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January 26, 2011

The 10 most explosive players for 2011

Any time a team can cover one-fifth of the field on one play, a coach is going to be extremely happy.

Last season, the website cfbstats.com shows that 13 FBS teams had at least 70 plays that covered 20 yards, and 12 of those teams either won at least nine games, played for a conference championship or won a conference championship. Conversely, of the 20 teams that had the fewest plays covering 20 yards, just two had winning records.

Hawaii, which tied for the Western Athletic Conference crown, had a national-best 103 "explosive plays." National champion Auburn had 86. Oregon, which faced Auburn in the national championship game, had 82.

With that in mind, here's a look at Rivals.com's most explosive offensive players for next season. Good news for their teams is that six of the 10 players on this list had a chance to turn pro but decided to stay in school. The class listed are what the players will be this fall.

Buzz: Although he was a backup to Mark Ingram and also missed two games, Richardson still had 13 plays covering at least 30 yards. Richardson had at least one run of 20 yards in seven games. His touchdowns included a 91-yard kickoff return against Duke, an 85-yard reception against Ole Miss and a 65-yard run against Tennessee. He will be a starter in '11, which will give him more chances for big plays.
Buzz: FIU opponents have known for three seasons that containing Hilton is the top priority, yet that mission is often left unaccomplished. FIU works to get Hilton the football in various ways, and for good reason. Last season he turned in 17 plays -- running, receiving and returning -- that covered at least 30 yards. He returned kickoffs for touchdowns against Louisiana-Monroe (95 yards) and Toledo (89). In a big win over Troy, he had touchdown runs of 80 and 61 yards as well as a 63-yard catch. He also had a 67-yard touchdown catch against ULM, a 43-yard scoring grab against North Texas and a 42-yard catch against Arkansas State. And for cynics who might dismiss him for excelling against small programs, remember that in '09 Hilton returned a kickoff 96 yards for a score against Alabama and he took back a punt for a TD vs. Kansas in 2008 in his first college game. In his career, Hilton has run for a TD, thrown a TD pass, caught a TD pass and returned kickoffs and punts for TDs.
8. WR Damaris Johnson, Tulsa, Sr.
Buzz: Johnson is the NCAA's career leader in all-purpose yardage with 7,796 -- and he has a season left. Johnson led the nation in all-purpose yards this past season, when he scored long-range touchdowns via rushing, passing, punt returns and kickoff returns. He scored nine touchdowns on plays that covered at least 20 yards. His biggest plays were a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Rice, a 67-yard scoring run against Hawaii, a 46-yard scoring run against Southern Miss, a 41-yard touchdown catch against Rice and a 59-yard punt return for a touchdown in an upset of Notre Dame.
7. QB Taylor Martinez, Nebraska, Soph.
Buzz: Look out, Big Ten defenders, Martinez can escape from a pass rush and turn in a huge play. Or he can just run from scrimmage and turn in a big play. He's a decent passer but a huge threat as a runner. As a redshirt freshman this past season, Martinez made an immediate impact by rushing for 737 yards in the first five games. That included touchdown runs of 33, 67, 80, 35, 80 and 41 yards. Martinez posted 15 runs of at least 20 yards and 10 that covered at least 30 despite missing two games because of toe and ankle injuries and playing hurt in four other games.
6. WR Juron Criner, Arizona, Sr.
Buzz: Criner too often seems to be forgotten when big-time receivers are mentioned, but opposing defenses don't forget him. He's a major deep threat with excellent speed. In 2010, he had 18 catches that covered at least 20 yards, and eight of those went for at least 40 yards. He had an 85-yard touchdown catch against Oregon, a 52-yarder against Arizona State and a 41-yarder against UCLA. He also had a 21-yard run against Stanford. He doesn't return kicks, though perhaps he should.
Buzz: At 6 feet 4 and 233 pounds, Jeffery is a huge wide receiver. Yet he has the speed and agility usually associated with much smaller players, and he can turn short passes into long gains. This past season, Jeffery had 26 receptions that covered at least 20 yards. No other player returning in 2011 had that many. He had a reception of at least 40 yards in eight games, including a 72-yard touchdown against Vanderbilt, a 71-yard touchdown against Tennessee and a 69-yard catch against Auburn.
4. WR Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma, Sr.
Buzz: He gets the ball often and knows what to do with it. This past season, Broyles led the nation with 131 receptions. He turned those into 1,622 yards and 14 touchdowns. He had 21 plays of at least 20 yards and at least one gain of 25 yards in 11 of the Sooners' 14 games. Broyles had touchdown receptions of 81 and 64 yards against Colorado. He also had a 57-yard punt return, although he had a substandard (for him) season as a punt returner in '10. In '09, he was named All-Big 12 as a punt returner after averaging 15.9 yards on 31 returns to rank third in the nation.
3. TB LaMichael James, Oregon, Jr.
Buzz: A sprinter on Oregon's track team, the speedy James is a perfect fit in the Ducks' spread offense and a breakaway threat every time he gets the football. Last season, he had 15 plays of 20 yards, 11 runs of at least 30 yards and eight of at least 40. James had a play that covered at least 31 yards in eight games. His highlights included a 72-yard touchdown run against Tennessee, a 76-yard touchdown run against Stanford and a 66-yard run against Portland State. He also had an 84-yard touchdown reception against Washington State.
Buzz: By October of this past season, every team that faced Oklahoma State knew it had to contain Blackmon. Almost no one did. Although he missed one game for a suspension and was slowed by an injury late in the season, Blackmon still had 24 catches that covered at least 20 yards and 10 that covered at least 40. Blackmon had 20 TD catches and those alone covered an incredible 641 yards (32.1 yards per reception); that included eight that covered at least 37 yards. He had a 69-yard touchdown run, too.
Buzz: Robinson is like a time bomb. Sooner or later, he's going to explode. Each time Robinson tucks the football, opposing fans hold their breath because he always seems one step away from making a big play. Last season, his first as a full-time starter in former coach Rich Rodriguez's spread offense, Robinson had 16 runs that covered at least 20 yards and seven that exceeded 30 yards. He had at least one 20-yard gain in nine of the Wolverines' 13 games last season. He scored touchdowns on runs of 87, 72, 47, 32 and 32 yards. He also had 12 pass completions of more than 40 yards. That's more than Stanford's Andrew Luck. A big question with Robinson is how the new Michigan staff will make use of his talents.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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