College football is great because each player is given a limited 3-5-year window to be with a program and achieve all of their goals. While it is bittersweet when our favorite players graduate or advance to the NFL, each fall brings the excitement of approximately 25 new faces to cheer for.
It is much harder to make a big impact as a freshman in football than it is in basketball, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be done. Think of this past college football season without the exploits of Sammy Watkins, Braxton Miller, Marqise Lee and Giovanni Bernard, and you’ll realize that freshmen can have a major impact.
Which incoming freshmen will be most likely to make an immediate impact next season?
First, a few caveats to consider.
This is a list of only incoming freshmen (i.e. no redshirt freshmen).
Second, it isn’t necessarily a list of the best recruits, but the ones most likely to make an immediate impact. Immediate impact is based on position and which school they have declared to. It’s inexact since many haven’t declared a school yet, so if that is the case, I will list the school where they would have the most immediate impact.
ESPN Rank: 78
Yes, son of Barry Sanders is undeclared as of right now (though as you would guess, he has Oklahoma State on his short list). Oddly enough, on Rivals' "Who does this remind us of," Sanders is compared to Felix Jones—not his father.
In all seriousness though, Sanders is 5'10" and 190 pounds. His 40 time is not listed, but he is said to exhibit great acceleration, shiftiness and can stop and go (remind you of anyone?)
Sanders would have to work his way up the depth chart should he go to OSU. He's also considering Stanford (the only school he has visited), Florida State and Alabama.
ESPN Rank: 1
Committed: Florida State
Edwards is going to have to earn his job since the Seminoles are absolutely loaded at defensive end; they could have more good defensive ends than any other team has any position in the nation.
That said, if he's as good as advertised, Edwards will find his way on the field because you can never have too many good defensive linemen.
Edwards is 6'4" and 270 pounds, so he is already bigger than Brandon Jenkins, and the same size as Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine. All indications are that Edwards can already play at the next level and has the potential to be better with skill refinement and some more bulk.
ESPN Rank: 91
Eddie Lacy is going to be the starting running back next season (assuming Trent Richardson goes pro).
As we all know, however, one running back isn't enough for Alabama.
Yeldon has the chance to contribute early in his career the way Lacy has. Yeldon is rated the same as Lacy was and rated higher than Jalston Fowler, who was recruited as a linebacker.
In short, Yeldon has the chance to be the back-up running back right away (he or Demetrius Hart, depending on his recovery).
ESPN Rank: 2
There are about 40 offers out to Goldman, but he seems to have narrowed it down to Alabama, Auburn, Cal, Clemson, FSU, Miami and South Carolina. The world is the 6'4", 310-pound lineman's oyster, as he can go anywhere he pleases.
Goldman is athletic at 310 pounds and therefore could serve well as a nose tackle (Alabama). He could also serve as a more traditional 1-technique in a 4-3 defense (meaning he lines up between the center and guard). He is reported to be big enough to draw double-teams, but athletic enough to pressure the passer.
It isn't easy to step right in to the defensive tackle position, but if anyone can do it, it's Goldman. I'd like to see him as a nose tackle at Alabama, but he could probably make the most immediate impact at Cal, which loses both Trevor Guyton and Ernest Owusu along their line.
ESPN Rank: 90
Committed: Notre Dame
I'm not certain Shepard will make an immediate impact at Notre Dame, but he will certainly have an opportunity to do so. The Irish will lose Harrison Smith, Robert Blanton, Gary Gray and Jamoris Slaughter.
In other words, the secondary is accepting resumes.
Shepard is 6'1", 180 pounds and runs a 4.61 40-yard dash—very good measureables for a cornerback. He doesn't have elite speed, but his height makes up for it.
Shepard is the seventh-rated cornerback, and corners need to make great strides to contribute early on. That said, no one is walking into a better opportunity than Shepard. Don't be surprised if he is playing regularly by season's end.
ESPN Rank: 34
Neither Case McCoy nor David Ash stepped up and clearly established themselves as a dominant force at the quarterback position. So while it may be a stretch to say a true freshman will make a big splash at QB for the Texas Longhorns, stranger things have happened.
Brewer is considered intelligent with great field awareness for his age. He also has top-end arm strength. Both factors make it all the more likely that he contribute in some way for the Longhorns next season.
ESPN Rank: 5
Sure, Texas already has a great stable of young backs, but what's another one?
When you have the No. 1 running back in the class and a consensus top five player, you find ways to get him the ball.
Gray is short (5'9"), but well-built (190 pounds). As you would expect, he has great speed, clocking in at a 4.53.
Gray will have to compete with Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron for touches, but he offers a quicker, faster skill set than those two. Gray could eventually find his way into the rotation as a nice complement.
ESPN Rank: 10
Diggs is listed as an athlete and rightfully so.
At 6'0" and 180 pounds, the speedster (4.45) played both running back and wide receiver at the high school level. Given his size, he figures to play receiver at the next level.
Diggs has a few choices for colleges, but he could be an instant success at Virginia or Virginia Tech, given how both teams are losing some of their top receivers. Diggs is considering both schools.
ESPN Rank: 133
Dewey is the eighth-ranked QB in this year's class, and without a solid option in South Beach, he just might be the eventual starter.
Stephen Morris is the current backup for the Canes, but will be challenged by Dewey. Dewey is more highly touted than Morris was, and perhaps more importantly, this is the first quarterback recruited under Al Golden. It could be this is who Golden wants running the offense.
ESPN Rank: 24
Pitt figures to have Ray Graham, the nation's leading rusher when he went down with an injury, fully healthy next season.
Still, they could easily find a spot for Shell.
Shell is 5'11", 215 pounds and already has the build to be an every-down back. He is reported to be a very physical back with high top-end speed for his size.
ESPN Rank: 20
Kiel would have been by far and away the No. 1 player on this list had he decided to stay at Indiana. He has since rescinded his commitment (but apparently is still considering the Hoosiers). He is also interested in Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, LSU and Michigan.
Kiel would prove to be an intriguing land no matter where he goes. It could be that he is most likely to start at ND or LSU. I see James Rodgers starting over him at Vanderbilt, and if he landed at Michigan, it could be possible that he and Robinson share duties in a pass-run duo (something I wouldn't advocate, but it is possible).
It remains that Kiel would have the most immediate impact if he were to go to Indiana. Regardless, he is the No. 1 pure QB in the nation and could contribute early no matter where he goes.
ESPN Rank: 64
Hopper is going to have to earn his spot on the Clemson starting offense, but he has the skills to do so. He's a small 5'11" and 170 pounds, but he runs a 4.54 40-yard dash. Hopper is quick, elusive and makes people miss in space—not too much unlike his predecessor, Sammy Watkins.
Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins will be the big receivers at Clemson next season. In a spread offense, however, Hopper can be a very dangerous candidate as a third or fourth receiver. He will be much quicker than anyone who covers him.
ESPN Rank: NR
Foster isn't ranked by ESPN, but is thought of highly by Rivals (53 overall). Foster is used all over the field on offense and for good reason, too. The 5'11", 185-pounder is quick and shifty, and exhibits big-play potential. He is best used as a scatback who can catch the ball and make people miss in open space.
It appears as if Foster has narrowed his selection down to either Arizona State or Oregon. The Scottsdale native would probably make a more immediate impact if he were to stay home and go to ASU, as the Sun Devils graduate their three top receivers.
ESPN Rank: NR
Dillon is not ranked in the top 150 by ESPN, but given where he is headed, he has a chance to provide an immediate impact. Tyler Hansen is graduating this season, leaving freshman Nick Hirschman as the only player on the roster to have attempted a pass.
Dillon is 6'5", 190 pounds and runs a 4.6 40-yard dash. He figures to be an immediate challenger in the Colorado quarterback race.
ESPN Rank: 47
Committed: Florida State
Pender is 5'11" and 190 pounds, but he has the frame to easily add another 15 pounds of muscle.
Combine this with his shiftiness and acceleration, and you'll see why Noles fans are so excited about this prospect.
Florida State didn't have the best rushing attack this season, averaging only 3.47 yards per carry. Their lead rusher, Devonta Freeman, will be back, but it is my guess that they will try to work Pender in for his big-play potential, which will in turn take pressure off QB E.J. Manuel.
ESPN Rank: 22
I was hesitant to place an undeclared safety on this list, but all indications are that Thompson will be ready to contribute immediately wherever he ends up going.
Thompson is 6'1", 210 pounds and runs a 4.57 40-yard dash. He is said to have a great mix of physicality and speed, and with his long strides, he is capable of coming up in run support.
Currently, Thompson is expressing interest in ASU, Cal, ND, Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington.
USC had the worst pass-defense of those teams, but doesn't have any holes in their secondary, especially with T.J. McDonald announcing his return. Thompson would most likely have the greatest immediate impact at Cal or Notre Dame, given their vacancies. He'll eventually be making big plays wherever he lands.
ESPN Rank: 119
Committed: Texas A&M
Williams is a burner with his 4.37 speed. At 5'8" and 180 pounds, he is small and has questions surrounding his durability.
The good news is he won't have to be an every-down back quite yet. Texas A&M is losing Cyrus Gray, but the Aggies have Christine Michael returning. Williams could fit in as a nice complement and has the speed to take it to the house on any given play.
ESPN Rank: NR
It's hard to project the immediate impact of Davis since he has not yet committed to a university.
That said, whoever gets him will get a 5'10", 190-pound back who runs a 4.5 40. With that speed he will be an instant playmaker.
ESPN Rank: 6
Marshall is going to have to compete with last year's star recruit, Isaiah Crowell, for playing time, but given Crowell's track record of suspensions and attitude problems, nothing is a sure thing in the Dawgs' backfield.
Here is a sure thing: Marshall is a blazer with 4.43 speed and a solid frame (5'11", 195 pounds). He is already said to have a natural skill set that can only be aided by some increase in bulk.
With his speed, Marshall is also projected to have a future in the return game.
ESPN Rank: 60
Oklahoma has a great corps of receivers coming in, perhaps none more gifted than Neal. He is praised for his speed, quickness and acceleration, and due to this, he is great in screens and reverses.
Oklahoma will have a few openings with Ryan Broyles and Dejuan Miller gone. They should still be set with Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds, but Neal could contribute with his great speed and 6'0", 190-pound frame.
ESPN Ranking: 4
Committed: Ohio State
It's rare for a freshman to make a huge impact at defensive end (Jadeveon Clowney, a very highly touted recruit, led all freshman in sacks this year with six). Still, Spence has the skill set to instantly fit in with Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes.
Spence is 6'4", 240 pounds and has a quick first step that makes him very dangerous as a pass-rusher. If he adds 20 pounds over the next few years, then he can be the complete package.
Ohio State has all of their defensive line back, but it wasn't tremendously productive this season. The team totaled only 23 sacks on the year, 15 of which came from the defensive line. Spence probably won't start immediately, but don't be surprised to see him playing often by the time the season ends.
ESPN Rank: 23
Harvey-Clemons is an interesting prospect, to say the least. At 6'4" and 210 pounds, Harvey-Clemons can (and has) played at wide receiver, safety and outside linebacker.
He figures to translate to an outside linebacker at the next level, but the fact that he has played wide receiver in high school speaks to his athleticism. He already has the speed and quickness to cover the field—he will just have to bulk up a bit.
Still, I like Harvey-Clemons to contribute to a team early on. Out of the teams that he is interested in (and there are several), he would most likely make an immediate impact at Kentucky. He could be used as a hybrid at schools such as Alabama before he fills out and finds a permanent home at OLB.
ESPN Rank: 8
Another undeclared defensive back, Collins is a 6'0", 210-pound defensive back who played all the secondary positions in high school. His skill set and size will most likely have him play at safety.
Collins is being recruited by several high-profile universities, but he could be an immediate fit at Texas A&M. The Aggies are already thin at defensive back and struggled in pass-defense last year.
ESPN Rank: 133
Committed: Texas A&M
Addison played quarterback in high school, but his small frame (5'10", 185 pounds) will most likely have him move to wide receiver.
Addison is praised for his quickness and is projected to be great in the return game. It sounds like he would be a perfect fit for Kevin Sumlin's new offense. Addison should fit in as a slot receiver immediately.
ESPN Rank: 110
Committed: Florida State
Bracy is one of the faster players in the entire nation, clocking in at 4.39. His small size (5'9", 168 pounds) will find him at either wide receiver or cornerback, with a slight chance of becoming a third-down running back.
FSU already has around four receivers coming back who made significant contributions this season, but that doesn't mean Bracy won't find his way into the rotation. FSU could use him out of the backfield to offer a small change of pace to starter Devonta Freeman.
One way or another, with his blinding speed, Bracy figures to contribute.
ESPN Rank: 82
Committed: South Carolina
Roland is listed as an athlete, but will most likely play wide receiver (the other option is safety).
Roland doesn't have great top-end speed, but he is heralded for his route-running, his quickness and his ability to get extra yardage due to his long frame.
South Carolina struggled in the passing game this season and could use as much help as they can get, especially if they lose Alshon Jeffery. They will most likely remain a run-first offense, but there's no reason to believe Roland can't contribute right away.
ESPN Rank: 141
Brian Kimbrow played running back in high school, but at 5'7" and 165 pounds, he will most likely get a look at wide receiver and defensive back (in addition to returner; he flashed 4.44 speed).
Because of his versatility, Kimbrow could provide an instant impact. Vanderbilt is set at starter with running back Zac Stacy, but they could always use a backup or a viable third receiver. I expect to see Kimbrow at the latter.
ESPN Rank: 101
The prized recruit of Tennessee's class, Bowles will give the Vols another solid threat in the passing game.
He won't be asked to be the No. 1 right away as long as Da'rick Rogers is suiting up, but at 6'1" and 205 pounds, Bowles is going to be a big No. 2 target for Tyler Bray. With Rogers, Bowles and TE Mychal Rivera, the Vols can be much improved in the passing game next year.
ESPN Rank: NR
Stanford is going to make a long trip from his hometown of Cincinnati to Eugene, Ore., and he's going to make sure it isn't for naught.
Stanford is one of the highest ranked wide receivers to come to Oregon in years. While the Ducks will always be a run-first team under Chip Kelly, QB Darron Thomas has shown an improvement in his passing. With LaMichael James leaving next season, we may see the Ducks throwing the ball more.
Reports of Stanford's height vary. ESPN has him at 6'3", while Rivals has him at 6'5"! If we take the average, we'll say that Stanford is 6'4", 185 pounds and runs a 4.73. Imagine if he can put on 15 pounds to go with that speed.
Stanford should fit in to Oregon immediately. He will be great in the red zone and has potential to be a solid possession receiver. His playing time may come down to his run-blocking.
ESPN Rank: 86
Powe has nearly all the measurables necessary to become a big-time wide receiver. He's tall, long, fast, has great hands and a great vertical.
He's 6'2" with a long frame and a large vertical, and could become a big threat in the red zone and on jump balls.
Cal has a great receiver in Keenan Allen, but not much more after that. Allen is tall himself, and the two could provide an effective 1-2 punch as QB Zach Maynard slowly improves.
ESPN Rank: NR
I'm perplexed as to why Williams is not in the top 150 of ESPN's rankings. He's 6'2", 205 pounds and is a great route-runner.
Williams doesn't have great speed, but his size may be able to make up for that. If Auburn can utilize him to develop mismatches and get him on an undersized defender, Williams will be tough to stop.
Auburn wasn't great in the passing game, but they have most of their receivers coming back next year. None have Williams' size, however, and he could develop into a nice red zone threat.
ESPN Rank: 69
Committed: Notre Dame
Darby is a football player with track speed (4.31-40) and could lineup next to George Atkinson III to return kicks for the Irish next season.
Darby will end up playing running back or defensive back. He is more likely to make a bigger immediate impact at running back. He could prove to be a nice complement to starter Cierre Wood, and his speed will be used somehow on the field.
ESPN Rank: 106
Pittman could provide instant relief to a Gators team that struggled offensively this past season. Even with Charlie Weis' departure and thus the departure of the pro-style offense, Pittman should find plenty of opportunities to contribute.
Pittman is 6'0", 195 pounds and runs a 4.64. While he may lack the blazing speed, he is reported to be quick and agile, and uses his shiftiness and size to break big plays. He is an intermediate receiver who can instantly play for the Gators.
ESPN Rank: 140
Oklahoma is having a large influx of talent at the wide receiver position, which is fitting since they lose a lot. Woods is one of many fresh faces who will have an opportunity to compete right from the get-go.
Woods is 6'1", 180 pounds and runs a 4.5 40. In a spread offense such as Oklahoma's, he could be a viable fourth receiver. If he puts on some weight he can match up with the bigger defensive backs and outside linebackers, and he already has the speed to burn them.
ESPN Rank: 46
Jean-Louis will be joining a talented receiving corps in South Beach, but with 4.59 speed, don't be surprised to see him as a third receiver early on in the season.
Jean-Louis is reported to have great route-running skills with great hands, but he clearly has the speed to stretch the field.
Sounds good to me.
ESPN Rank: 9
I feel that Williams will most likely end up at wide receiver. At 6'3" and 205 pounds he is almost too big to play cornerback, but too small to play outside linebacker. He could also end up at safety, given his propensity for a big hit, but with a 4.67 40, he will most likely end up at receiver.
As was the case with Cooper, Williams is walking into a scenario where Alabama will need help at wide receiver. Williams has the potential to burn teams deep, but he also runs excellent short routes. Williams can fit into Alabama's offense nicely.
ESPN Rank: 44
Committed: Texas Tech
Wheeler is already ready to contribute at the next level. He is 6'1", 180 pounds and runs a 4.4 40. It is reported that he needs to improve his short and intermediate routes, but clearly he is already a deep threat.
Texas Tech returns a nice stable of receivers, but with the way they throw the football around, I think they'll find room for Wheeler and his 4.4 speed.
ESPN Rank: 41
Agholar is reportedly 6'1" and runs a 4.59 40-yard dash.
If reports of his height are true, then he does in fact possess a rare combination of size and speed.
Agholar is currently an all-purpose player on offense, but will most likely play wide receiver at the next level with an outside chance of playing safety.
He is currently interested in too many schools (and has too many interested in him) to narrow it down. Whoever lands him, however, will get an already polished athlete who can instantly contribute in two facets of the offense.
ESPN Rank: NR
Treggs falls just outside the ESPN 150, but is rated the same overall ranking as counterpart Darius Powe.
Treggs offers less size (5'11", 160 pounds), but more speed than Powe (4.6), so he would be utilized in a different fashion.
Both Powe and Treggs can contribute early. Keenan Allen will still be the go-to-guy in the offense, and with his speed, Treggs could be a favorable matchup for the Bears.
ESPN Rank: NR
Committed: Michigan State
Burbridge is the No. 1 recruit for the Spartans this season. Despite being ranked as the 40th-best receiver by ESPN, Rivals has him as the 100th-best player overall this season.
Here are the facts: Burbridge is 6'1", 175 pounds and runs a 4.4 40. That is a tremendous blend of size and speed.
He will instantly fit in with the Spartans, a team that will lose their top four receivers from 2011. The leading receiver they have returning is Keith Mumphrey, who caught two passes for 39 yards this year.
Burbridge will play instantly and could be a threat with his speed.
ESPN Rank: 113
Stanford is quietly putting together a solid recruiting class, and one of the major stars is Alex Carter.
Carter is 6'1", 190 pounds and runs a 4.4. He is currently being recruited as a safety, but might eventually find his way to receiver.
Stanford is losing most of their talent at wide receiver, so Carter could provide the most instant value there should he make the switch to the offensive side.
ESPN Rank: 81
Cooper is 6'1", 185 pounds and has a tremendous vertical that makes him a great red zone target.
If there is a knock on him it is his diminutive frame. This will be solved eventually, but if he can't put on some size immediately, then his production will be limited.
Even without adding bulk, though, Cooper can be dangerous on the goal line.
Alabama is losing Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks, so they could use someone to step in (and if they lose Richardson, they will lose their top four receivers). They're going to need as many targets as possible, and Cooper is likely to help out early.
ESPN Rank: 35
Johnson is 6'0", 180 pounds and is already considered well-built and possessive of an impressive skill set.
Because of this, he can contribute early on in Austin.
In addition to blazing speed, Johnson is a great route-runner with quick feet. If he puts on even more bulk he will be a terror.
Texas has their three top receivers returning, but none were tremendous standouts. Mike Davis, the team's leading receiver, figures to be the top threat again (and went to the same high school as Johnson). There's no reason that Johnson won't be able to contribute right away, however, given the state of Texas' lackluster passing game.
ESPN Rank: 82
Johnson is 6'1", but plays larger since he has a long wingspan. With 4.44 speed, he can be a nightmare to cover deep.
Combine that with the fact that he is a terrific route-runner with great hands, and you can see how Johnson will contribute at the next level.
LSU was not overly loaded with talent at wide receiver this season (not that they threw that often). The Tigers will most likely have Rueben Randle and Odell Beckham Jr. back, but if you can use a guy with 4.44 speed as your third wide receiver, you do it.
ESPN Rank: 30
Texas had trouble throwing the ball this past season, so they should be excited about landing one of the better receiver prospects in the nation.
Jones is 6'2", 195 pounds and flashes 4.69 speed. His high top-end speed and size make him a big deep threat, but he isn't overly quick or shifty.
The Longhorns have their three top receivers returning next year, but Jones is already a larger target than all of them. He could instantly become Texas' deep threat.
Oh, and that's a pretty impressive catch, no?
ESPN Rank: 149
Committed: Notre Dame
Greenberry is 6'2", 185 pounds and runs a 4.6 40-yard dash. We know that Notre Dame is going to lose Michael Floyd, and they will throw the ball frequently.
Greenberry instantly offers a bigger target than Theo Riddick and T.J. Jones. He can instantly fit in as a third or fourth receiver behind one or both of those men and TE Tyler Eifert.
ESPN Rank: NR
Cowan isn't ranked in the ESPNU 150, but he has all the measureables to contribute early.
He is 6'1", 175 pounds and runs a 4.85 40-yard dash. While that isn't burner speed, Cowan is quick and and fluid, making him more elusive than his 40-time would indicate.
Now, put him in Arkansas' pass-happy system,—and consider that the Hogs are losing Greg Childs, Joe Adams and Jarius Wright—and you'll see that Cowan has the potential to contribute early.
ESPN Rank: 74
Committed: Notre Dame
ND got itself a nice duo of receivers with Ferguson and the aforementioned Greenberry. Ferguson is slightly shorter than Greenberry (6'1"), but is bigger (205 pounds). If he puts on about 15 pounds in muscle, Ferguson can resemble Dez Bryant.
And just like Greenberry, Ferguson can make an instant impact.
ESPN Rank: 21
Earlier we mentioned the potential Eddie Williams had if he were to wind up at wide receiver for the Tide.
Black is a prototypical wide receiver and should fit in nicely with Alabama.
Black is 5'11" and 170 pounds. While not overly big, he is fast (4.57), but more importantly, he's quick. Scouts have been impressed with his route-running and shiftiness, which makes him very difficult to tackle in space.
With his great acceleration, Black can also be a threat in the return game, and Alabama will be in need of one with the departure of Marquis Maze.
Expect Black to compete for the job.
ESPN Rank: 3
At No. 3 in the ESPN rankings, Green-Beckham is the highest undeclared offensive prospect in the nation.
Do you think anyone can use a 6'6", 220-pound receiver who runs a 4.43?
There are offers from no less than 20 universities right now, none of which Green-Beckham has expressed more interest in than any other (he's from Missouri, if that means anything).
To me, it doesn't matter where DGB ends up—he will be an instant success. Just remember that I coined the name "DGB" when you're seeing this guy play on Sundays in a few years.