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OU football: Which Sooners in 2021 class are ready to play right away, redshirt?

Weatherford's Ethan Downs may have to redshirt in 2021, given the depth the Sooners have at defensive end. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]
Weatherford's Ethan Downs may have to redshirt in 2021, given the depth the Sooners have at defensive end. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]

NORMAN — Even with all players having the option to return, OU still has several holes to fill, whether they be left by departures to the NFL or through transfers.

Several players from this year’s signing class — which was finalized in December with the Sooners not adding any players in the signing period that began Wednesday — figure to make an immediate contribution while others might take some time to develop.

Let’s look at three additions from the 2021 signing class who are most likely to contribute and three most likely to redshirt in the fall:

Most likely to contribute

Billy Bowman, Denton, Texas: The only question with Bowman is where he’s at on the field — running back, receiver, defensive back or special teams. Bowman’s combination of speed and athleticism makes him an attractive option all around, even if he is only 5-foot-10.

Clayton Smith, Texarkana, Texas: The Sooners haven’t shied away from playing young linebackers and Smith figures to get a chance quickly, even in a crowded group of outside linebackers that are returning. Smith, a five-star prospect who’s rated No. 23 nationally by Rivals — No. 2 at OLB — might not be a day one starter but his role could grow and grow as the season progresses.

Mario Williams, Plant City, Fla.: Wide receiver is another spot where freshmen can make a quick impact, that was easy to see last year when Marvin Mims became one of the stars of the 2020 class. Williams is another five-star prospect, ranked No. 15 overall in the 2021 class, with versatility to play in several different spots. The Sooners have a strong group of returners at receiver, but Williams figures to carve out a niche quickly.

Most likely to redshirt

Ethan Downs, Weatherford: Downs figures to need some time to develop, though he could carve out a role in 2021 if things fall right. But at the defensive end spot, where the Sooners have built a considerable amount of depth after rotating players heavily last year, it might be tough for the western Oklahoma product to have an on-field role this season.

Cullen Montgomery, Houston: It’s no surprise that an offensive lineman would show up on this list, as it’s rare for freshmen to come in ready to contribute on the line. Combine that with the depth of Bill Bedenbaugh’s group in 2021, including at the tackle spots where Montgomery plays, and it looks like Montgomery is almost certainly heading for a redshirt.

Caleb Williams, Washington, D.C.: If Williams doesn’t redshirt, it’s likely that something went very wrong at quarterback as it relates to Spencer Rattler, most likely injury. The plan is for Rattler to start this season and then potentially make the leap to the NFL and open up the spot for Williams moving forward. The top dual-threat quarterback in the class has been in Norman for quite some time but it’s unlikely that leads to quick playing time for him, especially given Rattler’s development.

Ryan Aber

Ryan Aber has worked for The Oklahoman since 2006, covering high schools, the Oklahoma City RedHawks, the Oklahoma City Barons and OU football recruiting. An Oklahoma City native, Aber graduated from Northeastern State. Before joining The... Read more ›