in non-conference play.
3. Matt Corral, Ole Miss
Stat Lineup: 56 attempts, 54% completion rate, 40.9 yards per completion, 63% catch rate, 9% INT rate.
He’ll have to do without Elijah Moore and tight end Kenny Yeboah this fall, but Corral still has the confidence, arm and aggressive play of Lane Kiffin.
Matt Corral completed 54% of his passes that had a flight distance of at least 20 yards. Joshua McCoy | Ole Miss Athletics
2. Lane Hatcher, Arkansas
Stats list: 62 attempts, 50% completion, 40.0 yards per pass, 65% completion, 2% INT.
Hatcher throws almost a third of his passes over 20 yards, and he throws a very catchable ball. New head coach Butch Jones and offensive coordinator Keith Heckendorf will do well to let the situation sink in.
1. Sam Howell, North Carolina
Breakdown stats: 56 attempts, 45% completion, 42.0 yards per pass, 64% completion, 4% INT.
Anyone who watched UNC last year probably knew who the top pick would be. Howell has a new batch of champions this year, but with youngsters like Hafre Brown and Josh Downs, he can still go deep if he wants to (and he often does).
Falling from the best range
Even the best trucker always needs someone to turn back the pass.
Scoring criteria: minimum of 1.5 targets per game with 20+ yards of air yardage. Players are ranked by catch percentage and yards per catch, with extra points for larger targets.
5. Romeo Doubs, Nevada
Stat Lineup: 3.3 long targets per game, 37% catch, 48.9 yards per catch.
Matt Mumme’s offense is one of the fastest and easiest throws in efficiency. Nevada is one of the favorites in the MWC West, however, as Doubs punishes any defender expecting a short ball.
4. Jaylon Robinson, UCF
statline: 2.0 long targets per game, 55% catch, 42.2 yards per catch.
New head coach Gus Malzahn inherited a pretty strong kick return, but quarterback Dillon Gabriel still has two speedsters in Robinson and Ryan O’Keefe who each average at least 17.8 yards per catch.
3. Jalen Nailor, Michigan
Statistical line: 2.4 long targets per game, 41% catch rate, 46.7 yards per catch.
If Michigan State made a big play in 2020, it was almost certainly Naylor or junior Ricky White doing the damage. Imagine what Naylor can do with a series of runs that opponents should fear.
2. Jaylen Hall, Western Michigan
stat line: 2.2 long targets per game, 46% catch, 50.6 yards per catch.
Eleby-to-Hall is one of the most tried and formidable combinations in the country.
Caleb Eleby comes out and finds Jaylen Hall for a 49-yard touchdown.
1. Khalil Shakir, Boise StateStats: 2.4 long targets per game, 53% catch rate, 40.2 yards per catch.
As with Naylor, Shakir had to let most of his team play. But he’d be damned if he couldn’t.
Best explosion risk without hazard
It is generally accepted that big games require risks. Teams set up a good running game or quick passing game to lull the defense to sleep and then try to catch them from above, right? Now some players can safely take these short balls – the giveaway balls or super short balls – and play them very far. Call this class the new Travis Etienne of college football.
Evaluation Criteria: We consider a rush of more than 15 yards or a reception of more than 15 yards with an air yardage of three yards or less to be a safe big play. Short passes and passes. Players must have at least one of these to get on the list. Players are ranked according to the frequency and size of these big games.
5. Britten Brown, UCLA
Stat Line: 14 Big Plays for 353 yards, 16% frequency.
The Duke transfer helped Chip Kelly lead his third consecutive attack at UCLA. In 2021, it should be just as dangerous.
4. Jarek Broussard, Colorado
Stat Line: 16 Big Plays for 480 yards, 10% frequency.
Broussard isn’t the most efficient in the country, but he’s a scintillating wildcard. And he’s delivering most of his best performance since he tried the tackle – averaging 3.7 yards per carry in 2020.
3. Tyler Allgeier, BYU
Stat Line: 24 Big Plays for 663 yards, 16% frequency.
Quarterback Zach Wilson’s success in 2020 has distracted us from the fact that the 220-pound All-Vulture might be the biggest physical threat in the country.
2. Bijan Robinson, Texas
Distribution of Statistics: 15 Big Plays for 504 yards, 17% frequency.
The youngster exploded at the end of 2020, averaging 12 carries for 131 yards and two catches for another 33 yards in the final four games of the season. Steve Sarkisian should enjoy this.
Bijan Robinson turns the WVU defender around and holds his opponent’s arm to get free, but the referees call it out of bounds.
1. Rashaad White, Arizona State
Stat Line: 10 Big Plays for 396 yards, 22% frequency.
ASU played just four games, but White had the biggest impact, averaging 10 yards per carry and 19 yards per reception.
Most explosion-proof sealed ends
A good 195-pound sprinter is certainly fun to watch, but isn’t it more fun to watch a 245-pound Thunder in the open field?
Evaluation Criteria: Tight ends with at least two touches per game. Players are ranked by yards per catch and yards per catch (per catch) – an aesthetic decision on my part – with extra points for players with more goals. He is calibrated to put Florida’s Kyle Pitts at the number one spot in 2020. It’s a model.
5. Bryson Cannon, Eastern Michigan
Stats Line: 3.0 targets per game, 19.8 yards per catch, 11.9 yards per catch
Take a short pass and go a long way with it. Cannon is the most explosive guy in the group at 6-foot-4 and 242 pounds.
4. James Mitchell, Virginia Tech
Stats Line: 4.3 targets per game, 16.7 yards per catch, 10.1 yards per catch
Mitchell is an alter(ish) shoulder, with a narrow end that hits the seam as well as another. When he had more than 50 receiving yards, Virginia Tech averaged six more points per game than when he didn’t.
3. Trey McBride, Colorado
Stat: 8.8 targets per game, 15.0 yards per catch, 7.3 yards per catch
CSU’s pass game was second to none. Only two players caught more than eight passes in their four games – as a tight end (McBride) and as a slot manager (Dante Wright) – and both averaged more than 15 yards per catch.
2. Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina
Stats Line: 4.5 targets per game, 20.0 yards per catch, 7.0 yards per catch.
Few things are more demoralizing to a defense than when they can’t stop a super efficient running game and lose track of their damn tight end blocker with just a few snaps and burn the opponent down for 20 yards.
Grayson McCall throws a deep pass to Isaiah Likely, who returns it for a Chanticleers touchdown.
1. Greg Dulcic, UCLA 19A9 Stats Line: 5.7 targets per game, 19.9 yards per catch, 7.1 yards per catch
UCLA didn’t have much in 2020, but the Bruins had a scary slot manager (Kyle Philips), a dual threat (Brown) and one of the most dynamic tight ends in the 220-pound Dulcich.
Most Concerned Bystanders, defensive version
Chase Young never threw or caught a deep bomb at Ohio State, but he was as explosive as anyone in the sport in 2019. Here are the most explosive backstops at the end position.
Scoring criteria: minimum of 15 pass attempts per game, minimum of three plays. Players are ranked based on speed and pocket pressure, with bonus points for those who make the most attempts.
5. Cameron Butler, Miami (OH)
Stats: 21.3 assists per game, 3.9% sack rate, 15.6% pressure rate.
The RedHawks begin the year with visits to Cincinnati and Minnesota. Quarterbacks Desmond Ridder and Tanner Morgan must keep an eye on Butler’s position at all times.
4. Will McDonald, Iowa
Stats Line: 16.7 passing yards per game, 5.3% sack rate, 17.0% pressure rate.
With the loss of teammate Jaquan Bailey, McDonald will likely have to play a more versatile role in 2021. If he’s as good in other areas as he is at QB, he’s a potential All-American.
3. Cade Hall, San Jose State
Stats Line: 34.3 passing yards per game, 4.2% sack rate, 15.0% pressure rate.
The MWC Defensive Player of the Year has a decent battery of size in Viliami Fehoko. In just eight games, they’ve totaled 23 TFLs and 16 sacks.
2. Tyler Johnson, Arizona State
Stats: 21.8 passing yards per game, 5.7 percent sack rate, 18.4 percent pressure rate.
Which is scarier: the fact that McDonald had five sacks and forced seven incompletions and interceptions in just 156 snaps, or the fact that he did so at 285 pounds?
1. Scott Patchan, Colorado
Stats Line: 32.3 passes per game, 4.3% sack rate, 17.1% pressure rate.
Patchan’s career has been a journey. A member of the 2015 recruiting class – the same class as established pros like Calvin Ridley and Christian Wilkins – he transferred from Miami in 2020 and made his money in the back end of the MWC. Apparently he loved Fort Collins so much (and who can blame him?) that he came back for more.
scariest pass interceptions, linebacker version
Sure, there are a lot of hybrid defenders these days – guys who stand with their hand in the dirt, one in the game and the other standing. But based solely on how their school rates their position, here are the best throwing linebackers for 2021.
Ranking criteria: as above, but with a minimum number of attempts of 10 passes per game.
5. Leo Chenal, Wisconsin
Stats: 10.7 passing yards per game, 4.0% sack rate, 18.7% pressure rate.
Wisconsin’s endless assembly line of retards has done best of late. Chenal is one of the few particularly disruptive forces that will be available to coordinator Jim Leonhard.
4. Micah McFadden, Indiana
State Score: 14.0 assists per game, 5.4% sacks, 17.9% pressures.
The Hoosiers’ best tackler was also one of the biggest troublemakers with 11 TFLs, six sacks and two interceptions.
3. Nick Bonitto, Oklahoma
Stats Line: 16.7 assists per game, 4.8% sacks, 22.2% pressures.
The only Power 5 defender who has forced more interceptions than Bonitto is Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. Bonitto, meanwhile, recorded more sacks and nearly half the number of pass rush attempts.
2. Durell Nchami, Maryland
Stats: 12.7 passing yards per game, 5.3 percent sack rate, 21.1 percent pressure rate.
After missing 2019 with a torn ACL, Nchami missed two of Maryland’s five games in 2020 with an injury. If he can stay on the field, he’s an absolute threat.
1. Zion Tupuola-Fetouille, Washington
Stats: 21.5 passing yards per game, 8.1 percent sack rate, 16.3 percent pressure rate.
One of the true stars of the Pac-12 in 2020, he registered seven sacks in just four games. Played in the regular season, this is the pace of a 20+.
Washington’s Zion Tupuola-Fetoui came into 2020 with seven sacks in just four games. Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire
The big boys who live in the backfield.
In this sport, there is no more formidable weapon than a defensive tackle (or maybe just a really big end) that teams can’t keep out of the backfield.
Criteria for ranking: a minimum of 20 snaps per game, a minimum of three games, and, to account for the fading of position designations in the future, a minimum of 280 pounds. Players are ranked by the number of stops they make – against the run or pass – at or behind the line of scrimmage. In those games, you could just take the ball and throw it on the ground. It would be less demoralizing.
5. Ralph Holley, Western Michigan (6’3, 285)
stats: 60.3 snaps per game, 15 total saves (4.1 percent of snaps)
One of the smaller nose guards here, Holly (a) is still a big guy and (b) has taken full advantage of his speed in the MAC interior lines.
4. Jermaine Lawl, Arizona State (6-foot-3, 310)
Stats: 62.8 snaps per game, 11 total saves (4.4 percent of snaps)
Not only did he make more than half of his stops on or off the line last year….. he’s also been active everywhere else. He had 72 tackles in 2019, third on the team.
3. Avien Pia, UMass (6-foot-10, 280)
Stats: 29.8 snaps per game, 12 total saves (10.1 percent of snaps)
UMass was backed for much of her modest four-game campaign in 2020, but Pia held back a bit. He was the only defender to make a stop at or behind the line on 10% of his snaps.
2. Nick Figueroa, USC (6-foot-2, 280)
Stats: 43.5 snaps per game, 13 total saves (5.0% snaps)
A star of linebackers like Talanoa Hufanga and Drake Jackson, Figueroa was a strong plus run defender and even dropped into coverage 14 times.
1. Tyler Johnson, Arizona State (6-foot-1, 285)
Statistical line: 39.0 snaps per game, 9 total stops (5.8% of snaps).
Right: This is Johnson’s second on the list. It’s not fair to be so big and so destructive. (Arizona State, meanwhile, has a lot of guys in this article. The Sun Devils will be fast and very fun to watch this fall).
Most penetrating defenders
One of the main roles of the secondary is to act as a game breaker and prevent big game situations. But there are also plenty of destructive creators on the defensive side of the ball.
Criteria for scoring: minimum 20 snaps per game, minimum three plays, minimum two tackles for loss and two passes intercepted. Players are ranked based on their percentage of losses – Tackles for loss, passes for defense and foul balls are divided by total snaps – Bonus points are awarded to players with the most snaps.
5. Scott Nelson, Wisconsin
Stats: 45.0 snaps per game, 8 fumbles (4 PFL, 4 passes defended), 3.0% fumble rate.
Leonhard has used the 6-foot-4, 204-pound man in countless ways, from coverage to recovery. He’s at his best near the line of scrimmage.
Wisconsin safety Scott Nelson intercepted one pass in 2018, missed most of the 2019 season and returned in 2020 to intercept two passes in six games. Associated Press
4. Mehi Garner, Louisiana
Stat Line: 42.9 snaps per game, 14 fumbles (12 passes deflected, 2 PFL), 3.0% fumbles.
UL uses a lot of players; this 6-foot-2, 212 safety-cornerback is one of the toughest and most disruptive cover players in the country.
3. Samuel Womack, Toledo
Stats breakdown: 57.7 snaps per game, 10 fumbles (8 stolen passes, 2 PFL), 2.9% fumbles.
The senior, a former Burlesworth Trophy candidate, led the MAC in pass interceptions and also made two stops at the line.
2. Tiawan Mullen, Indiana
Stat Line: 51.5 snaps per game, 14 fumbles (9 deflected passes, 4 PFL, 1 FF), 3.4% fumbles.
Mullen has been one of the best players on the IU roster since stepping on the field in Bloomington in 2019. It’s not hard to see why he received All-American honors last fall.
1. Jalen Pitre, Baylor
Stat Line: 60.4 snaps per game, 20 havoc (13 TFL, 6 pass defense, 1 FF), 3.7% chaos.
Pitre, one of the best nickelbacks in the country, was drafted in 2019 and was named to the All-Conference first team in 2020.
Claws need love too
You can’t tell me the great Presley Harvin III shouldn’t have been on TV last fall. Unfortunately, Georgia Tech’s 255-pounder turned pro, but he still has great legs.
Evaluation criteria: at least 10 stamps, at least one in 50. Bonus points if you go down within 10 feet. Diversify your activities!
3. Austin McNamara, Texas Tech
Stat: 41 shots, 46.3 average, 87 length, 7% inside 10
I mean, yeah, sure, I’ll take a guy with an 87-yard punt. 87 yards, everything’s explosive.
2. Jake Camarda, Georgia
Stats breakdown: 36 shots, 46.6 average, 64 long, 19% inside the 10.
He was used less late in the season when Georgia’s offense was on fire, but few players can match his length and scoring ability. The football equivalent of a good game with the long iron.
1. Julian Diaz, Nevada
Stats list: 23 punches, 46.3 average, 76 long, 17% inside the 10.
Diaz is Camarda West, and he is preferred because of his 76 yards in the season opener against Wyoming. He blocked the Cowboys at the 10 and scored in the fourth quarter.
Best deep ball bat
It’s a sign of confidence when a head coach even asks his kicker to kick a 50-yard field goal. This faith is sometimes rewarded.
Evaluation Criteria: Let’s keep it simple. Players are ranked by how well they score goals on the 50+ yard field.
3. Gabe Brkich, Oklahoma
Data sheet: 4 of 7 for 50 yards, 20 of 26 overall, 36.3 attempt average.
Brkich was a bit more shaky than the other two kickers here, but hey, a few tails in the rough are often part of the whole longshot.
2. Harrison Mevis, Missouri
Stateline: 3-for-4 for 50 yards, 17-for-20 overall, 35.0 attempt average.
Mavis was one of two other guys on that list in 2020: a freshman. The Tigers have been hitting the ball for a while now.
1. Cade York, LSU
stats: 6-of-7 for 50 yards, 18-of-21 overall, 40.2 attempt average.
Only one kicker in 2020 killed (or at least mortally wounded) a national title contender with a 57-yard bomb in the final minute: York, versus Florida. Its scope is infinite.
Cade York made 6 of 7 50-yard field goals, including the 57-yarder against Florida that won the game. AP Photo/John Rau
Most feared returnees
Even though kick returns are getting a little old, there are still things that are more explosive and exciting than a big return. Here are the guys who will probably deliver it.
Evaluation criteria: 10 returns. Players are ranked by how often they gain more than 30 yards on kick returns or more than 20 yards on kick returns.
3. Nykeim Johnson, Kent State (via Syracuse)
Stats: 12 punt returns, 14.1 average, 33% return of 20+ yards.
A solid slot receiver and a guy with a great return, Johnson gives Kent State a potential difference maker after his ACC departure.
2. D’Shawn Jamison, Texas
Stats: 17 kick returns, 33.2 average, 1 TD, 35% from 30+ yards.
He didn’t do much on 10 point returns, but teams facing Texas have every reason to get the ball in the end zone.
1. British Covey, UtahStatistical chart: 4 kick returns, 28.3 average, 50% kick returns for 30 yards; 8 punt returns, 16.1 average, 1 TD, 25% kick returns for 20 yards.
What a career: Covey earned All-Conference honors as a returnee in three different years: 2015, 2018 and 2020. He served an LDS mission in 2016-17, missed 2019 with an ACL injury and came back stronger each time.
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