Mike Farrell‘s annual countdown of the top 50 players from the 2021 college football season continues today with Nos. 31-40.
Mark Pszonak contributed to this report.
FARRELL 50: Nos. 41-50
40. DB Verone McKinley, Oregon
The skinny: McKinley committed to Oregon during the summer prior to his senior season over Washington, UCLA, Penn State and Nebraska. There was a bit of concern in Eugene after the departure of coach Willie Taggart, but his official visit to Eugene ended any doubts. McKinley enjoyed his best collegiate season this fall with 71 tackles, five interceptions (No. 1 in the NCAA) and six pass break-ups.
Farrell’s take: McKinley was always a slightly undersized prospect with a chip on his shoulder. This season he’s flashed his ball skills and made some future money with his game against Ohio State. He continued his strong play all season.
DE Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma
The skinny: Bonitto trimmed his list of top programs to Oklahoma, Texas and Louisville, but it was the Sooners who were considered the heavy favorite for months. He did the expected and committed to Oklahoma at the Under Armour All-America Game. Leading Oklahoma’s undefeated defensive unit, Bonitto continues to shine in Norman with 21 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and two fumble recoveries.
Farrell’s take: Bonitto was a huge pull for Oklahoma from Florida powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas, and he’s developed into one of the best pass-rushing linebackers around. Coming off the momentum of last season he continued his high level of play this year.
TE Brock Bowers, Georgia
The skinny: Bowers took an aggressive approach, taking multiple visits during the spring and summer, including to Georgia, Cal, Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State, LSU and Washington. At the end he focused on the Bulldogs and Huskies, committing to Georgia in August. Bowers had a eye-opening true freshman season in Athens, leading the Bulldogs in receptions (47), receiving yards (791) and receiving touchdowns (11). He also added a rushing touchdown.
Farrell’s take: Bowers stepped in right away and filled a much-needed void in the Georgia offense. He’s also ruined it for anyone who believes UGA doesn’t use the tight end enough. He’s been an instant-impact star and has been the best weapon on offense for a playoff team. He’s one of only two true freshmen to make this list (TreVeyon Henderson from Ohio State is the other).
37. OL Darrian Kinnard, Kentucky
The skinny: Kinnard committed to Kentucky during the spring after his junior season over offers from Penn State, UCLA, West Virginia, Iowa State and Indiana. Plenty of expectations followed Kinnard this season, and he did not disappoint with a dominant performance as one of the top run blockers in the country.
Farrell’s take: Kinnard came back to raise his stock and push Kentucky to heights it hasn’t seen and he’s accomplished both. He was part of one of the best offensive lines in the country and clearly the best.
DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
The skinny: Thibodeaux trimmed his extensive offer list to Oregon, Alabama, Florida State and Florida before committing to the Ducks a few days prior to the Early Signing Period. While an ankle injury hampered Thibodeaux earlier this season, his time on the field was impressive with 49 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, seven sacks and two forced fumbles.
Farrell’s take: Despite being injured for some key games, Thibodeaux has been his dominant self when healthy and can’t be stopped off the edge. He’s still in the hunt to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft.
LB Malcolm Rodriguez, Oklahoma State
The skinny: With his only other offer coming from Wyoming, Rodriguez committed to Oklahoma State on the same day that he received his offer from the Cowboys in early December. Rodriguez concluded his successful Cowboys’ career with his best overall performance, finishing with 118 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, three sacks and four forced fumbles.
Farrell’s take: A three-star safety out of high school, Rodriguez has grown into one of the best tackling linebackers in college football and was the consistent force on the Cowboys’ defense.
OL Zion Johnson, Boston College
The skinny: Johnson played his first two collegiate seasons at FCS Davidson before transferring to Boston College prior to the 2019 season. During his first two seasons with the Eagles, he earned multiple All-ACC honors, but had his best showing this fall while earning several All-American honors.
Farrell’s take: He didn’t get any FBS looks out of high school as he was a bit too big and slow. Now he’s one of the best tackles around.
WR Chris Olave, Ohio State
The skinny: Olave trimmed his list of top schools to Ohio State, USC, Oregon, Florida, UCLA and Utah before committing to the Buckeyes in late January. An in-home visit with Ohio State a few days before his decision helped cement the commitment. One of the top offensive weapons at Ohio State over the last three seasons, Olave had his most productive performance in 2021 with 65 receptions for 936 yards and 13 touchdowns, which led the Big Ten.
Farrell’s take: Olave has been as impressive as expected and will get more targets as the quarterback position becomes more established. He’s sudden and a great route runner. It’s no surprise he led the conference in receiving touchdowns.
32. DT Calijiah Kancey, Pitt
The skinny: Kancey took an official visit to Pittsburgh during the spring and committed to the Panthers soon after. Louisville, Georgia Tech, Rutgers and South Carolina were some of his other offers at the time of his decision. Coming off a breakout redshirt season in 2020, Kancey continued to raise his level of play this fall with 32 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, seven sacks and one forced fumble.
Farrell’s take: An undersized defensive tackle from Florida, he grew into an absolute monster at Pitt and he has been the heartbeat of the Panthers’ defense. He makes a ton of plays in the backfield and shoots the gap at an elite level.
S Jalen Pitre, Baylor
The skinny: Pitre was an early commitment to Baylor, making his decision during the summer leading up to his junior season. With the Bears, Pitre began to showcase his defensive playmaking abilities in 2020, but then raised his caliber of play even higher in 2021 with 70 tackles, 17.5 tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions, three forced fumbles and seven pass break-ups.
Farrell’s take: An elite defensive back with great ball skills out of high school, he overcame a knee injury his junior season to impact early and become the leader of this Baylor defense.