Freshman Year Predictions for the Top 25 2014 Recruits

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistFebruary 7, 2014

Freshman Year Predictions for the Top 25 2014 Recruits

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    LSU signee Leonard Fournette is one of many top freshmen who could play right away.
    LSU signee Leonard Fournette is one of many top freshmen who could play right away.Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    These aren't your grandfather's college freshmen.

    Gone are the days when first-year players getting onto the field was a rarity. It's become the norm, and the most highly rated recruits choose their destinations based on where they have the best chance to play right away.

    And the 2014 recruiting class is no different. Of the 25 highest-rated players, who collectively signed Wednesday with 12 different schools, there's a very good chance that most (if not all) will be playing this fall.

    Looking at the same batch from the 2013 recruiting class, only three of the top 25 players did not play as true freshmen.

    How will the latest crop of top blue-chippers fare? Check out our predictions for their 2014 freshman performance.

     

    Note: All recruiting rankings and ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

25. Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford

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    Solomon Thomas has the size, speed and skills to be a college defensive end pretty early in his career, possibly right away. But his choice to sign with Stanford means he might not get that opportunity immediately, at least as a starter.

    The Cardinal return two-thirds of their front line, with another experienced senior able to fill the one opening. This could lead to Thomas getting redshirted or slowly eased into the rotation over the course of the season. Either option would work well for both sides, so it might depend on how the 2014 year goes along.

    Prediction: Five games played, 10 tackles, one tackle for loss

24. Ermon Lane, WR, Florida State

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    One half of the iconic game-winning play from the BCS National Championship Game is no longer in college, with Florida State receiver Kelvin Benjamin off to the NFL. But the Seminoles found his possible replacement in Ermon Lane, a last-minute signee who committed on Wednesday.

    The 6'3" Lane will have some competition for the No. 1 receiver spot with FSU, as the Seminoles have several capable receivers on the roster who are already familiar with the system. But it's unlikely that the 5-star wideout will not find himself with a significant role in the passing game.

    Prediction: 45 receptions, 550 yards, 7 TDs

23. Racean "Roc" Thomas, RB, Auburn

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    Tre Mason burst onto the national scene as part of Auburn's run to the BCS National Championship Game, and he not surprisingly rode that wave into an early NFL departure. That opens up a prime starting spot in the nation's most productive non-option rushing game, and Roc Thomas has a great chance to be that guy.

    Thomas, who committed to Auburn weeks before the 2013 season (and before anyone knew how effective Gus Malzahn's run game would be in the SEC), is similar in size to Mason at 5'11" and 196 pounds, and he's probably just as fast.

    Auburn might be a little more dependent on quarterback Nick Marshall early on in the running game, but once Thomas gets settled in, he'll be the go-to rusher.

    Prediction: 950 rushing yards, 15 touchdowns

22. Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State

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    With Ryan Shazier no longer patrolling the middle of Ohio State's defense, there's a big opportunity for someone to step in and be a star. And Raekwon McMillan is going to be given a good shot to be that guy.

    McMillan is a big, physical presence at 6'2" and 242 pounds, and with his jump start on a college career thanks to early enrollment, he's most likely going to be in the lineup when the Buckeyes open 2014 play against Navy in Baltimore.

    Prediction: 12 starts, 85 tackles, 8 tackles for loss

21. Joe Mixon, APB, Oklahoma

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    When Joe Mixon committed to Oklahoma in early January, he did so knowing he was entering a great situation for someone with his skills. Listed as an all-purpose back, Mixon's most effective as a rusher, and the Sooners just happen to be in need of such players.

    Mixon is pretty fast, and though his size (6'2" and 195 pounds) is more resembling of a receiver, he'll fit perfectly into the Sooners' system that likes to have its running backs be able to run well and catch passes. He had more than 1,800 yards of total offense and 26 total touchdowns during his senior year of high school.

    While Mixon might not be the starter, at least not right away, he'll be involved heavily in the run game.

    Prediction: 650 yards, 9 TDs

20. John "Juju" Smith, ATH, USC

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    John Smith, better known as "Juju" during the recruiting process, was a safety and wide receiver in high school and has the ability to play either position at the college level.

    But USC already has a great young safety in Su'a Cravens, so look for Smith to have a better chance to get into the lineup right away as part of the Trojans wide receiving corps. At 6'1", he's bigger than the man he'd be replacing, Marqise Lee, which would be a nice target opposite Nelson Agholor.

    Prediction: 45 receptions, 650 yards, 6 TDs

19. Sony Michel, RB, Georgia

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    With Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall both expected to be at full strength for the 2014 season, Georgia is in the enviable position of having a 5-star running back come in who doesn't need to be depended on right away.

    But odds are Sony Michel will still find a way to get into the rotation, similar to how Brendan Douglas and J.J. Green did so in 2013. While Michel might have been the starter somewhere else, he wanted to be a Bulldog, committing early, and he'll get in there at some point.

    Prediction: 350 rushing yards, 4 TDs

18. Lorenzo Carter, DE, Georgia

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    Georgia's problems in 2013 were equally split between injuries on offense and breakdowns on defense. Lornezo Carter should help with the latter in a big way.

    The 6'5", 232-pound pass-rusher, who didn't commit to the Bulldogs until signing day, will provide them with a much-needed burst of energy and ferociousness. He's not an automatic starter, but it will take a really slow learning curve on his part not to be a big part of Georgia's plans in the fall.

    Prediction: 8 starts, 40 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 5 sacks

17. Malachi Dupre, WR, LSU

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    LSU has plenty of pass-catching opportunities available with Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry off to the NFL, which is probably a big reason why Malachi Dupre chose the in-state Tigers over the likes of Alabama, Florida State and UCLA on signing day.

    His 6'3" frame and great leaping ability will be a huge weapon for LSU, and with fellow freshman Leonard Fournette drawing a lot of attention as a rusher, he might find himself with a lot of single coverage that he can tear up.

    Prediction: 65 catches, 950 yards, 9 TDs

16. Bo Scarbrough, ATH, Alabama

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    Bo Scarbrough has been in Alabama's 2014 class for nearly two years, but even with all that time to look toward his future, there's still a lot of uncertainty as far as how he'll contribute.

    Scarbrough has primarily been a running back, but he'd be no better than fourth on the depth chart this year. At 6'2" and 225 pounds, he could possibly get time at receiver, linebacker or on special teams, according to AL.com's Michael Casagrande.

    The likelihood is he'll get into games somehow and somewhere, but it might not be as much as you'd expect from a 5-star player.

    Prediction: Special teams participation

15. Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

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    Rashaan Evans was the last man in for Alabama in its No. 1 recruiting hall, as the 5-star linebacker spurned his hometown Auburn team for the Crimson Tide. He probably would have played right away with the Tigers, but he still has a good shot of getting solid playing time with the Tide, according to AL.com's Matt Scalici.

    Linebackers are a huge part of Alabama's defense, and Evans' experience on the outside could give him a great shot at getting into the action with so many openings up for grabs.

    Prediction: 10 games played, 30 tackles, 3 tackles for loss

14. Jalen Tabor, CB, Florida

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    Florida's defense wasn't the problem in 2013, but that doesn't mean further enhancements on that side can't help the Gators move back onto the winning side this fall. And if that happens, Jalen Tabor is likely going to be involved.

    The 5-star corner, who enrolled in Gainesville less than two weeks after initially committing to Arizona, will give Florida a dynamic pair of pass defenders on the outside opposite SEC Defensive Freshman of the Year Vernon Hargreaves III.

    Prediction: 12 starts, 30 tackles, 4 interceptions

13. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

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    Dalvin Cook was at one time pledged to both Clemson and Florida, but he ultimately ended up going with the eventual national champs. In addition to being part of a title defense, Cook has a great shot at being a significant part of the Seminoles backfield.

    Cook is already in school, so he'll get some of the first looks to replace early NFL departures Devonta Freeman and James Wilder. And with Jameis Winston around for possibly two more years, there's not much pressure for him to make an instant impact.

    But Cook should still be heavily involved and rack up some nice numbers as a true freshman.

    Prediction: 750 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns

12. Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama

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    Marlon Humphrey is one of the two 5-star corners Alabama picked up in this recruiting class, but he came on just recently, having committed on Jan. 29. That puts him behind Tony Brown, who is already in school and will get to show off his talents in the spring.

    Humphrey still has the skills to get into the secondary rotation even with having to wait until the summer to practice, and Alabama's secondary needs all the bodies it can get to deal with the increasing tendency of SEC teams to throw the ball.

    Prediction: 7 games played, 20 tackles, 1 interception

11. Andrew Brown, DT, Virginia

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    Virginia somehow managed to haul in as many 5-star players (two) as the Cavaliers had wins in 2013. Andrew Brown has been on board since June and is already on campus in preparation for spring practice.

    The Cavaliers allowed 170 rushing yards per game last season, and opponents scored 28 touchdowns on the ground. Brown will be asked to get his 6'4", 282-pound body in the way of running backs.

    The extra practice time and his pedigree will make him an instant starter for Virginia, and he may be just what it needs to get back on track.

    Prediction: 12 starts, 40 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 2 sacks

10. Kyle Allen, QB, Texas A&M

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    Talk about big shoes to fill: Kyle Allen might be asked to replace Johnny Manziel.

    While it's not a definite, the 5-star pro-style quarterback (who has been committed to Texas A&M since last summer) has already enrolled in school and will be given every opportunity to win the starting job for the Aggies.

    It might be a shared job between him and sophomore Kenny Hill at first, but look for Allen to take the job all for himself by midseason.

    Prediction: 2,700 passing yards, 24 TDs

9. Tony Brown, CB, Alabama

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    Tony Brown will get the jump on fellow 5-star corner Humphrey thanks to his early enrollment, which will give him a chance to impress the coaches in spring ball.

    His blazing speed and great cover ability make him a strong candidate to get to start right away, a possibility stemming from Alabama's thin secondary due to graduation and NFL departures.

    Prediction: 8 starts, 30 tackles, 3 interceptions

8. Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M

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    Whoever ends up starting at quarterback for Texas A&M, he'll know he has a big-time target to throw to in Speedy Noil.

    Noil, the top receiver in the 2014 class who picked the Aggies over LSU and others, is already in school and ready to find his spot in Kevin Sumlin's high-powered offense. He's nowhere near as big and physical as Mike Evans, the guy he'd be replacing, but Noil didn't get his name from being slow and plodding.

    The prospect of an Allen-to-Noil combo for the next three years could be very exciting for A&M fans.

    Prediction: 65 receptions, 850 yards, 8 TDs

7. Adoree' Jackson, CB, USC

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    Adoree' Jackson didn't make his college choice until signing day, picking USC over Florida State, LSU, Oklahoma and Tennessee. He probably did so because of the increased chance he'll get to start right away for the Trojans, who are thin in the secondary other than safety Su'a Cravens.

    Jackson is small (5'9") but fast, and he has great athleticism, which will be imperative against the many talented Pac-12 receivers he'll face during 2014. He might not start right away, but he'll be in the mix on a regular basis and should make a strong impact.

    Prediction: 4 starts, 20 tackles, 2 interceptions

6. Quin Blanding, S, Virginia

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    Like fellow 5-star recruit Andrew Brown, Quin Blanding decided to stay in-state rather than take offers from more high-profile programs like Alabama, Auburn and Clemson. He never visited them, just stuck with the Cavaliers.

    His presence will be huge for their secondary, which was torched for an average of 14.33 yards per completion and gave up 69 plays of 20 or more yards last season.

    Blanding won't be in camp until the summer, but he'll be starting for Virginia when it hosts UCLA on Aug. 30.

    Prediction: 12 starts, 30 tackles, 4 interceptions

5. Da'Shawn Hand, DE, Alabama

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    Da'Shawn Hand is the No. 5 overall prospect in the 2014 recruiting class and the second-best defensive end, according to 247Sports. But as highly touted as he is, Alabama is stacked on the defensive line.

    A'Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Howard, two 5-star recruits from 2013, both saw time on the line last season, with Robinson making two starts and recording five sacks. Throw in returning starter Brandon Ivory, and it's a stacked unit.

    Hand could redshirt, in order to preserve his eligibility for future years, but likely will get into the rotation as a mop-up reserve and then slowly increase his playing time.

    Prediction: 6 games played, 20 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1 sack

4. Cameron Robinson, OT, Alabama

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    Cameron Robinson is an enormous specimen, who at 6'7" and 335 pounds pretty much swallowed up any defenders who came his way in high school. And while his skills would have him start right away almost anywhere, Alabama isn't one of those places where such a situation is guaranteed.

    Only a handful of true freshmen get playing time with the Crimson Tide, and all three of their returning offensive line starters redshirted that first year. But those guys weren't 5-star recruits, so Robinson has an upper hand on his predecessors.

    It also helps that Robinson has already enrolled at Alabama, and with the Tide in need of a left tackle, he's got a good chance to get into the rotation right away.

    Prediction: 3 starts, plays in 10 games

3. Jabrill Peppers, ATH, Michigan

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    Jabrill Peppers is the highest-rated recruit to sign with Michigan since recruiting services started ranking high school players, coming it at No. 3 on 247Sports' composite ranking. That alone makes him nearly an automatic lock to be in the Wolverines' starting lineup for the Aug. 30 opener against Appalachian State.

    The only real question is, where will he play?

    An all-around athlete who played cornerback and running back in high school, while also getting featured as a receiver at times, Peppers has the size, speed, skills and footwork to play at any of those positions.

    He's most likely going to start out in the secondary, where Michigan needs him most. But don't be surprised if he gets inserted into some special offensive packages in the backfield or spread out to catch passes. By year's end, he could be the Wolverines' next Charles Woodson.

    2014 prediction: 4 interceptions, 400 rushing yards, 300 receiving yards, 8 total TDs

2. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M

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    Texas A&M was tons of fun to watch the past two seasons, thanks mostly to Manziel and his rebel-without-a-cause approach to playing quarterback.

    But when the Aggies were on defense, that was the time to get a drink or a snack. But it had to be a quick pit stop, because that unit was so bad it wasn't on the field long most times before allowing points.

    The 2013 production—or lack thereof—of A&M's defense is a big reason that Myles Garrett is likely to get right in there at defensive end as a true freshman. At 6'4" and 240 pounds, the No. 2 overall prospect looks college-ready; all that remains is his ability to pick up the schemes and stunts necessary to be a factor.

    Given A&M's defensive struggles, though, expect him to learn on the job.

    2014 prediction: 45 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 3 sacks

1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

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    At 6'1" and 226 pounds, Leonard Fournette already has the size and body to play right away in college. Heck, the NFL, maybe. He'd be a shoo-in to start for nearly any team in college football, especially one that lost its leading rusher.

    LSU has several capable running backs returning, particularly Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, and they won't just back down and let a freshman take all of their playing time. Fournette won't be in camp until the summer, so he will have to work to get his reps.

    But you don't recruit the No. 1 overall high school prospect and have him sit out, so expect Fournette to get his touches early and eventually become the Tigers' go-to back.

    2014 prediction: 1,100 rushing yards, 12 TDs