Top Breakout Performers for the 2017 Season

Every season, there tends to be hype around a certain group of players who either haven’t gotten their opportunity, shined late in the year, or haven’t played to expectations.

These are the breakout players. Last year, Lamar Jackson turned his breakout into a Heisman pose, and Mitchell Trubisky was drafted 2nd overall after a breakout season at UNC. This years cop of potential breakouts may not contain any quarterbacks, but expect some breakouts along the wide receiver position, and along the defensive line.

Kentavius Street, Defensive End, North Carolina State

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The first thing to know about Kentavius Street (above) is that he is an absolute freak in the weight room. Street’s name floated around social media after a video of him squatting over 700 pounds went viral. That should immediately put opposing offensive linemen on high alert.

A former top 100 recruit, Street recorded 5.5 sacks last year for a Wolfpack team that ranked 25th in the nation in total defense a season ago. Bradley Chubb will get all the attention along the defensive line, but somebody will have to step up after Darian Roseboro and his seven sacks graduated. Street has been used in situational roles in his three years in Raleigh, and should finally get the opportunity to be a full time starter as a senior.

His best game from a year ago came at the hands of Notre Dame, where he recorded six tackles and 1.5 sacks. With fellow edge rusher Bradley Chubb attracting double-teams all year, and given Street’s explosive athleticism, he could be in for a big senior season.

Deon Cain, Wide Receiver, Clemson

Cain

Deon Cain (above) is well known among college football circles after being a main piece of Clemson’s National Championship run in 2016. However, his numbers haven’t matched his name, which isn’t a knock on his production. With 14 touchdowns through his first two seasons, Cain was a weapon for DeShaun Watson. However, Watson is off to the NFL, and Kelly Bryant will take over the reigns at quarterback. With Mike Williams, Jordan Leggett and Wayne Gallman also gone from last year’s team, Cain will have to take another step into the elite category, being the team’s number one option.

He’s always been a burner and a deep threat, averaging almost 20 yards a catch last season, but he’ll have to work on his hands in intermediate to short game to become a complete receiver and potential top 15 pick.

If he improves on the little things, stays healthy, and if Bryant can get him the ball consistently, Cain could have a serious breakout. A 1,300-yard, 12-touchdown season is not out of the realm for Cain.

Jaylen Smith, Wide Receiver, Louisville

Smith

Everybody knows about Lamar Jackson, but with new weapons being ushered in, somebody has to step up big for the Cardinals. Look no further than junior Jaylen Smith (above).

As Jackson’s #4 receiver, Smith had 599 receiving yards and six touchdowns, including the game winner against Virginia with :13 seconds left to go (below), showing off strong hands with a defender right in his face.

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At 6’4 219, Smith his a matchup nightmare because of his size and ability to go up and bring down contested throws. He established himself as a deep threat for Jackson, both down the middle and along the sidelines, as evidenced by his 22.2 average yards per catch. Despite his size, Smith showed off good speed and frequently bullied smaller defenders after the catch.

Smith’s best performance came against a vaunted Boston College defense. In Louisville’s blowout victory, Smith racked up 123 yards, his only 100+ yard receiving game, on just six catches, including a touchdown.

Smith will likely become one of Jackson’s top targets, and in Louisville’s up-tempo, spread offense, it could lead to huge numbers for Jaylen Smith

Zach Allen, Defensive End, Boston College

Allen

Like Kentavius Street, Zach Allen (above) will be the second most feared pass rusher on his roster to open up the year. Harold Landry is a bonafide stud for the Eagles after collected 16.5 sacks in 2016.

Allen missed three games a season ago, with two missed opportunities to impress against Louisville and Florida State. In the 10 games that he did appear in, Allen recorded five sacks, including two in a Quick Lane Bowl victory against Maryland. Allen also dominated UMass (yeah, I know) with 1.5 sacks and six tackles.

Also like Street, Allen will be asked to take a big step forward as a secondary threat as a pass rusher. If Allen rises to the occasion as a junior, he could potentially save Steve Addazio’s job.

At 6’5 285, the Connecticut native has size to lineup all over the defensive front for the Eagles, making him a valuable piece of what is expected to be yet another strong defense under Addazio.

Players typically make a leap in their junior seasons under Addazio, and Zach Allen could be the next one to do so.

Daniel Jones, Quarterback, Duke

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The only sophomore on the list, Daniel Jones (featured/above) has the size and skill set to be a big time college quarterback. In his first year at Duke, Jones showed a little bit of everything. He showed good touch on deep balls, especially down the sideline, as well as the ability to squeeze to ball into tight windows. At 6’5”, he projects to have a big time arm as he continues to develop his skills.

On the year, Jones tossed for 2,836 yards, 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He threw for over 300 yards on four separate occasions, but each of those games resulted in a loss. Jones ended the season strong, throwing for 947 yards, five touchdowns, rushing for four more, zero interceptions and a 62% completion percentage. In his final game against Miami, Jones started 10/10, and finished 34/50 for 316 yards and three touchdowns.

Also helping Jones is the return of Duke’s top receiver, speedster T.J. Rahming. Third and fourth leading receivers Chris Taylor and Johnathan Lloyd also return. In the backfield, leading rusher Shaun Wilson is back for his senior season. Jones and his weapons are familiar with each other, and if the offensive line stays strong, this is a Duke team that could surprise some people and win seven games.

Jones showed an ability to keep plays alive and take off if the pocket breaks down. He scored two rushing touchdowns against Miami and rushed for over 90 yards in back to back weeks against Virginia Tech (a near upset) and in an upset win against North Carolina. He rushed for two touchdowns in each of those games, and also ran for two against Wake Forest, which were Duke’s only points that day.

The quarterback position is absolutely loaded in college football this year, and Jones has the chance to put his name in an almost stuffed hat of elite talent, and put himself on the map for the 2019 NFL Draft.

 

Cover Photo via Newsday

Other Media via GoPack, Pigskin Prospects, News and Tribune, Pro Football Focus, Football Matters and Athlon Sports

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