- Showcasing the top athletes in college football, the players whose physical abilities blow away even those accustomed to observing gifted players.
I’ve been compiling my annual Freaks list of college football’s top workout warriors in the sport for almost 15 years now. I set out to showcase the guys who create some of the biggest buzz inside their programs by displaying the rare physical abilities that wow folks who are typically used to observing gifted athletes. This list is compiled with the help of many coaches, players and sports information directors around the nation. One caveat: I try to avoid having multiple players from one program, but this year I had three instances where I felt I needed to bend that rule. This year we’re doing a top 40 countdown. Check out Nos. 40–21 and continue with Nos. 20–11 below.
A Georgia native, the five-star wideout came west, bringing huge prep track credentials that included a 10.46 100-meter time, a 21.27 200-meter time and a 23’7” long jump. Robertson was as advertised on the field, catching 50 passes for 767 yards with seven TDs, breaking Cal records held by Keenan Allen and DeSean Jackson. The 6-foot, 175-pounder spends part of his off-season running track for the Bears on their 4x100 relay team and does the 100-meter dash. Robertson showed off some of that athleticism in March, doing a 64-inch box jump:
Coaches rave about his character as much as his speed. His former wide receivers coach at Cal, Jacob Peeler, told me Robertson is "the most humble kid I’ve ever coached. People joke about kids being the last off the field—no joke, he was the last off every single day. Media had to wait an hour after practice most days to interview him because he was always staying after to work on stuff."
I wanted to include at least one guy from outside the FBS and thought Goedert was a worthy candidate. He came to the Jackrabbits as a walk-on from the smallest class of high school football in South Dakota (and a program which is now playing 9-man football). He also excelled as a soccer and basketball player. Since then, Goedert has blossomed into a legit NFL prospect. Last season he caught 92 passes for 1,293 yards and has displayed a knack for acrobatic one-handed catches.
Expect the 6’4”, 265-pounder to light up the NFL Combine next winter. These are his numbers from off-season conditioning: vertical jump-36 inches; broad-jump 9’9 ½”. His 40 is 4.65. He power cleans a school record 380 and benches 380.
No college player I saw on the field last season aced the eye-ball test as much as this huge AAC wideout did. This off-season the junior was measured at 6’4”, 215. He has 6.4% body fat. He broad jumped 10’3” and vertical jumped 33 ½ inches. Here’s a good example of some of that burst as he performs a 60-inch box jump:
Sutton’s on-field numbers are even loftier: 76 receptions, 1,246 yards and 10 touchdowns. SMU head coach Chad Morris says Sutton’s a pleasure to be around and has great work ethic. Morris saw more than his share of stud wideouts in his days as Clemson’s offensive coordinator. He says Sutton is very similar to former Tigers standout DeAndre Hopkins in regards to his great body control and ball skills, but adds that Sutton’s even bigger than the NFL star.
The Buckeyes’ recent 40-yard dash board in the Woody Hayes Center lists six players clocking 4.36 or faster in the 40 led by JC transfer CB Kendall Sheffield. But I’m going with the seventh-fastest player. The 223-pound Baker was timed at 4.37, and he looks every bit that fast on film. In his debut season as a starter, Baker piled up 83 tackles to go with 9.5 tackles for loss and two INTs. Better still, Baker was at his best in big games: He delivered a pick-six at Oklahoma; notched 13 tackles at No. 8 Wisconsin and came up with 15 tackles and an interception against No. 3 Michigan.
"Baker has ridiculous measurables,” said Mickey Marotti, Ohio State’s assistant AD for football sports performance. “He’s tough and he's Ryan Shazier-like if not faster. He can fly. He was 200 [pounds when he arrived at Ohio State]. He's now 223. Darron Lee is longer and more of a strider. Jerome is made for the walk-out [linebacker position]."
The five-star freshman arrived this winter and wasted little time wowing his teammates and coaches with his agility and flexibility, especially since he had measured in at almost 6’6”, 265 pounds. Phillips ran his 40 in 4.5 seconds this spring and bench pressed 405 pounds. Those are head-turning numbers, especially for a guy who was supposed to still be in high school. He also has no trouble doing backflips.
Last month, Brown's wheels were on display at the NCAA track and field championships, where he ran a sizzling 10.12 100-meter time. He didn’t make the finals, but that kind of speed especially for a guy moonlighting at track is special. Brown also was part of the Crimson Tide’s 4x100 relay team that finished 14th. The 6-foot, 198-pound Texan isn’t just a fast guy. He’s also really, really strong. He bench presses 400 pounds.
A huge back with sprinter speed, the 227-pound Ballage was at his best in his NCAA-record-tying eight-touchdown game against Texas Tech last year. On one of those scores, a 75-yard TD run, Ballage was clocked by Arizona State’s GPS tracking system at 21.6 MPH. This off-season he’s vertical jumped 37 inches and whipped through a 4.03 20-yard shuttle time, which is .15 seconds faster than any running back delivered at the 2017 NFL combine.
The Nittany Lions have one of the most exciting offenses in the nation, and the 6’6”, 252-pound senior is a big reason why. A former high school basketball and volleyball star, Gesicki set Penn State records for a tight end in receptions (48) and receiving yards (679) in 2016. He is a match-up nightmare for defenses. He vertical jumps 37 ½ inches and has broad jumped 10’11”. He also power cleans 380 pounds, second most on the team, and bench presses 410.
The 6’6”, 303-pound Kansan has started 27 consecutive games and made some All-America teams in 2016. Smith’s combination of strength and speed is startling. “I've never had one like him. He's a most deserved FREAK,” said Tigers O-line coach Herb Hand. Asked what’s the most impressive thing about Smith, Hand replied: "His approach to his craft. Very business like. Really developing as a leader too. Holding the rest of the unit accountable to the standards he has set."
Smith benches 495, and strength coach Ryan Russell said Smith could eclipse the 500-pound mark if they let him. He also has been clocked at 4.95 in the 40, vertical jumped 33 inches and broad jumped 9’9 ½”. The latter would’ve been tops by any O-lineman at the NFL combine in the past four years. "The most impressive thing to me is his mobility in his ankle and his hips,” Russell says of Smith. "Normally a guy his size who is that strong and powerful will be stiff and has trouble moving efficiently. Braden’s movement efficiency is incredibly smooth and is something you don’t see too often with a guy that size."
The Heisman Trophy winner became the first player in FBS history with 3,300 passing yards and 1,500 rushing yards in a season. He also set a single-season Cardinals record for rushing yards with 1,538. Scary thought is that the 6’3”, 205-pounder is now a year more seasoned in playing the position from his work with Bobby Petrino, and he’s also apparently faster this year than he was a year ago. Jackson dropped nearly a full tenth of a second off his 40 time going from 4.42 to 4.34.