Every season, there are a select few offensive skill-positions players who stand out for their ability to routinely create big game-changing plays.
They are the special playmakers who possess that rare gift that’s necessary to create explosive plays that will energize their teammates, excite a crowd and expose opposing defenses.
They are the players that have the potential to create something absolutely electric any time they have the ball in their hands.
So who will be the playmakers that will be creating those big plays this fall?
Here’s a look at college football’s 10 most dangerous offensive weapons for the 2015 season.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
Cardale Jones may have been the true breakout star of Ohio State’s playoff run to a national championship in wins over Alabama and Oregon. However, it was Ezekiel Elliott who proved to be the Buckeyes’ most valuable player at the most important time of the season.
The 6’0’’, 225-pound junior solidified his status as the premier rusher in college football with two outstanding consecutive performances in the Sugar Bowl and National Championship, both of which he earned MVP honors for.
After finishing his sensational sophomore season with over 2,100 all-purpose yards, a whopping 6.9 yards per carry average and 18 total touchdowns, Elliott will enter the upcoming season as the top-ranked running back prospect in the 2016 NFL draft class as well as one of the top overall contenders for the 2015 Heisman Trophy.
Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
Nick Chubb wasn’t the top-ranked running back prospect in the 2014 recruiting class. In fact, he wasn’t even the highest rated recruit in Georgia’s 2014 recruiting class—that honor belonged to former 5-star prospect Sony Michel. However, no other freshman running back in the country was able to make the type of statement and have the type of impact that Chubb did in his first season.
After taking a backseat to his All-American backfield mate Todd Gurley early on, Chubb really came into his own midway through the year once Gurley went down for the season with an injury. He stepped into the featured back role and proved that not only could he handle a heavy workload, he could truly thrive when the spotlight was shining on him.
The 5’10’’, 228-pound Georgia native carried the ball 219 times, yet remarkably enough, he still managed to average over seven yards per carry. The Freshman All-American put the rest of the SEC on notice in 2014, as he racked up 1,760 total yards and scored 16 touchdowns.
Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh
That’s the number of catches of 10 yards or more that Tyler Boyd has totaled over the past two seasons. It’s more than any other current collegiate player had during that time frame.
Boyd has shown that not only can he catch a high volume of passes (163 total receptions in two seasons), he can also create big plays in the passing game when he gets the ball in his hands. He’s averaged 15 yards per catch and scored 17 total touchdowns in 2014.
The sure-handed and highly athletic 6’2’’, 190-pound junior has drawn comparisons to former Panther standout Larry Fitzgerald, and Fitzgerald himself has even been impressed by the player who has broken many of his records at the school. No other wide receiver in the college game can present the type of matchup problems in coverage that Boyd can.
He’s truly a cornerback’s worst nightmare.
Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
In recent years, Alabama’s backfield has been populated by standout stars such as 2009 Heisman winner Mark Ingram, 2011 SEC Offensive Player of the Year Trent Richardson, 2013 BCS National Championship Game MVP Eddie Lacy and most recently TJ Yeldon, who finished his three-year career in Tuscaloosa with over 3,300 total rushing yards and 39 touchdowns.
Yeldon, the No. 36 pick in the 2015 NFL draft, will certainly be missed. But luckily for the Tide, the team will once again have a stud workhorse back that it can rely on in junior Derrick Henry.
After opening eyes with a breakout showing in the 2014 Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma, Henry was able to build off that momentum and put together a stellar sophomore season this past fall. Though he had to split carries with Yeldon, the 6’3’’, 241-pound powerhouse was still able to total over 1,200 yards of total offense and score 13 touchdowns on just 177 total touches.
Now that Yeldon, QB Blake Sims and WR Amari Cooper have all left town, the Tide will be counting on Henry to put the offense on his back and carry the team to another SEC title in 2015. The former blue-chip 5-star recruit is truly one of the most unique physical specimens in all of college football. His combination of size, speed, power and natural running instincts sets him apart from the crowd and puts him an elite category.
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
When Leonard Fournette arrived on the LSU campus last offseason, he was immediately met with incredibly high expectations to live up to. That’s the type of immense pressure that comes with the territory of being hailed as the No. 1 overall recruit in the country.
Ultimately, Fournette embraced the Heisman hype and made the Adrian Peterson comparisons look spot on with his stellar debut campaign. The 6’1’’, 230-pound New Orleans native proved that he was ready to face the stout competition that the SEC had to offer, as he racked up over 1,700 all-purpose yards and scored 11 total touchdowns.
When an athlete’s been blessed with the type of remarkable physical gifts that Fournette possesses, it can be easy for complacency to set in. However, Tigers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has seen first hand this spring that his young star rusher possesses that special type of work ethic that sets apart the gifted players from the game-changers.
“Great players are never satisfied, they never think they’ve arrived. No matter how many times you tell them they’re great, in their minds they think they can always get better. He’s that guy.”
Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma
Oklahoma’s 2014 season turned out to be a big disappointment. The Sooners finished just 8-5 after starting the year ranked No. 4 in the preseason AP Poll. Fortunately, there was at least one bright spot in the otherwise forgettable campaign — RB Samaje Perine emerged as one of the most productive rushers in all of college football as just a true freshman.
Perine’s list of accomplishments from the 2014 season is quite lengthy. He ranked in the top 10 nationally in both touchdowns scored (21) and total rushing yards (1,713). He carried the ball 263 times, yet still managed to average 6.5 yards per rush. Still, the most impressive feat was undoubtedly his 432-rushing yard performance against Kansas, which set a new single-game rushing record at the FBS level.
The 5’11’’, 243-pound sophomore consistently proved that he could create big-chunk plays when handed the ball. He totaled 20 runs of 20 yards or more, a total which was tied for the second most in the country.
Rashard Higgins, WR, Colorado State
Colorado State’s offense lost a lot this offseason. The unit lost its architect: head coach Jim McElwain, quarterback Garrett Grayson and top rusher Dee Hart. Luckily, the Rams offense still has WR Rashard Higgins, who is coming off an incredibly productive All-American campaign in 2014.
Last year, Higgins showed that not only did he have what it takes to be a No. 1 go-to receiving option, he had what it takes to be a true bona fide superstar. The 6’2’’, 180-pound pass-catcher led the nation with 1,750 receiving yards and 17 receiving touchdowns, and his 30 catches of 20 yards or more were also more than any other player in the country.
Although the junior from Mesquite, Texas will miss Grayson tossing him the pigskin, Higgins should be in store for another highly productive campaign in 2015. It’s easy to make a case for the future high NFL draft pick as the best overall player outside of the Power-5 conferences.
D.J. Foster, WR, Arizona State
In this day and age, an increased value has been placed on versatile and dynamic “slash” skill-position players who can be equally effective in both the running game as well as the passing game. D.J. Foster is exactly the type of hybrid playmaker who epitomizes the current generation of rushing/receiving weapons that can destroy a defense in a variety of ways.
In his three seasons in Tempe, Foster been an invaluable part of the Sun Devils’ rise to prominence in the Pac-12. During that time, he’s totaled nearly 4,000 yards of total offense and scored 28 touchdowns. His natural progression culminated with a fantastic junior campaign, in which the 5’11’’, 205-pound Arizona native tied for third in the nation with 65 total plays of 10 yards or more.
Foster is expected to line up more on the outside at wide receiver than in the backfield during his final collegiate season. Still, there’s no doubt that the Arizona State brain trust will find plenty of different ways to exploit his explosive playmaking ability, no matter where he lines up on the field in 2015.
Elijah McGuire, RB, Louisiana-Lafayette
Last offseason, the folks here at Gridiron Perspective told you that Elijah McGuire was going to be a must-watch player for the 2014 season. He certainly lived up to the billing. McGuire was one of the most productive players in college football last fall, totaling over 1,800 all-purpose yards, scoring 16 touchdowns and ranking second overall in the nation with 46 plays of 10 yards or more from scrimmage.
After earning numerous accolades and honors, including the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year award this past season, McGuire is now poised to become a nationally-recognized household name this fall.
The 5’11’’, 198-pound junior is a true triple-threat who can change the complexion of a game in an instant whether that’s as a rusher, a receiver or a returner. McGuire is truly a special talent who has overcome some pretty incredible odds to make it to where he is today. Now, it’s time the college football world gives him the proper appreciation and adulation he deserves.
Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
In terms of overall explosiveness, the only offensive unit that can compare to Oregon’s high-powered offensive attack in recent years is Baylor’s. Art Briles’ formula for offensive success isn’t a complicated one: find speedy playmakers who can create big plays in space and find ways to get them the ball to do it. Last season, that formula worked perfectly, as the Bears finished the season ranked first in the nation in both scoring offense and total offense after averaging 48 points and 581 total yards per game.
WR Corey Coleman was the field-stretching home-run threat who really helped elevate the team’s offensive attack to an elite level. Coleman showed off his big-play prowess, as he totaled over 1,100 receiving yards, averaged over 17 yards per catch and scored 12 touchdowns. His 13 catches of 30 yards or more ranked fourth in the country.
Following in the footsteps of previous highly productive Baylor receivers such as Antwan Goodley, Terrance Williams and Kendall Wright , the 5’11’’, 190-pound senior is now primed to have a spectacular senior season in Briles’ unique spread attack.
Honorable Mention: 10 Other Weapons to Watch Out For
- Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State
- Devontae Booker, RB, Utah
- Duke Williams, WR, Auburn
- Josh Doctson, WR, TCU
- Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
- Leonte Carroo, WR, Rutgers
- Matt Breida, RB, Georgia Southern
- Pharoh Cooper, WR, South Carolina
- Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon
- Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma