Projecting College Football's 2014 All-Breakout Team
Last summer, was Jameis Winston a household name?
Two summers ago, did you know anything about Johnny Manziel other than that small dustup with the law?
Everett Golson didn't even really have a job two summers ago, and all he did was lead Notre Dame to the BCS National Championship Game.
The unknown is what makes college football beautiful. Players come from out of nowhere to not only shine in the spotlight, but translate that to success after their college days are done.
Who are this year's candidates to break out? Our picks are in this slideshow.
QB: Jeff Driskel, Florida
If you think this pick is crazy, then you've written off Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel way too soon.
A square peg in a round hole throughout his entire Gator career, Driskel now finds himself in the hurry-up, no-huddle system of new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. It's a system that Driskel, the former No. 1 dual-threat prospect in the country ahead of Brett Hundley, Braxton Miller and Johnny Manziel, is excited about.
"I really do like the tempo," Driskel told B/R. "When you get in a tempo and don't huddle, you can really get into a groove as a quarterback. There were times in spring where I felt really comfortable and everything went smooth."
Demarcus Robinson will emerge as his deep threat, Andre Debose will be a weapon in the slot and Driskel will use his legs to finally live up to the dual-threat hype that followed him to Gainesville.
RB: Tra Carson, Texas A&M
"Life after Manziel" will dominate the offseason in College Station, but the truth is, it may not matter all that much who's taking the snaps for Texas A&M in 2014.
Tra Carson is here to save the day.
The 6'0", 230-pounder from Texarkana, Texas only had 329 yards and seven touchdowns last year, which is similar yardage-wise to Alabama's Derrick Henry (382) who broke out in the Sugar Bowl. Carson settled into the goal-line and short-yardage role last year, but showed flashes of what he's capable of as a feature back against Missouri in the regular-season finale and against Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
He isn't just a bruiser though. He's light on his feet, dangerous in the screen game and the perfect weapon to help either Kenny Hill or Kyle Allen ease into the starting quarterback role.
WR: De'Andre Thompkins, Penn State
Penn State is in desperate need of help at the wide receiver position and De'Andre Thompkins enrolled early to help fill the void left by Allen Robinson.
Thompkins, a 4-star prospect from Swansboro, North Carolina, is a 6'0", 170-pound burner who not only can be a deep threat for the Nittany Lions, but also make an impact on special teams in head coach James Franklin's first season in Happy Valley.
"I would love to get a crack at returning the ball next year, but whatever the coaches decide, I'll be fine with," he told Ryan Snyder of BlueWhiteIllustrated.com in May. "I know I'll get my opportunity at some point, and I'll be ready when I do."
With Christian Hackenberg getting him the ball and Franklin's ability to not only recognize talent outside, but get the ball in the hands of his playmakers, Thompkins should put together a solid freshman campaign.
TE: Thomas Duarte, UCLA
Quarterback Brett Hundley will dominate headlines in the UCLA offense this season, but keep an eye on tight end Thomas Duarte.
While the bevy of running backs are chewing up yards on the ground and the experienced wide receiving corps are stretching the field, Duarte is likely to find himself in advantageous matchups against linebackers. At 6'3", 225 pounds, he's a pure receiving threat who, as B/R's Kyle Kensing notes, could be the Bruins' X-factor in the red zone.
A preseason second-team All-Pac-12 selection by Phil Steele, look for Duarte to build off his freshman campaign, which saw him catch 16 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns.
OT: Shon Coleman, Auburn
If you're looking for a player to root for this year regardless of your team, root for Auburn offensive tackle Shon Coleman.
The former 4-star prospect in the class of 2010 sat out two years after high school and successfully overcame acute lymphoblastic leukemia to find himself in position to earn a starting job at left tackle in place of 2014 first-round draft pick Greg Robinson.
"Shon is an extremely talented young man and we believe he's only scratched the surface on the football field," offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. "His story overcoming cancer has been an inspiration to us all. He's a leader and great example on our football team, and we are expecting big things from him this fall. We believe he has a bright future at Auburn and beyond."
The 6'6", 310-pounder is joining an Auburn offensive line that returns four starters from last year. He's quick off the ball, gets downfield in a hurry and is punishing in the running game, which will play well in Auburn's multi-dimensional, hurry-up, power attack.
OG: Kent Perkins, Texas
Looking for a breakout star for Charlie Strong's Texas Longhorns? Look no further than Kent Perkins.
Likely a guard, Perkins is athletic enough to play tackle if needed along Texas' offensive line. At 6'5", 310 pounds, Perkins is light on his feet but also a punishing run-blocker, which will play well in the Longhorns offense, which can thrive with power runs that allow guards and tackles to get out in space.
A preseason fourth-team All-Big 12 selection by Phil Steele, Perkins not only could break out as a star in the trenches, he has to. With the quarterback situation unstable, Texas is going to have to be effective on the ground even if it is predictable.
Perkins missed the end of spring practice with a knee injury, but should be fine for the start of the season. His versatility will make him a star in Austin.
C: Graham Shuler, Stanford
Stanford has established a smashmouth identity in an exotic league, and part of the reason is consistent play from its offensive line.
The next in line at center is Graham Shuler, a 6'4", 282-pounder from Franklin, Tennessee. A former 4-star prospect in the class of 2012, Shuler played in seven games last year—mostly as a reserve for the Pac-12 champs.
With Kevin Hogan's experience at quarterback and Ty Montgomery outside, there's a chance Stanford opens things up a bit more than usual in 2014. But at its core, it's a run-first, power team. Shuler will be a big part of that equation in 2014.
DT: Desmond Jackson, Texas
It all starts up front, and that's especially true for the Texas Longhorns—a team that will rely on its front seven to be a force in the Big 12.
A big part of that equation—"pun" very much intended—is defensive tackle Desmond Jackson. He had 37 tackles and 3.5 sacks last season, and for the rising senior, it truly is "now or never" if he wants to live up to his 4-star hype.
Now playing at 6'1", 305 pounds, Jackson was named to Phil Steele's preseason third-team All-Big 12 team. He is big enough to occupy multiple blockers, but athletic enough to be a force on the interior of that defensive line. New defensive line coach Chris Rumph, formerly of Alabama, knows how to get the most out of his big men up front, and he'll help make Jackson a star.
DE: Danielle Hunter, LSU
LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis has made a career out of developing top-end talent along the defensive line, and the next in that line in Baton Rouge is Danielle Hunter.
The 6'6", 241-pounder from Katy, Texas had three sacks last year and two more in LSU's spring game, according to stats released by LSU. The interior of LSU's defensive line was its strength last year, but with Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson gone, it will be up to Hunter and fellow end Jermauria Rasco to become the stars up front.
Hunter is quick enough to be a force in pass-rush situations, but polished enough to be a true every-down defensive end and hold his own against the run. Expect double-digit sacks and a big year from the junior.
LB: Nyles Morgan, Notre Dame
Nyles Morgan was one of the stars of Notre Dame's 2014 recruiting class, and a big reason why is the impact he's going to make in South Bend right away.
The 6'1", 225-pound middle linebacker from Crete, Illinois is athletic enough to hold his own in pass coverage, but strong enough to stick his nose in and be a force against the run. More importantly, he's stepping into a situation with the Fighting Irish where they need him to be a star sooner rather than later.
The 4-star prospect in the most recent recruiting class has all the talent to be a star, and could start from Day 1. He has arrived to participate in summer workouts, and head coach Brian Kelly thinks that will help him and the other newcomers earn starting spots, according to Comcast SportsNet Chicago's J.J. Stankevitz.
"I would expect that certainly is going to be helpful in giving a guy a chance to compete as a true freshman," Kelly said.
CB: Mackensie Alexander, Clemson
Clemson has been known primarily for its high-octane offense ever since Chad Morris took over as offensive coordinator, but the strength of this year's Tigers could be its defense.
If it is, redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander should be a big reason why.
The 5'11", 185-pound cornerback from Immokalee, Florida was one of the top signees of Clemson's 2013 recruiting class, but sat out last year due to a groin injury, according to OrangeAndWhite.com. Now he's back, and with a defense that can generate pressure with four, it should provide Alexander and the rest of Clemson's secondary to capitalize on mistakes.
Head coach Dabo Swinney was excited about Alexander's progress this spring, according to Aaron Brenner of the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier.
Dabo: "Mackensie Alexander, man. He is special. He looks tremendous. It's been really good to see him bouncing around w/o being hindered."— Aaron Brenner (@Aaron_Brenner) March 4, 2014
Expect a big debut for Alexander, even though it is a little later than initially anticipated.
S: Vonn Bell, Ohio State
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer plucked Vonn Bell out of SEC country in the class of 2013, and the former 5-star prospect from Rossville, Georgia showed a glimpse of what's to come in the Orange Bowl against Clemson.
In his first start for the Buckeyes, all Bell did was pick off a pass near the goal line and notch seven tackles in the loss to Clemson. He missed spring practice with a knee injury, and is hoping to help Ohio State improve upon a defense that finished 11th in the Big Ten in pass defense in 2013 (268.0 YPG).
"It is still a knot in my stomach—it bothers me every day," Bell told Cleveland.com. "So I challenge myself to do better every day and watch film and compete. We're going to fix that problem next season."
With questions at safety, Ohio State is counting on him to be a star at strong safety from the moment toe meets leather this fall.
Special Teams: Speedy Noil, Texas A&M
Trey Williams has been a special teams boss for Texas A&M over the last two seasons, racking up a total of 1,263 yards in two seasons on kick returns. But he could be counted on more as a running back in 2014, and fellow speedster LaQuvionte Gonzalez will take on more of a role as a slot receiver.
That opens the door for true freshman early enrollee Speedy Noil to make an impact on special teams. The 5'11", 190-pound 5-star prospect from the class of 2014 is lethal in space and has straight-line speed that would make Usain Bolt turn his head.
There's a small village vying for playing time at wide receiver in College Station, and even if Noil doesn't crack that rotation, he'll make an impact on special teams as a kick returner early and often.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.com and all stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com.
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