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Spring Football 2019: Ten Players Ready For the Big Sophomore Leap

Christian Turner, Michigan
Plenty of players across the country enter college football each year with a significant amount of fanfare, eager to go from five-star recognition to competing for National Titles. However, adjusting to the collegiate game takes time and even some of the most ready newcomers struggle to make an impact their first seasons on campus. Their sophomore seasons are really when they're able to make an impact, seeing more snaps and more action as upperclassmen depart. There are bound to be a number of players making that big "sophomore leap" this upcoming fall. Here is a list of ten second-year guys who will have the largest impact on the college football landscape in 2019. (Note: This list includes redshirt freshman, who may have seen snaps but played less than four games, enabling them to keep their redshirt).

Xavier Thomas, DE, Clemson (2018 Stats: 43 tackles, 3 sacks, 7 TFL, 1 INT)
Clemson now has a tradition of churning out stud pass rushers, and three were just taken in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. That opens the door up for Xavier Thomas, who was a pass rushing specialist despite being a reserve. He's incredibly quick off the edge with a powerful first step with bone-crushing power. Playing starting snaps and under the teaching of D-coordinator Brent Venables, don't be surprised if Thomas dots preseason lists. He is legitimately good enough to compete for ACC Player of the Year in '19.

Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU (2018 Stats: 23 receptions, 313 yards, 3 touchdowns)
Most of the players on this list are former high-profile recruits, as is the case with Ja'Marr Chase. Considered by some a five-star prospect coming out of Archbishop Rummel in Louisiana, Chase flashed serious vertical ability. He had his moments throughout the regular season, but his bowl performance seemed like the real beginning of his coming-out party. He had six catches for 93 yards and a touchdown in the win over UCF. LSU seems committed to opening up their offense in 2019 as they ran shotgun sets frequently all spring. Chase could be one of the main benefactors, particularly with a veteran QB to get him the ball.

Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota (2018 Stats: 51 receptions, 704 yards, 6 touchdowns)
It isn't often a Georgia kid decides he wants to go all the way up north to the Twin Cities and play Big Ten football but Rashod Bateman is no normal talent. Bateman was a huge recruiting win for P.J. Fleck and the Gophers and was immediately integrated into the offense. He exploded onto the scene early with ten catches in the first two games and was quite possibly the best player on the field in a loss versus Illinois, where he had 175 and two touchdowns. After breaking the Minnesota freshman receiving record, Bateman could be poised for even bigger things. He looked extremely impressive over the spring for the Gophers.

Christian Turner, RB-FB, Michigan (2018 Stats: 20 attempts, 99 yards, 0 touchdowns)
Turner is another SEC prospect who decided to go way north and play in the Big Ten. Turner wasn't used much for the majority of the 2018 campaign, as UM leaned on veteran back Karan Higdon. Yet, he flashed serious playmaking ability with a 46-yard TD run in the Peach Bowl (later called back) and Jim Harbaugh raved about him during the spring. Able to keep his redshirt, Turner has a legitimate shot to battle for the No. 1 RB spot in a run-first offense. Higdon is gone and Chris Evans struggled last year, opening the door wide open for the intriguing Turner.

Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State (2018 Stats: 17 tackles, 1 TFL, 9 pass breakups)
If you know Asante Samuel Jr.'s namesake at all, you know the talent the Florida State sophomore has. Asante Samuel Sr. played 11 seasons in the NFL and was one of the best defenders in the entire league during his peak. Jr. earned national recognition for his work at St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale and he looked well beyond his years last season. Samuel Jr. made three starts and appeared in all 12 games, constantly getting his hand in plays. His closing speed is already top-notch and D-coordinator Harlon Barnett will help him polish the finer points of his game.

Ricky Slade, RB, Penn State (2018 Stats: 45 attempts, 257 yards, 6 touchdowns)
The last two PSU running backs under James Franklin, Saquon Barkley & Miles Sanders, have both had 1,000 yard seasons before eventually become high NFL Draft picks. It certainly looks like sophomore Ricky Slade is next in line, after he recorded six touchdowns a year ago. Slade has Barkley and Sanders' speed, but seems to have a little bit more wiggle to him, which he displayed with a 94-yard rushing performance against Illinois. With enough usage, the 1,000-yard threshold is incredibly doable, especially with PSU breaking in a new quarterback. The Nittany Lions will try to also get him more involved in the passing attack, where he had just one catch last year.

Brevin White, QB, Princeton (2018 Stats: No Stats)
Despite receiving attention from top-tier football programs across the country, including Alabama where he nearly enrolled, four-star QB Brevin White ended up at Princeton. It was a shocking move for many, but it could pay major dividends for the talented signal-caller in 2019. With incumbent starter John Lovett now gone, White looks to be one of the favorites to take over the explosive Princeton offense. That Princeton offense just happened to put up 47 points per game en route to a perfect 10-0 season last fall. If White does indeed win the starting job, he'll put up huge numbers on a team that has some serious talent, even if they are in the FCS ranks.

Spencer Sanders, QB, Oklahoma State (2018 Stats: No Stats)
Much like Brevin White, Spencer Sanders is a guy who didn't see any action over the course of the 2018 campaign. With that being said, the former four-star recruit out of Denton, Texas, seems like the favorite to take over the reigns of the Oklahoma State offense. He'll have to beat out former Hawaii transfer Dru Brown, but the Cowboy coaching staff has been awed at Sanders' poise and arm strength. That rocket arm seems like the perfect fit in the wide-open OSU offense, which consistently produces quarterbacks. Another reason to feel very optimistic about Sanders: the Cowboys return their top receiver, Tylan Wallace, who was a Biletnikoff Award finalist in '18.

Olaijah Griffin, CB, USC (2018 Stats: 8 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 pass breakup)
Playing at Mission Viejo High School in California, Olaijah Griffin quickly earned attention from coaches across the West Coast. He ended up committing to USC after an illustrious career that earned him a five-star in the 247Sports composite and a .9849 rating. Griffin wasn't able to see the field a ton in 2018 due to the veteran experience the Trojans had in their secondary last fall, but expect that to change in 2019. Throughout the spring, Griffin earned starting snaps at corner and his athleticism and ball skills were on full display. If USC is to recover from a frustrating 5-7 season, youthful talent like Griffin need to step up and the tools are certainly there.

Jack Sanborn, LB, Wisconsin (2018 Stats: 7 tackles, 1 pass breakup, 1 forced fumble)
The gem of the Badgers' 2018 recruiting class, Jack Sanborn is the typical Wisconsin linebacker. From nearby Lake Zurich, Illinois, the inside 'backer is a physical specimen that loves to play physical, hard-nosed football. Much like others on this list, he wasn't able to rise much up the depth chart due to veteran experience in front of him but should get the chance this upcoming fall. Wisconsin will be forced to replace long-time stud T.J. Edwards along with the serviceable Ryan Connelly, opening up plenty of snaps for Sanborn to show what he can do.

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