Teen Terrors: The Best College Football Players Who Are 19 or Younger
Jalen Hurts had been 18 years old for less than a month when he became the starting quarterback of a 14-win Alabama team. Is it possible he was just getting warmed up for an even better season at the age of 19?
Hurts is one of many college football players under the age of 20 who will have a major impact on the 2017 season. Though, for some reason, the defensive line is loaded with such players, as Rashan Gary, Dexter Lawrence and Ed Oliver will each be attempting to bring down college quarterbacks for at least two more seasons.
To qualify for this list, a player must be 19 or younger at the time of his team's first game of the regular season and must have both the talent and the opportunity to finish the year as an All-American.
Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M RB
It was a tough decision to leave out a guy who averaged 148.8 yards per game and 9.6 yards per carry in Weeks 3-6 of his true freshman season, but Williams struggled in the second half of the year and still has to share the backfield with former Oklahoma transfer Keith Ford. It's clear he possesses the talent to be special, though.
Shaquille Quarterman, Miami LB
An All-ACC third-team linebacker in 2016, Quarterman recorded 84 tackles and 3.5 sacks as a freshman—this despite tearing the AC joint in his left shoulder in the fifth game of the season, per Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post. Now healthy and one of the many annual preseason "best shape of his life" stories, he should become the singular star of a defense expected to carry the Hurricanes.
Jacob Eason, Georgia QB
Consistency and completion percentage will be the big questions as Eason enters his second season as a highly touted college QB. He could be the reason Georgia lives up to lofty preseason expectations, or he could be the reason the Bulldogs sputter to another 8-5 record. Either way, there are going to be a lot of eyes on this 19-year-old.
Brian Burns, Florida State DE
Burns only recorded 23 tackles as a freshman, but he had 8.5 sacks in the process, making him Florida State's returning leader in that category. Along with Josh Sweat and Derrick Nnadi, he will be a major piece of one of the fiercest defensive lines in the country.
Mike Weber, Ohio State RB
At the moment, Weber qualifies as a teen terror, but he will turn 20 on August 25, meaning he won't play a game as a teenager this year. Regardless, look for him to put up huge numbers as a sophomore now that Curtis Samuel (771 rushing yards) is out of the picture.
We decided not to include any first-year players because there were plenty of young enough sophomores to choose from and because it's impossible to forecast how much a player will be used as a freshman. But if we had opted to factor in freshmen, four strong candidates for the list would have been Jaelan Phillips (UCLA), Cam Akers (Florida State), Jerry Jeudy (Alabama) and Donovan Peoples-Jones (Michigan).
8. Taylor Rapp, Washington DB
Age: 19 (12/22/97)
2016 Stats: 51 tackles, four interceptions, two passes defended, one TD
Washington lost its three most experienced defensive backs as second-round picks in the 2017 NFL draft, yet the Huskies are a strong candidate to reach the College Football Playoff for a second consecutive year.
Taylor Rapp is one of the biggest reasons why.
Rapp isn't nearly the lock for preseason first-team All-Pac-12 honors that teammates RB Myles Gaskin, WR Dante Pettis, LB Azeem Victor and DL Vita Vea are, but his presence at safety gives Washington hope of remaining good enough in the secondary to compete for another conference title.
Rapp wasn't anything close to the can't-miss recruit that many of the guys on this list were. Per Scout, he was the 690th-best high school player in 2015 and only the 35th-best safety. But that didn't stop him from earning a starting job by the second week of his true freshman season and leading the Huskies in interceptions.
7. Shane Buechele, Texas QB
Age: 19 (1/8/98)
2016 Stats: 60.4% completion, 2,958 passing yards, 21 TD, 11 INT; 161 rushing yards, 2 TD
It didn't take long for Shane Buechele to show the world what he can do. In the first drive of his collegiate career (against Notre Dame), he completed 4-of-5 passes, capped off by a 19-yard TD. He was responsible for seven touchdowns in the first two games and gave Longhorns fans some tangible hope for the first time in a few years.
Unfortunately, Texas' poor defense rendered most of his efforts irrelevant, but he played like a veteran for the majority of his freshman season. Buechele threw for at least 222 yards in nine of his first 10 games and did not throw multiple interceptions in a game until the second half of November.
New head coach Tom Herman wants us to believe a decision has not yet been made as to whether Buechele or true freshman Sam Ehlinger will be the starter for Week 1, but the former is a legitimate candidate for the Heisman—provided the defense helps him win a few more games in 2017.
6. Ahmmon Richards, Miami WR
Age: 19 (5/20/98)
2016 Stats: 49 receptions, 934 yards, 3 TD
It's going to be another few weeks before we know whether Malik Rosier, Evan Shirreffs or N'Kosi Perry starts at QB for the Hurricanes, but there's no question who that passer's top target will be. Ahmmon Richards led the team in receiving yards—and ranked sixth in the ACC—as a true freshman.
Richards was (and should remain) Miami's top big-play threat. He made at least one 30-yard reception in eight games, three of which were good for at least 61 yards—two of those in the same Week 3 game against Appalachian State. In November, he had three consecutive games with at least 100 receiving yards.
With Stacy Coley (754 yards) and David Njoku (698 yards) out of the picture, Richards is only going to become more of a problem for opposing secondaries as a sophomore.
In Miami's unofficial spring game, he led all receivers with 112 yards on four receptions, including a 72-yard TD strike. And as far as Athlon Sports is concerned, he's going to be a preseason first-team all-ACC selection.
5. Rashan Gary, Michigan DE
Age: 19 (12/3/97)
2016 Stats: 23 tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks
The 2016 No. 1 overall recruit put up numbers last season that were uninspiring—particularly when compared to what the No. 2 and No. 3 defensive linemen recruits accomplished as true freshmen, both of whom appear higher on this list.
But don't hold that against Rashan Gary. Both Dexter Lawrence and Ed Oliver were put in positions to immediately shine while Gary filled a reserve role for one of the best and most experienced defenses in the country. He played well early in the season against Hawaii, UCF and Colorado, but he didn't see the field much once Big Ten play began.
With Taco Charlton, Chris Wormley and Ryan Glasgow all now in the NFL, though, we might find out just how many snaps per game Gary can physically handle. He immediately becomes the star of this defense who could realistically average a sack per game as a sophomore, given the immense talent he displayed in high school.
4. Justice Hill, Oklahoma State RB
Age: 19 (11/14/97)
2016 Stats: 1,142 rushing yards, 6 TD
There were a lot of quality running backs in last year's recruiting class. 5-star prospects Miles Sanders, Tavien Feaster and Kareem Walker either redshirted (Walker) or received limited touches behind established studs, opening the door for one of the 32 4-star players to be the top rusher among freshman. Instead, it was Scout's No. 91 running back, Justice Hill, who led all first-year players in rushing yards.
It took him a little while to get rolling, accounting for just 95 total yards in his first three games combined, but he averaged 105.3 yards per game and 5.8 yards per carry over his final 10 contests in a relatively pass-heavy offense.
The most impressive thing about those numbers is that he didn't have any monster games or long runs to "artificially" inflate them. Hill's season-high was 162 yards against Kansas. He only had 12 carries go for 20 or more yards, the longest of which was a 38-yard scamper. He was just a consistent source of positive yardage.
And in a spread offense that figures to run a ton of four-WR sets throughout the season, he should be able to routinely find holes again as a sophomore. For good reason, there's a lot of talk about Mason Rudolph, James Washington and Jalen McCleskey leading a high-powered offense, but Hill could be the reason the Cowboys lead the nation in scoring in 2017.
3. Jalen Hurts, Alabama QB
Age: 18 (8/7/98)
2016 Stats: 62.8% completion, 2,780 passing yards, 23 TD, 9 INT; 954 rushing yards, 13 TD
Jalen Hurts will be 19 by the time the regular season begins, but at the time of posting, he's the only 18-year-old on this list.
That makes what he did last season as a true freshman even more remarkable. Hurts almost wasn't legally old enough to vote when he became the starter at the most important position for the most iconic college football program—but he handled the responsibility with poise beyond his years.
Hurts clearly ran out of gas late in the season against upper-echelon defenses, but he was a stud for the first three months. He had at least 250 combined rushing and passing yards in eight of the first 12 games of his career and was the primary source of offense against USC and LSU in two of the other four games.
Granted, he had an extra game or two to reach these plateaus, but Hurts is one of just 24 players in the past 17 years to both throw for at least 2,700 yards and rush for at least 900 yards in the same season. The only other guys to do it as freshmen were Johnny Manziel and J.T. Barrett.
For as much as people talked about the defense carrying the Crimson Tide, their season wouldn't have been nearly as incredible without Hurts. And if this team is going to reach a third consecutive national championship game, it will be because its QB avoided the dreaded sophomore slump.
2. Dexter Lawrence, Clemson DT
Age: 19 (11/12/97)
2016 Stats: 62 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries
At 6'5" and 340 pounds, Dexter Lawrence would be big for a 10-year NFL veteran, let alone a 19-year-old sophomore in college. And this mountain of a man is shockingly agile and athletic. Former teammate Carlos Watkins told Chris Hummer of 247 Sports: "Honestly, I've never seen anybody like that before. He can dunk a basketball with two hands and cock it back. You don't see that. It's really crazy."
Before the 2017 NFL draft had even begun, people were already talking about Lawrence likely becoming the No. 1 overall pick in 2019.
The stats are impressive. Lawrence recorded more sacks in 2016 than any other returning Tiger. But the stats only begin to tell the story. Watch Lawrence in action and he looks like a roadblock in the middle of the field. Try to run at him and he'll probably shed his blocker with relative ease and make you pay for that mistake. Try to avoid him and Clelin Ferrell or Christian Wilkins will be right there for an equally undesirable result.
Perhaps the most telling statistic about Lawrence's impact on the game is that Clemson led the nation in tackles for loss (third in tackles for loss per game). Six of Lawrence's teammates brought down at least 10 ball-carriers behind the line of scrimmage thanks in large part to his large frame limiting what opponents were able to even try.
1. Ed Oliver, Houston DT
Age: 19 (12/12/97)
2016 Stats: 65 tackles, 22.0 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, six passes defended, two fumbles forced
Ed Oliver isn't just the best college football player under the age of 20. He might be the best college football player in the country.
Maybe you prefer reigning Heisman winner Lamar Jackson or two-time Heisman finalist Baker Mayfield, but those guys were no match for Oliver in 2016. Or, at least, their offensive lines weren't, as he sacked each of those QBs twice in the process of leading Houston to a pair of wins over quality opponents.
Put simply, he is a wrecking ball. His 22 tackles for loss put him in a tie for third-most in the country.
Can he maintain that elite level of penetration after losing senior linebackers Steven Taylor and Tyus Bowser as teammates, though? The trio had a combined 46 tackles for loss and 22 sacks, and teams might have better luck with slowing down Oliver now they can focus more exclusively on him.
However, the fact that teams will need to double- or triple-team Oliver to keep him away from the QB should say more about his talent than whatever his statistics say at the end of the year.
At 18 years of age, he was already the No. 1 concern for opposing offensive coordinators. He's only going to become more of a thorn in their sides over the next two years.
Kerry Miller covers college football and college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.