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20 lesser-hyped offensive newcomers on track to be impact players

Matt Zenitzby:Matt Zenitz03/27/23


Through winter workouts and spring practices, coaching staffs already have been able to identify some newcomers in position to be impact players this season.

And it’s not just limited to top recruits or high-profile transfers.

After compiling feedback from around the country, here are 20 lesser-hyped offensive newcomers who coaches and support staffers view as being on track to be impact players this season. They’re listed alphabetically.

We’ll take a look at some defensive guys Tuesday.

Maryland offensive lineman Gottlieb Ayedze
Previous school: Frostburg State
Ayedze was a Division II first-team All-American at Frostburg (Md.) State last season. 

Alabama wide receiver Malik Benson
Previous school: Hutchinson (Kan.) CC
Benson, a four-star recruit, was the top-ranked junior college prospect in the 2023 recruiting class in the On3 Industry Ranking. He had 54 catches, 923 yards and 10 touchdowns for Hutchinson CC last season. That came after compiling 43 catches, 1,229 yards, an average of 28.6 yards per catch and 11 touchdowns in 2021.

Tennessee tight end McCallan Castles
Previous school: UC Davis
Castles, a former four-star recruit who began his college career at California, was a second-team All-Big Sky selection at FCS member UC Davis each of the past two seasons. He had 30 catches for 347 yards and two touchdowns last season.

NC State wide receiver Kevin Concepcion
Previous school: Charlotte Chambers
Concepcion, a true freshman who enrolled in January, has been a spring standout for the Wolfpack. He was the No. 91 wide receiver in the 2023 recruiting class in the On3 Industry Ranking.

Kentucky running back Ray Davis
Previous school: Vanderbilt
Davis, who began his college career at Temple before transferring to Vanderbilt, ran for 1,042 yards for Vandy last season after missing most of 2021 because of a knee injury.

Auburn tight end Rivaldo Fairweather
Previous school: FIU
Fairweather had 54 catches in the past three seasons at FIU, including 28 for 426 yards and three touchdowns last season.

Arizona State wide receiver Xavier Guillory
Previous school: Idaho State
Guillory broke out for FCS member Idaho State last season, catching 52 passes for 728 yards and five touchdowns after tallying 20 catches and one touchdown in 2021.

Iowa State wide receiver Jayden Higgins
Previous school: Eastern Kentucky
Similar to Guillory, Higgins had a breakout 2022 season. After recording 29 catches for 394 yards and three touchdowns in 2021, Higgins had 58 catches for 757 yards and 10 scores last season for the FCS Colonels.

Georgia Tech wide receiver Abdul Janneh
Previous school: Duquesne
After minimal production his first two years at FCS member Duquesne — just eight total catches — Janneh finished with 43 catches, 579 yards and nine touchdowns last season.

Missouri offensive lineman Marcellus Johnson
Previous school: Eastern Michigan
Johnson was a starter at left tackle for Eastern Michigan in each of the past four seasons.

USC offensive lineman Jarrett Kingston
Previous school: Washington State
Kingston was a three-year starter for Washington State – at left guard in 2020 and ’21, then at left tackle last season. He didn’t allow any sacks in 398 pass snaps last season.

UCLA tight end Moliki Matavao
Previous school: Oregon
Matavao, a former four-star recruit, made six starts for Oregon last season. He finished the season with 10 catches for 134 yards and a touchdown. Matavao was the No. 5 tight end and the No. 165 overall prospect in the 2021 recruiting class in the On3 Industry Ranking.

North Carolina wide receivers Nate McCollum and Devontez Walker
Previous schools: Georgia Tech (McCollum), Kent State (Walker)
McCollum caught 60 passes for 655 yards and three touchdowns at Georgia Tech last season. Walker, who started his college career at FCS member NC Central, was a first-team All-MAC selection for Kent State last year. He had 58 catches for 921 yards and tied for seventh nationally with 11 receiving touchdowns. McCollum and Walker should be big weapons for North Carolina star QB Drake Maye.

Texas Tech wide receiver Drae McCray
Previous school: Austin Peay
McCray had 127 catches and 17 touchdowns in the past two seasons at FCS member Austin Peay, including 75 catches, 1,021 yards and nine touchdowns last season. He had 12 catches for 92 yards during a loss to Alabama. In high school in Tallahassee, Fla., McCray ran the 100-meter dash in 10.3 seconds.

Florida QB Graham Mertz
Previous school: Wisconsin
Mertz was Wisconsin’s starting quarterback the past three seasons. In 12 starts last season, Mertz threw for 2,136 yards, 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He finished 2021 with 1,958 yards, 10 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. Mertz had 38 TDs and 26 interceptions with the Badgers.

Wisconsin wide receiver Will Pauling
Previous school: Cincinnati
Pauling caught 12 passes for 122 yards at Cincinnati last season, but should be much busier at Wisconsin this season. He was the No. 168 wide receiver and the No. 1,166 overall prospect in the 2021 recruiting class in the On3 Industry Ranking.

Louisville wide receiver Jamari Thrash
Previous school: Georgia State
Thrash, a 2022 first-team All-Sun Belt selection for Georgia State, ranked 13th nationally last year with 1,122 receiving yards. He had 61 catches and seven touchdowns. In the Panthers’ final three games, Thrash had 23 catches, 467 yards and two touchdowns.

Virginia Tech running back Bhaysul Tuten
Previous school: North Carolina A&T
Tuten ran for 1,363 yards, 13 rushing touchdowns and an average of 6.6 yards per carry in 11 games for FCS member North Carolina A&T last season. Tuten also posted 31 catches for 342 yards and four receiving scores.

Auburn offensive lineman Dillon Wade
Previous school: Tulsa
Wade, Tulsa’s starting left tackle last season, is the current favorite to be Auburn’s starting left tackle.