Tom Layberger

All-Purpose Performers

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Dazzling more ways than one

Monday, June 11, 2012


Every coach wishes they had one. A player that can break a game open -- or at least pull his team out of hole -- on offense and special teams provides value that simply cannot be measured by their stats alone. Those numbers, though, are most impressive. Here are five players that piled up the all-purpose yards last season and likely will again in 2012.

Tavon Austin, West Virginia
Austin led the nation with an average of 198 all-purpose yards per game in 2011, which worked out to a total of 2,574 yards. His 1,186 yards receiving (101 catches) were third in the Big East last season. While that alone would have made for an outstanding season, Austin displayed game-breaking ability by returning two kicks for touchdowns while averaging 26.1 per return. He could be explosive on the punt-return unit as well, placing sixth nationally with an average of 14.1. Lining up in various formations, it is not unusual to see Austin run with the ball, which he did 16 times at an average of 11.3 yards. With 4,374 career all-purpose yards, Austin could top the 5,000-yard plateau within the first few games of 2012.

Sammy Watkins, Clemson
The ACC’s freshman of the year for 2011 got himself into a little hot water this spring when he was arrested for possession of marijuana and pills for which he did not have a prescription. Coach Dabo Swinney has not announced any disciplinary measures, so we’re not sure when Watkins will take the field in 2012. What we do know is that he was fourth nationally with an average of 176 AP yards per game last season and was downright one of the most exciting players in college football. Watkins had at least one reception in excess of 20 yards in all 12 games he played, finishing with 1,219 yards receiving. He can find the end zone, too:  12 of his 82 catches resulted in six points. He averaged 25.0 yards on kick returns (one TD) while tacking on more than 200 yards rushing. 

De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon
As a freshman for the Ducks last season, Thomas averaged nearly 16 yards per play. He was tops in the Pac-12 and tenth nationally with an average of 27.3 yards per kick return, taking two all the way. Most impressive and truly indicative of his explosiveness is that Thomas carried the ball only 55 times, yet had 595 yards. No better example of his game-breaking skills came in the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin when he ran for 91- and 64-yard touchdowns – on his only carries of the game. Thomas had 101 touches on offense last season with 16 resulting in touchdowns. That’s a whopping 15.8 percent.

Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
While Thomas was breathtaking with his two long touchdown runs in the Rose Bowl, Abbrederis was impressive in his own right with 346 all-purpose yards. The performance capped a season in which he was second in the Big Ten with an average of 143 yards per game and third nationally with 15.8 yards per punt return. Abbrederis’ 933 yards receiving top all returning Big Ten pass catchers and he averaged a solid 24.6 on kick returns. With Russell Wilson departed, the challenge for new OC Matt Canada is to find a quarterback that can get the ball to Abbrederis.  If that passing game is not clicking at first, Abbrederis will likely make the opposition pay in other ways.

Matt Brown, Temple
The running back is one of the nation’s best kept secrets and that’s not because he is hard to find at 5-foot-5, though that may have contributed to Brown’s bottom line as he darted through the line among the sequoias. As Bernard Pierce’s backup the past two seasons, Brown compiled more than 1,700 yards rushing with impressive 5.1 and 5.9 yards per carry averages, respectively. Brown averaged 25.1 yards per kick return a year ago and exactly 10 yards on punts. Brown should still entertain the faithful with his quick bursts as the Owls step up to the Big East.




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