10 Redshirt Freshmen Who Will Be Impact Offensive Players in 2014
Redshirt freshmen have stated loudly their importance the past two seasons, as quarterbacks Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston—two guys who did not see active duty in their first year out of high school—won back-to-back Heisman Trophies. The latter won a national championship, too.
But it's not just quarterbacks who can make an impact after sitting out a year. Redshirt freshman Shock Linwood emerged as a force at running back for Baylor last season, and in 2012, redshirt freshman Mike Evans emerged as Manziel's favorite target at Texas A&M.
Offensive weapons should emerge in like manner this upcoming season. Based on their pedigree, the reports coming out of spring camp and the battle for playing time around them, certain players are set up to post huge numbers after sitting out their true freshman season—no matter the reason they might have sat out.
Here are just 10 of the best.
Sound off below and let me know who I missed.
QB Honorable Mentions
Here are three quarterbacks who will probably not be opening-week starters in 2014. But they are all technically competing for a spot, and if they get it, they are talented enough to post huge numbers.
Johnny Stanton, Nebraska
Johnny Stanton fell behind Tommy Armstrong this spring and has a steep hill to climb during fall practice. He might not even beat Ryker Fyfe for the No. 2 job. But if he plays to his potential, Stanton will remind folks why he became a mythic figure of sorts on the practice squad last season. He's a really exciting young prospect.
Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina
Mitch Trubisky has the difficult task of unseating Marquise Williams at North Carolina. Williams was great down the stretch last season, which made Trubisky the rightful underdog during spring camp. The redshirt freshman played well enough to remain in the hunt, though, and he is good enough to keep it close throughout the fall as well.
Malik Zaire, Notre Dame
Based entirely on spring performance, Malik Zaire should be the starter at Notre Dame. But that is not the only basis for Brian Kelly's decision. He must also account for the past performance of Everett Golson, who led the Irish to a 12-0 regular season in 2012. Like Adam Kramer of Bleacher Report wrote, this discourse is not going away anytime soon.
WR Devon Allen, Oregon
Track star Devon Allen will be pushed into the spotlight after Josh Huff and Daryle Hawkins graduated this offseason and Bralon Addison tore his ACL during spring camp.
Allen has the type of speed that is coveted in Mark Helfrich and Scott Frost's offense—the type that can change a game. He can take the bubble screen (an Oregon staple) to the house or beat a defense over the top with a cleverly timed vertical route.
Working with Marcus Mariota in the Ducks' spring game, Allen caught a 45-yard touchdown pass early and capped off the performance with 49-yard touchdown catch from Damion Hobbs later in the day.
TE Marcus Baugh, Ohio State
Marcus Baugh had a tough first year at Ohio State, landing himself in the doghouse after a couple of underage drinking incidents.
But the upside here is considerable, especially in Urban Meyer's offense, which has made a star of similar tight ends such as Aaron Hernandez (which feels awkward to write) and Jordan Reed. Baugh has a chance to become a high-volume TE for the Buckeyes next season.
And the early returns are good. After racking up more than 100 yards and two touchdowns during an intrasquad practice on student appreciation day, Baugh looks like he's ready to make 2014 count.
"I’m just trying to show coach I can play hard," he said, per Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors. "Last year, I didn’t play so hard. I’m just trying to show him what I can do now, how much I bring to the table."
RB Greg Bryant, Notre Dame
Greg Bryant did not make an impact, as some had anticipated, during his true freshman season in South Bend. He just wasn't ready.
But that appeared to have changed during spring practice and the Notre Dame spring game, when he broke a nice 51-yard run.
"He's a physical kid, and he's fun to coach," said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, according to CSN Chicago. "He's full of energy, he's got a smile on his face, and he loves to play the game."
Bryant was the No. 45 overall player and No. 6 running back in the 2013 class, per the 247Sports Composite.
RB Lavon Coleman, Washington
Chris Petersen made a quiet habit of developing great running backs at Boise State. From Ian Johnson to Doug Martin to, most recently, Jay Ajayi, the ground attack was a staple of the Broncos offense.
Lavon Coleman fits the mold of a Petersen back: He is big (6'0", 215 lbs) but shifty on his feet and can beat opponents in multiple ways. Petersen should value that versatility.
There is no set pecking order in the UW backfield, but Coleman led the way during the spring game with 18 carries for 99 yards and a 47-yard touchdown on the final play of the scrimmage.
That'll leave a lasting impression.
QB Kevin Olsen, Miami
Presumed starting quarterback Ryan Williams tore his ACL during spring camp, and even though he thinks he can return for the Nebraska game on September 20, per Susan Miller of the Miami Herald, that seems more like a pipe dream than a realistic goal.
Which leaves Kevin Olsen, the younger brother of former Miami tight end Greg Olsen, as the favorite to assume starting duties. He and true freshman Brad Kaaya will compete in camp, but Olsen would have to screw up colossally to lose his current lead.
Olsen was a top-100 recruit and the No. 5 pro-style quarterback in the 2013 class, per the 247Sports Composite. He has all the tools needed for success but looked trepidatious during the Miami spring game.
With time, though, he should develop into a good one.
WR Robert Foster, Alabama
Alabama had the luxury of redshirting Robert Foster last season.
Not many schools could afford to do that with the No. 2 wide receiver recruit in the country—especially when the only guy ahead of him was Laquon Treadwell, who starred in his first year at Ole Miss.
But even though the depth chart is still loaded on the outside in Tuscaloosa, Foster is too good not to make an impact for another season. He is 6'2", explosive and capable of coming down with all sorts of back-shoulder throws, and he looked good in the A-Day exhibition.
"[Foster] hit the ground running," said B/R's Michael Felder in the video above. "He looked like a monster out there on the edge...As they expand the playbook, he's gonna make plays all over the field."
And the rich just keep getting richer.
RB Johnny Jefferson, Baylor
Speaking of the rich getting richer...
Baylor does not need another home run threat in its offense. But as Lache Seastrunk transitions out of the program and Shock Linwood inherits his role as lead back, Johnny Jefferson seems poised to become that type of player nonetheless.
Per Jake Trotter of ESPN.com, Jefferson was the running back who "created the most buzz" during spring camp. His combination of one-cut speed and vision should be deadly in Art Briles' offense.
You'll hear his name come up on SportsCenter next season.
RB Adam Lane, Florida
Sometimes you can tell, even before it happens, that a player will become a fan favorite and maybe even an Internet darling.
Adam Lane is one of those players.
Why? Because he's essentially a human bowling ball. Listed at 5'7", 222 pounds, he is the type of player who will plow through bigger defenders, using his compact-but-built physique to his advantage.
"Adam's a guy that I thought really progressed well during spring, fits very well in what we're doing," said head coach Will Muschamp, according to Brady Fredericksen of GatorSports.com. "Physically he's an imposing player. I'm excited about him, I really am."
The depth chart ahead of Lane is cluttered—Mack Brown and Kelvin Taylor both stand to see carries before him—but there should be enough touches to go around in 2014.
How could you not give a guy like this the football?
WR Ra'Shaad Samples, Oklahoma State
Ra'Shaad Samples was one of the top playmakers in Oklahoma State's 2013 class, checking in as a top-230 overall prospect and a top-30 wide receiver on the 247Sports Composite.
The Cowboys smartly redshirted him in 2013, when Tracy Moore, Josh Stewart and Charlie Moore were all seniors and he likely would have struggled to see the field. Now, with that trio gone, he can make a real impact after preserving a year of eligibility.
Samples is a speedster who should thrive in the slot in Mike Gundy's high-volume air attack. J.W. Walsh is a running quarterback who needs to work on his accuracy, but having a target like Samples who can take a short pass for a long gain should aid in that development.
WR Ricky Seals-Jones, Texas A&M
Ricky Seals-Jones is a physical freak—one of the few players in college football who can, on paper, rightfully replace Mike Evans.
He is 6'5", 225 pounds and can get down the field, as evidenced by his 71-yard touchdown catch in the season opener against Rice in 2013. He is everything one could want in a receiver.
A torn ACL cut his freshman season short and allowed him to take a redshirt, and without Evans, Derel Walker and Travis Labhart from last year's team, the Aggies need some new threats to emerge.
Seals-Jones seems to fit the bill.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting rankings via the 247Sports Composite.