Bold Predictions for Top College Football Freshmen in 2016

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistJuly 15, 2016

Bold Predictions for Top College Football Freshmen in 2016

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    Michigan DT Rashan Gary
    Michigan DT Rashan GaryCredit: 247Sports

    Hundreds of new players will be joining college football teams this summer, but a select number will draw far more attention than the rest. These are the freshmen who were at the top of the national recruiting rankings for 2016, the blue-chip prospects every program coveted, but only a few could haul in.

    With the increasing push to play freshmen right away, and not just in a limited role, there's even more pressure on the top prospects to live up to their hype. Many meet or exceed expectations in that first season, but others do not.

    How will these top freshmen fare in 2016? Using 247Sports' final rankings as a guide, we've got some bold predictions for the exploits of the top 10 players (listed alphabetically) this fall.

Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State

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    Credit: 247Sports

    The younger brother of one of Ohio State's best defensive players ever, Nick Bosa will want to make his own mark with the Buckeyes in his first season. This will start with developing his own signature post-sack reaction instead of co-opting Joey Bosa's famed shrug.

    He'll end up getting to do that more than the 7.5 times Joey did as a freshman in 2013, ending up as the Buckeyes' sack leader this season despite not being a full-time starter. With Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis ahead of him, Nick will start out as a third-down specialist who allows the 6'4”, 265-pounder to pin his ears back and go full speed toward the quarterback.

    Look for Nick to have a role similar to how Alabama used Tim Williams in 2015, but as the year goes on, he'll start getting cycled in more on first and second down to let him develop his run-stopping instincts. By the time the postseason comes around, he might be on the field every down.

Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn

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    Credit: 247Sports

    For the second year in a row, Auburn's highest-rated recruit plays on the defensive line. Byron Cowart managed just six tackles in 12 games for the Tigers last year, but they're hoping for much more this time around when Derrick Brown makes his debut.

    Instead, Brown will fall victim to Auburn's tremendous depth up front.

    Despite "impressing" his coaches and teammates since arriving in late May, as AL.com's Tom Green noted, Brown heads into his first season at a disadvantage because of the amount of experience the Tigers already have on the line. Montravius Adams and Dontavius Russell are entrenched as starters while seniors Devaroe Lawrence and Maurice Swain are the first reserves who will see action. And fellow true freshman Antwuan Jackson, who enrolled early, has a leg up on Brown since he got to go through spring practice.

    It never hurts to have too many players to rotate at the tackle positions, but as essentially the sixth man on the totem pole heading into training camp, it will be hard for Brown to get a lot of meaningful reps. Auburn will consider redshirting him in 2016 but end up getting him into the mix in some fashion.

Ben Davis, LB, Alabama

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    Credit: 247Sports

    The son of Alabama's all-time tackles leader, Ben Davis has all the talent in the world and will be a huge part of the Crimson Tide's defense in the near future. Just not that much in 2016, not with so many other quality linebackers ahead of him.

    Alabama's front-seven depth is ridiculous, even after losing a number of top players to graduation and the NFL draft. Tim Williams was third on the depth chart last year but ranked second on the team in sacks and now moves into a starting role, while Ryan Anderson, Reuben Foster and Shaun Dion Hamilton are all back after combining for 137 tackles last season.

    Then there's Rashaan Evans, Keith Holcombe, Anfernee Jennings and Christian Miller, all of whom got involved in 2015 and will take on bigger roles this fall.

    Davis is one of two highly coveted linebackers the Tide added, along with Lyndell Wilson, and both will play because Nick Saban doesn't redshirt many guys. But that doesn't mean they'll be getting a lot of snaps, as Davis will find out when he's holding his helmet on the sideline more often than snapping it on as he runs onto the field.

Jacob Eason, QB, Georgia

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Georgia quarterbacks rank first, second and fifth on the SEC career passing list and all three had solid first seasons to get things rolling. Jacob Eason will top them all from a statistical standpoint, breaking former Bulldog star Quincy Carter's true-freshman league record of 2,484 passing yards.

    The stellar performance he had in Georgia's spring game will carry over into his official debut against North Carolina, where he'll get the start ahead of Greyson Lambert and never look back by throwing for 300-plus yards and three touchdowns. He'll top the 300-yard mark at least five other times in 2016, mostly in the first half of the season, helping the Bulldogs ease Nick Chubb and Sony Michel back from injury.

    Eason's numbers will decrease as the season goes on as the run game becomes more prevalent in Jim Chaney's offense but it won't go away entirely. There will be at least one game in November or later in which Georgia's rushing attack is stifled, forcing Eason to carry the team to victory.

Rashan Gary, DT, Michigan

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    247Sports

    Rashan Gary is the No. 1 prospect from the 2016 recruiting class, a title that comes with enormous expectations. And with the exception of last year's top player, Georgia defensive tackle Trent Thompson, recently those No. 1 guys have had huge freshman years.

    Since 2011 we've seen big debuts from Jadeveon Clowney, Dorial Green-Beckham, Robert Nkemdiche and Leonard Fournette after being ranked first overall. Gary will have a good freshman season but not to the level of those other big names, which is more a testament to the team he's joining and its existing talent on the defensive line.

    Ryan Glasgow and Maurice Hurst Jr. combined for 11.5 tackles for loss last year, while Bryan Mone is back after missing the 2015 season due to injury. They're the front-runners to start, while Gary will serve as a key reserve who sees more snaps as the season progresses.

Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Clemson will not be lacking for beef in the middle of its defensive line, and it will not waste time getting the biggest guy on the roster involved.

    Dexter Lawrence is listed at 340 pounds, 10 pounds heavier than any other Tiger and 40 and 25 pounds, respectively, bigger than Carlos Watkins and Christian Wilkins—the projected starters at defensive tackle. He doesn't move like someone so large, though, showing great quickness along with the expected strength and power during spring ball.

    "Lawrence already has a good feel for defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ scheme," Robert Brooks of The Clemson Insider wrote. "Lawrence’s arrival will also give Wilkins the flexibility to move to defensive end at times this season and help out with the depth on the outside."

    Look for Lawrence to supplant Wilkins as starter by midseason and occasionally out-grade Watkins.

Gregory Little, OT, Ole Miss

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Unofficially tabbed as Ole Miss' starting left tackle on national signing day, Gregory Little will inherit Laremy Tunsil's job after impressing during training camp. Then he'll get a rude awakening in the form of Florida State's defensive line in the Labor Day opener in Orlando, Florida.

    DeMarcus Walker and his Seminole teammates will beat Little off the edge on a regular basis, logging at least two sacks against Chad Kelly (who only took 18 sacks all of last season) and wreaking havoc on Ole Miss' pass offense. Those struggles will continue beyond the first game, and Little will briefly be benched in favor of either converted quarterback/tight end Jeremy Liggins or redshirt freshman Alex Givens.

    Little will eventually regain his job and look much better after the demotion, becoming a solid protector and decent run-blocker. He'll still make the SEC's All-Freshman team but miss out on Freshman All-America status.

Ed Oliver, DT, Houston

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    Credit: 247Sports

    It's not every year that a non-power school lands a 5-star prospect, let alone one among the top 10 players in the country. Before Houston signed Ed Oliver, the last team outside a power league (or Notre Dame) to grab a 5-star player was 2008, when Southern Miss signed wide receiver DeAndre Brown.

    With that in mind, it's very unlikely the Cougars will bring someone of Oliver's pedigree along slowly. He'll slide right into the spot held last year by Tomme Mark and hold that job all year long.

    Oliver will find his way through Oklahoma's offensive line a couple of times in the season opener against the Sooners and help Houston come close to matching its No. 8 rushing defense ranking from 2015.

    "Despite losing (linebacker Elandon) Roberts, it is conceivable that Houston's run defense actually improves, and perhaps by quite a bit," SB Nation's Bill Connelly wrote. "Opponents will be passing again, in other words."

Shea Patterson, QB, Ole Miss

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Georgia's Jacob Eason has gotten the bulk of the attention among true freshman SEC quarterbacks, but Shea Patterson was actually rated one peg higher than him in the 2016 recruiting class. The difference in publicity is due to Eason having a great chance to be Georgia's opening-day starter, while Patterson is stuck behind senior Chad Kelly.

    Patterson will battle with Jason Pellerin during training camp to be Kelly's backup—a job left open by Devante Kincade transferring and Ryan Buchanan giving up football. Pellerin, a 3-star prospect from the 2015 class, was redshirted last season.

    In a perfect world Patterson would also get the redshirt treatment, groomed to take over for Kelly in 2017, but the Rebels' lack of depth at the position will prevent that. Coach Hugh Freeze will look to get Patterson some snaps in as many games as possible, drawing up a series or two for him outside of garbage time to get him prepared in the event Kelly gets hurt.

    By year's end, though the numbers won't show it, Patterson will have gotten enough experience to foster confidence he's the answer for the future.

Levonta Taylor, CB, Florida State

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    247Sports

    Florida State is deserving of consideration for the title of “DBU” that Florida and LSU continue to argue over, as Levonta Taylor is the latest top-flight defensive back prospect the Seminoles have brought in. Like the recently departed Jalen Ramsey and superstar sophomore Derwin James, Taylor is too good not to play right away.

    He and Tarvarus McFadden will battle for a starting cornerback spot with the other getting the nickel corner job, though FSU plays nickel quite a bit so there's not much different between the positions in terms of playing time. Expect Taylor to make some big plays in the secondary, but his most significant contribution will be on special teams.

    FSU needs a reliable punt returner after Jesus Wilson averaged just 4.54 yards per return in 2015. Taylor dazzled in this area in high school and will take at least one to the house, the first punt return score for the 'Noles since Tyler Hunter in October 2012.

    All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports, unless otherwise noted. All statistics provided by cfbstats.com, unless otherwise noted.

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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