Every Power 5 College Football Team's Most Intriguing Freshman
Recruiting classes usher in an annual dose of optimism for every college football team, no matter whether on-field success has evaded the program recently. This might be the class that sets the program or a positional unit on the right track, and he might be the player who starts it all as a freshman.
In 2017, who is he for the nation's 65 Power Five teams?
While the best player in a given class is a worthy focal point, he's not always the most intriguing prospect. Sometimes, a lesser-known signee at a position of need merits the spotlight.
Several of these players won't end up playing a single snap this season. We tried to avoid likely redshirts, but sometimes there are surprises about who doesn't see the field because of injury, an overwhelming adjustment period, immense depth or even a combination of those factors.
Redshirt freshmen were not considered. The list is limited to players from high school who signed in the class of 2017.
Unranked ACC Teams
Boston College: C.J. Lewis, WR
Although he was a quarterback in high school, C.J. Lewis probably has a future at a different position given his talent and the fact Boston College signed three other QBs. The 6'4" signee is expected to play wide receiver. Since the team's passing offense has ranked 114th or worse in the fourth straight seasons, they could use any sort of upgrade at receiver.
Duke: Drew Jordan, DE
Drew Jordan is a bit undersized but atones for his unfinished stature with superb explosiveness. That could push Jordan into the rotation as a freshman, especially considering Duke's leading returning sack-getter on the defensive line, Dominic McDonald, had 1.5 last year. Nobody's job should be safe.
Georgia Tech: Bruce Jordan-Swilling, LB
Yes, he's the top-rated player in Georgia Tech's 2017 class. But where is Bruce Jordan-Swilling going to stick? Though the 6'1", 209-pounder is listed as a linebacker on the Yellow Jackets' roster, he accumulated more than 5,000 rushing yards in high school. Jordan-Swilling may have a future on offense.
North Carolina: Michael Carter, RB
The departures of Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan created a glaring void in UNC's backfield. Michael Carter basically doesn't have a choice but to help fill the weakness because Jordon Brown is the only returning player at the position who logged a carry in 2016. Carter, an early enrollee, has a useful jump on incoming back Antwuan Branch.
North Carolina State: Erin Collins, RB
The Wolfpack don't have many openings for freshmen, which is ideal on a program perspective. Of the limited spots potentially available, running back is the biggest because of Matt Dayes' graduation. Erin Collins could take a portion of those 249 carries. Overly exciting? No. But NC State is in great position with veterans.
Pitt: Paris Ford, S
We know Jordan Whitehead is a starter for Pitt and that Dennis Briggs will likely join the All-ACC talent. His job isn't so secure, however, since highly recruited Paris Ford arrives this summer. He'll immediately compete with Jay Stocker and Bricen Garner for playing time—and potentially Briggs for the first-string spot.
Syracuse: Nykeim Johnson, WR
As Dino Babers continues to build the roster around his offensive scheme, speed is a necessity. Nykeim Johnson offers plenty of that. Plus, Syracuse's slot receivers aren't required to run a versatile route tree. If Johnson shows a clear handle of the offense, he might be too fast to keep on the sideline.
Virginia: Brian Delaney, K
Being a specialist isn't glamorous, but it is critical. Virginia dealt with an errant field goal on half of the team's attempts last season, so Brian Delaney could surge into that role. He may also replace Nick Conte, who ranked 14th and 15th in yards per punt during his two years as a starter.
Wake Forest: Jeffery Burley, LB
Marquel Lee was an under-the-radar star. Wake Forest hopes Jeffery Burley fits an identical mold. The 6'2", 225-pound linebacker, who only had six offers from power-conference schools, per Scout.com, should challenge for snaps right away and may become the leader of the linebacking corps.
Unranked Big Ten Teams
Illinois: Owen Carney, DE
Lovie Smith and Co. must replace a strong majority of Illinois' production on the defensive line. Owen Carney cannot be expected to excel immediately, but he'll be a factor in 2017. The early enrollee will serve as a top backup unless he leapfrogs either Tito Odenigbo or Sean Adesanya for a starting role.
Indiana: LeShaun Minor, DT
The Hoosiers bring back a handful of quality pieces along the defensive line, but they're primarily ends. LeShaun Minor is a promising freshman at a position of need since Nate Hoff is the only returning tackle with significant experience.
Iowa: A.J. Epenesa, DE
Yes, he's an Iowa legacy and a 5-star prospect. However, the path to playing time isn't a breeze for A.J. Epenesa. While there's no doubt the 6'5", 260-pound end will contribute in 2017, the Hawkeyes have established starters in Anthony Nelson and Parker Hesse—as well as key reserve Matt Nelson. Epenesa might be a disruptive player yet in limited snaps.
Maryland: Kasim Hill, QB
D.J. Durkin's biggest concern should be turning around an offense that hasn't escaped mediocrity in a half-decade. Kasim Hill looks like an ideal answer, but how quickly can it happen? It's rare for a summer-arriving freshman to immediately win the starting job, but if Maryland's QBs continue to struggle in 2017, Hill could be a mid-year, forward-thinking replacement.
Michigan State: Antjuan Simmons, LB
The Spartans plucked two of their best 2017 recruits from Ann Arbor, where Antjuan Simmons attended high school quite across the street from Michigan Stadium. It might not be long until the Wolverines see him on the field. Simmons could redshirt or play special teams, but MSU shouldn't be afraid to break in a future star on defense during another non-title-contending year.
Minnesota: Tanner Morgan, QB
Tanner Morgan flipped his commitment from Western Michigan to the Gophers, who had a vacancy following Mitch Leidner's graduation. Conor Rhoda or Demry Croft might start initially, but Morgan will probably see the field in 2017. The question then becomes whether P.J. Fleck cares to take him off.
Nebraska: Keyshawn Johnson Jr., WR
Tyjon Lindsey, a late flip from Ohio State, is the higher-rated player, but Keyshawn Johnson Jr. has a useful jump on the 4-star freshman. Johnson enrolled early and went through spring practice. Nebraska lost three of its top four receivers, so both Lindsey and Johnson have a great opportunity to play in 2017.
Northwestern: Charlie Kuhbander, K
Because Northwestern will be a junior- and senior-heavy squad in 2017, an overwhelming majority of freshmen will only hold minimal roles. But Charlie Kuhbander could decide a game or two. The nation's No. 5 kicker may succeed Jack Mitchell, who only connected on two-thirds of his field goals in both 2015 and 2016.
Purdue: D.J. Edwards, WR
Similar to Nebraska, Purdue has immense production to replace on the outside. D.J. Edwards arrived on campus for the spring semester, joining a position with a more favorable look under new coach Jeff Brohm. The explosive 6'2" target could work his way into a regular spot this season.
Rutgers: Bo Melton, WR
Considering the sheer volume of the 2017 class, several freshmen may earn immediate snaps. Although Rutgers was pretty bad everywhere last year, it needs to stockpile talent at receiver. Janarion Grant's return helps, but Bo Melton—along with redshirt freshman Ahmir Mitchell—will bolster the unit.
Unranked Big 12 Teams
Baylor: Trestan Ebner, WR
KD Cannon and Ishmael Zamora combined for 150 catches, 2,024 yards and 21 touchdowns last season. The Bears have a few players capable of becoming a No. 1 receiver, but if that doesn't happen quickly, the likely result is a deeper rotation. Trestan Ebner could capitalize on the chance thanks to his elite speed.
Iowa State: Jake Hummel, LB
Defensive improvement is key to Iowa State's rebuild. At 6'2" and 215 pounds, Jake Hummel looks the part of a Big 12 linebacker, which is especially important given that once-potential starter Brian Mills is no longer on the team.
Kansas: Kyron Johnson, LB
Reported 40-yard-dash times are often inaccurate. Kansas coach David Beaty said Kyron Johnson can legitimately run a 4.3, according to Benton Smith of KUSports.com. But even if that's not completely truthful—and it's probably not—Johnson is one ridiculously fast linebacker. Kansas needs that kind of speed all over the roster to compete in the Big 12.
Kansas State: Daniel Green, LB
Gone are Elijah Lee, Charmeachealle Moore and Will Davis, opening the door at linebacker for a couple of new starters. Daniel Green might surge into that void. No returning player at the position has recorded more than 15 tackles in a season.
TCU: Noah Daniels, CB
The Horned Frogs signed a pair of 4-star receivers in Omar Manning and Jalen Reagor, but an injury-riddled secondary needed reinforcements even more than the wideouts. Noah Daniels, a 6'0", 195-pounder, is already physically prepared—at least compared to a roster filled with smaller players at corner.
Texas: Cade Brewer, TE
As Reese Leitao awaits a court date for his drug-possession charge, Texas is looking for the next freshman up. That would be Cade Brewer, a 6'3" target at a position the program hasn't featured lately but is expected to play a larger collective role with Tom Herman in town. Although Brewer might need a season to bulk up, he should have the chance to play immediately.
Texas Tech: Jack Anderson, OL
The undisputed gem of Texas Tech's 2017 class, Jack Anderson will have every opportunity to start in 2017. A 6'5", 300-pounder, Anderson might begin his college career at guard until starting center Paul Stawarz exhausts his eligibility after 2018.
Unranked Pac-12 Teams
Arizona: Joshua Brown, LB
One of five linebackers in the 2017 class, Joshua Brown enters a major position of need for Arizona. The defense lost Paul Magloire, Michael Barton, Jake Matthews and Cody Ippolito. Brown, who arrives in the summer, should be an immediate-impact freshman.
Arizona State: Alex Perry, CB
The Sun Devils secondary will include a familial duo next season. Alex Perry, the brother of junior safety Armand, will provide much-needed reinforcements at corner. Arizona State ranked dead last nationally in pass defense in 2016.
Cal: Taariq Johnson, WR
Demetris Robertson and Melquise Stovall highlight a promising receiving corps, but Taariq Johnson might demand some early playing time. He displayed soft hands in high school, and being reliable as a freshman is most important. While Johnson has a challenging path to the rotation, he's worth monitoring in 2017.
Oregon: Deommodore Lenoir, CB
Fellow freshman Thomas Graham impressed in the spring, even earning first-team reps. How will Deommodore Lenoir, Oregon's top recruit in 2017, respond this summer? Graham's quick start makes him a likely candidate to affect the rotation, and the Ducks will be looking for a similar surge by the outspoken Lenoir.
Oregon State: Isaiah Hodgins, WR
The primary issue on Oregon State's offense is overcoming poor quarterback play, but Isaiah Hodgins gives the unit another weapon. A 6'4", 209-pound target, Hodgins enrolled early and capped the workouts with a 69-yard performance in the spring game.
UCLA: Jaelan Phillips, DE
Although "high motor" is an overused phrase in analysis, Jaelan Phillips exemplifies the definition. He's a relentless rusher off the edge, something UCLA needs after losing Takkarist McKinley to the NFL. Phillips is certain to contribute if healthy, and there's a terrific chance he'll lock down a starting role immediately.
Washington State: Fa'avae Fa'avae, LB
Mike Leach doesn't need to push freshmen on to the field. However, Fa'avae Fa'avae looks like a playmaker, and it's hard to keep talent like that on the sideline. If the Cougs are satisfied with his recovery from an ACL injury, Fa'avae could stand out as an efficient disruptor even in limited snaps.
Unranked SEC Teams
Arkansas: Chevin Calloway, CB
Talent isn't necessarily an issue for Arkansas, but the secondary has struggled over the past few years. While the Razorbacks could have Chevin Calloway take a redshirt in 2017, the 4-star signee has the upside to earn a small yet regular spot while also contributing on special teams.
Georgia: Jeremiah Holloman, WR
In Jacob Eason, Georgia has the quarterback. Now, does the offense have enough receivers? Jeremiah Holloman, an early enrollee, will bolster a pass-catching group that doesn't have an undisputed No. 1 option. He caught a 42-yard touchdown in the spring game.
Kentucky: Lynn Bowden, WR
With versatility like Lynn Bowden has, coaches shouldn't be afraid to experiment. The No. 60 overall prospect in the 2017 class, Bowden will begin his college career at receiver after playing quarterback in high school. That experience behind center makes Bowden an obvious choice to replace or share time with Benny Snell as the Wildcats QB.
Mississippi State: Willie Gay, LB
Since Dan Mullen and Co. signed nine junior-college players, freshmen shouldn't be expected to play much in 2017. Willie Gay, however, is a major exception. Rated No. 51 nationally, the linebacker will at least serve as a top backup and may start.
Missouri: Akial Byers, DT
A mid-April signing, Akial Byers was a superb late addition to Missouri's incoming group. Terry Beckner Jr. and A.J. Logan are sensible choices to start, but the Tigers' depth pieces don't have much in-game experience. Byers, barring an academic setback, can compete for a weekly place in the rotation.
Ole Miss: D.D. Bowie, CB
Listed as a wide receiver, D.D. Bowie is making the switch to cornerback at Ole Miss. Given the talent on the offensive side, it's not a major surprise. But if the Rebels are comfortable with a sophomore-heavy group at corner, Bowie could head back to receiver before the 2017 season is over.
South Carolina: Jamyest Williams, CB
South Carolina has plenty of starting experience returning in the secondary, but most of the unit's depth is gone. That's where Jamyest Williams comes in. The 5'9" athlete should fill a rotational spot in the secondary in 2017 before stepping into a special teams role after Chris Lammons' departure.
Texas A&M: Kellen Mond, QB
Although a trio of departures at wide receiver create opportunity for three 4-star freshmen, it's not going to matter if Texas A&M doesn't have a reliable quarterback. Kellen Mond didn't separate himself during the spring, but neither did his competition. Head coach Kevin Sumlin is on a rapidly warming hot seat, so desperate times can lead to bold decisions—and starting Mond fits.
Vanderbilt: Dayo Odeyingbo, DE
Defensive ends typically aren't categorized as athletes during the recruiting process. But that should explain the appeal of Dayo Odeyingbo, a 6'5", 245-pound edge-rusher. Vanderbilt's linemen managed just nine sacks, so the 'dores have little excuse to save Odeyingbo if he's ready to contribute.
Final AP Poll Ranking: 24
Calvin Ashley heads to Auburn with a great opportunity.
The offensive line must replace Robert Leff and Alex Kozan, and Braden Smith's move from guard to tackle shows the coaching staff is willing to shuffle pieces to find the best five.
At 6'6" and 310 pounds, Ashley is physically ready for the college game. He might join that exclusive group in short order, regardless of whether that's at guard or tackle.
Final AP Poll Ranking: 23
The 5'10" speedster likely won't start, but the Utes need their young cornerbacks to contribute right away. The unit must replace Dominique Hatfield, Brian Allen, Reggie Porter and Justin Thomas.
Guidry, who posted six interceptions and a ridiculous 31 pass defenses as a senior in high school, according to MaxPreps, should find a place on the two-deep this season.
Final AP Poll Ranking: 22
Tennessee has several familiar options on the offensive line, but 2016 wasn't a banner year for the unit. Trey Smith might infuse more youth into the starting five.
A 6'6", 313-pounder, he already demanded attention as a first-string player, opening the spring game at right guard.
"Trey, he's a dude [who's] physical," teammate Jashon Robertson said, per Patrick Brown of 247Sports. "He's smart. He's tough. He has a lot of ability, and we all know that. I've been proud of the way he's approached these 13 practices now."
Final AP Poll Ranking: 21
Lamar Jackson took a beating in 2017. Cole Bentley is working to help Louisville better protect its Heisman Trophy winner.
"Cole's been understanding what he needs to do, what his assignments are, and I think he's going to be a great player before it's over with," head coach Bobby Petrino said during the spring, according to Steve Jones of the Courier-Journal. "He's so powerful, so strong, and that's without really doing much weight lifting. He just has natural strength and great hips and feet.
If Bentley can keep the first-team spot in the fall, he'll be a player to watch in the freshman All-America race.
Final AP Poll Ranking: 20
After starting for three years at Miami, Brad Kaaya declared early for the NFL draft. His departure opened a quarterback competition, but the spring only provided minimal progress.
That is excellent news for N'Kosi Perry.
A 6'4", 185-pound dual-threat quarterback, he has a chance to follow in Kaaya's footsteps as a summer arrival who starts immediately. Perry would need to leap Malik Rosier and Evan Shirreffs at the top of the depth chart.
Final AP Poll Ranking: 19
It won't take long for Big 12 offenses to know who Derrek Pitts is.
"Derrek is going to play," said defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, per Mitch Vingle of the Charleston Gazette-Mail. "He'll play immediately. He'll give us some depth. Hell, he may even win a position."
The 6'2", 180-pounder will help West Virginia rebuild a secondary that must replace five contributors and two depth pieces. Pitts capped the spring with a fumble recovery in the scrimmage.
Final AP Poll Ranking: 17
The secondary lost three talented players in Chidobe Awuzie, Tedric Thompson and Ahkello Witherspoon.
Sounds like a perfect time for Chris Miller to be a freshman.
Colorado won't expect the speedy 5'11" cornerback to surge into the starting lineup, but he can provide much-needed depth behind Isaiah Oliver, Anthony Julmisse and Dante Wigley.
Final AP Poll Ranking: 16
We're not going to argue with Bud Foster about Devon Hunter.
"He's a guy we're counting on to be an impact football player right way at one of our safety spots," Virginia Tech's longtime D-coordinator said, per Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "He's a big, physical kid. He's already ahead of the game physically."
And physically, Hunter has been compared to former Hokies star and All-Pro safety Kam Chancellor. That's high praise, and the ACC will be watching closely to see whether Hunter backs up the hype.
Final AP Poll Ranking: 14
Few teams boasted more defensive talent than Florida in 2016. While impressive, that also means those players are headed for the NFL—and the Gators had eight draft picks.
Why not replace one standout with his younger brother?
Marco Wilson, three years the junior of Quincy, has a terrific chance to start immediately. Duke Dawson has one position locked up, but the position isn't full of depth. If Wilson were to earn a No. 1 spot, that would put Chauncey Gardner in the slot as the nickel.
Final AP Poll Ranking: 13
LSU wasn't content with one highly ranked safety. Ed Orgeron and Co. weren't done with two. No, the Tigers took three of the best available prospects at the position in 2017.
Final AP Poll Ranking: 12
Stanford often has a junior- and senior-heavy offensive line, but Walker Little might be too talented to keep out of the trenches.
Fellow 5-star Foster Sarell will also arrive in the summer—freshmen cannot enroll early at the school—and there's a solid chance both players secure a spot on the two-deep.
While the Cardinal have David Bright, Casey Tucker and A.T. Hall competing for two starting positions, not one of them was truly dominant in 2016. Little, especially given Stanford's extra-lineman packages, has a terrific opportunity to play meaningful snaps.
Final AP Poll Ranking: 11
Running back, however, needs usable depth. All-name team candidate Chuba Hubbard could provide it behind 1,000-yard rusher Justice Hill, as well as Jeff Carr and L.D. Brown.
An accomplished sprinter, Hubbard will also be a member of the university's track team. How—and perhaps whether—that speed translates to football in 2017 is an enticing prospect.
Final AP Poll Ranking: 10
For good reason, a prevailing theme of the 2017 offseason is wondering how Michigan will replace a massive amount of production on both sides of the ball. The pass-catching unit was particularly hard hit, losing Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson and Jake Butt.
Donovan Peoples-Jones is here to save the day.
Well, maybe not save, but the 5-star receiver joins a mostly inexperienced group. Mo Ways, Eddie McDoom and Kekoa Crawford have previously contributed on a small scale.
Even if Peoples-Jones isn't a starter at the beginning of the year, he might end the season that way.
Final AP Poll Ranking: 9
Barring what would be a surprise move by Notre Dame grad transfer Malik Zaire, the Badgers lack depth at the position. Alex Hornibrook is the obvious starter, but Coan is battling redshirt freshman Kare Lyles for the No. 2 spot.
Should Hornibrook not stay healthy in 2017, Coan could be called upon to guide the West Division favorites.
Final AP Poll Ranking: 8
Be prepared for a year of Cam Akers.
The 5-star running back enrolled early and garnered plenty of praise after an 87-yard performance in the spring game. Although he fumbled once, Akers displayed the power and speed that made him a highly coveted prospect and only increased the excitement for 2017.
Jacques Patrick had been Dalvin Cook's backup, but Florida State seems to have another Cook-like freshman star in Akers.
Once the 'Noles give him a regular role, Akers might not give it back.
Final AP Poll Ranking: 7
Entering the offseason, early playing time for Lamont Wade was certain. The unknown was how often Penn State would need the freshman because of the solid group at corner.
John Reid's potential season-ending injury changed that outlook, and Wade took advantage of the opportunity this spring.
"I think Lamont has been killing it at corner right now," safety Nick Scott said, per Land of 10's Corey Masisak. "He's very confident, and you love to see that in young guys. I think he's actually going to be really big for us next year."
Final AP Poll Ranking: 6
Any number of Ohio State freshmen could be highlighted. After all, Urban Meyer and his staff reeled in a handful of 5-stars and 13 more 4-stars from high school.
But while the plethora of incoming defensive backs—including JUCO transfer Kendall Sheffield—are important to the roster, J.K. Dobbins is already rising the depth chart. Dave Biddle of 247Sports noted Meyer said Dobbins has jumped to No. 3 behind Mike Weber and Demario McCall.
It's highly unlikely Weber loses his starting job, but how much will Dobbins factor in this season?
Final AP Poll Ranking: 5
Trey Sermon will not be mistaken for a speed back. But this bulldozer is a burden to bring down.
The 6'0", 215-pounder has some wiggle and burst—he wouldn't have been a 4-star without it—so Sermon is more than a goal-line specialist. However, that role looks tailor-made for the early enrollee, who picked up 73 yards on 13 carries in the spring game.
Though Oklahoma's running back rotation features four players, Sermon should be an integral part of it.
Final AP Poll Ranking: 4
Forced to pick one, though, Jones is a big-bodied target at a relative position of need. The Huskies lost John Ross III, and their receiving unit is unproven behind Dante Pettis, Chico McClatcher and, to a lesser degree, Aaron Fuller.
Jones, who enrolled early, doesn't have elite speed but is a smooth wideout. Washington need not rush him on to the field, but Jones could be an unsung piece of the 2017 team.
Final AP Poll Ranking: 3
According to Joey Kaufman of the Orange County Register, it only took half of USC's spring practice for Tuipulotu to demand a place in the first-string unit.
Kenny Bigelow Jr. will return from injury and compete for the spot, but the 6'3", 295-pound Tuipulotu might keep the oft-injured senior out of the starting lineup.
Final AP Poll Ranking: 2
Precision is paramount on Nick Saban's roster, and there wasn't a better route-runner in the 2017 class than Jeudy. He showed off that prowess during the spring game, catching five passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns to win MVP.
Jeudy might already be the No. 3 option at wideout behind Calvin Ridley and Robert Foster.
Final AP Poll Ranking: 1
Clemson has dreams of a second straight national championship. The program also has a quarterback dilemma.
Although head coach Dabo Swinney called Kelly Bryant the No. 1 exiting the spring, the junior didn't create major separation between himself and Zerrick Cooper or early enrollee Hunter Johnson. The battle will continue throughout the summer and into the fall.
A strong-armed 6'4" signal-caller, Johnson might not win the competition right away. But if the Tigers need a spark at the position, would Swinney consider turning to the freshman? Given the team's ceiling in 2017, the unknown is what is most intriguing.
All recruiting information via Scout. Stats from NCAA.com, cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.