PICK SIX: Brooks tops list of players back after opting out

Most of the top college football players who opted out of the 2020 season because of the pandemic decided to leave school and launch pro careers.

Players who sat out the entire 2020 season and were drafted in the first round include Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase (LSU), Detroit Lions offensive tackle Penei Sewell (Oregon), Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons (Penn State), Los Angeles Chargers offensive tackle Rashawn Slater (Northwestern), Tennessee Titans cornerback Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech), Buffalo Bills edge rusher Greg Rousseau (Miami) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers edge rusher Joe Tryon (Washington).

That list doesn’t include San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance, who played one game with North Dakota State in the fall but opted out of the Football Championship Subdivision program’s spring season.

But plenty of other players who opted out of last season chose to continue their college careers, whether they stayed at their original school or transferred:

OKLAHOMA RB KENNEDY BROOKS

Brooks rushed for 1,056 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman in 2018. He followed that up by running for 1,011 yards and six touchdowns in 2019. Brooks sat out the 2020 season over COVID-19 concerns but is back now with the second-ranked Sooners and has told reporters that “I’d probably say I’m more explosive than I was a year ago.” Brooks is part of a backfield that also includes Tennessee transfer Eric Gray.

UCF DL KALIA DAVIS

Davis started each of UCF’s final nine games in 2019 and ended that season with 27 tackles, including eight for loss. He also delivered three sacks that year and played well enough to earn first-team American Athletic Conference honors from Pro Football Focus.

MINNESOTA OL DANIEL FAALELE

This mammoth lineman – he’s 6-foot-9 and 380 pounds – was Minnesota’s starting right tackle in 2018 and 2019. He should step right back into that role this year after sitting out the 2020 season. Faalele is from Melbourne, Australia, though he played football for IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

SOUTH CAROLINA WR ORTRE SMITH

Smith made 10 starts and caught 30 passes as a freshman in 2017, but injuries have limited him since. He played just two games in 2018 before undergoing knee surgery and had nine catches for 69 yards in 2019. After opting out of last season, Smith is back and ready to regain the form he showed as a freshman.

TEMPLE S DAESEAN WINSTON

Temple returns eight players who opted out of the 2020 season. Although school officials haven’t officially identified them, Winston, linebacker Kwantel Raines and cornerbacks Jeremy Jennings and Ty Mason went public in the spring about their decisions to opt out. Temple also added running back Ra’Von Bonner, an Illinois transfer who opted out last season. Winston could end up as the biggest contributor in that group as he takes on an expanded role after working as a reserve in 2018 and 2019.

AUBURN LB CHANDLER WOOTEN

Wooten’s experience should provide a boost for Auburn as the Tigers attempt to replace fifth-round NFL draft pick K.J. Britt at linebacker. Wooten had 10 tackles in 2018 and 27 more in 2019. He recorded 5 ½ tackles for loss during that 2019 season and had a fumble recovery against Florida and an interception against Arkansas. Wooten graduated in December 2019 and is now working toward a master’s degree. Auburn also returns defensive back Malcolm Askew after he opted out of the 2020 season.

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