NCAAF

Superlatives for college football’s true freshmen – Fastest prospect, strongest QB and more

High school yearbooks for 2021 graduates have been handed out, with many of them including a section on class superlatives.

We thought we would get in on the fun but with college football’s 2021 recruiting class.

As these players transiition from prospects to incoming freshmen, we found it fitting to recognize several players for their unique talents on the gridiron.

We used our evaluations from camps and from tape when naming these superlatives, from fastest player to the best hands.

Which prospect is the fastest?

ATH Christian Leary
Alabama Crimson Tide
2021 ESPN 300 ranking: 77

The 2021 class is filled with prospects that can flat-out fly, but the fastest is Leary. While a few other prospects recorded better track and 40 times, Leary has posted eye-popping numbers himself, including a 4.54 40-yard dash and a blazing 10.5-second 100-meter as a senior.

While his testing and track times are spectacular, what truly separates him is the fact his speed translates to the football field. He has “play speed,” which goes beyond the track. When the pads go on, Leary doesn’t lose a step. He’s a consistent big-play threat on the gridiron with his ability to separate vertically as a route runner and after the catch.

How he fits at Alabama: Any program could make immediate use of a player with Leary’s wheels and ball skills. Alabama could deploy Leary’s game-changing speed and explosiveness similarly to how the Crimson Tide used Jaylen Waddle. Like Waddle, Leary is a threat as a receiving target and a weapon in the return game.

Which lineman is the strongest?

OT Landon Tengwall
Penn State Nittany Lions
2021 ESPN 300 ranking: 90

Tengwall is a top-10 tackle who measures at 6-foot-6, 305 pounds. He certainly passes the eye test with his big frame, and he has been among the strongest in his class for quite some time. Even as a freshman, what made Tengwall stand out to college recruiters was how he incorporated his outstanding size and strength into his play.

He is functionally strong, meaning he knows how to utilize his physicality to block and control defenders, not just manhandle them. A prospect who lists lifting as a hobby, Tengwall has posted impressive weight-room numbers, like a 400-pound bench press and a 500-plus-pound squat.

How he fits at Penn State: The four-star enters college with the size and natural strength to compete in the Big Ten trenches immediately. He’s agile while also being technically very sound. Those attributes, combined with being an early enrollee, will give Tengwall a chance to quickly work his way into the two-deep and develop into a multi-year starter.

Which defender is the most physical?

LB Branden Jennings
Maryland Terrapins
2021 ESPN 300 ranking: 69

Off the field, Jennings is polite and has a wide smile. When it comes to football, he has a very serious demeanor and intense focus to him – so much so that his high school coach has affectionately referred to his hard-hitting linebacker as Michael Myers, the expressionless, mask-wearing character from the “Halloween” movies.

It’s not just Jennings’ game face, though. When it’s time to play, Jennings is a punishing presence. He has excellent size (6-3, 224 pounds) and a powerful lower body. His aggressive nature and physical tools make him a disruptive downhill presence and hard-hitting tackler. Jennings gets the nod as the class’ most physical just ahead of Clemson’s Jeremiah Trotter Jr. and Notre Dame’s Prince Kollie.

How he fits at Maryland: Jennings has already created positive buzz during his short time in College Park with a strong spring. He’s physically ready to make an impact, and from a mental standpoint, he has strong football lineage, as his father was part of national championship team at Florida State. Jennings looks to be working his way into some playing time as a freshman and can develop into a tone-setting anchor for the Terps’ defense in following seasons.

Which QB has the strongest arm?

QB Deacon Hill
Wisconsin Badgers
2021 ESPN rating: Three stars

There are a few quarterbacks from this class that could make a case for this title, including Ohio State’s Kyle McCord, but when it comes down to it, Hill has simply jaw-dropping velocity. A solid athlete for his size, he is a bit of a throwback, as he possesses that big, prototypical pocket-passer-type build.

A prospect that on the camp circuit regularly checked in at 6-foot-3 and around 250 pounds, he displays a cannon of an arm to match his big dimensions. Hill has a strong, over-the-top delivery with the arm strength to make all the throws and drive the ball down field. Bottom line: Hill is a big quarterback with a big arm to match.

How he fits at Wisconsin: Hill and Wisconsin are an ideal pairing. This program has found success offensively by fielding a big, physical offensive line that will dominate the line of scrimmage and help the Badgers’ powerful run game, and they will work the passing game off that. When the opportunity comes, Hill has the traits to complement their running attack with big-strike play-action passes.

Which prospect has the best hands?

WR Mario Williams Jr.
Oklahoma Sooners
2021 ESPN 300 ranking: 17

There’s a reason Williams is the No. 1-ranked wideout. Within this receiver class, the Oklahoma signee is neither the biggest nor the overall fastest, but he has always stood out as a great competitor with sharp technique as a route runner and excellent ball skills.

A top-20 player nationally, Williams has consistently exhibited strong, quick hands to snatch the ball out of the air, whether he’s wide open or contested by a defensive back. Having great hands also includes a seamless transition upfield after the catch, and Williams excels at that, too.

How he fits at Oklahoma: Out of Plant City, Florida, it was not surprising to see Williams head to Big 12 country. With the Sooners’ high-powered offensive attack, they are not afraid to throw the football around, having had two players with at least 35 catches in each of the past two seasons. With multiple receiver spreads, as well as Williams’ hands and ability as a route runner, he should immediately work his way in the mix. Williams has the tools to become one of the Sooners’ most consistent targets and among its yearly reception leaders.

Which OL is the most tenacious?

C James Brockermeyer
Alabama Crimson Tide
2021 ESPN 300 ranking: 99

This was a tough choice just within the Brockermeyer family, let alone the entire O-line class. Ultimately, we landed on James and feel the film fully supports that decision. Five-star OT and twin brother Tommy Brockermeyer can make things very uncomfortable for opponents as well, but while James may be rated slightly lower overall, when it comes to tenacity, he has a slight edge.

The top-rated center made an immediate impression with his performance at the 2020 Future 50 event, where he consistently stepped up for reps and intensely battled against some of the 2021 class’ best interior defensive linemen. His tape backs that up, as James plays with a relentless style and is a consistent finisher. There is the old expression “play to the whistle,” but he regularly seems to play to the echo of that whistle.

How he fits at Alabama: Alabama will need to replace center Landon Dickerson, and while the Tide return some experienced options, including Chris Owens, a healthy James could certainly work his way into the mix. He’s a great technician who has the tools to become a multi-year starter and anchor for the Tide’s O-line unit.

Which defender is the best pass-rusher?

DE Jack Sawyer
Ohio State Buckeyes
2021 ESPN 300 ranking: 1

This could be an interesting one to revisit in a few seasons to see how prospects like Alabama’s Dallas Turner develops in this area, but right now, Sawyer is the logical choice here. The No. 1 overall player in the class, he brings a wealth of tools, including the ability to wreak havoc as a pass-rusher.

The Ohio State defender is an explosive player off the snap with great flexibility and body control to bend the edge and beat blockers to the quarterback. He can also be an elusive edge rusher with length to keep blockers off his body. When tackles set soft on their heels, Sawyer will attack and win with power. Still young, he can further develop technique and hand usage, but he has demonstrated an interest to learn the finer points of being a pass rusher and should be an elite one in college.

How he fits at Ohio State: The in-state defender has the physical tools to adjust quickly to the college level and potentially become the Buckeyes’ next fearsome defensive lineman in the mold of Chase Young. On campus during the spring, he already made a good impression, including a strong performance during their spring game. Expect Sawyer to be in the mix as a freshman, particularly as a situational pass rusher.

Which prospect is the most explosive?

ATH Ga’Quincy McKinstry
Alabama Crimson Tide
2021 ESPN 300 ranking: 40

Rated as once of the top athletes in the 2021 class, McKinstry is a legitimate two-sport athlete who has already spent some time with the Crimson Tide’s basketball program.

McKinstry was named Mr. Football in the state of Alabama thanks to his excellent speed, lateral burst (4.1 shuttle) and seamless transition. He has good closing ability and can undercut a pass on defenses, or leap over defenders for a big offensive catch on offense. He is an explosive play waiting to happen on the field.

How he fits at Alabama: He could contribute at a high level on either side of the ball in college, but projects as a defensive back in Tuscaloosa. McKinstry possesses the physical tools to become one of Alabama’s next big-time secondary defenders. He can defend against the run and pass with his top-tier range and closing speed.

Which QB has the most fluid mechanics?

QB-PP Sam Huard
Washington Huskies
2021 ESPN 300 ranking: 15

As tough as this category was, it shouldn’t come as any real surprise to see Huard land here, as he comes from a strong family background at the position. His father, Damon, as well as his uncle, Brock, played QB at Washington and in the NFL, so he has grown up around the game and witnessed first-hand the nuances of the position.

Huard displays strong football instincts and maximizes his elite physical ability, like arm strength, with great mechanics. As a passer, he has polished footwork and is sound with his base. He stands tall and possesses a smooth, compact delivery with great timing and accuracy.

How he fits at Washington: The Huskies’ quarterback room has thinned out a bit with players leaving, but former ESPN 300 QB Dylan Morris returns with experience. Huard naturally arrives with a lot of buzz as the nation’s No.1-ranked QB and the state of Washington’s high school career passing leader. With his advanced skill set and physical readiness, he shouldn’t be ruled out of the Huskies’ quarterback race in 2021.

Which RB is the most well-rounded?

RB Will Shipley
Clemson Tigers
2021 ESPN 300 ranking: 22

The No. 2-ranked RB in the 2021 class, Shipley is a dangerous weapon with his versatility to attack defenses in multiple ways. As a ball carrier, he has excellent speed (4.53 laser-to-laser 40) as well as quick feet to hit holes, elude defenders and finish when he gets into the open field.

Shipley can also be a threat out of the backfield as a pass-catcher with good hands as well as leaping ability. Over three high school seasons, he rushed for over 4,000 yards, totaled nearly 1,500 receiving yards and recorded a combined 88 touchdowns.

How he fits at Clemson: Clemson has lost a key contributor from their offensive attack with Travis Etienne Jr. moving on as he was not only their leading rusher, but also among their leader in receptions. Shipley is an outstanding candidate though to replace that production lost and should become a player for Tigers offense that is very much in the same mold as Etienne.

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