Predicting the Top 2012 College Football Incoming Freshmen at Each Position
There are freshman stars at several positions every season, but predicting them before the season starts is extremely difficult.
Some incoming freshmen will start simply because everyone on the two-deep lineup from the previous season graduated or moved on to the NFL. Others will start because they have too much talent to have them standing around on the sidelines.
Several of the freshmen in this slideshow will not earn starting jobs but will have more of an impact as role players than the other freshmen across the country.
Sometimes, being the top player at a certain position as an incoming freshman does not require that prospect to be the full-time starter, and in some cases, this allows them to make more big plays and stuff the stat sheets, because of teams overlooking them in preparation for the other talented veterans they are squaring off against.
This slideshow will predict the top incoming freshman at each position in 2012. The kicking and punting duties have been merged to one position, while there have been two positions given to wide receivers in this slideshow.
Paul Griggs: Purdue
The Purdue Boilermakers are losing kicker Carson Wiggs, who holds the school's record for career field goal percentage, to graduation and will turn the kicking duties over to 3-star kicking prospect Paul Griggs (Charlotte, NC) in 2012.
The Latin High School star participated in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January and hit 8-of-11 field goal attempts in his junior year. Griggs also broke the Latin school record for longest field goal made during his junior season when he nailed a 48-yarder.
The Purdue coaching staff has already told Griggs the job is his to lose, and they want him to be Wiggs' successor in 2012, which means he will be one of the only freshmen kickers in the country next season.
Defensive End (1 of 2)
Darius Hamilton: Rutgers
Even though Ka Lial Glaud and Michael Larrow are back at the defensive end spots for Rutgers' 5-star prospect Darius Hamilton (Ramsey, NJ) will be too talented for the Scarlet Knights' coaching staff to keep off the field in 2012.
Hamilton is the No. 11 overall prospect and No. 2-ranked strong-side defensive end in the country according to Rivals.com.
What Hamilton lacks in size—he's only 6'4", 245 pounds—he makes up for with superior technique. This led to Hamilton earning the nickname "The Technician" during his senior season.
There are not many premiere offensive linemen playing in the Big East Conference in 2012 either, which means if Hamilton is able to live up to his potential during his freshman season at Rutgers, he should have no problem putting together some impressive statistics and be a known commodity entering the 2013 season.
Defensive Tackle (1 of 2)
Ellis McCarthy: UCLA
Five-star prospect Ellis McCarthy (Monrovia, CA) was one of several recruits to flip schools during the recruitment process. The nation's No. 21 overall prospect and No. 4-ranked defensive tackle originally committed to Cal before opting to play at UCLA under their new head coach Jim Mora Jr.
The Bruins are looking to bounce back from a 6-7 season a year ago, and the significant number of departures along UCLA's defensive front leaves the door wide open for McCarthy to seize a starting job this fall.
The Monrovia High School standout is already college ready in terms of his size—he stands 6'5" and weighs 311 pounds—and will wreak havoc on opposing rushing attacks in the Pac-12 Conference.
Defensive Tackle (2 of 2)
Ondre Pipkins: Michigan
Five-star defensive tackle Ondre Pipkins (Kansas City, MO) is not likely to be one of Michigan's starting defensive tackles when the Wolverines open their 2012 campaign in September against Alabama, but the Park Hill High School star will see plenty of action this season as a true freshman.
The Wolverines are losing their top defensive tackles from a year ago in Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen, in addition to having a lack of consistent output at the position so far this spring from former 5-star prospect Will Campbell and the undersized Jibreel Black.
Pipkins already has the proper frame to play immediately at the college level at 6'3" and 325 pounds and proved at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl he's extremely quick and athletic for his size.
Michigan's defensive coordinator Greg Mattison plans to play several freshman this season, and Pipkins will get more than his fair share of reps in 2012.
Look for him to be a force up front for Michigan and cause all kinds of problems for opposing ground games and quarterbacks once Big Ten Conference play rolls around.
Defensive End (2 of 2)
Mario Edwards: Florida State
Although Mario Edwards (Denton, TX) is listed as the nation's No. 1 defensive tackle according to Rivals.com, the Ryan High School standout will be moving to defensive end when he takes the field in 2012 at Florida State.
The 5-star prospect has already lost 19 pounds since his appearance at the Under Armour All-American Game in January and says the Florida State coaches are expecting him to be ready to play as a true freshman.
"They're expecting me to come in and play," Edwards told Warchant.com in mid-March. "They said I need to come in ready to play and ready to go. I'm going to be thrown in the fire from Day 1, I'm really coming in here in shape and ready to compete."
The Seminoles depth at defensive end took a hit when the coaching staff decided to move Dan Hicks to tight end this spring, which left just four defensive ends returning from last year's team.
Edwards will be a force coming off the edge with 4.8 40-yard dash speed and should rack up a fair amount of sacks this season with opponents having to focus their scouting reports on returning studs Everett Dawkins and Brandon Jenkins along Florida State's defensive front.
Outside Linebacker (1 of 2)
Ryan Anderson: Alabama
Alabama is reloading after losing multiple starters from their 2011 BCS National Championship winning squad to the NFL draft.
One position of need is outside linebacker after the departure of three of the Crimson Tide's starters from a year ago, and early enrollee linebacker Ryan Anderson (Daphne, AL) will be one of several players looking to fill the vacancies.
Anderson compiled an impressive 14.5 sacks in his senior season at Daphne High School and will battle the likes of Adrian Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson for playing time at outside linebacker.
Even if Anderson does not win a starting job, he should get plenty of playing time in 2012. Look for the nation's No. 98 overall prospect and No. 6 outside linebacker to be a frequent pass-rusher for the Crimson Tide, which will allow him to accrue some impressive stats this season.
Keith Brown: Louisville
There are not too many freshmen who will see significant playing time at linebacker this season, 4-star prospect Keith Brown (Miami, FL) is very close to becoming the starting middle linebacker for the Louisville Cardinals.
The nation's No. 133 overall prospect and No. 7 ranked inside linebacker has battled this spring with an extremely thin linebacking corps at Louisville, and head coach Charlie Strong will more than likely be forced to play his incoming freshmen linebackers sooner rather than later.
Although Brown missed Louisville's spring game with a minor injury, he should be ready to go for fall camp and will be all over the field this season for the Cardinals.
Outside Linebacker (2 of 2)
Deon Clarke: Virginia Tech
As mentioned in the previous slide, there will not be many true freshmen linebackers who crack the starting lineup at many schools this season, so this is one of the toughest positions to predict who will be getting playing time, let alone being one of the nation's top freshman at the position.
One prospect Virginia Tech will have a hard time keeping off the field, though, is outside linebacker Deon Clarke (Chesterfield, VA).
The 4-star linebacker was clocked at 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash last summer and should provide the Hokies with an extremely gifted pass rusher. Clarke's speed off the edge should allow him to get on the field as a freshman and make some big plays for Virginia Tech.
Travis Blanks: Clemson
Four-star safety Travis Blanks (Tallahassee, FL) is another highly coveted prospect who will be changing positions at the college level.
Blanks impressed at cornerback this spring for Clemson and will see plenty of playing time as a true freshman in a secondary that loses three of its top players from last season, including All-American defensive back DeAndre McDaniel.
The nation's No. 60 overall prospect has top end speed and a lanky 6'1" frame that will allow him to battle with taller wide receivers.
At the very least, Blanks will be one of Clemson's cornerbacks in their nickel set, but I expect the North Florida Christian High School standout to crack the Tigers' starting lineup in September.
Shaq Thompson: Washington
The nation's No. 1 safety and No. 4 overall prospect, Shaq Thompson (Sacramento, CA) already has a reputation as a big hitter and the Pac-12 Conference will be hearing much more about that reputation this fall when Thompson lines up at free safety for the Washington Huskies.
The Grant High School star is college ready in terms of size, speed and athleticism. Thompson stands 6'2" and was clocked at 4.57 seconds in the 40-yard dash. The California native also impressed in the shuttle with a time of 4.21 seconds and recorded a 30-inch vertical jump.
Wide receivers in the Pac-12 should be on the lookout for Thompson immediately.
Ronald Geohaghan: Clemson
The Clemson Tigers' depleted secondary will not only provide an opportunity for Travis Blanks to see the field as a true freshman but should give 4-star safety Ronald Geohaghan (Fairfax, SC) a chance to start at strong safety as well.
The Allendale Fairfax High School standout racked up 97 tackles and seven sacks as a junior and will provide Clemson with a quick safety to patrol the secondary and help avoid surrendering big plays like the Tigers did in the 2012 Orange Bowl against West Virginia.
Toye Adewon: Navy
With both players in front of him on the depth chart set to graduate, 3-star center Toye Adewon (Frisco, TX) will have a chance to step in and play immediately for the Navy Midshipmen in their triple option offense.
Adewon was a standout lineman at Liberty High School and has a solid 6'4", 285-pound frame that will make the transition to the college level very easy for him.
Offensive Guard (1 of 2)
Josh Garnett: Stanford
At 6'5" and 295 pounds, Josh Garnett (Puyallup, WA) could probably be an elite player at any position on the offensive line, however, he will begin his career at guard for the Stanford Cardinal.
The nation's No. 2 offensive guard and No. 33 overall prospect will be one of the favorites to fill the void left behind by first-round draft pick David DeCastro.
Even though Garnett is not enrolling early, his blocking ability and oversized frame for the guard position will allow him to beat out his competition.
Whoever has to replace former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck should have no concerns about someone getting by Garnett on the offensive line next season.
Offensive Tackle (1 of 2)
D.J. Humphries: Florida
Any of D.J. Humphries (Charlotte, NC) remaining doubters were put to rest after his impressive performance at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January, and the 5-star offensive tackle appears to be on the fast track to starting for the Florida Gators.
The nation's No. 2 overall prospect and No. 1 offensive tackle is expected to be a competitor for Florida's starting left tackle job, and if he happens to miss out on that, then Humphries could shift to the right side of the line at the same position.
Either way, barring injury, there's no way Humphries does not see the field as a true freshman in 2012 for the Gators.
Offensive Guard (2 of 2)
Isaac Seumalo: Oregon State
The Oregon State Beavers are not likely to contend for a Pac-12 championship in 2012, but they may very well have one of the best freshman guards in the country protecting their quarterback next season.
Four-star offensive guard Isaac Seumalo saw his stock soar at the Under Armour All-American practices, and the nation's No. 3 guard and No. 52 overall prospect is one of the most fundamentally sound linemen in the 2012 class.
Seumalo will likely be a known commodity early in the season on a subpar Oregon State squad.
Offensive Tackle (2 of 2)
Andrus Peat: Stanford
Many of Rivals.com's recruiting analysts believe Stanford's 2012 offensive line haul may be the best in history. It's only fitting that class would be charged with replacing two first-round draft picks in David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin along with offensive tackle Tyler Mabry.
Peat stands 6'7" and weighs 307 pounds, which will allow him to handle some of the Pac-12's best defensive linemen with ease.
The nation's No. 6 offensive tackle and No. 32 overall prospect will begin laying the foundation for one of the nation's best offensive lines three years from now with fellow freshman Josh Garnett this season.
Taylor McNamara: Oklahoma
The Oklahoma Sooners have sent multiple tight ends to the NFL over the past several seasons, and they will begin to groom their future NFL tight end prospect in 2012 when they insert 4-star tight end Taylor McNamara (San Diego, CA) into their starting lineup.
The Westview High School standout is already listed as the No. 2 tight end on the Sooners' depth chart and only trails JUCO transfer Brannon Green, who he could beat out this fall for the starting job.
Whether or not McNamara actually wins the starting job is irrelevant, though, because he will get plenty of playing time in 2012 and should see several passes from Landry Jones come his way even if he's the No. 2 tight end.
Wide Receiver (1 of 2)
Stefon Diggs: Maryland
There is no way Maryland head coach Randy Edsall will be able to keep 5-star wide receiver Stefon Diggs (Olney, MD) off the field in 2012.
The Terripans may not have an established quarterback to get the ball to Diggs through the air, but the Great Counsel High School star is likely to get reps as a kick returner, catch some screens and maybe take a few handoffs out of a shotgun set.
Diggs' versatility will get him on the field immediately, and the true freshman should have no problem making plays against some of the skeptical defenses in the Atlantic Coastal Conference this season.
Wide Receiver (2 of 2)
Michael Thomas: Ohio State
There are probably a lot of people surprised that Dorial Green-Beckham did not make this slideshow as opposed to Stefon Diggs, and now, Michael Thomas (Woodland Hills, CA) of Ohio State, but DGB will struggle against some of the SEC defenses this year, whereas the competition Thomas and Diggs will be going up against will not be as challenging.
Therefore, I see these two having bigger freshman seasons than DGB.
Thomas hauled in 12 catches for 131 yards in Ohio State's spring game and will be sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller's only downfield threat this season in the passing game at 6'4".
The Fork Union Military Academy graduate will also be a big target for the Buckeyes in the red zone and will make an immediate impact for Ohio State in 2012.
Clay Norgard: Colorado
This one was an easy call to make. Three-star prospect Clay Norgard (Highlands Ranch, CO) was ranked as the nation's No. 4 fullback and is the only player at his position ranked by Rivals.com that does not have anyone returning at his position.
With no competition in front of Norgard, the starting job is already his, and he will be the lead blocker for years to come for the Colorado Buffaloes.
Randy Johnson: Miami (FL)
Lamar Miller is gone after declaring for the NFL draft, but 5-star running back Randy Johnson (Miami, FL) will bring the same dazzling speed and shiftiness to the Miami Hurricanes' backfield as a freshman in 2012.
Although Johnson may need to put on some weight before becoming an every-down back, he should have no problems playing in space and catching some screens out of the backfield. Look for Johnson to return some kicks as well to add to the instant impact ability he brings to South Beach.
Wes Lunt: Oklahoma State
The Oklahoma State Cowboys are replacing first-round draft pick Brandon Weeden with true freshman early enrollee Wes Lunt, who was a 4-star prospect and the nation's No. 7-ranked pro-style quarterback.
Lunt won the starting job after throwing for over 200 yards in the Cowboys' spring game.
The only other incoming freshman in line to take over as a starting quarterback in 2012 is Cal early-enrollee Zac Kline, but I do not expect him to take over until a few games into the season for the Golden Bears or have as much success as Lunt will.
Lunt has more weapons around him and will throw the ball close to 40 times a game in Mike Gundy's offense.
The former Rochester High School standout will also have star running back Joseph Randle to hand the ball off to, if he struggles at any point in the season.
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