Top 25 Impact Freshmen For 2010 College Football Season
National Signing Day is in the rearview mirror. It's now time to accept that college football isn't starting for another seven months.
With a record number of talented players exiting for the draft early, plus the number of commitments who chose rebuilding programs over entrenched powerhouses, we should see a multitude of last week's signees contributing early and often.
With that in mind, here are the 25 most likely players to contribute based on their team's needs and their skill sets. Take a look.
Matt Elam, ATH, Florida
Florida's secondary will need a boost after losing Joe Haden and Major Wright. Elam could see time in the defensive backfield if he proves to be the best of the Gators' top-notch haul at cornerback and safety.
But Gator fans are more excited about Elam's projected talents on special teams. As a punt and kick returner, Elam's speed and escapability are already the stuff of legend.
Brandon James has moved on, and Elam will be gunning to break most or all of the former Gator's records.
If he doesn't get the start on opening kick, I'd be surprised.
Michael Dyer, RB, Auburn
Dyer, a five-star prospect, joins JUCO transfer Cameron Newton as part of Auburn's retooled offensive backfield.
Gus Malzahn made Ben Tate into a 1,200-yard rusher, and he can do the same or better with Dyer. Dyer is a compact, durable rusher with better-than-average speed, who should remind fans of former Iowa Hawkeye and current New York Jet Shonn Greene.
Rivals also likes his pass-catching skills. That, coupled with his resilience and conditioning, should mean that Malzahn and co. will be running wild and running up the score when the Tigers' new crew debuts next year.
Jeff Luc, MLB, Florida State
It might be more pertinent to say that a defensive back like LaMarcus Joyner will have more of an impact for Florida State this fall, considering how poorly FSU's secondary played throughout the season.
But in the end, middle linebackers are the most crucial element of a defense, and Jeff Luc is by far the best in the class.
He enrolled early at Florida State, putting his recruitment to an end early and raising the chances he'll see the field in the fall exponentiallly.
It might sound like cause for concern to be starting a true freshman at middle linebacker given the enormous responsibilities. But when he's as prepared, as pumped and as physically gifted as Luc is, there's no need for reservations.
Demar Dorsey, Michigan
Demar Dorsey would contribute immediately anywhere.
The Michigan Wolverines' losses came down to lack of talent in the secondary.
That means Dorsey, a safety/cornerback prospect, will not only contribute immediately, but could be the starter at corner or nickelback on opening day. Many are calling for him to play center field.
He's a hard hitter who can track the ball through the air and cover a lot of ground with his speed. Michigan is projecting him at cornerback, but I see him manning the strong safety position by his sophomore year.
In addition, the Michigan coaches and the fanbase are already talking about mixing Dorsey in on offense, a la Charles Woodson.
Rich Rodriguez has been good, not great, at getting the most out of his young talent.
In that regard, Dorsey will be an interesting prospect to watch. He could be entering Ann Arbor just as the offense is gelling. With his gamebreaking speed, He could be another player who stretches the field on Big Ten defenses.
A backfield of Tate Forcier, Denard Robinson, and redshirt freshman Fitzgerald Touissant (who tore it up on the scout team, according to Michigan insiders), plus Martavious Odoms in the slot and Dorsey and Roy Roundtree on the outside...well, they'll score a touchdown or two next year.
Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE/DT, UCLA
UCLA needed an immediate breakout prospect on the defensive line after losing Brian Price early to the NFL draft, and they found him in Owamagbe Odighizuwa.
The fringe five-star athlete joins UCLA's other touted recruit, Cassius Marsh (a possibly early contributor himself), in the Bruins' top 10 class, possibly top five if you only gauge defense.
Owamagbe can jump into the mix immediately for playing time. Though he's not a true nose tackle like Price was, he will help the Bruins improve their gap soundness.
His get off the ball quickness could also force a few more errant passes for Pac-10 interception leader Rahim Moore to get after next year.
Jake Heaps, QB, BYU
I got in trouble for not including Heaps in the list of the top-50 recruits, and or the right reason—BYU just doesn't interest me as a college football school.
But it wouldn't be fair to leave Heaps off this list, since he has a chance to challenge for the Cougars QB spot vacated by Max Hall.
Heaps was tops in many of the camps he attended and appeared the most well-rounded and ready quarterback at the Under Armour All-American game. He actually made the game interesting with a variety of accurate, on-time throws.
Hall's backup, Brendan Gaskins, also leaves Provo upon graduation. The other backup, Riley Nelson, is a converted safety. That leaves the depth chart wide open for heap's taking.
2010 could be the beginning of a very successful career for him. The Cougars could challenge for the Mountain West title again, and maybe bust the BCS a time or two.
Woods, Ambles, Prater, WRs, USC
Though it may have had to do more with starting a true freshman at quarterback, the Trojans seemed to lack their usual dynamism at the wide receiver position last year. Ronald Johnson battled injuries, and Damian Williams was on and off all year.
USC gets a major boost next year, landing three of the top five wide receivers in the class in Kyle Prater, Robert Woods and Markeith Ambles (pictured).
Prater is the hulking red-zone threat; Woods is the burner, and Ambles is the athletic flex receiver. It's a perfect X-Y-Z combination to bolster Barkley's production next year, not to mention TE Xavier Grimble, who will be a beast on underneath routes.
The Trojans could return to their place as the best passing offense in the league after a brief hiatus.
Demarco Cobbs, ATH/S, Texas
Texas has impact freshmen across the board. Another Longhorn cracks this list despite my efforts at keeping things universal.
Demarco Cobbs fills the only other position of real need for the Longhorns' defense next year besides defensive end. By losing DB Earl Thomas a full two years early to the draft, the Longhorns' secondary took a blow. He was tied with Clemson's Deandre McDaniel for most interceptions by a player with 10.
With Cobbs' speed and talent at reading plays in the secondary (he was Rivals' No. 3 safety, No. 2 by Scout), he should factor immediately into the depth chart at defensive back, improve the level of play in practice and possibly crack the two-deep at nickelback or even safety.
Right now, he may not be as good as Thomas was at baiting quarterbacks into bad throws with off coverage. But his physical play and awareness could be a crucial element in keeping the Longhorns' defense a top-5 unit for the third consecutive year.
Tyler Smith, QB, Maryland
The other immediate impact quarterback I see contributing is Tyler Smith of Maryland.
At any other program, he'd need a redshirt year to bulk up his mealy frame. But the Terrapins need life on offense and lose starting QB Chris Turner to graduation.
Smith will have to beat out Turner's backup, Jamarr Robinson, but he enrolls with much more hype and a cannon for an arm. He'll push Robinson in camp, which always helps. I like him to take over if Robinson is losing games and another Terrapins season is facing extinction.
Think Joe Flacco, and you're not too far off.
Keenan Allen, S, Cal
Keenan Allen is so good at safety, he probably would have made an impact at Alabama as a freshman, and they're the top defensive secondary school in the nation.
At Cal, he'll assist the Bears' dreadful defensive backfield immediately. The Bears ere 111th (out of 120) in pass defense last year and suffered major breakdowns against USC, Oregon and Utah in their bowl game.
Making up for the loss of NFL-caliber CB Syd'Quan Thompson will be difficult, and one man can only do so much.
But Allen should benefit from the Bears' improvements on the defensive line—Chris Martin and Gabe King, the Bears' other impact freshmen at DE. A better pass rush leads to poorer throws, and Allen has the speed and range to make quarterbacks pay for those mistakes.
Robert Crisp, OT, NC State
Robert Crisp walks into a difficult situation at NC State.
The in-stater stayed home on his decision for the Wolf Pack, which is honorable. But he faces back-to-back losing seasons for coach Tom O'Brien and co. He will be protecting Russell Wilson's blind side in games that will probably all go down to the wire.
Still, he should certainly see the field immediately as a freshman (he was the second best tackle in the class according to Rivals behind all-universe OT Seantrel Henderson) and be a starter for as long as he sees fit.
Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
Jeffcoat was the No. 2 defensive end behind Florida's Ronald Powell. Though he may not see as much production as Powell, he'll be as integral to keeping Texas' pass rush top-notch.
Losing Sergio Kindle and Brian Orakpo in back-to-back years creates an immediate vacancy on the D-line. Jeffcoat and, slightly-less touted but no less talented, DE Reggie Wilson will battle all year for time.
Unless Wilson is better in camp, Jeffcoat should be option one on third down substitutions. He could be an every-down or every-other-down end by year's end if his upside is as steep as suggested.
Florida's New Defensive Line
All three of Florida's top prospects should contribute immediately.
Sharrif Floyd might have been the only one, since defensive tackles can't just outmuscle competition at the next level, but he's arguably the more refined prospect of the three.
Ronald Powell and Dominique Easley will either share strongside duty, or Powell could become a fine weakside end as well, considering his ability to defend against the run.
The Gators lose Carlos Dunlap and middle linebacker Brandon Spikes, giving them an immediate need both for pass rushers and athletes to close down on the run.
These three players each bring something different to the table. I don't think Florida will have the luxury of redshirting for any, unless they want to bulk up Powell or refine Easley's technique.
We should see a steady dose of each by the time SEC action is underway.
Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina
Marcus Lattimore enters a perfect storm at South Carolina.
Steve Spurrier's most seasoned offense, featuring breakouts Alshon Jeffrey and Tori Gurley at the wide receiver position and Stephen Garcia at QB, lacks a feature back to anchor its running game and provide explosiveness.
Lattimore is the most complete and prepared running back this class has to offer.
He'll compete for carries with the three running backs who split duty last year. I can't believe he won't be the starter by mid-year barring injury, just in time for the Gamecocks to make a run at the SEC East.
Da'Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee
Da'Rick Rogers is without question the most complete wide receiver in this league.
He doesn't excel at any one thing to the detriment of something else. He's fast, can muscle defenders at the line and catches everything thrown his way.
He's a smaller version of Brandon Marshall, hopefully without the character issues.
Tennessee better get its ducks in a row at quarterback. The Vols signed four quarterbacks to push presumed starter Nick Stephens.
If they do, Rogers could easily be a Freshman All-American.
Seantrel Henderson, OT, USC
If the NCAA's ruling doesn't turn him away, Seantrel Henderson should be able to step in for the Trojans on either the right or left side.
USC loses All-Conference tackle Charles Brown to the NFL draft, so the immediate need is there.
Though Henderson sloughed off his appearance in the Army Bowl, his intangibles and frame alone will put him in the mix to join the Trojans' line by mid-year, if he doesn't start immediately.
If he ends up at Ohio State, I'm not so sure he sees playing time without some, er, attidunal adjustments. Jim Tressel suffers no prima donnas.
Anthony Barr, ATH, UCLA
I can't say for certain in what capacity, but four-star ATH Anthony Barr should be able to contribute immediately for a Bruins team that has really lacked an identity (or, at least, a favorable one) for the first three years of the Neuheisel Experiment.
Barr is a versatile athlete who isn't a pure running back, H-back, tight end or wide receiver. He could well end up on defense, or some combination of all five. He's big, has great catching hands and above average speed.
Much depends on how he fills out and in what position Norm Chow or Coach Neuheisel chooses to play him in. His playmaking ability will be the difference in a few close games for the Bruins as they make their steady climb back to Pac-10 relevance.
Khairi Fortt, OLB, Penn State
I like Fortt to arrive and contribute immediately for Nittany Lions defense over Mike Hull, an outstanding middle linebacker prospect who might still need to gain some polish in Penn State's defensive schemes,
The Lions have really suffered from a few early entries in the Draft over the past few years. Navorro Bowman was the most recent and costly example.
Fortt is the most developed prospect at outside linebacker in this class (probably a few clicks ahead of Jordan Hicks). He'll push to play early in summer camp.
With any injuries to the players ahead of him, Fortt should see the field, if his natural athleticism and toughness doesn't crack the two deep out of the gate.
Lache Seastrunk, RB, Oregon
Great running backs are nothing new at Oregon, nor is the spread n' shred scheme that puts them in position to succeed.
That scheme relies on getting its players some open lanes, and Seastrunk's speed and skills in space should mask some durability and strength issues.
Even if he's as good as advertised, topping LaMichael James' outstanding 1,500+ yard freshman season in backup duty will be a tall order.
Seastrunk will have to capitalize on the less than 20 carries he'll receive a game just as James, who promises a similar skill set, did last year.
A backfield of Masoli, James and Seastrunk could be the best the Pac-10 has seen since the days of Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and Lendale White. Uncle Kelly will find a way to get the most out of each player while keeping the competition healthy.
DeMarcus Milliner, DB/CB, Alabama
Like Florida's Matt Elam, Alabama DB DeMarcus Milliner enters a situation that seems to favor early contributions.
The Tide secondary is reloading after losing Kareem Jackson, Javier Arenas and S Justin Woodall to graduation/early entry. The depth chart on BamaOnline, the Tide Rivals site, seems to indicate that their backups, Marquis Jackson, Ali Sharrief and Chris Rogers, were seniors as well (Bama fans certainly will correct me if I'm wrong).
That leaves a pretty thin depth chart in the secondary. Though I'm sure Nick Saban has a succession plan in place (one that includes former five-star grab Dre Kirkpatrick at corner), the other positions could be up for grabs.
Milliner is a rangy back with great speed and change of direction. He's also solid on returns. If he doesn't see the field at corner or nickelback early, he could jump in on kickoffs and keep the Tide dangerous in every facet of the game.
Spencer Ware, ATH/RB, LSU
Ware combines the strength of Jacob Hester and the durability of Charles Scott with his own brand of versatility. He is a truly exciting prospect for an LSU offense that has finished two straight years on the verge of breaking out.
Jordan Jefferson now has a reliable underneath man who also boasts a skill set that creates mismatches on linebackers. That should make it easier to get single coverage on all those giants LSU puts at wideout.
If next year is the year the Tigers capitalize on the talent they've been accruing, Ware will be a crucial part of the perfect storm. He'll have the quietest 1,000 yard, 10 touchdown season in the country and still win freshman All-American, if all goes well.