It's hard to believe that Winston is just a freshman.
At the halfway point of the college football season, we now have a better feel for this year’s freshmen class.
With around six performances in the books, we’ve been able to separate the pretenders from the contenders. We’ve seen the players who have the potential to grow into the best at their respective positions and also those who may wind up as busts.
Regardless, this is about the time when the talent a freshman truly possesses finally starts to show through.
So without further ado, let’s continue grading the performances of some of the nation’s top freshmen.
Note: This list consists of the top true freshmen on 247Sports' composite; one player from outside the top six who has most impressed; and one superlative redshirt who couldn't be ignored.
Let's hope Nkemdiche can pick up where he left off when he returns.
Previous Grade: B+
Last Week: 1.0 tackle (L 41-38 vs. Texas A&M)
After putting together somewhat of a disappointing performance against Auburn last weekend, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche fared a little better last weekend.
The freshman did his part to limit Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel to just 98 yards passed in the first half. However, he also failed to record a tackle for a loss for the third consecutive game.
Unfortunately, Nkemdiche has an injury to blame for that.
The top recruit of the Rebels’ Class of 2013 injured his hamstring while chasing Manziel in the second half. According to CBS Sports’ Chip Patterson, Nkemdiche is expected to miss at least three games.
That’s a significant loss to a suddenly reeling Ole Miss squad that has an upcoming contest against No. 6 LSU and its high-powered offense.
It’s a sad turn of events for Nkemdiche, who seemed to show signs of coming out of his recent slump.
Smith (center) helped the Notre Dame defense make some strides towards improvement two weekends ago.
Previous Grade: A
Last Week: Bye
Jaylon Smith had a week off to reflect on his terrific performance against Arizona State.
The freshman recorded 9 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a pass defended and a forced fumble. His play helped a struggling Irish defense regain some respect in a 37-34 victory.
But while Smith looked great on certain plays, he also struggled. Mainly when it came to play recognition and setting the edge on run plays.
However, to come as far as he has in just six games is pretty impressive.
Look for Smith to continue his improvement as the season goes on.
Hargreaves III has made life tough for opposing wide receivers.
Previous Grade: A+
Last Week: 4.0 tackles (L 17-6 at LSU)
Although the Gators came out on the short end of the stick in Baton Rouge, Vernon Hargreaves III's stock only rose.
Sure, the freshman wasn’t as disruptive in the passing game as he was in earlier games. However, combined with defensive backs Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson, Hargreaves III helped limit the Tigers' success through the air.
In fact, leading receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham only combined for six catches for 105 yards and no touchdowns—the first time both were held without a touchdown in a single game this season.
Opposing quarterbacks are quickly learning that throwing in the direction of Hargreaves III might not be the best option.
That’s impressive for someone with just six games under their belt.
Cravens (left) still has some work to do.
Previous Grade: B+
Last Week: 7.0 tackles (W 38-31 vs. Arizona)
The Trojans got a much-needed victory last Thursday. However, the secondary continued to deteriorate.
Safety Su’a Cravens didn’t help out that case.
Although the freshman recorded a season-high seven tackles, he also was beat badly on a wheel rout by wide receiver Garic Wharton that led the Wildcats to cut the deficit to 38-31. In total, four different Arizona players finished with 50 or more receiving yards as quarterback B.J. Denker shined—28-of-44, 363 YDs, 4 TDs, 0 INT.
That becomes even more startling when you consider that Denker set a new career high in yards (209) at halftime.
To his credit, Cravens has been pretty impressive thus far this season. He ranks third on the team in tackles (31) and is tied for the team lead in interceptions with two.
However, mistakes like the ones he made against the Wildcats can’t keep happening.
Vanderdoes is beginning to live up to his reputation.
Previous Grade: B
Last Week: 2.0 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, 1 fumble forced (W 37-10 vs. California)
After recording 2.0 sacks against Nevada in Week 1, expectations were high for defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes. However, he hasn’t recorded a sack or made much of an impact since.
That changed last weekend against the Bears.
Given the injury to Ellis McCarthy, Vanderdoes was thrown into the starting lineup. He responded in fine fashion, putting together an all-around performance worthy of the hype.
However, it does need to be taken into consideration that the Cal offensive line isn’t the worthiest of adversaries. In fact, the team ranks No. 117 in sacks allowed (22) this season.
Regardless, the effort was a positive sign for Vanderdoes.
Collins has seen better weeks.
Previous Grade: A
Last Week: 10 carries, 69 yards; 1 catch, 6 yards (L 52-7 vs. South Carolina)
Running back Alex Collins helped the Razorbacks get off to a good start, finding the end zone on a six-yard scamper during the game’s opening drive.
However, that would be the last time Arkansas would score. The Gamecocks scored all of the contest’s final 52 points.
Collins carried the ball a season-low 10 times. That could be due to sharing the load with sophomore running back Jonathan Williams, among others.
Whatever the case, it was a disappointing performance for the freshman. Not only did he see limited carries, but he also found yards hard to come by—only three of his rushes went for more than five yards.
To make matters worse, Collins also fumbled into the end zone on the tail end of an impressive 29-yard rush. South Carolina would recover the ball.
After rushing for over 100 yards and at least 20 carries over the Razorbacks’ first three games, Collins has only topped the century mark once in the last four contests.
Whatever is going on with the youngster, it doesn’t look to get any better against Alabama’s stout defensive line this weekend.
Winston has shone in just his first year under center.
Previous Grade: A+++
Last Week: Bye
Quarterback Jameis Winston has easily been one of the best feel-good stories of 2013.
The guy is just a redshirt freshman, but plays like a senior. Through five games, Winston has thrown for 1,441 yards, 17 touchdowns and only two interceptions on 73.2 percent passing. Furthermore, his QB rating of 213.9 is second in the nation.
Winston and his Seminoles had the week off to prepare for a visit to Death Valley to take on Tajh Boyd and No. 3 Clemson.
This will easily be the biggest test of the young signal-caller's career. Win this and not only will he be on the shortlist for the Heisman Trophy, but he’ll propel Florida State into the forefront of the BCS title conversation.
Big week ahead for Winston.
All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of NCAA.com.