How are the top-25 recruits from the 2012 cycle faring as freshmen? And what factors under and beyond their control are influencing their playing time? We turned to SB Nation's excellent collection of college sites to find the answer.
Alabama had a phenomenal recruiting class in 2012, headlined by the No. 7 overall player in safety Landon Collins and the No. 17 player in athlete Eddie Williams. Todd from SB Nation's Roll Bama Roll tells us that so far, they aren't doing all that much.
For us neither one has done much; Landon Collins has four tackles on the season so far (has gotten snaps at safety in four games late in mop up time), while Eddie Williams looks like he's being redshirted.
Florida State signed more top-25 recruits than any school with four:
How are they doing? Here's SB Nation's Tomahawk Nation:
Edwards Jr. came to school overweight, but has worked hard to get in shape. With injuries to ends Brandon Jenkins and Chris Casher, he is being counted on to be one of the No. 2 defensive ends. Goldman is third string and has seen action in garbage time. Winston is redshirting as Florida State's depth chart at QB is very crowded and he is quite raw. Darby has shown flashes of stardom, and continues to push starter Nick Waisome at field corner.
Arik Armstead is progressing nicely on the defensive side of the ball. A lot of people had questions about him as a defensive end, considering how highly regarded he was as an offensive lineman, but he's definitely developing a nice skill set. First of all, he's appeared in all 5 games and recorded 11 total tackles. The coaches obviously feel comfortable with him as a backup and early rotation player on the line. Second, he's really improving on his fundamentals. One great thing about Armstead is his height (6'8) and size for a defensive end, but what's even better is his footwork and hand fighting skills. Armstead is doing a lot better job of not allowing offensive linemen to get into his chest and drive him where they want him to go. Instead he's using his arms to hold them off and his quick feet to take away angles on the gaps. All in all, Armstead will be a solid piece in the Oregon D-line for years to come.
Jeremy of Dawg Sports tells us about No.'s 12, 16 and 20 on the list for Georgia:
When you recruit one of the top 50 prospects in America, you expect him to produce. Georgia snagged 3 of the top 50 in the class of 2012, and has enjoyed a solid level of contribution from each.
Keith Marshall came to Georgia as the more highly rated half of the "Gurshall" tailback tandem. And while fellow freshman Todd Gurley [No. 71 overall] is nominally the starter (and the SEC's leading rusher), Marshall has proven to be the Bulldogs' biggest homerun threat, notching 428 yards on 52 carries (a nifty 8.2 YPC average), and making him the "other" Georgia freshman tailback on pace to reach 1,000 yards this season.
Offensive tackle John Theus has also seen action, both as a starter at right tackle and in a reserve role. Theus had a bad game against Missouri in the second week of the season (with multiple false starts and some missed assignments), but seems to be improving. He's battled a nagging ankle injury, but should be a big contributor during the meat of Georgia's SEC schedule, when you simply cannot have enough healthy offensive linemen.
After an on-again, off-again National Signing Day, Josh Harvey-Clemons has been a contributor from the opening whistle for Mark Richt's team. He's primarily seen action as the nickel back on defense, even though it remains clear that his long term future probably lies at linebacker. He's just too gifted an athlete not to be used whenever and wherever possible. Harvey-Clemons has also played on special teams, especially on kickoffs. There have also been rumblings that he may be an option as a goalline receiver at some point this season. But only Mike Bobo knows if that's the case. Actually, he may be unaware of where JHC is working, too. But the bottom line is that we're still finding places to use his phenomenal athleticism. If anything, I'm afraid that the Georgia staff will spend too much of his Bulldog career futzing around, moving him from place to place instead of letting him become the master of one position. But to put it in Twitter terms, that definitely falls under the realm of #LoadedDepthChartProblems.
Florida signed the No. 3 overall recruit in offensive lineman D.J. Humphries and the No. 13 overall player in defensive end Jonathan Bullard, both from North Carolina. Andy Hutchins of SB Nation's Alligator Army offers his thoughts, with an assist from former contributor Lance Davis.
Humphries has been one of a growing number of contributors to Florida's offensive line, and there are rumblings that he might Wally Pipp Xavier Nixon -- a fellow five-star offensive lineman from North Carolina who had an excellent freshman year -- sooner rather than later. At least, Humphries is a valuable part of Florida's deeper line; at most, he could be a starter before the year is out.
Bullard is one of two freshmen having good years on the Gators' defensive line; Dante Fowler, Jr. is the other. Bullard has been part of both normal rotations and pass-rush packages for Florida, and has given the Gators another big body up front to put pressure on the quarterback. Florida's stats have him with just half of a tackle for loss and a lone QB hit, but Florida has only had five sacks as a team, and the Gators have seemed to emphasize pressure over sacks at times. Bullard's got a good career ahead of him, and his freshman year has been promising so far.
Wescott Eberts of Burnt Orange Nation has the scoop on No.'s 6 and 10 on the list for Texas:
Malcom Brown, Texas defensive tackle -- The big defensive tackle is on the fringes of the rotation right now for the Longhorns, which currently features four experienced players, so there isn't a lot of available playing time for the former five-star prospect. Brown has appeared in two games for Texas in mop-up duty, officially racking up one assisted tackle.
It may be another year before he makes an impact, but based on the buzz that surrounded his play in fall camp and his willingness to go toe-to-toe (and came out in top) in a physical altercation with junior guard Mason Walters, the nastiest offensive lineman on the team, the kid known as Shug to his friends will be living in offensive backfields before too long.
Johnathan Gray, Texas running back -- A record-setting ballcarrier during his prep career at Aledo, Gray probably arrived in Austin with immediate expectations that didn't quite match up with available playing time. The Texas staff was reluctant to get him into some of the ballgames early because of concerns in pass protection, but when Gray did start getting a rhythm with some carries late against Ole Miss, he began to show the feet and burst that made him such a highly-rated player coming out of high school.
Oh yeah, and he straight-up trucked an Ole Miss defender and almost broke a long run in that game, the former of which wasn't nearly as common as straight-up using his other skills to do the latter in high school. Which he did frequently, to say the least.
Noah Spence was a later addition to the Class of '12 for Ohio State, but an important one as Spence was a 5-star and considered one of the top defensive lineman in the country. Urban Meyer had already nabbed a couple of high profile recruits prior to receiving a verbal commitment from Spence. Spence's commitment only solidified Meyer's reputation as a relentless recruiting guru. From the time Spence hit the practice field, the coaches have been thoroughly impressed with his speed and athleticism.
The trust the staff has in Spence shows during games when he's frequently put into the defensive line rotation. Spence has provided a couple of sparks on defense, when his teammates might be a tad fatigued at that point. Through five games, Spence already has pressured the opposing team's quarterback numerous times and also has a sack. In addition, Spence has a handful of tackles and although has already shined on defense, will continue to improve his play during the course of the season.
You could argue that Adolphus Washington was the first real commitment given to Urban Meyer. While Meyer was officially given the reins on the 28th of November, on the 22nd, Washington committed to Ohio State. Before that period, it was still a wide open race for the 5-star defensive lineman but once whispers started about the possibility of coach Meyer landing in Columbus, the choice for Washington was a no-brainer.
Much like his teammate Noah Spence, Washington came in highly regarded and he too proved his worth on the practice field. Because of the hard work he put in, he was rewarded with being a part of the rotation on the defensive line. Washington is versatile and can play just about anywhere on the line and through the five games he has played, he has already recorded a sack and a couple of tackles. With more training and game experience coming his way, Washington's future looks even brighter as he continues to live up to expectations.
Rutgers surprisingly kept its recruiting class together after the departure of Greg Schiano. Included in the class was the nation's No. 23 overall player in Darius Hamilton. On The Banks weighs in on Hamilton's performance so far:
Darius Hamilton has made it onto the Rutgers two-deep at defensive tackle as a reserve. This is partially due to injuries at the position, but he has looked relatively good, and is on pace to be a three year starter starting next season.
The former five-star standout from Spring Dekaney immediately made his way into the starting lineup as the Aggies' kick returner. On the season he has 7 returns for 145 yards with a long of 30.
Williams has also logged significant playing time from the running back position with 24 carries for 102 yards and 2 scores through the first four games. That makes him the team's third leading rusher behind starter, Ben Malena and quarterback, Johnny Manziel. Trey has also showed impressive hands out of the backfield with 4 receptions for 64 yards.
As the Aggies navigate their first SEC schedule, expect Offensive Coordinator Kliff Kingsbury to continue to find ways to get this playmaker the ball. Trey's touches should increase as his knowledge of the offense grows and his pass protection improves.
UCLA's top recruit in the 2012 class, Ellis McCarthy, is learning the hard way that it's difficult to make an impact in college football if you miss the offseason practices. There simply isn't enough practice time during game weeks for back-ups to get enough practice reps to fully catch up. There is no doubt that the 6'5, 330-pound physical specimen has the ability to dominate at the college level, but after missing nearly all of fall camp following a minor knee surgery, McCarthy simply hasn't been able to get up to speed. Missing time also has an impact on conditioning, and McCarthy hasn't looked as quick as most expected.
Despite the missed time, McCarthy has broken into the defensive line rotation. He has seen time in all four games, playing primarily at defensive end in Lou Spanos' 3-4 defensive alignment. At times, he's been able to command double teams and collapse the pocket, particularly against Rice and Houston, where he had an obvious talent advantage. At other times, such as the Nebraska game, he's looked like a freshman that missed most of fall camp. McCarthy whiffed the assignment that led to Taylor Martinez's 92 yard touchdown run. In the five games so far, McCarthy has five tackles and a sack. Of course, most of McCarthy's play is not registered on a stat sheet. Any play that he occupies two blockers or collapses the pocket is a victory, and he been successful in that aspect more than the casual observer would recognize. It should also be noted that McCarthy has already shown a great attitude and personality, and there is no doubt that he'll be a fan favorite in Westwood for years to come.
In addition to playing on defense, Coach Mora has introduced McCarthy to jumbo sets as an additional big-bodied blocker. While some may argue that this can only take away from his practice reps on the defensive side of the ball, it also gets one of UCLA's best athletes on the field in crucial situations. There is no way to sugarcoat it, UCLA needs help on short yardage situations. As explosive as Coach Mazzone's offense is, the offense is not designed to line up mano-a-mano and win in short yardage situations. Adding a lead blocker with McCarthy's size and athleticism may make the difference between a short field goal and a touchdown, and who wouldn't want to see Big Ellis McCarthy score a touchdown a la William Perry?
Missouri proved that geography has much more to do with recruiting than many want to admit in signing the nation's top player last year, receiver Dorial Green-Beckham.
The 2012 season has been one of angst for Missouri fans. They had to watch as an injury-plagued offensive line struggled, got shuffled around, and struggled some more through most of September, and they have had to watch quarterback James Franklin attempt to move past an offseason shoulder injury (and mid-September re-aggravation) behind this iffy line. But they have also had to sit and wait for Dorial Green-Beckham to break through. It was clear by the second week of the season that DGB, as he is known, wasn't going to have a Sammy Watkins-esque impact on the 2012 season (though with an injured quarterback running for his life, Watkins might not have had a Watkins-esque impact in 2011 either). He has seen the field for up to half of Mizzou's plays, but he hasn't been targeted much, and early on his body language screamed "Am I lined up in the right spot? Do I know what route I'm running?" It has taken him some time to get acclimated, but in a single catch last Saturday in Orlando, an 80-yard touchdown reception that saw a UCF defender attempt to wrap him up around the waist and bounce off of him like he was trying to tackle a Buick, Mizzou fans got an enormous glimpse of enormous potential (and an enormous frame). Through five games, DGB now has six catches for 119 yards in 14 targets; half of the incomplete passes targeting him have been uncatchable fade routes, but as he gets more comfortable in the offense, the numbers should begin to pile up at least a little bit. Even if last week wasn't the start of some Marqise Lee-like midseason surge, DGB should still end up with something in the neighborhood of 30 catches for 400-500 yards. That isn't "instant star" level, but it certainly isn't bad.
Update: Green-Beckham was arrested Thursday for possession of marijuana and is suspended for Missouri's game against Vanderbilt.
The Miami Hurricanes had a fantastic close to the 2012 class in signing cornerback Tracy Howard, the No. 22 player nationally. And that close was spurred on by long-time commit Duke Johnson, who helped recruit much of the talent to The U. Seventh Floor Blog profiles their careers to date:
For a kid coming in highly recruited, Howard has yet to live up to the lofty standards that pundits and fans alike hold for him. Part of that is the learning curve, and part of it is the depth at the position. Coming into camp, corner back was one of the deepest spots on the field for the Canes, and while Howard was always near the top in practice performance, there were others that beat him out come week one. Brandon McGee was the No. 1 guy the whole way, and down the stretch Thomas Finnie and Ladarius Gunter took over the opposite side of the field. Howard has played in all five games so far, registering just 3 total tackles. He has played wonderfully at times, and others he has looked a bit lost (as most of his freshman counterparts have). No one is panicking yet, though, because sooner or later things will click for the young kid, and he will be out there shutting down his side of the field.
Wow. Just...wow. What can be said about Duke that he hasn't already said in the tracks he is leaving on the field. In just his first game against Boston College, on the road, he ripped off a pair of 50+ yard touchdown runs and converted a crucial 4th and 1 by lowering his shoulder and breaking through 3 defenders. He has done everything for the Canes. He returns kicks (for touchdowns), he catches passes out of the backfield (for touchdowns), he runs the ball (for touchdowns), and he is blocking well above his level. Coaches were concerned about him holding up for a whole season, and have held his workload back as much as they can, but Duke is a consummate hard worker, and shows no signs of slowing down. His elusiveness in the backfield is ridiculous, and there may very well be no one more dangerous in the open field. He has 920 all-purpose yards after 5 games (147 receiving, 359 rushing, 414 return), and has scored 7 times.
Off a 2-10 season, Maryland needed to keep receiver Stefon Diggs, the No. 8 overall player, home in Maryland in the worst possible way. And it did. How are things going for Diggs? Quite well, says Testudo Times' Ben Broman:
Stefon Diggs is the light and the way. His word is truth. He is a shining beacon of hope, our sun and stars, our hero in the night. He is, more or less, everything right and good with Maryland football right now.
That might seem like a bit of hyperbole for a guy who has only 12 receptions and 259 yards through the first four games. But rest assured that the somewhat middling stats aren't his fault; defenses figured out early that they needed to key in on him, and Maryland doesn't have the weapons to draw attention away from him. The coaching staff still needs to figure out ways to get him the ball (like, for instance, going triple zone-read option with him in the backfield), because nearly every time he's touched it something good has happened. The hype around him was not misplaced: he can make something out of nothing easily, and we he actually does have something, the spectacular tends to happen. (See his second touchdown against West Virginia last week for evidence.) He's made a significant impact in the return game, too, which has helped Maryland flip field position. Occasionally he tries to do too much, which is normal for a young guy, but as he gets more experience he'll simmer down a bit and be smarter.
When that happens, and when Maryland's other young weapons like Wes Brown and Marcus Leak can strike fear in defense, too, Diggs will light opponents up. He's shown enough in the opening four games that there should be little doubt of that.
Kyle Murphy of Stanford, the No. 11 overall player and an excellent offensive line recruit, has played in all of Stanford's games so far, but has yet to start.
Signing safety Shaq Thompson, the nation's No. 4 overall recruit, was a huge coup for Washington. And he's had a big impact, starting immediately and tallying the second most tackles to date on the Huskies' defense.
The lesson here?
To get early playing time, a recruit needs to be more mature than the average freshman and have several factors outside of his control go his way. Since most of these recruits sign with top programs, the main factor is the depth chart, which is filled with players who were also top recruits in their respective class.
There are also certain positions that are more likely to earn early playing time, like receiver or running back. That's because those positions don't typically require a lot of continued physical development like a spot on the offensive or defensive line does.
And just because a team on this list isn't playing its freshmen in the top-25 doesn't mean it isn't playing freshmen. Alabama, for instance, is running the heck out of running back T.J. Yeldon, who just missed the list at No. 29 overall. Depth chart plays a big factor in these decisions.
It looks as if four of the 25 are starting or have started. Only two of the 25 are slated to redshirt, meaning 23 of the 25 are making some sort of impact as a reserve.
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