Each season, new stars emerge on the gridiron. It’s often the players who have been with the program for a while, waiting for a chance, who sneak into starring roles while no one is looking. Don’t sleep on these potential breakout players for each of the Top 25 teams.


1. Alabama: RB Damien Harris

All Damien Harris has done is rushed for 900 yards or more in each of the past two seasons, and yet he keeps getting overlooked. There’s the Jalen HurtsTua Tagovailoa debate, of course, but it’s also Harris’ understudy, Najee Harris, who has captured Bama fans’ attention. All Damien keeps doing is racking up yards. — Alex Scarborough


2. Clemson: LB Kendall Joseph

Largely overshadowed by Clemson’s defensive line and even fellow linebackers like Dorian O’Daniel last year, Joseph has been a steady presence for the Tigers. It might surprise some to know Joseph has collected 222 career tackles, including 18.5 for loss with 30 quarterback hurries. A third-team All-ACC selection in 2017, Joseph is set up for a strong finish to his college career. — Adam Rittenberg


3. Ohio State: S Jordan Fuller

Fuller will be the veteran leader of the Buckeyes’ secondary in 2018 after learning from talent-loaded defensive backfields the past two seasons. The New Jersey native will be a key piece to Ohio State’s defense even if most of the attention remains focused on the star-studded defensive line. — Dan Murphy

4. Georgia: DB J.R. Reed

Of course we all understand that Roquan Smith and Lorenzo Carterare gone. We get it, Georgia’s defense will look different this season. But don’t forget a standout performer from last season: J.R. Reed. All the sophomore defensive back did was post 79 tackles, two interceptions and six QB hurries. — Scarborough

5. Oklahoma: OL/LT Bobby Evans

Left tackle Orlando BrownJr. garnered all the attention and honors anchoring Oklahoma’s offensive line last season. Bookend mate Bobby Evans, however, was quietly just as dominant on the other side. With Brown now in the NFL, Evans has flipped to the left side — and stands to take over as the headliner of Oklahoma’s imposing line. — Jake Trotter


6. Washington: OL Ryan Bowman

Former walk-on Ryan Bowman was a huge surprise for Washington last year and is now in line for a starting spot as an outside linebacker for the Huskies this season. In limited work as a redshirt freshman, Bowman led the Huskies with 5.5 sacks and was second with 9.5 TFLs. — Edward Aschoff


7. Wisconsin: WR Danny Davis III

Wisconsin hasn’t been known for explosive wide receivers, but things should change this season thanks to Davis and others. Davis averaged more than 16 yards per reception as a freshman and tied for second on the team with five touchdowns, including three against Miami in the Orange Bowl. Along with Quintez CephusA.J. Taylor and others, Davis brings the dynamic speed element that Wisconsin has lacked. — Rittenberg


8. Miami: DE Demetrius Jackson

Before a knee injury shut him down midway through the season, Jackson recorded 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks playing opposite Joe Jackson on Miami’s defensive line. Miami needs depth and production on a line that lost two tackles to the NFL. Demetrius Jackson’s return, along with those of Joe Jackson and Jonathan Garvin, could be significant. — Rittenberg


9. Michigan State: DT Mike Panasiuk

Most of the Spartans’ line deserves a bit more credit than it receives. Panasiuk started 16 straight games. Last year he and fellow tackle Raequan Williams were the anchor of a revitalized run-stopping defense. — Murphy


10. Michigan: RB Karan Higdon

The Wolverines’ defense will (rightfully) draw a lot of attention again this year. Higdon, though, is a smart, decisive runner with breakaway speed. He could be one of the Big Ten’s breakout stars if the line in front of him takes a step forward in 2018. — Murphy


11. West Virginia: WR Gary Jennings

Though David Sills V was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award last season, Gary Jennings actually led the Big 12 with 97 receptions. As a reliable possession option, Jennings is a big reason why the Mountaineers’ passing attack figures to be among the best in the country. — Trotter


12. Notre Dame: C Sam Mustipher

The guy who lined up next to two top-10 NFL draft picks for the past couple of years has a chance to step out of their considerable shadow this season. Mustipher hasn’t missed a start in the middle of Notre Dame’s daunting offensive line for the past two years. He’ll be the key to making sure that group remains solid while replacing Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson. — Murphy


13. Penn State: LB Koa Farmer

Don’t forget the Nittany Lions finished among the top 10 in the nation in points allowed last year to go with that flashy Saquon Barkley-centric offense. Farmer’s transformation from a high school running back to a 235-pound linebacker is complete, and as one of the unit’s top returning players, he’s primed for a breakout year. — Murphy


14. Stanford: P Jake Bailey

Special-teamers rarely get the love they deserve, but in a year in which Stanford’s defense enters as an unknown (again), punter Jake Bailey might be the Cardinal’s sneaky secret weapon. Last year, Bailey ranked seventh nationally with an average punt of 45.4 yards, planted 24 of his 57 kicks inside the 20 and bombed 20 punts of 50-plus yards. — Aschoff


15. Virginia Tech: OLB/D Mook Reynolds

He played alongside two future first-round picks in Tremaine Edmunds and Terrell Edmunds, so his accomplishments could easily be overlooked. But Reynolds has 134 tackles, including 18 for loss, in the past two seasons and has started 26 games over the past three seasons. He’ll be a more recognizable player this season, as Virginia Tech really needs him to step up. — Rittenberg

 

Source: ESPN
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