It's not every day I get to write an article evaluating how I think multiple freshmen may perform during their freshman year at the University of Oklahoma.
While the Sooners are consistently getting talented freshmen through recruiting, the likelihood of more than one or two freshmen getting a chance to start and produce decent stats is somewhat of a rarity at such a prestigious program.
This season, however, the Sooners are in both an exciting and unfortunate position. The Sooners took a major hit at wide receiver when juniors Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks, along with sophomore Kameel Jackson, were indefinitely suspended from the team in May. After getting their scholarships revoked, their future with the Sooners is seemingly over.
That makes junior Kenny Stills the only receiver in the lineup with any experience—at all. Luckily, wide receiver was a major plus for the Sooners in recruiting this past season. Many incoming freshmen, who are likely bypassing the redshirting process now, will have a great chance to step up and perform in the fall.
Still, wide receiver isn't the only position where freshmen have a chance to produce. The Sooners have limitless potential, but without much experience, it may be a bumpy ride—at least at the beginning of the season.
Speaking of freshmen wide receivers that have limitless potential—meet Trey Metoyer, Oklahoma's prized recruit. Per Rivals, Metoyer is the first 5-star wide receiver to come through Oklahoma in the Bob Stoops era (1999-present).
While Reynolds was the likely candidate to start opposite of Stills this season, his absence is the perfect opportunity for Metoyer to step in early, gain experience and make a name for himself. In fact, Metoyer is already making a name for himself.
Media members who cover the Big 12 conference have picked Metoyer as the preseason's Big 12 Newcomer of the Year (h/t TulsaWorld.com). Metoyer has an excellent opportunity to prove these media members right.
As a senior in high school (2010), Metoyer caught 108 passes for 1,540 yards and 23 touchdowns. His size and athleticism make him a difficult cover for most defensive backs, and with an experienced quarterback like Landry Jones throwing him the ball, the sky is the limit.
Metoyer had a great showing in the annual Red and White spring game, including this touchdown grab that has already garnered over 28,000 views on YouTube. One-handed catch, spin move, break two tackles, touchdown—I think it's safe to say he's ready to make an impact.
75 receptions, 1,025 yards, eight touchdowns—Big 12 Newcomer of the Year; Metoyer may even surpass Stills in terms of production this season.
If there's one thing that separates Neal from the rest of this pack, it's confidence. Usually, being overly confident can be a red flag—nobody wants a huge ego dragging down the team. However, with Neal, it's very different. Neal is confident in his ability, but he's also willing to work his hardest to earn his chance.
As a testament to Neal's dedication, the incoming freshman decided to run track this summer in order to stay in shape and improve his speed. He knows that he has a chance to make a huge impact as a freshman, especially after the suspensions to Reynolds, Franks and Jackson.
Neal could see time both in the slot and on the outside this season. His work ethic is going to really pay off once the season finally rolls around, and his ability to make things happen after the catch should make his receiving yards pile up.
Neal turned down offers from schools such as Missouri, USC, Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon and Notre Dame in order to come to Oklahoma. His reasoning? He thinks Oklahoma is the best—not the best place for him to play, just the best. According to Brandon Chatmon of ESPN.com:
40 receptions, 630 yards, four touchdowns—Neal is going to exude confidence all over the field this season, and it's going to pay off. Though he may not be as gifted as Metoyer or Stills, he isn't going to let that get in the way of having a better-than-average freshman season.
Rounding out the group of talented freshmen wide receivers that are likely to see playing time this upcoming season is Sterling Shepard—a homegrown star from the Oklahoma City area. Shepard was a 4-star recruit and the No. 1 rated player coming out of Oklahoma according to Rivals.
As a senior at Heritage Hall, Shepard caught 73 passes for 1,243 yards and 17 touchdowns. As a junior, Shepard racked up over 1,500 yards of total offense and led his team to a 3A state championship. Needless to say, he's had a rather successful career thus far.
Sooner fans can only hope his on-field excellence will transition to the next level. Shepard has drawn comparisons to former Sooner wide receiver Ryan Broyles, and a Broyles-like career definitely isn't out of the question for Shepard.
At 5'10" and 185 pounds, Shepard is already 15 pounds heavier than Broyles was upon joining the program, but size isn't the only thing the two have in common. Like Broyles, Shepard doesn't have elite top-end speed, but he is very elusive. His ability to accelerate and maneuver in the open field make him a threat every time he has the ball.
After Stills and Metoyer, the battle between Shepard and Neal (and likely Courtney Gardner) for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart is going to be intense. In the end, that number may not even matter. I have a feeling Shepard, Neal and Gardner will all be seeing the field this season.
30 receptions, 420 yards, three touchdowns—will likely spend some time in the slot during his freshman season; Shepard, with his quickness and ability in the open field, could fill the void Franks is leaving behind.
Finally we get to move on from wide receiver, granted, tight end is mostly a glorified wide receiver, and that is definitely the case when talking about incoming freshman Taylor McNamara.
At 6'5" and 230 pounds, McNamara was rated as the No. 9 tight end in the 2012 class according to ESPN. His arrival couldn't have come at a better time, as the Sooners have recently seen the tight end position dwindled down to scraps thanks to players graduating and transferring.
McNamara isn't the early favorite to start at tight end for the Sooners, as junior college transfer Brannon Green seems to be the likely candidate for the job. However, that doesn't mean McNamara won't get his fair share of snaps, as he has the best hands of any tight end on the roster.
Oklahoma hasn't been able to feature a tight end prominently in the passing game since Jermaine Gresham graduated in 2010; McNamara could be the guy to fill that void. Trust me, I'm not trying to compare the two, as Gresham was other-worldly for the Sooners, but McNamara definitely has a lot of potential.
15 receptions, 190 yards, two touchdowns—solid freshman season; McNamara should play a larger role in his sophomore season.
Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips is the only redshirted freshman on this list, and, unfortunately, may have the worst chance of getting serious playing time this season.
That's not a dig at his talent, though. Unlike wide receiver and tight end, defensive tackle happens to be a position that's loaded with experience. The Sooners return all three of their rotation defensive tackles from last season—Jamarkus McFarland, Stacy McGee and Casey Walker—and they all happen to be seniors.
Their experience and seniority will be an early advantage against Phillips and his quest for playing time, but if the Sooners continue to see minimal production from that position, Phillips could get an opportunity sooner rather than later.
At 6'6" and 329 pounds, Phillips is an absolute monster. He's the biggest defensive tackle on the roster and is likely the most athletic, as well. It's been said a million times since revealed, but it's always worth noting that Phillips can do a backflip in full pads—a true testament to his supreme athleticism.
Phillips is most certainly the future at defensive tackle for the Sooners, and while he may not start this season, he'll still get his chance to prove his worth.
15 tackles, one sack—gains experience to become a starter as a sophomore; future star.