Ranking the Top 10 Freshmen for the 2019 College Football Season

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2019

Ranking the Top 10 Freshmen for the 2019 College Football Season

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    If you want to take on an impossible task, look across the college football landscape at all the true and redshirt freshmen and rank the 10 most impactful for 2019.

    While some fans may think there's an SEC bias among the national media, the league still dominates recruiting, and therefore, a lot of the names on this list hail from the conference. But many players from other leagues will shine, too.

    One school even has a pair of freshmen who'll be among the country's biggest headline-makers.

    Including a stable of pass-catchers and a couple of elite running backs, this group is full of dominant, instant-impact players. A handful have been in the system for a year and are just waiting for their time to shine. Others were in high school mere weeks ago.

    Let's take a look at the top 10 freshmen in college football in 2019.

10. Trejan Bridges, Oklahoma Wide Receiver

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Despite Marquise Brown's departure, Oklahoma Sooners coach Lincoln Riley has a stable of elite pass-catchers led by CeeDee Lamb, and everybody is pumped about stud recruits Jadon Haselwood and Theo Wease.

    But another freshman could wind up having the earliest impact.

    That would be 6'1", 187-pound Carrollton, Texas, standout Trejan Bridges. He's a speedy playmaker more in the mold of Brown than the other two higher-rated receivers. While 5-star recruits Haselwood and Wease have bright futures, the 4-star Bridges may fit what the Sooners want to do this year.

    He could slide into Brown's role, lining up in the slot or anywhere on the field. He's quick and dynamic, and getting the ball to receivers in space will be the name of Oklahoma's game with quarterback Jalen Hurts leading the offense.

    There's also a strong possibility Bridges' skill set could be a dominant weapon in either the punt or kick return game.

    He'll turn a ton of heads this season, and with this offense clicking as well as any in the nation, watch him post big numbers.

9. Matt Corral, Ole Miss Quarterback

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    Michael Chang/Getty Images

    Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral, a forgotten 2018 recruit, could burst onto the scene this year.

    Yes, it's tough to become a household name when you play for the Rebels. They're far from a marquee SEC program, and they've been mired in NCAA purgatory the past couple of years after fallout from the Hugh Freeze regime. 

    While coach Matt Luke may be on thin ice, he made a shrewd offensive coordinator hire this offseason in Rich Rodriguez, who squeezes the most out of his quarterbacks.

    Corral was a 4-star recruit who was committed to USC and Florida before he settled on the Rebels, and in limited action as a true freshman, he looked smooth in relief of Jordan Ta'amu.

    The California kid shows a nice touch on his passes and has a little mobility, too. It will be an adjustment for the offense since D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown and other playmakers are gone, but Corral has the skill set to do big things in Rich Rod's offense.

    It may be an open competition this spring for the starting gig, but everybody knows this is Corral's team, and he'll lead the Rebels out of the NCAA doldrums and into the next era. Watch for Corral to blossom this season and be one of the league's top quarterbacks before his time as a Rebel is done.

8. Bru McCoy, Texas Wide Receiver

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    Credit: 247Sports

    The hype surrounding Texas wide receiver Bru McCoy is immense, especially considering how his first few months of college football played out.

    The 5-star athlete committed to the USC Trojans at the All-America Bowl, enrolling in school a short time later. It didn't take long for him to change his mind.

    After offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury left for the Arizona Cardinals in January, McCoy transferred to Texas, a school that finished runner-up for his services the first time. 

    Now, there's optimism McCoy will get an NCAA hardship waiver to play immediately, much like what happened with Ohio State's Justin Fields and Miami's Tate Martell. If that happens, Texas will get an instant-impact stud.

    The Longhorns are integrating McCoy into the offense this spring with hopes he'll be ready. If so, there's a good chance he'll be in the rotation if not a starting weapon for quarterback Sam Ehlinger. With Lil'Jordan Humphrey gone, there are receptions to go around.

    Coach Tom Herman can't stop gushing about McCoy.

    "You should see the kid in the weight room," Herman told 247Sports' Jeff Howe. "He's grunting and groaning and screaming. He's not afraid to work," also mentioning McCoy is "just a great kid that happens to be a 5-star athlete."

    It's not just lip service. McCoy is a physically gifted talent and is ready to be a star. If the NCAA ruling is favorable, he will be.

7. Jaelen Gill, Ohio State H-Back

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Ohio State's offense conjures images of dynamic athletes in space who are difficult to bring down.

    The Buckeyes got away from that a little in 2018. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins tossed the ball around the field and they looked like a more traditional offense in coach Urban Meyer's final season. But Ohio State will be back to the style of recent memory in 2019.

    As Justin Fields leads a college offense for the first time, the Buckeyes will need weapons in space. Sure, running back J.K. Dobbins will again be an integral piece, but there's another player primed to break out.

    That would be redshirt freshman H-back Jaelen Gill, who looks like another recent OSU standout at the position, which is essentially a do-it-all receiver type who gets the ball in a variety of ways.

    "If Gill is going to emerge as one of the next great do-it-all weapons at H-back," Lettermen Row's Austin Ward wrote recently, "Parris Campbell just laid out the blueprint for how the position should be played."

    The team has a lot of receiving weapons for new passing game coordinator Mike Yurcich to mold, and guys such as Chris Olave and Austin Mack are intriguing options, along with others. But Gill is poised to be a star.

    He'll show everybody what he can do this spring, and he'll fill stat sheets come fall.

6. K.J. Henry, Clemson Defensive End

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    With so many defensive departures, the Clemson Tigers have major voids, and everybody around the program is rightfully talking about elite sophomore Xavier Thomas.

    Don't sleep on a couple of other defenders, though.

    Junior Justin Foster will do big things off the edge, and a second member of the '18 class will make plenty of noise, too. K.J. Henry is a 6'4", 250-pound weak-side defensive end from North Carolina, and he has elite skills.

    Thankfully for the Tigers, they preserved a year of eligibility for Henry a season ago because they had so many weapons. They'll need him this year, though, and he'll battle for a starting spot.

    Regardless of whether he earns it, he'll play a huge role. One Tigers outgoing great believes the redshirt freshman has the demeanor to be a vocal leader.

    "K.J. kind of has that outgoing personality, for sure," Christian Wilkins told TigerNet's staff.

    That's a great attribute to have, especially for a vocal coach such as coordinator Brent Venables.

    You'd better believe offenses will look for ways to scheme against Thomas all season, and that's when a guy like Henry will kill them off the other edge. He'll rack up big numbers in '19.

5. Hank Bachmeier, Boise State Quarterback

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    Credit: 247Sports

    While freshman such as Wisconsin's Graham Mertz, Arizona State's Jayden Daniels and Auburn's Bo Nix have the skill set, talent and ability to lead their teams and do big things in 2019, there's one overlooked player who'll post better numbers than any of them.

    Boise State's Hank Bachmeier steps into an ideal situation following Brett Rypien's departure after a career that saw him start all four seasons. Those are huge shoes to fill, but the 4-star prospect from Murrieta Valley, California, is ready.

    He hasn't been named the starter yet, but it would be surprising if he didn't run away with the job. Once he wins it, he's got the potential to toss 30 touchdown passes as a true freshman.

    "When he's been out there with the [first team], he's run the show and he's done very well," Boise State coach Bryan Harsin told the Idaho Statesman's Dave Southorn. "I don't feel like it's been too big for him."

    According to 247Sports' Chris Hummer, Bachmeier, the nation's No. 6 pro-style passer, is the highest-ranked offensive prospect ever to sign with the Broncos. When you get a player of his ilk in the Mountain West, you can't afford to keep him on the sideline.

    He's got the ability to be a college star right away and to go on to the NFL one day. He'll stand out immediately.

4. Nolan Smith, Georgia Defensive End

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    Credit: 247Sports

    The nation's No. 1 recruit was bound to find his way onto this list, even though the Georgia Bulldogs have waves of elite players from coach Kirby Smart's past three recruiting classes.

    The Bulldogs are looking for dominant pass-rushers, and 6'3", 235-pound defensive end Nolan Smith fits the bill. He's a polished player and too good to keep out of the starting rotation.

    The last dynamic defensive end who came from IMG Academy was Clemson's Xavier Thomas, and he showed out as a freshman even though he stepped into a crowded house.

    While the Bulldogs have a lot of talent at defensive end and outside linebacker, they aren't as loaded there as the 2018 national champions were, so expect Smith to be more than a role player.

    Despite all the love from recruiting services, he's been noticeably absent from a lot of breakout lists. DawgNation's Connor Riley pointed out how puzzling that is.

    "He's drawn comparisons to Von Miller and Khalil Mack," Riley wrote. "He ran a 4.55 40-yard dash at 225 pounds last March. For comparison, Sony Michel ran a 4.54 at 214 pounds. And yet, it seems like some aren't pegging him to have the kind of impact that a recruit of his caliber should have."

    It doesn't make sense. Regardless of the talent in classes ahead of him, you don't have a star in the making like Smith and let him watch from the sideline. He'll be a dominant force in the SEC this year.    

3. Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon Defensive End

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Right behind Smith in the 2019 recruit rankings was Thousand Oaks, California, defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux. Their careers will draw comparisons despite the thousands of miles that separate Athens, Georgia, and Eugene, Oregon.

    Thibodeaux a 6'5", 240-pound force of nature who, like Smith, runs like a running back despite his hulking frame. He is a physically gifted player ready to step into the Pac-12 and start.

    It helps that he's already on campus, and coach Mario Cristobal will enhance his recruiting prowess and his pitch to future Ducks by showing he isn't afraid to play top-notch athletes right away. The Ducks need defensive help along the edge, and Thibodeaux will inject elite ability.

    Oregon will miss Jalen Jelks, and veterans Austin Faoliu, Jordon Scott, Gary Baker, Drayton Carlberg and Gus Cumberlander will be firmly in the rotation. So will Thibodeaux. He will eventually start because the Ducks don't have anybody like him.

    On the first day of live spring drills, Thibodeaux forced a fumble from running back Travis Dye, according to The Oregonian's James Crepea.

    "He's a young kid, but I mean he's a physical specimen," linebacker Troy Dye told Crepea. "He does what he needs to do. ... The dude can play at this level, so we're really looking forward to it."

    Oregon has an instant-impact star, and Thibodeaux's ability mixed with opportunity is a recipe for a huge season.

2. Christian Turner, Michigan Running Back

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    Michigan and coach Jim Harbaugh went from the cusp of the College Football Playoff conversation to consecutive blowout losses to Ohio State and Florida to end the season.

    The same ol' questions about winning the big one popped up around Harbaugh.

    But, if you put all that noise in the background, it's an exciting time to be a Wolverine. Quarterback Shea Patterson and should improve, and new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis has a reputation for molding great receivers, so the passing game should be better.

    What about the running backs, though? With Karan Higdon gone, there's a major void. Thankfully for Harbaugh, he's recruited well enough to fill that gap with a pair of elite freshmen.

    Fans were excited to see true freshman midterm enrollee Zach Charbonnet this spring, but he will miss the session with a minor knee injury. It likely won't affect his standing in the rotation. But there's a redshirt freshman on his way to stealing headlines.

    Christian Turner had seven rushes for 32 yards in the bowl loss to Florida and racked up 55 yards against Nebraska. He was able to redshirt, though, and has four years of eligibility remaining. He'll get them started with a 1,000-yard effort this season.

    "I'm happy about our running backs," Harbaugh told the Detroit Free Press' Orion Sang. "Christian Turner has surged from bowl practices to bowl game, and then since then he is A-plus-plus in terms of how he's going about his business. He is really becoming a rising player."

    That's massive news for a Wolverines offense that has a lot of excitement surrounding it. Turner will be a breakout star.

1. Derek Stingley Jr., LSU Cornerback

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    Credit: 247Sports

    This headline could have read "Derek Stingley Jr. and John Emery Jr." It's greedy to put two players from the same team on this list, but the fact is the LSU Tigers could have two of the top freshman performers in all of college football.

    With Nick Brossette gone, Emery could be a 1,000-yard rusher as the Tigers' primary running back. But since we picked Stingley, let's talk about his incredible skill set.

    The 6'1", 195-pound cornerback was the nation's top-ranked defensive back coming out of high school, and he stayed at home in Baton Rouge. That's big news for coach Ed Orgeron and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who have a difference-maker on their hands.

    He already is turning heads in spring practice. LSU student newspaper The Reveille'Jacob Beck noted players and coaches were raving. Orgeron told him: "Derek Stingley would have started for us in the bowl and probably would have been one of the best players on the field. I would expect him to push for a starting position. That may be solidified by the end of the spring."

    Added All-American Grant Delpit: "He's better than I was when I got here."

    LSU has seen elite defensive backs. This is one of the schools that stakes its claim as DBU, as the Tigers mold NFL forces in the secondary. 

    Stingley is a can't-miss player who will to make his presence known right away, leading a group of Bayou Bengals freshmen who have as high a ceiling as a group as any Orgeron has brought in.

                               

    All recruiting information is from 247Sports, and rankings are from the 247Sports composite.

    Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.