With the numbers of incoming freshman forgoing their senior proms to take on the rigors of college football on the rise, we are seeing more and more impact from first year players. What was once a rare occasion is becoming the norm at big-time programs as they look to take their talented recruits from high school senior to collegiate starter in spring and summer camp.
The impact of freshman is felt around the country on a regular basis. There is no doubt that players are coming in ‘more’ ready to play from a physical and mental standpoint.
It seems that just a few years ago, incoming freshman reported to camp underweight with obvious lapses in strength and conditioning compared to seasoned collegiate athletes but that’s not the case these days. As I made my travels this spring, I was shocked that some of the kids I was looking were competing on a high school field six months prior. More revealing was the 2014 recruits – that showed up to their visits looking like full-grown men (beard and all).
Times are a changing. The days of redshirting may be reserved for the few ‘exceptions’ to the new rule. With the spring in our rearview mirror we take a look at those that could make an instant impact this fall.
Vonn Bell, S, Ohio State
The Buckeyes aren’t in dire need at the safety position with Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett locked in as returning starters. That said, the Buckeyes will line up in nickel and dime packages on a large percentage of snaps. Their prevalence to line up in sub packages should leave Bell vying for the fifth defensive back spot with senior Corey Brown and Bell’s recruiting classmates – Eli Apple and Cameron Burrows.
Bell showed up to campus looking the part of a Big Ten starter. As the team endures the long summer months, Bell will have to play catch-up on the changes in scheme but it’s our bet that he wins out and becomes an impact defender in year one.
MarQuez North, WR, Tennessee
Gone are receivers Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Hunter, and Zach Rodgers. MarQuez North was the apple of Butch Jones’ first UT recruiting class’ eye and should vie for playing time early for a team in need of playmakers on the offensive side of the football.
Tennessee’s leading returning receiver is running back Marlin Lane (29 receptions for 228 yards in 2012). North will battle with the likes of Vincent Dallas (9 for 149), Jacob Carter (8 for 126), and Alton “Pig” Howard (13 for 54). At 6-foot-4, 212 pounds North should be new quarterback Justin Worley’s favorite redzone target. I would expect an immediate impact from North to the tune of 30+ catches in year one and a handful of touchdowns.
Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas
Collins made waves on signing day when his mother refused to sign his national letter of intent. With that drama in the rearview mirror, Collins has a legitimate shot to win the starting running back position for Brett Bielema.
Collins can make plays in space in the run and pass game, giving the Razorbacks the dynamic threat they lack in their current two-deep. Jonathan Williams will get the first crack at the starting gig following a solid freshman season but something tells me that Collins could give Williams a run for his money.
Thomas Tyner, RB, Oregon
It’s going to be tough for Oregon to keep Tyner off the field. Tyner’s blend of size (6-0, 210) and speed (10.3 100 meters) is rare – to say the least. Tyner figures to battle with sophomore Byron Marshall, who was no slouch as a freshman in 2012.
Tyner’s ability to churn out tough yards with the ability to break the big one will have Oregon coaches itching to find ways to incorporate him with SB De’Anthony Thomas. The notion of having Thomas and Tyner in the same backfield should keep PAC-12 defensive coordinators up at night.
Su’a Cravens, S, USC
The Trojans have been plagued by injuries this spring and the injury bug hit freshman safety Su’a Cravens. Cravens was plugged into the starting lineup from day one as he was one of the most highly recruited defensive backs in the country.
Cravens tore his meniscus but figures to be ready for summer workouts and should step immediately as a starter on this defense. Cravens added 15 pounds of muscle over the spring and could be headed to linebacker sooner rather than later but he’s too good to keep off the field for the Trojans.
Robert Nkemdiche, DE, Ole Miss
The nation’s No. 1 recruit will open summer camp as a starting defensive end. At 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, Nkemdiche already possesses the frame to play at a high level in the country’s best conference. After watching two high school games, I was blown away with his understanding of leverage and his ability to bend off the edge.
He, like most incoming freshman, will have to learn to use his hands to keep tackles off his chest plate but this kid is ready to play from day one. He’s a rare specimen with his combination of size, strength, and speed – enjoy him for three years Rebel fans.
Ethan Pocic, C, LSU
Pocic was recruited as a tackle but could be headed for a move inside after injuries forced Les Miles’ hand with the freshman. Junior Elliot Porter is on top of the post-spring two-deep but don’t expect Pocic to stay on the bench for long.
At over 6-foot-6, Pocic doesn’t possess ideal height for a center but his movement skills were impressive during the spring and have drawn the attention of the LSU coaching staff. Pocic played well enough in the spring to garner a look somewhere along the offensive line.
Demarcus Robinson, WR, Florida
Louchiez Purifoy worked out at wide receiver this spring and looked good doing it. The problem is that Purifoy is Florida’s best defensive back and needs to be on the field full-time on that side of the ball. No doubt Purifoy will make an impact on the offensive side of the ball – the question remains will one of the other receivers step up to help out Jeff Driskel.
Andre Debose has been in Will Muschamp’s doghouse leaving Quinton Dunbar and Trey Burton as the best receiving options – with game experience. Enter true freshman Demarcus Robinson. Robinson battled a high ankle sprain this spring but by all accounts was among the top receiving options on UF’s roster. Robinson combination of size and polish as a route runner has drawn rave reviews and he’s the odds on favorite to start at receiver. Expect big things this fall from Robinson as Florida opens up the playbook to Driskel.
Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan
After traveling to nine spring camps on my coaching tour, I came away blown away by one early enrollee. Michigan’s Taco Charlton looks the part of an impact defender in the Big Ten. At 6-foot-6, 270 pounds, Charlton is an impressive physical specimen that is penciled in as a starter opposite Frank Clark and could wreak havoc on Big Ten offenses in 2013.
This fall you will be asking the same thing I was asking in the spring. Who is number 33? The answer is a guy that will be playing three seasons in Ann Arbor before heading out for the NFL ranks.
Others to watch: Max Browne, QB, USC – Mike Mitchell, LB, Ohio State – Dymonte Thomas, CB/S, Michigan – Ricky Seals-Jones, WR, Texas A&M – Derrick Green, RB, Michigan – Jordan Leggett, TE, Clemson – Khris Francis, RB, North Carolina – Courtney Love, LB, Nebraska – Danny Etling, QB, Purdue – Tray Matthews, S, Georgia – Uaea Masina, LB, Utah – Leon McQuay III, CB/S, USC – Kelvin Taylor, RB, Florida – Davis Webb, QB, Texas Tech
Immediate impact JUCO players: Marquel Combs, DT, Kansas – Za’Darius Smith, DE, Kentucky – Beau Sandland, TE, Miami – Aaron Wimbery, RB, Iowa State – Kevin White, WR, West Virginia – Justin Cox, CB, Mississippi State – Tommy Sanders, LB, Texas A&M