Which College Football Freshmen Could Be One-and-Done If the NFL Allowed It?
The ink is barely dry on the 2018 NFL draft, which means 2019 mock drafts are already spreading like wildfire.
That got us thinking: Which incoming freshmen would be the top candidates to jump to the NFL after just one season if college football had a one-and-done option like basketball has?
It will probably never happen. With limited exceptions, 19-year-old kids would not be capable of undertaking the physical demands of the NFL without suffering a catastrophic injury. But some of these freshmen are so highly touted and so large for their age that they would at least be worth a flier in next year's draft.
For the sake of argument, only true freshmen were considered for this list. Maybe Stanford's Davis Mills, Georgia's Isaiah Wilson or Ohio State's Shaun Wade could make the leap after redshirting the 2017 season, but we're only interested in those who could go from high school to the NFL in the span of 16 months.
Some of these guys might be lucky to even see the field as freshmen, so this shouldn't be considered a ranking of first-year players most likely to appear on 2018 all-conference teams. Rather, players on the following slides are listed in ascending order of where they might appear in 2019 mock drafts if they were eligible.
8. Zamir White, RB, Georgia
247Sports 2018 Ranks: No. 9 Overall; No. 1 RB
Measurements: 6'1", 220 lbs
The vast majority of running backs would get broken in half if they went to the NFL after one season. That's because most of them are around 5'10" and 185 pounds soaking wet. They might have the speed to outrun everyone in high school, but they aren't nearly big enough to take a hit from a grown man until they've spent a few years in a weight room in college.
Zamir White is one of the exceptions to that rule, as his measurements are already on par with the current listings for Leonard Fournette and Ezekiel Elliott.
White's numbers at Scotland High School in Laurinburg, North Carolina, were absurd. In 47 career games, he rushed for 7,169 yards and 119 touchdowns. As a senior, he averaged 14.1 yards per carry and better than three touchdowns per game.
Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in November. White was able to do some non-contact drills in spring practices, but it's unknown whether he'll make a full recovery in time to play this season.
If health weren't an issue, the top running back in this year's class would check in at No. 2 or No. 3 on this list. Instead, he's something of an honorable mention at this spot.
7. Brey Walker, OT, Oklahoma
247Sports 2018 Ranks: No. 29 Overall; No. 4 OT
Measurements: 6'7", 320 lbs
For the purposes of this exercise, size is everything. At 6'7", Brey Walker is the biggest player rated higher than No. 150 in this year's class by 247Sports.
Walker isn't the most polished offensive lineman among incoming freshmen. That honor would go to either Nicholas Petit-Frere or Jamaree Salyer. But the combination of Walker's size and talent will make him one of the most enticing linemen when he is eligible to make the leap to the NFL.
By the time he was a junior, Walker was far too large for wrestling. However, he continued to train with the team at Southmoore High School in Moore, Oklahoma, in order to improve his agility and footwork. It was a good career move since it was wrestling that first drew college football coaches to Walker.
"His first offer was from Oklahoma State during wrestling season when he was a freshman," Southmoore coach Jeremy Stark said, per the Oklahoman's Scott Wright. "He had just won some tournament and they saw him wrestle live. They said that was all they needed to see—a guy who can move and bend like that."
If any program is properly equipped to quickly turn a nimble giant into a star, it's Oklahoma. At any rate, the Sooners were able to do it with Orlando Brown, whose spot in the starting lineup Walker may inherit as a freshman.
6. Micah Parsons, DE/LB, Penn State
247Sports 2018 Ranks: No. 5 Overall; No. 3 DE
Measurements: 6'3", 235 lbs
To put it lightly, Micah Parsons is quite the athlete.
As a senior at Pennsylvania's Harrisburg High, this freight train rushed for 1,239 yards and 27 touchdowns on just 109 carries. And offense isn't even the craft he'll look to hone over the next several years at State College. Rather, the edge-rusher will aim to perfect the art of knifing into the backfield for sacks and tackles for loss.
His transition from DE to "Mike" LB to "Will" LB could take some time. Given his size and athleticism, though, it's the ideal position for Parsons to become a phenom.
"Obviously, the position is new to him," Penn State head coach James Franklin told reporters. "He can run, he's got really good instincts. Little things like stance and start, he hasn't really found a stance that he's comfortable in, which I know sounds crazy but it's more challenging than you think, to be honest with you."
Parsons should become the latest in a long line of great linebackers to come out of Penn State. He won't be a finished product by the end of this season, but there will be plenty of moments that leave draft scouts wishing he were eligible for next year's draft.
5. Justin Shorter, WR, Penn State
247Sports 2018 Ranks: No. 8 Overall; No. 1 WR
Measurements: 6'4", 213 lbs
Don't let the last name fool you. Justin Shorter is taller than just about every other wide receiver in this year's recruiting class.
It's much more than the height that makes him a strong candidate to shine as a true freshman, though. Shorter also has great hands, above-average leaping ability to high-point the ball and impeccable speed for his size. He's one of those "He's open even when he's covered" type of receivers who will always seem to have the advantage in single coverage.
And he's entering a situation where he ought to be a starter from day one.
Oftentimes, the highest-rated recruits barely get to play. Guys like Najee Harris, Rashan Gary and Shea Patterson had the talent to shine immediately, but they had to wait until a spot opened up on the depth chart.
That shouldn't be the case for Shorter, who joins Penn State as it loses more than 2,000 receiving yards between DaeSean Hamilton, Mike Gesicki and Saquon Barkley. Better yet, the Nittany Lions have Trace McSorley at quarterback for one more year, which means Shorter's inaugural season in college will be spent catching passes from a player who should be a top-10 candidate for the 2018 Heisman.
4. Patrick Surtain Jr., CB, Alabama
247Sports 2018 Ranks: No. 6 Overall; No. 1 CB
Measurements: 6'1 ¼", 199 lbs
Name power alone would be enough to get NFL teams interested in Patrick Surtain Jr. as early as 2019. But even if he didn't have a three-time Pro Bowler for a father, Surtain's skill in the secondary should speak for itself.
The beginning of his evaluation on 247Sports reads: "You can't draw them up much better in the defensive backfield than this elite prospect."
Surtain's stats at American Heritage High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, were nothing special, but that's largely because opposing quarterbacks avoided him like the plague during his junior and senior seasons. He basically shut down half the field.
At least initially, his presence at the collegiate level won't be that imposing, but Surtain is a far cry from your typical freshman cornerback that QBs will pick on as much as possible.
Similar to Justin Shorter, Surtain enters a land of opportunity on his college roster. Alabama lost every starting defensive back from last season. The primary guys Surtain appears to be battling for a starting gig are Shyheim Carter, Trevon Diggs, Jared Mayden and Saivion Smith. The first three combined for 17 total tackles last season, and the fourth is an incoming JUCO transfer. Thus, Surtain may well be a starter from the beginning as a true freshman.
3. Xavier Thomas, DE, Clemson
247Sports 2018 Ranks: No. 3 Overall; No. 1 DE
Measurements: 6'3", 260 lbs
The funny thing about Xavier Thomas' ranking this high on the list is that he's barely going to see the field this season.
Since Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell all opted to return to Clemson—and Dexter Lawrence was required to return after his true sophomore season—the Tigers have an embarrassment of riches on the defensive line. Dabo Swinney also signed defensive end KJ Henry, who is the No. 14 overall recruit in this year's class, adding one more piece to this playing time logjam.
When he gets to play, though, this pass-rusher is going to impress with his motor and his explosiveness. Thomas goes hard on every single play; combined with an excellent first step, that makes him a nightmare for opposing offensive tackles.
An uber-athlete, Thomas was a two-way player early in his high school career, and he also dabbled in baseball and basketball. Per MaxPreps, he had 42 tackles for loss over the past four seasons. He was also named the defensive line MVP at The Opening last July.
2. Tyson Campbell, CB, Georgia
247Sports 2018 Ranks: No. 12 Overall; No. 2 CB
Measurements: 6'2 ½", 180 lbs
It's almost not fair how physically gifted Tyson Campbell is.
Usually at cornerback, there's an inverse relationship between size and speed. You can either get a lightning-quick sprinter who is 5'10" or a 6'2" coverage corner who isn't quite as fast.
But Campbell is the best of both worlds. At 6'2 ½", he is tied with Michigan's Myles Sims for the title of tallest top-45 cornerback in the 247Sports rankings. And in the speed department, he might be the fastest runner on Georgia's roster. Per MileSplit, the track star has a personal-best time of 10.41 seconds in the 100 meters and a 20.80 time in the 200 meters.
Given how much emphasis is placed on the 40-yard sprint at the NFL draft combine, that skill will come in handy one day.
Now we wait to see how well he can utilize those physical attributes at the college level.
Campbell entered high school as a wide receiver, so one has to assume he has the hands to make the occasional interception. If he can master the footwork required of the position and continue to develop as a route-reader, he'll be a guy NFL teams can't wait to get.
1. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
247Sports 2018 Ranks: No. 1 Overall; No. 1 QB
Measurements: 6'6", 208 lbs
Generally speaking, quarterbacks don't even get considered for this list. It's one thing to be big and strong enough to handle the physical demands of the NFL, but the mental/maturity/leadership aspect of playing QB needs to develop over the course of several years at the college level.
Trevor Lawrence is a once-in-a-blue-moon talent, though. If he were eligible for the 2019 NFL draft, there's no question some team would take a chance on him. It probably wouldn't be in the first two rounds, and he likely wouldn't see the field until at least 2021. But it would be irresponsible to repeatedly pass on the opportunity to draft and stash him.
In his four years at Georgia's Cartersville High School, Lawrence had a 63.4 percent completion rate, averaging 248.3 yards per game and 10.4 yards per attempt with 161 touchdowns against 21 interceptions. In his senior season, the numbers were even more ridiculous: 69.0, 274.2, 12.9, 41 and one, respectively. His surgical precision in the pocket is why he may well swoop in and steal the starting job from Kelly Bryant as a true freshman.
Lawrence will need to put on a little more weight before becoming a pro, but at 6'6" with a howitzer for an arm, it's almost a foregone conclusion that he'll be special once he does get to the NFL.
Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.