Clemson Football: 5 Freshmen Who Will Make an Impact in 2014

Bryan Manning@bdmanning4Featured ColumnistMay 14, 2014

Clemson Football: 5 Freshmen Who Will Make an Impact in 2014

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    Redshirt freshman cornerback Mackensie Alexander
    Redshirt freshman cornerback Mackensie Alexander247Sports

    Every year, a freshman arrives on the scene and has all of college football buzzing. Two years ago, it was Johnny Football. Last season, it was Jameis Winston.

    While those two high-profile players went on to win the Heisman in their rookie campaigns, they weren't the only freshmen to make an impact in college football.

    Every team, in every conference, has freshmen who contribute. Some lead the team in sacks, touchdowns or receptions, while others start on the path to becoming solid four-year starters along the offensive line. In this day and age, coaches expect more and more from their first- and second-year players. 

    The Clemson Tigers lost several talented players to the NFL last week. While some upperclassmen will help fill the voids vacated by the likes of Sammy Watkins, Tajh Boyd and Bashaud Breeland, several talented freshmen are waiting in the wings to become the next big star for Clemson.

    Here are five freshmen who will make a big impact for the Tigers in 2014.  

Mackensie Alexander

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    Mackensie Alexander
    Mackensie AlexanderRobert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

    The crown jewel of the 2013 recruiting class, Mackensie Alexander is ready to start for the Tigers in 2014. He likely would have played last season, but an injury in fall camp led coaches to make the tough decision to redshirt him.

    After a spring that saw the coaches praise him on a daily basis, Alexander is expected to start at one cornerback spot. At 5'11", 185 pounds, he has good size for a cornerback, is exceptionally fast and plays with the confidence of an NFL veteran. 

    He was arguably Clemson's top performer this spring, and head coach Dabo Swinney was effusive in his praise of Alexander, per David Hood of TigerNet.com: 

    A lot of guys have talent. It's the competitive fire. It's the will to get better. His willingness to study. His willingness to learn from his mistakes. He's just very engaged in the process. He's focused on being a great player. He's hungry and he competes every snap. When you have a player that has that drive, most of the time they are going to be pretty good. He doesn't say a thing, but he competes every snap and his demeanor never changes. That is very encouraging, and I love where he is right now. He will get beat and make a mistake and he doesn't flinch. He just reloads.

    Clemson's most exciting player may be on defense in 2014. Also, look for Alexander to figure into the mix at punt returner, too. 

Adrian Baker

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    Adrian Baker
    Adrian BakerCredit: 247Sports

    The lesser-known redshirt freshman defensive back, Adrian Baker has a chance to be a star, too. 

    He has a lean frame (6'1", 170 lbs) but is fast and plays with surprisingly good technique. He has a nose for the ball and is a good tackler for a young defensive back.

    Coaches praised Alexander after almost every practice this spring, but they also dropped Baker's name on a number of occasions as well. Swinney was talking about Alexander after practice one day this spring and talk quickly turned to Baker, per TigerNet.com's Hood: "Every time I look up, Adrian Baker's making a play, getting an interception. Technique-wise, he's as good as anybody we've got - playing with off-hands and things like that. And he finishes plays - he gets his hands on balls."

    Expect Alexander and Cordrea Tankersley to start at corner. Baker, along with Garry Peters and Martin Jenkins, will be in the mix, too. 

Dorian O'Daniel

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    Dorian O'Daniel
    Dorian O'DanielCredit: 247Sports

    Alexander may get the most publicity from the class of 2013, but Dorian O'Daniel is not far behind. A 4-star linebacker from Olney, Maryland, he redshirted last season with several talented upperclassmen in front of him.

    While O'Daniel may not start next season, defensive coordinator Brent Venables will find a way to get him on the field. At 6'2", 210 pounds, O'Daniel has terrific size. He is a linebacker who possesses the athleticism of a defensive back.

    His combination of size and speed will allow Venables to get creative. He can line O'Daniel up as a linebacker, drop him into coverage or have him blitz. The freshman can do all of these things and brings a different element to a talented Clemson defense. 

Wayne Gallman

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    Wayne Gallman
    Wayne GallmanCredit: 247Sports

    Clemson doesn't have a C.J. Spiller or Andre Ellington on the roster in 2014, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. What the Tigers do have is depth at running back—and plenty of it.

    Senior D.J. Howard, juniors Zac Brooks and C.J. Davidson and freshmen Tyshon Dye and Wayne Gallman are among the bevy of talented backs that could lead the Tigers in rushing this fall. 

    Gallman, though, may be the most intriguing option. He is perhaps best known as being high school teammates with Robert Nkemdiche, the nation's top prospect in 2013 who originally committed to the Tigers before backing out. 

    After redshirting in 2013, Gallman had a terrific spring and led the Tigers in rushing during the annual spring game.

    At 6'1", 195 pounds, he has good size. He is, however, best known for his blazing speed. Gallman can help the Tigers in the passing game, too. Whether he starts or not, he will make an impact in 2014. 

Deshaun Watson

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    Deshaun Watson
    Deshaun WatsonCredit: 247Sports

    One thing we know for sure is that senior Cole Stoudt will be the starting quarterback for the season opener at Georgia. 

    Does that mean he will finish the year as Clemson's signal-caller?

    That's obviously tough to predict, but standing right behind Stoudt will be Deshaun Watson. The only true freshman on this list, he was one of the nation's top quarterback signees in 2014, per 247Sports.

    Stoudt should be the team's starter. He has played well in his limited opportunities over the past three seasons. However, Watson is a phenomenal talent who is exciting to watch. Will fans be calling for him if or when Stoudt struggles for the first time?

    Chad Kelly's dismissal from the team paved the way for Watson to be Stoudt's top backup this fall. Don't be surprised if Swinney gets Watson some action in blowouts or calls for specific packages with him lined up under center. 

    Note: Star rankings courtesy of 247Sports.