Bold Predictions for Top College Football Freshmen in 2017

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJuly 11, 2017

Bold Predictions for Top College Football Freshmen in 2017

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    Every prospect a college football team signs is expected to contribute, but some standout freshmen grasp the learning curve far quicker than the majority of their peers.

    For many of the nation's top recruits, the expectation is for them to adapt immediately and produce during their first year on campus. And we placed emphasis on identifying immediate-impact pieces listed near the top of Scout's positional rankings from 2017 while also featuring a handful of the best overall prospects.

    However, big numbers and major snaps in year one are not always realistic outlooks. Inexperience, depth or a combination of both will relegate several prized players to small-sample successand in some cases (not approached here) near-zero roles.

    Redshirt freshmen were not considered for the list. Only players from the recruiting class of 2017 are included.

Hunter Johnson, QB, Clemson

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    Prediction: Named starter after Auburn game

    Clemson is still searching for Deshaun Watson's successor, and the competition may linger into the regular season.

    But once Dabo Swinney watches Hunter Johnson command the offense during an important home victory over Auburn in Week 2, the 10th-year coach will put his trust in the first-year quarterback.

    Johnson, the No. 5 quarterback prospect in 2017, enrolled in January and participated in spring practice. He entered the summer behind Kelly Bryant on the depth chart, but a strong fall camp will result in Johnson securing an early opportunity to share snaps.

    And that'll be all he needs.

Marlon Tuipulotu, DT, USC

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    Prediction: Leads D-tackles in TFL

    Marlon Tuipulotu flipped his commitment to USC late in the process, and the Trojans sure are happy to have the 4-star defensive tackle.

    "You don't see too many 300-pound men with his athleticism and his quick twitch," head coach Clay Helton said, according to Zach Helfand of the Los Angeles Times. "It's just evident on the tape. It shows up each and every day."

    USC returns Rasheem Greenwho led interior players with 6.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage in 2016—as well as Kenny Bigelow Jr., Malik Dorton and Josh Fatu. But none of them will record more tackles for loss than Tuipulotu, who will start immediately and be a popular freshman All-America pick.

Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama

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    Prediction: More 100-yard games than Calvin Ridley

    Calvin Ridley always makes an impression in the box score, best evidenced by a 30-game streak with at least one reception. And after ArDarius Stewart's departure, the wideout will probably lead Alabama in all receiving categories as a junior.

    However, he's only topped the 100-yard plateau six times in 30 games. Jerry Jeudy will crest the century mark more often.

    Jeudy made headlines with a two-touchdown, MVP performance in Alabama's spring game, but his ability to make contested catches is what was most impressive. He's already a refined route-runner, and that prowess will be on display this fall.

    Ridley will be consistent, while Jeudy (and Robert Foster) can be explosive. That's a great combination for the Crimson Tide.

Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR, Michigan

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    Prediction: Leads team in receiving

    Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson graduated, so Michigan has a bunch of experience and production to replace out wide.

    Say hello to Donovan Peoples-Jones, Big Ten.

    The 5-star freshman should be a day-one starter for the Wolverines, given their key returning players have mostly played in the slot. Peoples-Jones enrolled early and garnered praise this spring.

    "Donovan is a special, special person and player," offensive coordinator Tim Drevno said, per Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press. "He is really locked in, really focused and really wants it. Very mature, has a very good concentration level. He wants to be a student of the game, he wants to do it right and wants to do it at a high level. ... There's no letdown. He is going."

Anthony Hines III, LB, Texas A&M

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    Prediction: Third on team in tackles

    Largely thanks to Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall, Texas A&M ranked among the nation's leaders in tackles for loss in 2016. More plays will sneak into the second level this year, though.

    When that happens, the Aggies will need a reliable player to end the threat. Anthony Hines III has that ability, and mediocre depth at linebacker has created the opportunity.

    Hines, who according to MaxPreps twice posted 200-plus tackles in high school, will establish himself atop the depth chart in September. Armani Watts and Otaro Alaka will outpace Hines in tackles, but the freshman won't be far behind.

Lamont Wade, CB, Penn State

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    Prediction: Leads team in interceptions

    In 2016, Penn State's secondary lacked playmakers. In fact, the only two players with multiple interceptions were linebackers.

    Lamont Wade is ready to change that.

    Although he probably won't start, the 5-star corner will be a regular in the defensive backfield alongside Grant Haley, Christian Campbell and Amani Oruwariye. John Reid's expected season-ending injury all but solidified that notion.

    Even in a situational role, Wade will take advantage of a few errant throws and tipped passes. And with four interceptions, he'll even become the program's first player to reach the mark since 2008.

Jaelan Phillips, DE, UCLA

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    Prediction: Three multisack games

    UCLA needs to replace the production of Takkarist McKinley, who notched 18 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in 2016. Jaelan Phillips won't match those numbers, but effort won't be the issue.

    Once rated No. 275 nationally, the 5-star soared to No. 5 in the country when his signing day finally arrived. That type of rise doesn't happen without relentless determination, and Phillips' flat-out desire is truly on display every time he hits the field.

    Does energy translate to excellence? Of course not. But Phillipseven if he doesn't begin the season as a starterwill end the campaign as a first-stringer. He won't be consistent, but a few multisack performances will show Phillips' potential.

Walker Little, OT, Stanford

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    Prediction: Starter by midseason

    Foster Sarell attracted much of the recruiting attention, but Walker Little looks like an early contributor for Stanford.

    A 6'7", 310-pound monster, Little will compete for a No. 1 job this fall. Though the Cardinal return experienced players in Casey Tucker, A.T Hall and David Bright, none have performed well enough to be considered definite starters.

    Stanford's willingness to use extra-lineman packages will provide weekly playing time for Little, and his effectiveness in limited snaps will lead to a full-time role in 2017.

Cam Akers, RB, Florida State

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    Prediction: Supplants Jacques Patrick, falls short of 1,000 yards

    That rumble you felt in early April was the Cam Akers hype train gaining steam and thundering down the tracks.

    During the spring game, the 5-star tallied a team-best 87 yards. "He did a nice job today," Jacques Patrick, his top competition at running back, said of Akers, per Curt Weiler of the Orlando Sentinel. "He's still learning, but you can see the potential."

    And that potential will once again draw headlines when Akers hops the junior on the depth chart midway through the season. However, between the time-share with Patrick and a frustrating offensive line, the freshman won't reach the coveted 1,000-yard barrier.

    The future of Florida State's backfield is in terrific hands, but Akers will need another year before joining the nation's elite.

Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

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    Prediction: Multiple 100-yard showings

    At nearly every program in 2017, Najee Harris would be too talented to keep off the field. Alabama, though, is one of few exceptions.

    Bo Scarbrough is poised to become the featured runner, while 1,000-yard back Damien Harris highlights a backup unit that includes Josh Jacobs and B.J. Emmons. The freshman Harris can climb the depth chart, but there's a long way to the top.

    Still, he should be a productive piece in limited action. Nick Saban's squad is bound to put together a couple of blowouts, and Harris will capitalize on those opportunities with explosive gains.

    The glimpse into the future Alabama opponents get, they won't like.


    All recruiting information via Scout. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.