How Highly Recruited Were College Football's Star Freshmen?

CLEMSON, SC - SEPTEMBER 17: Sammy Watkins #2 of the Clemson Tigers runs with the ball against Demetruce McNeal #12 of the Auburn Tigers during their game at Memorial Stadium on September 17, 2011 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

A look at what the top freshmen in the country were like as recruits.

There have been some truly spectacular freshmen lighting up the scoreboards and defensive stat sheets this season in college football. And granted, the freshmen who often make the biggest impact are often those who are pressed into duty as a result of a team not having anyone ahead of them at the position due to lack of depth. But these young'ns have really shined when they got on the field. What were these true freshmen like as recruits?


Brett Smith of Wyoming was just a two-star recruit coming out of Salem, Oregon, but he's played quite well for the Cowboys. Smith has tossed seven TDs and no INTs. 

Chuckie Keeton of Utah State almost pulled off the huge upset of the Auburn Tigers in his first collegiate game. Just a two-star recruit out of Cypress, Texas, many insiders in the Lone-Star State thought Keeton was underrated. He's proved them right, tossing 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions for the Aggies.

Running Back

The consensus top two recruits at running back have been the two best as freshman as well. 

The Georgia Bulldogs may be thinking Isaiah Crowell is the best thing since Herschel. Crowell was a five-star recruit and hasn't disappointed, with 821 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

If he hadn't suffered from a turf toe, Texas' Malcolm Brown might be above Crowell on this list. Another five-star, Brown has racked up 685 yards on just 131 carries.


It has been a great year for freshmen receivers. 

Sammy Watkins was a stud in high school and has continued at Clemson, with 1000+ receiving yards and 165 rushing! The five-star has added an incredible 10 touchdowns.

No freshman can hope to match Watkins, but Marqise Lee of USC comes close. The four-star from Gardena, CA has an impressive 732 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns for the Trojans.

Injury mention: Malcolm Mitchell of UGA (four-star) and Rashad Greene of FSU (four-star) have been dynamic when on the field, but injuries have limited playing time for both.

Tight End

Austin Seferian-Jenkins has had by far the best season of the freshmen tight ends.The Washington Huskies' frosh has hauled in 26 balls for 377 yards and four scores. Seferian-Jenkins was a high four-star by most sites and a five-star by a few. He insisted on playing tight end and not tackle. The move looks to be paying off. 

Offensive Line

Many times freshmen excelling on the offensive line are doing so only because of playing time. Still, I try to highlight the best of the best. 

The Texas Longhorns are happy with the play of Josh Cochran, who has taken over as the starting left tackle. The former four-star is a high-effort player who has helped to spark the Texas running game.

I'm sure Louisville would have liked to red-shirt John Miller, but thanks to poor recruiting under the previous regime, that wasn't an option for the freshman guard. Miller was a four-star out of state champion Miami Central High School and has been a promising run blocker to this point. 

Another prospect out of Florida, Kaleb Johnson has been starting at right tackle for Rutgers. He's been serviceable in pass protection, but like the rest of the line, has trouble run blocking. Johnson was a three-star recruit out of Jacksonville's Ed White High School.

Tommy Olson has absolutely lived up to the hype of being the top recruit in Minnesota, and the Gophers are very glad he chose to stay home. A fixture at left guard, Olson shows surprising physical maturity and consistency for a freshman. His run blocking and pass protection have both been solid. Olson was a three-star recruit out of Mahtomedi High School. 

Finally, the true baby on the list: Florida State's Bobby Hart. Hart has started the last five games for the Seminoles at right tackle. That's impressive, but even more so when you realize Hart just turned 17 in August!. The four-star from St. Thomas Aquinas has been good in run blocking for the 'Noles and allowed FSU to shift Zebrie Sanders to left tackle when Andrew Datko went down with an injury.

Defensive Line

Like running back, five-stars dominate this list. 

Notre Dame's Aaron Lynch has been a star with four sacks and 11 QB hurries. The five-star from Cape Coral (FL) Island Coast High School continues to improve from his five-technique spot. 

Timmy Jernigan has been called the best freshman defensive tackle since Ron Simmons (yes, Farooq). The five-star from Lake City's Columbia High School has 6 TFLs and 2.5 sacks to go with his 27 tackles.

South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney was the top recruit in the country by all major services, and he has not disappointed. Clowney has 8 TFLs, 5 sacks and and incredible 5 forced fumbles.

Miami's Anthony Chickillo is a three-time Miami legacy. The five-star's bloodlines are showing through, as he's racked up 34 tackles, 5.5 for loss and 4 sacks.  Chickillo was a five-star by some and a four-star by others.


Tennessee's A.J. Johnson has been one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise disastrous season for the Volunteers. The former five-star has racked up an impressive 67 tackles.

Not far behind him is Miami's Denzel Perryman. The four-star from Coral Gables has 51 tackles for the beleaguered Hurricanes defense.

Defensive Back

Quandre Diggs has been a nice player for Texas so far. The four-star out of Angleton, Texas has 37 tackles, 2 interceptions, 9 pass breakups and 2 forced fumbles. 

Virginia's Demetrious Nicholson has was one of the top players in the state last season and has not disappointed for the 'Hoos. The four-star from Bayside High School has an incredible 43 tackles, 7 pass breakups and 2 interceptions. 

Log In Sign Up

Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.


You must be a member of to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at You should read them.


You must be a member of to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at You should read them.




Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.