It has been almost 20 years since Bruce Feldman, a marvelous sportswriter for theathletic.com and Fox Sports, came up with the idea of identifying the “Freaks” of college football. Wait, being called a freak is a good thing, a very good thing, on a football team. It means you are so strong or so fast or so “athletic” that your own teammates and coaches stand in awe, be it in the weight room, the practice field, or in off-season workouts.
Bruce writes, “My premise was to spotlight the players who generate buzz inside their programs by displaying the unique physical abilities that wow even those who observe gifted athletes every day. The Freaks list is compiled with the help of many coaches, players and sports information directors, as well as NFL scouts from all over the nation.”
There were 10 on Feldman’s first list but now he ranks the Top 100.
This year’s No. 1 Freak is Mazi Smith, a defensive tackle at Michigan. In Feldman’s words: “His former teammate, Aidan Hutchinson, almost was our top guy in 2021, but this year a Wolverine is the No. 1 Freak in college football. The 6-foot-3, 337-pound senior has rare power and agility. So rare, in fact, it’s hard to find the right superlative to begin with.
“But let’s start with this: Smith does 22 reps on the bench press, but that’s with 325 (not 225). He close-grip benched 550 pounds. He vertical-jumps 33 inches. He broad-jumped 9-4 1/2. Smith, who had 37 tackles last season, has clocked a 4.41 shuttle time, which would’ve tied the best by any defensive tackle at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine, and it would’ve been better than any defensive tackle weighing 310 pounds or more in the past decade.”
The No. 2 Freak is Marvin Harrison Jr., a wide receiver from Ohio State. “There has been a ridiculous run of wideout talent in Columbus the past decade, and Harrison, the son of Colts great Marvin Harrison, is probably the Freakiest athlete of the entire group. Harrison is a big dude at 6-3 1/2, 206 pounds. He benched 380 pounds this offseason, doing 22 reps at 225. He clocked a blistering 3.94 pro shuttle time and did 10-9 on the broad jump. He also topped out at 23 mph on the GPS. As a freshman in 2021, he caught 11 passes for 139 yards and three touchdowns but finished with a flourish, catching six passes, including three touchdowns, in the Rose Bowl win over Utah.”
Third? That would be Clemson’s Myles Murphy, a defensive end: “Murphy made 43 tackles, a team-high 14.0 tackles for loss, and a team-best seven sacks in 2021. The 6-5, 275-pound junior is viewed by NFL scouts as a “significantly better player” than former Tiger Clelin Ferrell, who went fourth overall in the 2019 draft. Murphy bench-presses 405 pounds, power-cleans 335 and deadlifts 505. He also has vertical-jumped 35 inches, broad-jumped 10 feet and consistently clocked in the high 4.5s in the 40, according to Clemson coaches.”
Feldman’s list of 100 Freaks is a tantalizing read but here are a “Dandy Dozen” Freaks who caught my eye, each with Feldman’s comments:
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No. 6. KELEE RINGO, GEORGIA, CORNERBACK
In 2021, he made the freshman All-SEC team, which he punctuated with a terrific showing on the biggest stage, making six tackles and a game-sealing 79-yard interception return for touchdown in the College Football Playoff Championship Game against Alabama. Ringo’s combination of size and freakish explosiveness is reminiscent of another SEC Freak DB, Patrick Peterson. The 6-2, 215-pound Ringo, a World Class junior sprinter from Arizona who ran a 10.43 100- and 21.18 200-meter time, is a legitimate 4.3 40 guy and consistently clocks in the high-22 mph range on the GPS.
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No. 8 OWEN PAPPOE, AUBURN, LINEBACKER
He’s made 165 tackles and six sacks in his career for the Tigers, and he’s determined to bounce back from missing part of last season and the spring with a leg injury. Folks inside the Auburn program say he is aptly nicknamed “The Freak.” The 6-1, 225-pounder bench-presses 435 pounds and has been clocked in the 40 at 4.32.
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No. 10 CHRIS BRASWELL, ALABAMA, LINEBACKER
He’s not the headliner of the Tide backers in what is a remarkably talented group, but coaches say Braswell (13 tackles in 2021) is the biggest Freak. At 6-3, 243, he squats 705 pounds and power-cleaned 405 pounds this offseason. He also vertical-jumped 38.5 inches.
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No. 20 KEION WHITE, GEORGIA TECH, DEFENSIVE LINEMAN
White was a devastating player for Old Dominion in 2019, making 19 TFLs. He was 265 then. He transferred to Tech, but then suffered an ankle injury that sidelined him. He’s now 6-4, 290 and primed to be a problem for ACC teams. White has hit 21 mph despite being almost 300 pounds. He also has vertical-jumped 32 inches and done 38 reps of 225 on the bench press. “We’re really excited to see him,” Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins said.
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No. 24 JAYLEN WRIGHT, TENNESSEE, RUNNING BACK
He had a good debut season in 2021, rushing for 409 yards and four touchdowns, but figures to be even more of a weapon in Josh Heupel’s system. The 5-11 Wright is up to 200 pounds but displayed some serious juice this offseason, clocking 23.6 mph in practice. Beyond that, Wright vertical-jumped 44 inches and did a 10-8 broad jump.
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No. 39 ARIAN SMITH, GEORGIA, WIDE RECEIVER
The fastest guy on a team full of Freaks, the 6-0, 185-pound redshirt sophomore consistently hit 23 mph on the GPS and was an All-American sprinter for the track team. Smith ran leadoff on the Bulldogs’ school record-setting 4×100-meter relay team that went 39.02 at the SEC championships before it ran 38.54 at the NCAA outdoor meet, where it finished second. Smith’s blazing speed has produced a spectacular 37.6 yards per catch. He’s had five receptions in two seasons in Athens, and three have gone for touchdowns.
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No. 43 TYLER HARRELL, ALABAMA, WIDE RECEIVER
On his 20 receptions last year for Louisville, the Miami native scored six touchdowns and averaged a gaudy 28 yards per catch. That kind of big-play potential isn’t shocking when you consider just how fast the 6-0, 195-pounder is. At U of L, he was consistently hitting 24 mph on the GPS and had a 10-yard split of 1.41. His former coach there, Scott Satterfield, told The Athletic that Harrell is the fastest guy he’s ever timed and had him on his stopwatch at a 4.19 in the 40; he did 4.24 on the laser.
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No. 45 BROCK BOWERS, GEORGIA, TIGHT END
The 2021 SEC Freshman of the Year represents the Freakiest tight end room in college football with 6-7, 285-pound Darnell Washington, who can run the 40 in the high 4.6s, and Arik Gilbert, who is almost as big as Washington and moves even better, but it’s the 6-4, 245-pound Bowers who is the marquee Freak after leading all Georgia receivers with 56 catches for 882 yards (a 15.8-yard average) and 13 touchdowns. Bowers’ speed shocks defenses. Word is, Bowers, whose mom was an All-American softball player at Utah State and whose dad was a two-time All-Big West center for the USU football squad, has run the 40 in 4.49 seconds and is expected to only get even Freakier with more time in the Georgia strength program.
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No. 50 ANTHONY RICHARDSON, FLORIDA, QUARTERBACK
We never have many quarterbacks on this list, but this is a rare athlete. Richardson is a chiseled 6-4, 238 pounds with just 10 percent body fat and says he has run a 4.4 40 and can throw a football 75 yards. Football insiders eye-balling college quarterbacks at this summer’s Manning Passing Academy were wowed by Richardson’s physical tools, saying he and Kentucky’s Will Levis were well above and beyond every other quarterback there. Richardson cleans 325 pounds and squatted 500 this offseason.
No. 62 BRIAN BRANCH, ALABAMA, DEFENSIVE BACK
The Georgia native emerged as a playmaker in the Tide defense in 2021, making 55 tackles, five TFLs and had a team-high nine pass breakups. Brand, at 6 feet, 194 pounds, is a strong DB, squatting 565 and power-cleaning 335. He’s also got a lot of speed, having clocked 22.3 mph on the GPS system.
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No. 91 McCLENDON CURTIS, CHATTANOOGA, OFFENSIVE GUARD
Last year the Mocs had Cole Strange at left guard and this giant at right guard. Strange went in the first round to the Patriots, and Curtis, a nimble 6-6, 330-pounder working on his master’s, is on pro scouts’ radars. Curtis has made first-team All-SoCon the past two seasons and also made the league’s honor roll with a 4.0 GPA. He chose to stay at hometown Chattanooga coming out of high school over FBS offers from Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, MTSU, Ohio, Temple and Western Kentucky. This offseason Curtis has deadlifted 775 pounds, power-cleaned 345, and his body fat was measured at 23.7 percent.
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No. 94 ELIJAH SIMMONS, TENNESSEE, DEFENSIVE TACKLE
A former middle school running back, Simmons has grown into a 6-2, 340-pound powerhouse who is the Vols’ strongest player. Simmons bench-presses 455, incline-presses 385 and power-cleans 345. He’s also a really gifted singer.
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ABOUT AUTHOR BRUCE FELDMAN: He is the National College Football Insider for The Athletic. One of the sport’s leading voices, he also is a sideline reporter for FOX College Football. Bruce has covered college football nationally for more than 20 years and is the author of numerous books on the topic, including "Swing Your Sword: Leading The Charge in Football and Life" with Mike Leach and most recently "The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks."