With less than two months until the start of the 2021 college football season, our team of CFB analysts sat down to select Pro Football Network’s preseason All-Americans. Following much debate, discussion, and deliberation, we narrowed down thousands of potential players to three teams and a few honorable mentions that were just too good to leave out. The traditional college football powerhouses are represented — as you’d expect — but there are some surprises in store, with several smaller-school sensations receiving their deserved recognition.
2021 College Football Preseason All-Americans
Although only one player can make first-team preseason All-American, our college football roster is chock-full of talent at every position.
Let’s kick off our list of college football preseason All-Americans with the first-team offense!
Quarterback: Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma
The most successful signal-caller to come out of Arizona, Spencer Rattler finally took the reigns of Oklahoma’s offense last year. After a shaky start, the redshirt freshman dominated down the stretch. 5 of his 7 interceptions came during his first four games. From there on out, he threw just 2 picks as Oklahoma secured another Big 12 title.
Last season, the Sooners star compiled an impressive stat sheet. Rattler ranks in the top 10 for completion percentage, passing yards, touchdowns, yards per attempt, and passer rating of all returning quarterbacks. The Oklahoma quarterback’s development through 2020 should ensure that he emerges as the preeminent passer in the nation and the 2022 NFL Draft class.
Running Back: Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M
A consensus first-team college football preseason All-American amongst our voting panel, Isaiah Spiller heads up the running back room as he will for the Aggies this season. With uncertainty at the quarterback position heading into summer camp, Spiller may take on an even more prominent role in the offense than he has in his two-year career to date.
That should be a terrifying prospect for defenses in the SEC. The physical running back has amassed 2,378 all-purpose yards in two seasons while averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Spiller also has 19 touchdowns on his résumé after a 2020 campaign that saw him rush for 9 scores in just 10 games. Strong between the tackles while able to burst around the outside, he can be the RB1 of the 2022 NFL Draft class.
Running Back: Breece Hall, Iowa State
Unsurprisingly, the nation’s leading rusher from a year ago is the other consensus selection at running back. Breece Hall outstripped first-round rusher Najee Harris, despite playing one fewer game in 2020. His 1,572 yards led the nation, while his 21 touchdowns ensured he finished second behind the Alabama running back. Hall’s 131 yards per game ranked fifth of all returning running backs for the 2021 season.
Although he lacks the physicality of Spiller, the Iowa State running back’s elusiveness and explosiveness will make him a must-watch in college football. Running behind an Iowa State offensive line that returns all of its starters, there’s every reason to believe that Hall will be a whirlwind for the Cyclones again. Another rushing crown isn’t out of the question for the junior running back.
Wide Receiver: Jalen Tolbert, South Alabama
You won’t find many rosters of college football preseason All-Americans that include a wide receiver from South Alabama. So, why does one appear on ours? Jalen Tolbert is the top returning wide receiver in the nation ahead of the 2021 college football season. The numbers speak for themselves. Tolbert’s 1,085 receiving yards last fall were the most of any returning pass catcher in college football. He produced just under 100 yards per game, averaging 16.95 yards per catch. Those are elite numbers.
Numbers, of course, can be manipulated to tell a story, and the old, disrespectful, “quality of opposition” argument rears its ugly head. However, turn on the tape, and it’s plain to see the star quality. At 6’3″ and 195 pounds, Tolbert has the ideal size for the position. In addition, he possesses exceptional speed, explosiveness, and elusiveness in the open field. Furthermore, he’s a willing-and-able blocker downfield.
Tolbert will have a former-Power Five quarterback in Jake Bentley throwing him the ball this year. Expect big things from him this fall.
Wide Receiver: Chris Olave, Ohio State
The Ohio State Buckeyes are set to have one of, if not the best wide receiver duos in college football this fall. One member of our college football preseason All-Americans panel preferred Garrett Wilson for the first team. There’s no denying that there’s a wafer-thin line dividing the two. Yet, the quasi-consensus was with Chris Olave as a first-team selection.
Olave has led the Buckeyes in receiving yards for the last two years. If he’d had an entire season of work, the pass catcher was on pace to surpass 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. Olave combines physicality, exceptional route running, long speed, and explosiveness to be a monster receiving threat. As a result, he can be expected to be the go-to guy for whoever wins the Buckeyes’ starting QB battle.
Wide Receiver: Treylon Burks, Arkansas
As Arkansas embarked on their most successful SEC season since 2016, Treylon Burks emerged as a star in the Razorbacks offense. The junior wide receiver was comfortably Arkansas’ top pass catcher, finishing the season with 820 yards, 7 touchdowns, and averaging 16.1 yards per catch. The versatile receiver also saw some snaps out of the backfield, running the rock at 5.0 yards per carry.
Although his numbers may fall short of some of the players that didn’t make the first-team All-Americans, Burks is the real deal. He possesses an insane blend of size (he’s 6’3″ and just over 230 pounds), speed, and power. Moreover, the Arkansas wide receiver has uncommon hand size to help him snare the football. Blessed with the versatility to impact the game in multiple ways, Burks should emerge as one of the best players in the nation this year.
Tight End: Jalen Wydermyer, Texas A&M
Texas A&M’s Jalen Wydermyer joins his Aggies teammate Spiller on our first-team college football preseason All-Americans list. The junior tight end has almost surpassed 1,000 yards during his two seasons in College Station. In addition to averaging an impressive 12.2 yards per catch, Wydermyer secured 6 touchdowns in each campaign since arriving at College Station.
As he heads into his junior season, Wydermyer could put it all together to be an imposing all-around tight end threat. He demonstrated remarkable growth as a blocker in 2020. Meanwhile, his pass catching, route running, and red-zone prowess have never been in doubt. There may not be a college tight end that transcends the position in the same way that Kyle Pitts did last year. Still, Wydermyer should emerge as the best in the nation ahead of a potential first-round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Offensive Tackle: Evan Neal, Alabama
Our first-team college football All-American list moves on to the big men in the trenches, and they don’t come much bigger than Evan Neal. The Alabama offensive tackle stands at a gargantuan 6’7″ and 360 pounds. As you’d expect from such a Goliath, Neal has the strength to effortlessly maneuver people at will. Additionally, he moves with the athleticism of a much smaller man.
His unique build and athleticism profile make him a standout on the offensive line. Neal is one of the most versatile offensive linemen in the nation. Having started his Alabama career at guard, he shifted to right tackle for the 2020 season. The expectation is that he’ll play at left tackle in the upcoming college football season and will rightly be considered as one of the best in the country.
Guard: Kenyon Green, Texas A&M
Another offensive lineman on the move in 2021, Kenyon Green will move from left guard to left tackle for the upcoming campaign. The junior lineman has already established himself as one of the best in the nation and received the first-team vote from all four of our college football preseason All-Americans panel.
Green was the anchor of a Texas A&M offensive line that led the SEC in the fewest sacks and tackles for loss allowed in 2020. Additionally, he helped carve open running lanes, as the Aggies averaged the most rushing yards per carry in the conference. Strong, tough, intelligent, and versatile, there aren’t enough superlatives to describe Green’s ability ahead of the 2021 college football season. He’ll be pivotal in protecting whoever starts under center for the Aggies this fall.
Center: Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
A consensus pick at the pivot, Tyler Linderbaum‘s ascension from redshirt defensive lineman to the best center in the nation has been meteoric. Given Iowa’s penchant for offensive line production, it shouldn’t be surprising. However, the skinny kid from Solon has soared beyond all reasonable expectations for the Hawkeyes.
Athletic enough to sprint all the way downfield while strong enough to pulverize opponents in the phone booth that is the interior offensive line, few can match Linderbaum’s physicality. The Iowa center was a finalist for the prestigious Rimington Award last season. It would be a shock not to see him head to the 2022 NFL Draft without being officially recognized as college football’s top center.
Guard: Ikem Ekwonu, NC State
Although Ikem Ekwonu earned second-team All-ACC honors at both guard and tackle last season, he makes first-team college football preseason All-American on the interior of the line. The NC State offensive lineman has been described as “the most feared offensive lineman in the ACC” after a series of sensationally brutal performances for the Wolfpack during the last two years.
Ekwonu has the old-school mauler mentality on the line, wanting to finish every opponent into the dirt. Yet, he also brings an understanding of winning with leverage due to a wrestling background. Moreover, his courtship from Harvard and Yale are a testament to his intelligence. His performances at tackle are good, but his play at guard is exceptional.
Offensive Tackle: Rasheed Walker, Penn State
A two-year starter at left tackle for the Nittany Lions, Rasheed Walker‘s play in 2020 earned him third-team All-Big Ten recognition. The 6’6″, 320-pound behemoth has already received first-round chatter in the 2022 NFL Draft class due to his athletic profile, technical ability, and football intelligence. Like Ekwonu above him, Walker has that mauler mentality about him that often sends opponents into the dirt.
The dynamic running back room of Noah Cain, John Lovett, and Keyvone Lee may need to get behind Walker to help drive the offense this season. Although Penn State finished second in the Big Ten for total offense, they only ranked 54th in the nation. In addition to keeping Sean Clifford upright, Walker will be pivotal to Penn State’s chances of improving on last year’s 4-5 record.
Offensive Flex: Drake London, USC
A USC wide receiver hasn’t received a first-team All-American vote since Nelson Agholor in 2014. However, Drake London isn’t like most wide receivers. At 6’5″, he has the size of a big-bodied boundary player but contains the speed and elusiveness of a smaller receiver. You’re going to hear this word from me a bunch of times this college football season to describe London — uncommon.
There isn’t a better word to describe his unique combination of physical characteristics. London flew somewhat under the radar in the shortened 2020 campaign, with Amon-Ra St. Brown earning the Trojans’ receiving plaudits. Still, it wasn’t the now-Detroit Lions WR that led the Trojans in receiving yards and yards per catch. Chuck in some insane plays against Arizona State and UCLA, and you have the makings of a standout wide receiver in a trendsetting year for the program.