Former Michigan star Jabrill Peppers won the Paul Hornung Award last year as college football's most versatile player, showcasing three-way skills on defense, offense and special teams. Who will be the next Peppers? It could be years before we see a single player's talent diversified as much as Peppers, but this week, CFB 24/7's 17 for '17 series offers a look as the most versatile skill-position players returning for 2017. The list was compiled in consultation with NFL scouts and college staffers.
17. Cedrick Wilson, WR, Boise State
Wilson touched the ball as a receiver, a passer, a rusher, a punt returner and a kickoff returner last year, accounting for 1,629 yards for the Broncos. The majority of that came as an explosive receiving threat, but there is plenty more to Wilson's game. He threw a 61-yard TD pass against Utah State, and broke a 73-yard punt return against UNLV.
16. Greg Stroman, CB, Virginia Tech
How many defensive backs can bail out the coaching staff as a punter? Stroman booted a pair of quick-kick punts last year for a 40-yard average against North Carolina. In his more traditional role in the Hokies secondary, he led the team with 13 passes defensed (three interceptions, 10 breakups). On special teams, he's Virginia Tech's primary kickoff returner and averaged 8.8 yards on punt returns, including this nifty 87-yard return for a score against East Carolina. He also has a blocked kick on his resume.
15. KaVontae Turpin, WR, TCU
Despite injuries that limited his 2016 season to eight games and two starts, the Horned Frogs coaching staff did all it could to get the ball in his hands. He ended up with 66 touches split four ways (nine rushes, 30 receptions, 10 punt returns, 17 kickoff returns). Academic issues forced him to sit part of spring drills, but if Turpin can stay on the field and stay healthy, he'll be one of the Big 12's most exciting weapons.
14. Richie James, WR, Middle Tennessee State
James' average of 164.2 all-purpose yards last season is more than any returning FBS player. He's a prolific receiving threat despite his small stature (5-foot-9, 176 pounds), grabbing 105 passes last year for 1,605 yards and 12 touchdowns. MTSU also used him as a rusher, passer and punt returner. FAU's defense can vouch for his rushing ability -- he ran for 207 yards against the Owls.
13. Charles Nelson, WR, Oregon
Nelson makes an appearance on our look at the game's most versatile players for the third summer in a row. Oregon coaches have used him at cornerback, wide receiver and as a return specialist in his career. He's no longer being called on for defensive duty, but he remains a threat with the ball in his hands as a receiver, kickoff returner, punt returner and occasional rusher. He led the team in receptions last year (52), and posted robust return averages of 25.8 yards on kickoffs and 17.8 yards on punts. With a new Ducks coaching staff in place for 2017, who knows what's next for Nelson?
12. Dante Pettis, WR, Washington
Chris Petersen's staff used Pettis' athleticism in a lot of different ways last year, and with John Ross now in the pros, his role could expand even more. Primarily a receiver, Pettis will step into Ross' shoes as the No. 1 target for Huskies QB Jake Browning. He's also a stellar punt returner -- his five career punt returns for touchdowns is a school record -- and he's a passing threat on trick plays. Look for Pettis to get an occasional carry this fall as well.
11. Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
Fitzpatrick's versatility doesn't cross over to offense, but he's a Swiss army knife for UA defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt in the secondary. He has experience at safety, nickelback, and cornerback. He's a proven asset at all three spots, and when/if Alabama incurs an injury, he's capable of sliding into any role. Fitzpatrick doesn't return kicks like many listed here, but that doesn't mean he's not a valued special-teamer for the Tide. In a program that frequently uses starters on special teams, Fitzpatrick served on three units last year: kickoff coverage, punt coverage and field goal block.
10. Derwin James, S, FSU
In 2015, Jalen Ramsey -- the eventual No. 5 overall pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars -- was heralded as one of college football's most versatile defensive backs. But it could have been argued that he wasn't even the most versatile defensive back on his own team. The argument against that was James. They're very different players; Ramsey is a cornerback who could play safety, while James is a safety who could play linebacker. But he's just as unique in the different things he can do. Former FSU OT Roderick Johnson once said James can generate the power of a defensive end when blitzing.
9. D'Ernest Johnson, RB, USF
Johnson isn't as dynamic in one particular area as some listed here, but his value to the Bulls lies in so many areas; there is no underestimating his impact. The 5-foot-10, 210-pound running back rushed for 543 yards on 111 carries and eight TDs last season behind Marlon Mack, and he should be USF's top back this fall with Mack off to the Indianapolis Colts as a fourth-round pick. His 28 receptions ranked second on the team, and he had robust return averages of 11.8 yards on punts and 28.9 on kickoffs. Unlike some who just return kicks, Johnson returns them and covers them, too (seven tackles on special teams).
8. Quadree Henderson, WR, Pittsburgh
Henderson is listed as a wide receiver on the Pitt roster, but he actually had more carries (60) than catches (26) in 2016. No matter what position you tag him with, however, he's explosive in multiple roles. He averaged 10.5 yards per carry on the ground as the Panthers' second-leading rusher behind Steelers draft pick James Conner. But it was his return skill that made him a first-team consensus All-American. Henderson returned three kickoffs and one punt for touchdowns and was one of only five FBS players to average more than 30 yards per kickoff return. His punt return average of 15.8 yards ranked third in the country.
7. Donte Jackson, CB, LSU
Examples of returning college players with legitimate two-way game experience are few, and Jackson isn't among them. But word from the LSU practice fields in April was that the fastest man in college football, a cornerback by trade, got some looks on offense in spring practices. Don't put it past coach Ed Orgeron to make use of Jackson's athleticism with some offensive touches. Jackson also gives the Tigers a capable kickoff return man.
6. Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State
If there's a bigger kickoff returner in college football than the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Ballage, we've yet to find him. He returned 18 of them last year for 409 yards, and has a 96-yarder for a TD on his career resume. Meanwhile, the Sun Devils use Ballage any way they can on offense. He's a bullish rushing option on the goal line, and was ASU's third-leading receiver with 44 catches. He even threw four passes, completing three for 30 yards and a TD.
5. Darius Phillips, DB, Western Michigan
Phillips scored five touchdowns in three different ways for the Broncos last season -- three on interceptions and one each as a kickoff returner and punt returner. He ended up being the MAC Special Teams Player of the Year, and a first-team All-MAC pick as a cornerback. He also has a year of experience as a wide receiver; he caught 32 passes as a freshman before converting to defense.
4. Jaylen Samuels, HB, N.C. State
On North Carolina State's official roster, Samuels' position is simply listed as 'H'. But one letter doesn't do justice to all he does in the Wolfpack offense. He can perform as a rusher, receiver, a tight end or a fullback. Defenses never know where he might line up, but they know he'll get his share of touches. Last year, he led the team in receiving, averaged 5.7 yards on 33 rushes, and even threw a 59-yard TD pass. He's caught at least one pass in 28 consecutive games, and at 5-foot-11, 225 pounds, he knows his way around as a blocker as well.
3. Janarion Grant, WR, Rutgers
Grant will be looking to re-establish himself as one of the nation's elite all-purpose players this year after a broken ankle ended his 2016 season after just four games. He's been a spark for the Scarlet Knights since Day One, returning his first career touch 100 yards on a kickoff return for a touchdown against Fresno State as a freshman in 2013. Primarily a wide receiver, Grant caught 20 passes in just four games last year and rushed 16 times for 138 yards and three touchdowns. He also returned two kicks for touchdowns, giving him an NCAA record-tying eight for his career.
2. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
There are plenty of wide receivers doubling as return specialists around college football, but none are as productive in both areas as Kirk. He's caught 80 or more passes in each of his first two college seasons, and he's already run five punts back for touchdowns. Kirk has averaged 23.1 yards per punt return for his career, which leads all active FBS players.
1. Jordan Whitehead, S, Pittsburgh
Although Whitehead is primarily a defensive player, he gives the Panthers an occasional boost on offense and, in fact, was a starter on both sides of the ball in Pitt's game against Virginia last year. Despite missing Pitt's last three games with an arm injury, he ranked fifth on the team in tackles and chipped in 98 rushing yards on nine carries. As a defensive player who played some on offense in 2016, Whitehead's versatility resembles that of Peppers more than anyone else.