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Deshaun Watson leads 10 breakout players on verge of stardom


College Football 24/7 presents 10 breakout players for the 2015 season, beginning with Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, one of the ACC's most dynamic young talents. The criteria here favors players who already have done something to establish themselves, and now are on the brink of star status, rather than a cast of "hidden gems."

1. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

In an injury-marred freshman season, Watson missed five games and threw fewer than 10 passes in four others. But his stellar play in other action -- from his school-freshman-record six touchdown passes against North Carolina to his gritty effort against ACC champ Florida State -- has Clemson fans hopeful that he will emergence as the best quarterback in the ACC this year. He completed 93 of 137 passes with a 14-2 TD-INT ratio last season, and there is plenty more to come.

2. Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin

How does one rush for 949 yards in a Power Five conference and get almost no attention for it? Do it in support of Melvin Gordon. Clement will take over the starting role in the Wisconsin backfield from Gordon, a 2015 first-round pick and Heisman finalist last season. Clement (5-foot-11, 217 pounds) scored nine touchdowns last season and rushed for 105 yards against Auburn in the Outback Bowl, again overshadowed by Gordon's 251. This year, Clement will be the one in the spotlight, and if healthy, he'll rise to the role.

3. Adoree' Jackson, CB, USC

Jackson didn't disappoint as a freshman phenom last year, breaking up 10 passes on defense, catching 10 passes on offense, and breaking two kickoff returns for touchdowns. Now that 2015 first-round pick Nelson Agholor is off to the NFL, Jackson is expected to add punt returner to his lengthy list of contributions. It remains to be seen whether his role on offense will expand, but if it does, he could be one of the five biggest stars in the Pac-12.

4. Seth Russell, QB, Baylor

Russell, the heir apparent to Bryce Petty as the Bears' starting quarterback, is as certain as any quarterback in the country to post big numbers this season. He threw just 85 passes last season, and almost all of them came against the lighter competition on the Bears' schedule, so he's a bit short on experience. But when is the last time a quarterback playing for head coach Art Briles struggled to move the chains? The Baylor offense is a Ferrari, and if Russell has been trusted with the keys, he'll only need to keep it out of the ditch.

Check out the top 10 players from Ohio State to play in the NFL.

5. Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State

As a freshman last season, Apple was a more-than-steady performer at a tricky position for a youngster, intercepting three passes and breaking up 10 others. He made the final play of the college football season in picking off Marcus Mariota to close out a 42-20 win over Oregon in the national title game, almost as if to signal a standout sophomore campaign. With Doran Grant now in the NFL, Apple will be counted on as the Buckeyes' top cover man in 2015.

6. Josh Dobbs, QB, Tennessee

The junior essentially rescued a UT season from non-bowl to bowl-eligible, helping Tennessee win its final four SEC games for the necessary six wins after sitting the first seven games. The dual-threat quarterback shredded South Carolina for 301 passing yards and 166 rushing yards to spark a thrilling overtime win on the road, and completed 16 of 21 passes in a win over Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl. With wide receiver Marquez North healthy again, Dobbs will also have a gifted target that was available to him in only one game last year (Alabama).

7. Charles Nelson, DB/WR, Oregon

Nelson was a special-teams dynamo for coach Mark Helfrich as a freshman last season, whether he was returning kicks (589 total return yards) or covering them. He also caught five touchdown passes among his 23 receptions, and rushed 11 times for 101 yards, too. This year, Nelson figures to again be a big spark for the Ducks' special teams, but this time he's set to make an impact as a defensive back. Or, just maybe, as a two-way player.

Take a look at the top 10 players from LSU to play in the NFL.

8. Jamal Adams, safety, LSU

Adams quietly had a big freshman season for the Tigers in 2014, making 66 tackles (five for losses) and five pass breakups as a starting safety. It was quiet only because he was surrounded by the likes of Jalen Collins (2015 second-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons), and one of the top returning defensive backs in the SEC in Jalen Mills. Capable of playing in the box or deep in coverage, Adams could be the next in LSU's line of highly talented safeties.

9. Roderick Johnson, OT, FSU

All Johnson did last season was make the Seminoles' coaching staff, in the midst of a push for the national championship, comfortable enough to play him at left tackle and bump an NFL first-round pick (Cam Erving) to the center position. Granted, the impetus for the move was an effort to improve play at center, not left tackle, but it speaks volumes of Johnson (6-7, 315 pounds) that FSU entrusted him with protecting Jameis Winston's blind side. He started the last five games of the season and excelled, signaling a dominant presence on the left side of the FSU line for at least two years to come.

10. O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama

If Howard is ever going to establish himself as one of the top receiving tight ends in the game, this is the year to do it. Entering his third year as a familiar face in the Crimson Tide lineup, he's only flashed his prolific talent to this point. Last season, that wasn't entirely Howard's fault, because quarterback Blake Sims was understandably locked in on 2015 first-round pick Amari Cooper to the tune of about 10 targets per game. This year, with Alabama lacking proven wide receivers, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin could have his new quarterback look for Howard more on quicker, easier throws.

*Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter **@ChaseGoodbread*.

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