One of the most fun (and often least accurate) activities of the college football off-season is predicting college football breakout candidates for the upcoming season. The 2021 season is no different. Some athletes are already household names before they have achieved significant success on the football field. Others are lesser known.
How do we define a college football breakout candidate?
In some cases, it could be a Sophomore that was redshirted in their Freshman year. For others, they may have seen limited action in their Freshman season, and are now expected to take on a greater role. The departure of high profile players opens up opportunities for younger guys that have had a limited role previously.
Below is a list of some expected college football breakout candidates for the 2021 season. It is not exhaustive. Nor is it position dependent. Some of the names are obvious to us, others not so much. Let’s see who has made the list for 2021.
Lawrance Toafili, RB, Florida State
Mike Norvell is into his second year of the reclamation project at Florida State. Central to his offence’s turnaround is Lawrance Toafili. The Sophomore was a top 20 national recruit in the 2020 class.
In just five appearances in 2020, Toafili had 356 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 9.6 yards per attempt on just 37 touches. Despite the limited opportunities, he managed 99 yards against Jacksonville State in October, and 117 against Duke in December.
Many in Tallahassee expect Toafili to take on an expanded role in 2021. HC Mike Norvell has a history of developing running back talent from his time at Memphis. In his final year, he had both Antonio Gibson and Kenneth Gainwell on the roster. If Toafili can enjoy similar success under Norvell’s tutelage, then he is primed to Be an obvious college football breakout candidate for 2021.
Taulia Tagovailoa (QB) and Rakim Jarrett (WR), Maryland
These college football breakout candidates come as a pair. The success of one is almost entirely dependent on the other.
Baby Tua enjoyed his first year as a starter for The Terps after transferring from Alabama. He showed flashes of ability, but a propensity to make turnover-worthy throws. If he can take a step forward in his second year under centre, then The Terps are in for a great year.
Jarrett played a key role in his Freshman year. He blew away the Penn State defence in November with five receptions for 144 yards and two touchdowns.If can find that level of consistency in an undisturbed season, he will be one of the most sought after wideouts in all of college football.
Kayshon Boutte, WR, LSU
Kayshon Boutte is already a well-known talent amongst those playing in devy and C2C fantasy football leagues. The Louisiana native was the top prospect in his state. His commitment was a coup for Ed Orgeron’s Tigers, Boutte’s selection ahead of Nick Saban and Alabama.
Boutte was the shining light in a forgettable year for LSU. In five starts in 2020, the Freshman had 735 yards and 5 touchdowns. It was a slow start to the season, but Boutte ended it in style. In the final three fixtures of the 2020 season, he had consecutive 100+ yard games. To do so against Alabama and Florida showed Boutte’s ability to hang with the best DBs in the SEC. The final fixture against Ole Miss was an unbelievable stat line. Boutte finished with 308 yards and 3 touchdowns on 14 receptions.
Louisiana State has long been known for its defensive backs. In recent years however, some of the nation’s elite wide receiver talent has been out of Baton Rouge. Boutte is likely to follow Odell Beckham Jnr and Justin Jefferson to the very top of professional football.
This pick is an obvious one. But you can’t have a conversation about college football breakout candidates without waxing lyrical about Kayshon Boutte.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
It would seem almost impossible for a Freshman wide receiver to shine on an offence that already boasts Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. Almost.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba did just that in 2020. He entered Columbus as the #5 WR in the 2020 recruiting class. He wasn’t going to wait around for Olave and Wilson to leave for the NFL before he made his mark.
His physics-defying catch at home to Nebraska announced Jaxon Smith-Njigba to the nation. That touchdown would be the only score of his Freshman year.
Chris Olave’s unexpected return to Columbus may harm Smith-Njigba’s chances of breaking out in 2021. Once more, he will be underneath Olave and Wilson in the passing food chain. That said, he remains one of the key college football breakout candidates for the 2021 season. If he does break out this year, Jaxon Smith-Njigba could be one of the most prominent wide receivers in all of college football by his Junior year.
Braylon Sanders, WR, Ole Miss
Somebody has to take Elijah Moore’s vacated touches in the Ole Miss offence. Moore enjoyed 36% of touches in the passing game last year. With pass-happy Matt Corral still in place at QB, somebody needs to step in.
Sanders seems the obvious candidate to break out for The Rebs next season. It would be a late breakout, as Sanders is a “super Senior” taking advantage of an additional year of eligibility.
He had just 15 catches last year, taking his career total to 45. We must look past this stat to see the value that he brings to the Ole Miss offence. On these minimal touches, Sanders managed to haul in 376 yards and 4 touchdowns. That is a staggering yards per catch average of 25.1 yards. Matt Corral has his deep threat receiver if Braylon Sanders can stay on the field.
To put Sanders’ numbers into context, Elijah Moore had almost double that in 2020 alone (86). You would expect Moore to have higher numbers, as somebody who lined up almost exclusively in the slot position. A niggling ankle injury has also limited his time on the field.
Sanders is big-bodied and used more frequently on the outside than Moore ever was. His injury woes have disrupted his college football career. However, in this past Spring Game, the understanding between Corral and Sanders was there for all to see. Sanders ended the practice with 135 yards and a score.
Noah Sewell, LB, Oregon
A year ago, Noah Sewell was just Penei’s little brother. His performances have proven that he is much more than that. Noah Sewell was a consensus 5 star recruit entering the college game, and played like it in his Freshman year. He ended his first year in college football as the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.
It is safe to say that Noah is stepping out of his brother’s shadow. He is making a name for himself at Oregon. Mario Cristobal believes that Sewell is only “scratching the surface” of his potential. After posting 44 tackles in seven games, expectations are high for his Sophomore year.
Noah Sewell’s name must be mentioned in a conversation about the top college football breakout candidates in 2021.
Malachi Moore, DB, Alabama
An Alabama DB on a list of college football breakout candidates? Hardly the bravest of predictions. Malachi Moore burst onto the scene in his Freshman year with three interceptions in important fixtures. His picks against Texas A&M, Georgia and Auburn ensured that he was a household name by the time the 2020 season had ended. Returning a Tennessee fumble for a touchdown on defence made the weekly highlight reel. What may have gone unnoticed was his ability in pass coverage. Moore gave up just one passing touchdown (against Florida) all year. Unsurprisingly, he was named a Freshman All American.
His exploits in the defensive backfield have not gone unnoticed. Moore was quickly snapped up by Milo’s Tea. Though it should line his pockets in the era of name, image and likeness rights, he will be more interested in his development on the field. Great things await for Alabama’s next elite defensive back.
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