Ranking College Football’s Best Baseball Players In 2021

Image credit: Ole Miss baseball/football players John Rhys Plumlee and Jerrion Ealy (Photo courtesy of Ole Miss)

As fall officially begins this week, college football is in full swing. Most teams have played three games and the heart of conference play is approaching.

For college baseball fans, there are several two-sport athletes to follow on the gridiron this fall. Clemson freshman Will Taylor tops the list and there’s no shortage of intriguing players from around the country.

Here are the top 20 baseball players in college football to watch this fall. Not everyone on this list plays baseball in college but most do and all undeniably have the talent to be college baseball stars.

1. Will Taylor, Clemson

Taylor this year was the highest-ranked prep player on the BA 500 (No. 21) to go undrafted and end up in college. At Clemson, he will play outfield and wide receiver, taking advantage of his elite athleticism. He’s already carving out a role with the football team thanks to his speed and could similarly make a quick impact this spring on the diamond. He has a good approach at the plate and his line drive-oriented approach helps him get on base and make the most of his speed. Taylor could soon be playing center field and hitting at the top of the lineup for Clemson.

2. Jerrion Ealy, Mississippi

Ealy was one of the best athletes in the 2019 draft class and was ranked as a top-100 draft prospect. He hasn’t had much of a chance to live up to that billing on the diamond, however. The 2020 season was, of course, cut short by the pandemic and shoulder surgery forced him to miss 2021. On the gridiron, Ealy has impressed as a running back and last year scored 11 touchdowns. He’s off to a strong start this season, as he last week ran for 103 yards in a win against Tulane and has helped the Rebels climb to No. 13 in the Top 25.   

3. John Rhys Plumlee, Mississippi

Plumlee came to Oxford with Ealy and his game-breaking speed has helped him in both baseball and football. After starting at quarterback as a freshman, he’s become a wide receiver and has done a little of everything so far this season for Ole Miss, piling up 76 rushing yards and 16 receiving yards in three games. After seeing limited action on the diamond in 2020, he played a larger role in 2021, making 18 starts and appearing in 47 games. The outfielder hit .267/.416/.383 and his seven stolen bases ranked third on the team. He’s still a bit raw but is a dynamic athlete.

4. JonJon Vaughns, UCLA

Vaughns has premium athleticism and has put that on display at UCLA as a linebacker and outfielder. Last year as a freshman, he appeared in all seven of the Bruins’ football games and made 13 tackles before hitting .239/.370/.537 with five home runs in 67 at-bats. He was seeing regular action by the end of the season and went 6-for-16 with four runs during regionals. After UCLA lost five regulars to the draft, there’s room for Vaughns to take on a greater role in 2022. But, first, he’s again playing a regular role on the gridiron, where he’s totaled seven tackles in three games to help UCLA climb into the Top 25.

5. Adam Berghorst, Michigan State

Berghorst is the first Spartan to play baseball and football in the same academic year in 30 years. After coming to school as a defensive end, he has since moved to tight end and last fall appeared in all seven games for Michigan State. He’s so far this fall been sidelined by a knee injury but is expected to soon return. The righthander has played a bigger role on the diamond, making 19 appearances over his first two years. He last year battled some control problems and went 1-2, 8.00 in 27 innings. Berghorst was drafted in the 14th round out of high school and again makes for an intriguing 2022 draft prospect with a fastball that reaches 92 mph and a 6-foot-7, 250-pound frame.

6. Robby Ashford, Oregon

Ashford in high school 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. His athleticism gives him significant upside in both sports and he ranked No. 231 in the 2020 BA 500, but he’s still developing as both a quarterback and outfielder. Last spring, he appeared in 20 games and hit .200/.293/.286 with three stolen bases. He has yet to appear in a football game for the Ducks. 

7. Jay Woolfolk, Virginia

Woolfolk was the 2020 Gatorade Virginia Player of the Year in baseball, but he excels beyond the diamond as well. He also was a standout basketball and football player in high school and in June was named the MaxPreps Virginia male athlete of the year. He’s now playing both baseball and football for Virginia. He made his debut as a quarterback in Week 2 in a win against William & Mary and offers a lot of upside on the diamond this spring. The righthander has an exciting three-pitch arsenal and the athleticism to continue as a two-way player, as he was in high school.

8. D.J. Uiagalelei, Clemson

Uiagalelei this fall took over at quarterback for Clemson from Trevor Lawrence, the top pick in the NFL draft. He was the top quarterback recruit in the 2020 class and has long been focused on football, but he has previously shown significant upside on the diamond as a righthander. He didn’t play much baseball at St. John Bosco High in Bellflower, Calif., but he showed enough to impress coach Don Barbara, who starred at Long Beach State and went on to coach in college for more than a decade.

“If (Uiagalelei had) gotten to pitch with us for a full season, there’s no doubt in my mind he’d have been a first-round draft pick,” Barbara last year told ESPN.

Uiagalelei has run his fastball into the low 90s and is listed at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, so it’s easy to see the upside, but at this point his future is as a quarterback.

9. 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 this season has caught two touchdowns in the first three games. Thomas last spring was on the Wolfpack’s baseball roster but has not played since 2019, when he hit .222/.364/.500 in 14 games and was drafted in the 33rd round by the Red Sox, though he did not sign.

10. Blake Shapen, Baylor

Shapen was one of the top two-sport athletes in the 2020 class and ranked No. 371 on the BA 500. The quarterback redshirted as a freshman and earlier this season made his debut against Texas Southern, completing his lone pass attempt for seven yards. His college baseball career has yet to get underway, as he last spring chose to focus on football. But his athleticism plays well at shortstop.

11. Tywone Malone, Mississippi

Malone joins Ealy and Plumlee as dual-sport athletes at Ole Miss and has a unique profile as a defensive end and first baseman. Malone is listed at 6-foot-4, 310 pounds and was the top-rated football recruit in New Jersey in the 2021 class. He last week debuted with three tackles and a sack against Austin Peay State and figures to grow into a bigger role in time. Malone has prodigious power on the diamond and could develop into a middle-of-the-order hitter for the Rebels.

12. 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. Flowers this year was Tennessee’s leading returning tackler after recording 62 tackles last season. In three games in 2021, he has 12 tackles. On the diamond, Flowers was a plus runner with good hands on the infield and a good approach at the plate. Early hopes of him playing both sports at Tennessee have not panned out, however.

13. 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. He’s played a limited role as a linebacker but has gotten more action as an outfielder. His athleticism plays well on the diamond, and he has a strong lefthanded swing.

14. 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 in 2020 transferred to Pitt to finish his college career. This year, he’s caught four touchdowns in three games.  

15. Jaren Hall, Brigham Young

Hall initially went to BYU in 2018 only to play quarterback, but soon wanted to return to his roots as a two-sport athlete. He was in 2019 able to join the baseball team as an outfielder and hit .235/.375/.373 with two home runs in 32 games over the 2019-20 seasons. He didn’t play baseball this spring but did win the competition on the gridiron to become BYU’s starting quarterback. He’s led the Cougars to a 3-0 start to the season and a top-15 ranking, throwing for seven touchdowns and running for 166 yards.

16. Nate McCollom, Georgia Tech

McCollom last year came to Georgia Tech as a two-sport athlete as a wide receiver and outfielder. He appeared in six football games for the Yellow Jackets and caught two passes. He this season has caught two passes in Georgia Tech’s first three games. McCollom last spring did not appear on the diamond, where his premium speed plays well and he showed a good feel for hitting during his prep career.

17. Ryland Goede, Georgia

Goede was a highly rated prep player as a tight end and first baseman and he came to Georgia in 2019 to play both sports. A shoulder injury limited him early in his college career and he missed last season in both football and baseball. He’s back in action this fall for the No. 2-ranked Bulldogs, however. On the diamond, the righthanded hitter has impressive power.

18. Sam Howell, North Carolina

Howell came into the fall as one of the highest-rated football players in the country. He is a top-10 draft prospect according to ESPN’s Mel Kiper and was viewed as a Heisman Trophy hopeful. But before Howell found stardom as UNC’s quarterback, he was also a talented prep baseball player. He earned all-state honors in North Carolina in 2018, impressing as a third baseman and righthander.

19. Trey Lowe, Southern Mississippi

Lowe began his college career in 2018 at West Virginia, where he played both baseball and football. He transferred to Southern Miss in 2020 and took over as the starting quarterback in Hattiesburg. He threw for a touchdown and ran for another in the first two games of the season before suffering a foot injury that will sideline him the rest of the fall. His baseball days are behind him, but his athleticism carried over well to the outfield.

20. Keilon Brown, Memphis

Brown was a highly regarded quarterback recruit in the 2020 class for Memphis. He’s worked as the Tigers’ backup quarterback in each of his first two seasons. On the diamond, he was an all-state outfielder in Louisiana and has an intriguing combination of speed and power.

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