Ranking College Football's Best Baseball Players In 2020
The start to the college football season was thrown into disarray by cancellations and postponements due to the coronavirus pandemic. But as the SEC opens its season Saturday and conferences such as the Big Ten and Pac-12 have reversed their decisions to cancel their seasons, college football now truly feels like it is back.
For college baseball fans, that means there are several two-sport athletes to track on the gridiron this fall. Perhaps one will have a breakout fall like Kyler Murray in 2018 or simply play his way into the top-two rounds of the NFL draft like Cole Kmet did last year.
Here are the top 15 baseball players in college football to watch this fall. Not everyone on this list plays baseball in college but most are and all undeniably have the talent to be college baseball stars.
1. Maurice Hampton, Louisiana State
Hampton starred as an outfielder and safety at Memphis University High in Tennessee. He ranked No. 35 on the 2019 BA 500 and became the highest-ranked position player to make it to campus, in part because of his football commitment. Hampton was rated as a four-star football recruit and appeared in 13 games as a freshman, making 10 tackles and helping the Tigers win the national championship. He then moved to the diamond, where he hit .231/.310/.269 with two stolen bases in 10 games in the abbreviated 2020 season. Hampton remains a key member of both teams as he begins his second year on campus and is expected to start at safety in Saturday’s opener against Mississippi State. On the diamond, he’s one of the toolsiest players in the country and offers significant upside.
2. Jerrion Ealy, Mississippi
Ealy, like Hampton, was among the best athletes in the 2019 draft class and arrived on campus to plenty of hype in both baseball and football. He ranked No. 62 on the BA 500 as an outfielder and was a five-star football recruit, ranked as the No. 3 running back in the class by 247 Sports. He went on last fall to rush for 722 yards and score eight touchdowns to earn SEC all-freshman honors. On the diamond, he hit .182/.321/.273 with five stolen bases in 13 games during the abbreviated season. Ealy is Ole Miss’ starting running back this season and is one of the most dynamic baseball players in the country. He’ll also be draft-eligible this spring as he’ll turn 21 next August and ranks as the No. 63 college prospect in the draft class.
3. Adam Berghorst, Michigan State
Berghorst was a two-sport standout in high school, ranked as a three-star defensive end by 247 sports and was drafted in the 14th round in 2019 by the Rangers. He opted to continue playing both sports at Michigan State instead of signing and had an impressive freshman year overall. He moved to tight end and played the last five games of the season, including the Spartans’ Pinstripe Bowl victory. He then smoothly transitioned to the diamond, where he went 0-1, 1.17 with one save in 15.1 innings. Big and physical at 6-foot-7, 260 pounds, Berghorst this spring threw his fastball 88-90 mph with a very good changeup and plenty of projection left.
4. Robby Ashford, Oregon
Ashford became just the third player to be invited to the Under Armour All-America Game for both baseball and football, following Kyler Murray and A.J. Brown. Ashford was one of the most dynamic athletes in the 2020 draft class and ranked No. 231 on the BA 500, as well as being rated as a four-star quarterback by 247 Sports. Oregon has an open quarterback competition this fall, though with a couple more experienced options in the fold, Ashford is not the favorite. On the diamond, he’s a plus runner with big raw power. There’s no doubt about his upside, but he’s still a bit raw.
5. Nolan McLean, Oklahoma State
McLean is an outstanding athlete and can do a little bit of everything. He was rated a three-star quarterback according to 247 Sports and ranked No. 233 on the BA 500 as a righthander/shortstop. Though the Cowboys played three quarterbacks last week in their season-opening win against Tulsa, McLean did not appear. He’s expected to play much more of a factor this spring, as he has a fastball that gets into the mid 90s, can hit for power and offers considerable upside overall.
6. Joey Velazquez, Michigan
Initially committed to Ohio State to play baseball, Velazquez ended up on the other side of the rivalry when Michigan offered him an opportunity to play football as well. As a freshman last year, the linebacker appeared in one game. He played a bigger role as an outfielder, appearing in seven games and going 4-for-11 at the plate. The weekend before the season was canceled, he had pushed his way into the starting lineup for the Wolverines. His upside is greater on the diamond, where his athleticism plays well and he has a good lefthanded swing.
7. Thayer Thomas, North Carolina State
Thomas came to NC State as a football walk-on and in the spring of 2018 earned a scholarship following his first season with the program. He’s become a solid wide receiver and punt returner for the Wolfpack and last year caught three touchdowns, returned a punt for a touchdown and threw for two more. On the diamond, Thomas has played just one season and hit .222/.364/.500 in 14 games in 2019. It was enough to get him drafted that spring in the 33rd round by the Red Sox, but he didn’t sign. Thomas last spring spent the preseason with the baseball team before deciding to redshirt to focus on football.
8. Brad Cumbest, Mississippi State
Cumbest came to Mississippi State as a two-sport star and has continued playing both baseball and football. He has mostly played special teams for the football team, but over the last two years has made three catches for 37 yards. The outfielder had worked his way into the Bulldogs’ starting lineup last spring just as the season was canceled. Over two seasons, he has hit .236/.291/.389 with two home runs. Listed at 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, he profiles as a power-hitting corner outfielder. Where he’ll fit this fall in new football coach Mike Leach’s scheme will be something to watch. He came to Mississippi State as a tight end but will now be asked to play wide receiver in Leach’s Air Raid offense.
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9. Blake Shapen, Baylor
Like Ashford and McLean, Shapen stood out this spring as one of the best two-sport players in the draft class. He was rated as a three-star quarterback by 247 Sports and ranked No. 371 on the BA 500. The Bears return starting quarterback Charlie Brewer, so Shapen is likely to fill an understudy role this fall. On the diamond, he offers impressive athleticism and bat speed. He’s got the tools to play shortstop and figures to factor into Baylor’s infield this spring.
10. John Rhys Plumlee, Mississippi
Ealy isn’t the only two-sport star in Oxford. Plumlee took over as the Rebels’ starting quarterback as a freshman and impressed, running for a freshman-program record 1,023 yards and accounting for 16 touchdowns (four passing, 12 rushing). He’s been locked in a quarterback competition with Matt Corral, however, following a coaching change. Plumlee didn’t see much action on the diamond in the abbreviated 2020 season and went just 1-for-16 at the plate. He’s got game-breaking speed, but still needs to refine his raw athleticism on the diamond.
11. Trevon Flowers, Tennessee
Flowers was originally committed to play baseball at Kentucky but came back to football in his senior year of high school and played well enough to land with Tennessee as a three-star recruit as a defensive back. Injuries cost him time in each of his first two seasons with the Volunteers, but he’s contributed when healthy and last year made 17 tackles and one interception in seven games. He’s listed as a starter on Tennessee’s depth chart ahead of its season opener Saturday at South Carolina. On the diamond, Flowers was a plus runner with good hands on the infield and a good approach at the plate. Early hope of him playing both sports at Tennessee has not panned out, however.
12. Justin Fields, Ohio State
Fields finished third in Heisman Trophy voting last year, his first as Ohio State’s quarterback. He’s not a two-sport athlete for the Buckeyes, but he has the talent to be. He played at PG National in 2017 and, while he was raw, he impressed with his tools. He has plenty of speed and athleticism and had quick hands in the batter's box. Fields never spent much time on baseball growing up but has upside if he ever wanted to return to the game. He said last January he “might pick up baseball again,” and said some of his success in football is a result of his baseball background.
13. Lucas Krull, Pittsburgh
Krull began his college career as a baseball player at Arkansas. The lefthander had a big arm and a fastball that reached the mid 90s, but he struggled with his control and never pitched in a game before he transferred to Jefferson (Mo.) JC, where in 2018 he went 2-1, 10.26 with 38 walks and 27 strikeouts in 16.2 innings. Ranked as the No. 9 prospect in Missouri that spring, He was drafted in the 34th round by the Giants but chose to instead transfer to Florida to play football. After two seasons in Gainesville, he transferred in January to Pitt to finish his college career. He last week caught one pass for six yards in the Panthers’ ACC opener against Syracuse.
14. Feleipe Franks, Arkansas
Franks expressed interest in being a two-sport athlete out of high school but by the time his football recruitment ended with him enrolling a semester early at Florida, he had settled on just playing quarterback. He spent four years at Florida, mostly as the starter, before a season-ending ankle injury in 2019 led to a change and Franks transferred to Arkansas. While he hasn’t played baseball since high school, the Red Sox drafted him as a righthander in the 31st round in 2019 and he signed for $40,000. Whether Franks ever truly starts his professional baseball career remains to be seen. At his best, he has NFL upside but has a lot to prove after missing most of last season.
15. Jaren Hall, Brigham Young
Hall initially came to BYU only to play quarterback, but soon wanted to return to his roots as a two-sport athlete. He was able to join the baseball team as well as an outfielder and has hit .235/.375/.373 with two home runs in 32 games over the last two years. On the gridiron, he last year made two starts for the Cougars as a redshirt freshman and threw for 420 yards and accounted for four touchdowns (one passing, three rushing). He’s this fall fallen back on the quarterback depth chart and did not appear earlier this month in BYU’s opener at Navy.