I am going to make an attempt at picking the top true freshmen or redshirt freshmen players in 2014. I am not saying the guy I am picking is the best freshman in this class, just that he is the one with the best shot at playing a bunch. For example, if the best freshman QB in the world is at Florida State, he is not going to beat out Jameis Winston.
Either way, it’s all guess work, at best, as there is no way of telling how a young man coming out of high school will adjust to the college game.
But, here are my best guesses.
QB: Deshaun Watson (6-3,190) Clemson. Deshaun Watson is the #1 dual threat QB prospect in the nation out of Gainesville, Georgia. When trying to figure out the All Freshman team, I looked for schools that were losing their starting QB and doesn’t have an established back up. 4 year starter, Tajh Boyd, used up his eligibility. His back up last season was Cole Stout (6-5,205) and Stout may start next season. However, Chad Kelly (6-2,210) is the nephew of the great Jim Kelly and he might win this job. If either Stout or Kelly falter look for Watson to make a move and eventually make Clemson fans forget about Boyd. There are several ‘ifs’ involved, but Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney says they have never recruited a guy like Watson. I would not be surprised at all to see Deshaun Watson in the field next season at QB.
QB: Brandon Harris (6-2,195) LSU. Harris does not have a Cole Stout or a Chad Kelly kind of player in his way. The job is wide open and between himself and Anthony Jennings. Jennings was a highly recruited QB from last season and threw the winning TD against Arkansas when starter Zach Mettenberger went down with an injury. But, Jennings did not look good against Iowa which probably opened the door for Brandon Harris. Should be a heated battle this Fall.
QB: Troy Williams (6-2,190) Washington. The Huskies lost long time starter Keith Price. His back up is sophomore to be Cyler Miles. Miles played a little last season when Price was injured and isn’t a bad option for Washington. The Huskies lost their coach to USC and Peterson is coming in from Boise State. New coach, new system, and 2 new QB’s, looks like an excellent opportunity for Troy Williams to play right away.
QB: Jerrod Heard (6-2, 200) Texas. Heard steps into the almost ideal situation. Starter David Ash has concussion problems. Texas might add USC transfer Max Wittek, but the hasn’t announced where he is going yet. The only other QB is Tyrone Swoopes and he may be more suited for another position. Heard is a two time state champion QB from Denton, Texas and is super quick. He has a good arm, as well, but his most dangerous weapon right now is running the ball. He would be better off with a redshirt year as most QB’s are, but he could also play right away due to lack of other options.
RB: Leonard Fournette (6-1,220) LSU. Fournette is the #1 incoming recruit in the entire country. He plays at a position that tends to get on the field earlier than most. It also helps his cause that LSU lost it’s top RB from last season and one of it’s top back ups. The Tigers do have 2 seniors in the backfield which will cost Fournette a little playing time. But, I have been fortunate enough to see Fournette play about 4 games and there’s no way they keep this guy off the field this season. Fournette looks to be one of those Adrian Peterson type of backs that come around ever so often but not every season. Look for Fournette to have a big year in 2014.
RB: Elijah Hood (6-0,220) UNC. Hood reminds me of Ricky Williams with his short choppy steps. UNC returns a sophomore RB that was their second leading rusher behind the QB. Hood should be the best RB on campus immediately and should play early and often. I am predicting a big year for Hood and maybe even a better year than For North Carolina.
RB: Christian McCaffrey (6-0, 195) Stanford. The son of former Denver Broncos great Ed McCaffrey. Mr Do Everything at Valor Christian High School in Highland Ranch, Colorado. McCaffrey can play RB, WR, DB or any number of positions but has been looking good for the Cardinal so far.
WR: Malachi Dupre (6-3,190) LSU. This is an ideal situation for Malachi Dupree with LSU losing their top WRs. He played for a high school running team so he didn’t see the ball as much as he could have, but he should play right away for the Tigers. Does not have exceptional speed, but is fast enough and has the big body and the hands. Tigers also brought in highly ranked Trey Quinn and between the two of them, they should be pretty productive as freshmen.
WR: Speedy Noil (6-0,175) Texas A&M. Unlike Malachi Dupre, this guy does have exceptional speed and should be a difference maker from day one. He’s just too fast and talented to keep off the field. Like Dupre, Speedy Noil is from Louisiana and is a big play guy. Look for him to see the field on the first day and remain there.
TE:Durham Smythe (6-5,240) Notre Dame. Smythe is actually a redshirt freshman. The Tight End seems to be a dying position in college football which is strange because the Tight End is one of the most dangerous weapons in the game. Notre Dame lost starting TE Troy Niklas to the NFL draft. Ben Koyak should be the next in line at Tight End. The Irish like to play 2 TEs and that’s where Smythe comes in. Either Smythe, or fellow redshirt freshman, Mike Heuerman should be Koyak’s sidekick. Smythe is a little bigger and is a great receiving TE so I am going with him in this situation.
OT: Cameron Robinson (6-5,330) Alabama. Louisiana product is the top guy in the country and there just happens to be an opening at LT at Bama. He may not start from day one, but I don’t see how Bama keeps this monster off the field. He has the best feet of any 330 pound guy I have ever seen. He’s huge, but very athletic and graceful. He should be illegal.
OT: Brian Wallace (6-6,305) Arkansas. Wallace is not on the same level as Robinson, but Arkansas is in rebuilding mode with Bret Bielema and they played true freshmen Dan Skipper and Denver Kirkland at OG and Hunter Henry at TE and all of them are future stars. Look for Wallace to possibly move into the vacant tackle position. Skipper, Kirkland and Hunter look very talented and throw in Wallace and the Pigs could be making an impact in the SEC very soon.
OG: Damien Mama (6-4,370) USC. Mama is huge and moves pretty well for his size. He looks good in run and pass blocking both. It’s going to be tough to keep Mama out of the lineup and off the field. Damien Mama is part of the new breed of offensive lineman, huge and athletic.
OG: Rod Taylor (6-3,325) Ole Miss. The Rebels are kind of like the Razorbacks in that they aren’t afraid to start true freshmen in the OL as demonstrated last season and Rod Taylor is no ordinary true freshman offensive lineman. He is rated as the second best OG in the country and could easily be the top guy.
C: Jacob Bragg (6-4,315) Kansas. Bragg is rated as the 3rd best Center prospect in the country and should get early playing time.While Kansas is a great at basketball, their football program could use some help and Bragg is a solid prospect.
DE: Myles Garrett (6-4,245) Texas A&M. The Aggies defensive line is the perfect situation for Myles Garrett. Aggie defense was last in the SEC and the top rated Defensive End in the country should help out immediately. Obviously, Garrett is a superb pass rusher off the edge with super quickness. He will need to bulk up to stop SEC running games, but the talent is there and if the Aggies are going to stay competitive in the SEC West without Johnny Football, guys like this are going to have to come through and quickly.
DE: Lorenzo Carter (6-5,240) Georgia. Carter is super quick off the edge and could move to OLB, but I don’t see him staying on the sidelines. He will play in 2014 at either DE or OLB. He runs a 4.6 40 and has a 40 inch vertical. Carter played all over the place on his defense in high school. He did well at ILB, OLB and DE. Hard for me to pick the best out of Carter, Garrett and Alabama’s Da’Shawn Hand. They are all 5 star guys and outstanding prospects. Hand may take a little longer to get on the field considering their depth, but he could also be this year’s A’Shawn Robinson.
DT: Andrew Brown (6-4,295) Virginia. Best Defensive Tackle prospect in the country and the Cavaliers need all the help they can get. Dominating run stopper and deceptively quick for a big man. Virginia defense will improve immediately with Andrew Brown.
DT: Bijhon Jackson (6-2,330) Arkansas. Rebuilding efforts at Arkansas continues and Jackson should play instantly. Huge immovable object in the middle. New coaching staff is working hard to get Arkansas back in the mix in the SEC.
OLB: Matthew Thomas (6-3,215) Florida State. Top rated LB from last year that didn’t play last season for the Noles. I have not given up on Thomas yet. Obviously, the defending national champs have a lot of talent and depth and I am going way out on a limb in picking Thomas here. But, he is still a very talented guy out of Miami.
OLB: Dillon Bates (6-3,215) Tennessee. The Vols recruited lights out this year and Bates is a real head hunter at OLB. Hits like his famous father, but a much better talent and Tennessee has some work to do to get back to the top.
ILB: Raekwon McMillan (6-2,250) Ohio State. In my opinion, McMillan is the best defensive recruit in the country. He’s a big guy that brings the heat and will stuff the run, but also quick and athletic enough to play the pass. Outstanding talent. He played a lot at RB in high school which further demonstrated his athletic ability.
ILB: Zach Whitley (6-2,220) UCLA. UCLA played 17 true freshmen a year ago and Whitley is good. He’s not the ideal size for an inside backer, but the weight will come soon enough and Whitley can run. Good things are happening at UCLA with Mora. Expect him to team up with last year’s freshman sensation Myles Jack.
ILB: Gavin Bryant (6-2,230) Tennessee. The Vols are doing their best to get back to the top. They had a tremendous recruiting class in 2014 and Bryant is one of the top dogs. He should be on the field early and often this season and be a difference maker.
CB: Jabrill Peppers (6-1,205) Michigan. One of the very best players in the country. Could play WR, RB, CB, safety even outside LB. Should be a great cover corner from day one and hard to keep off the field. Great return man. Recruiting services have him rated as a top 5 player in the country and I have no problem with that. One of the new breed of bigger CBs that match up well with the taller WRs.
CB: Adoree Jackson (5-10,180) USC. Incredibly athletic player. New coaching staff should mean new opportunities for incoming freshmen like Jackson. This may be considered sacrilege, but Adoree’ Jackson has that Deion Sanders feel about him in that he is super explosive. He just has that burst that a player like Deion had. Needless to say, Jackson is an excellent return man like Jabrill Peppers. This guy should be fun to watch.
S: Quin Blanding (6-2,210) Virginia. Wow, Virginia signed 2 of the top defenders in the nation. Blanding is big and fast and brings the heat. He could grow into a top OLB, but right now he’s the very best safety prospect in the country and should play right away. The Cavaliers haven’t been very good in a while but expect their defense to improve immediately. The state puts out some good talent, but apparently Virginia is going to start keeping some top talent at home. Blanding is a talent and rated a 5 star by most.
S: Dylan Sumner-Gardner (6-1,200) Boise State. Somebody will have to help me at the end of the season because I refuse to watch football on that blue turf. Sort of kidding, but I seriously hate that turf. Sumner-Gardner spurned A&M for Boise State which was a stunning move. Look for him to play from the beginning for new coach Brian Harsin.
If any reader has an opinion of another true freshman or a redshirt freshman that could be a difference maker or they think will play often please leave a comment.