Freshmen Report Card Grades Through Week 4

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistSeptember 25, 2013

Freshmen Report Card Grades Through Week 4

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    Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

    Four weeks into the college football season, freshmen prospects have had more than adequate time to make an impact and show where they stand.

    Not all freshmen were provided the same opportunity—some of the top guys had much harder roads to playing time—but through practice and fall-camp reports, all have been able to separate themselves from (or fade into) the pack.

    Every one of them is still young. That's the beauty of being a freshman. There is still plenty of time ahead of them for improvement.

    But for now, it doesn't hurt to take stock of how the top-ranked recruits have fared.

    Note: The players graded are the top eight prospects from 247Sports' composite rankings; one player from outside the top eight who has stuck out; and one (very) superlative redshirt.

1. DE Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss

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    Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: Bye

    Season: 10 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss

    Nkemdiche hasn't recorded a sack in his first collegiate games, but he's still managed to look every bit the part of a No. 1 recruit.

    He has a huge, hulking frame, and though he may not ever develop into a Clowney-esque edge rusher, he already has elite skills against the run.

    And with an average of 1.33 tackles for loss each game, he has shown enough playmaking ability to justify the substantial hype.

    Alabama's rebuilt offensive line will have its hands full this Saturday.

    Grade: A-

2. OLB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame

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    Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 4 tackles (vs. Michigan State)

    Season: 11 tackles, 1.0 tackle for loss

    Smith, the first Irish outside linebacker to start as a true freshman since 1995, continued to make his presence felt against Michigan State.

    He might already be the best athlete on Notre Dame's defense, and though he hasn't notched a sack or forced a turnover, his sideline-to-sideline speed has been on display.

    Notre Dame is heading into the meat of its schedule, starting this week against Oklahoma. Good as Smith has been on the whole, he has disappeared for stretches in almost every game.

    If he can find consistency going forward, the Irish, who escaped with a fortunate win on Saturday, might be able to salvage their season.

    Grade: B+

3. CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 2 tackles, 3 pass breakups (vs. Tennessee)

    Season: 5 tackles, 3 pass breakups, 2 interceptions

    It's been an amazing year for freshmen corners, as fellow Class of 2013 guys like Jalen Ramsey, Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson have all broken out for their respective teams.

    But no first-year cover guy has made the impact of Hargreaves, who might already be one of the best cornerbacks in the SEC—regardless of age or class.

    He had an interception in each of the first two games, and though he didn't get on the board against Tennessee, Hargreaves managed to break up three passes.

    How are teams supposed to throw on this Florida secondary?

    Grade: A

4. OT Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Despite starting the season as a backup—or a "swing" tackle—Tunsil has seen action in all three of the Rebels' games this season.

    He started at left tackle two weeks ago against Texas and played exceedingly well, as noted by's Chris Low, who wrote:

    Go back and watch the tape of that game, and Tunsil hardly looks like a true freshman with the way he held his own against Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, who showed up on a number of preseason All-America teams.

    Tunsil plays with a mean streak, which is often what separates physically gifted tackles from physically dominant ones. He'll be an All-SEC performer at some point in his career.

    Grade: B

5. S Su'a Cravens, USC

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 5 tackles (vs. Utah State)

    Season: 18 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble

    Cravens has made an impact all over the field for USC, becoming a big component of the Trojans' season-saving defense.

    With another five tackles against Utah State, the playmaking safety now has 18 on the season, trailing just Daquawn Brown of Washington State for the lead among Pac-12 freshmen DBs.

    His coverage skills have been good, too, while the Trojans' secondary as a whole has played well and managed to avoid getting beat deep.

    On the season, they rank third in America with just 3.70 yards per play allowed, despite facing the likes of Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton and Washington State's Mike Leach-led offense.

    Grade: A-

6. DT Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA

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    Photo Credit: Twitter – @GTurk1
    Photo Credit: Twitter – @GTurk1

    Last Week: 2 tackles (vs. New Mexico State)

    Season: 11 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss

    After a long, tiresome eligibility saga after transferring from Notre Dame, Vanderdoes was finally declared eligible to play at UCLA.

    And he made an immediate impact. Vanderdoes recorded six tackles and two tackles for loss in the Bruins' first game against Nevada, tossing around Wolfpack blockers with the ease of a true upperclassman.

    His production has gone down in the subsequent weeks, but it's sometimes hard to quantify what a defensive tackle does. Their contributions don't always get reflected in the box score.

    Vanderdoes is gonna be a good one.

    Grade: B

7. ILB Reuben Foster, Alabama

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    Photo Credit: 247Sports
    Photo Credit: 247Sports

    Last Week: 1 tackle (vs. Colorado State)

    Season: 2 tackles

    Foster hasn't managed to see the field much this season, recording a garbage-time tackle against Virginia Tech and Colorado State, but not doing anything against Texas A&M.

    He's listed as the backup "Mike" linebacker behind Trey DePriest, and likely won't see significant time unless DePriest gets hurt or suspended.

    Still, there is no shame in having to earn your stripes in Tuscaloosa. The Tide get their pick of the litter each recruiting season, and with so much talent around him, the fact that Foster made second-string is an accomplishment unto itself.

    Grade: C

8. OLB Matthew Thomas, Florida State

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Last Week: 3 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack (vs. Bethune-Cookman)

    Season: 4 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack

    Like Foster, Thomas went to a team that's loaded with talent—especially at linebacker. So like Foster, there's no shame in his inability to crack the defensive first-team.

    Unlike Foster, though, Thomas got an extended chance to prove his worth against Bethune-Cookman last weekend. And he made the most of his opportunity.

    Thomas recorded the first sack of his career in the blowout win, adding two more tackles (and another tackle for loss) on top of it.

    He might be ready for an increased role.

    Grade: B-

41. RB Alex Collins, Arkansas

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    Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 16 carries, 63 yards (at Rutgers)

    Season: 86 carries, 481 yards, 2 TD

    Of the players ranked outside the top eight on 247Sports' composite, no player has stuck out quite like Collins—even after an ugly week at Rutgers.

    Before the 63-yard dud (in a tough venue, against a defense that's historically very good), Collins had rushed for 100 yards in each of his first three games, becoming the first-ever SEC freshman to accomplish that feat, and the first NCAA freshman since Adrian Peterson.

    Adrian. Freakin'. Peterson.

    Collins is a perfect fit for Bret Bielema's offense, making confident cuts in the hole, running with steam in space and constantly falling forward for extra yards.

    He could be a special one.

    Grade: A

QB Jameis Winston, Florida State (Redshirt)

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    Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 10-of-19, 148 yards, 2 TD (vs. Bethune-Cookman)

    Season: 50-of-64, 718 yards, 8 TD, 1 INT; 15 car, 44 yards, 2 TD

    One year after the first-ever redshirt freshman, Johnny Manziel, won the Heisman Trophy, another has become one of the early frontrunners.

    That's how good Jameis Winston has been.

    The Seminoles' playbook was vanilla against Bethune-Cookman, and Winston barely completed 50 percent of his passes in the rout. But before that game, he had more touchdown passes (six) than incompletions (five) for his career.

    Winston is a charming, magnetic personality with the game to back up his confidence. But that's exactly what people thought of Johnny Football—at least at first. 

    How will Winston handle his celebrity?

    Because it's starting to come up on him...and fast.

    Grade: A+