With the 2014 college football season on the horizon, let's take a look at some true freshmen who are not only ready to contribute from a talent perspective but are also in spots where a need could be immediate for their respective teams.
LSU RB Leonard Fournette: Will he have an Adrian Peterson-type impact on the Tigers? A Les Miles-coached team will always make running the football Priority No. 1, and Fournette won't have to battle Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue, who declared early for the NFL Draft, for carries. LSU will always have depth at running back, and Kenny Hilliard will get his share of touches. But Fournette is a special breed. He has power, speed, agility, the ability to catch out of the backfield and the maturity to make an instant impact.
Florida CB Jalen Tabor: The early enrollee stepped into a secondary that lost Jaylen Watkins, Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson, so the Gators have a need for immediate production. Head coach Will Muschamp praised Tabor's work this spring, and he has a chance to start opposite stud sophomore Vernon Hargreaves III. But a July report stated that Tabor was cited for marijuana possession in May, so he needs to keep himself clean off of the field. He is battling Brian Poole and Duke Dawson for the spot opposite Hargreaves in the defensive backfield.
US PRESSWIREBrady Hoke could use freshman Jabrill Peppers in a variety of ways.
Michigan CB Jabrill Peppers: Will he play both ways? The prized recruit who is being dubbed "the next Charles Woodson" could be used by head coach Brady Hoke in a variety of roles because he has elite speed. He won a state track title when he ran a 100-meter dash in 10.52 seconds. His athleticism will bring intrigue to the Wolverines, and I expect him to be a playmaker immediately (likely at nickel) for coordinator Greg Mattison's defense. But he also could be a nice toy for new OC Doug Nussmeier if the Wolverines let the freshman line up all over the offensive side of the ball and be a threat in the return game.
Alabama OT Cam Robinson: The Crimson Tide are replacing former left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, who was taken by the Buffalo Bills in the second round of the NFL Draft. Robinson entered fall camp as the first-team left tackle because he enrolled early and is talented enough to pull off the rarest of feats: starting at a premium position in the nation's toughest conference. He is primed to be the first true freshman to start a season opener for the Crimson Tide since Julio Jones in 2008 because he has done well in his competition with Leon Brown, Austin Shepherd and Brandon Greene.
Alabama CBs Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey: The Tide have both cornerback spots open, so Brown and Humphrey have a chance to get immediate playing time. Brown enrolled early and excelled in spring, when he had an interception, two pass breakups and two tackles in the spring game. He has very good man-to-man cover skills, and the Tide don't return a ton of experience at corner. Juniors Cyrus Jones and Bradley Sylve, sophomores Eddie Jackson and Maurice Smith as well as redshirt freshman Anthony Averett are competing with Brown and Humphrey.
Ohio State LB Raekwon McMillan: The early enrollee Buckeye started in the team's spring game, and there's no question that he will be a big part of the OSU defense whether or not he or Curtis Grant starts. The Buckeyes' front seven is loaded, but McMillan was too big of a pick-up by head coach Urban Meyer to keep on the sideline. The Georgia native is just another SEC-type defender Meyer was able to bring to Columbus.
USC ATH Adoree Jackson: The Trojans were able to land arguably the best athlete in the 2014 class when Jackson came aboard. He was recruited to play cornerback for the Trojans, but he has elite speed and very good ball skills. His athleticism will allow him to play on both sides of the ball, and it also makes up for the fact that he isn't the biggest corner in the world (around 5-10, 170). Even if it's in small doses, I expect new Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian to sprinkle Jackson in on offense.
Texas A&M QB Kyle Allen: He still has to beat out Kenny Hill for the right to replace former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, but there's no question that Allen will see the field at some point in 2014. The early enrollee Arizona native is noted for his accuracy and has deceptive athleticism. Some recruiting experts believe that he could be the most gifted player Kevin Sumlin has ever coached.
LSU WR Malachi Dupre: The Tigers lost Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, so they need immediate production at wide receiver. And that's exactly what Dupre can provide. While Travin Dural and Avery Peterson return, either Brandon Harris or Anthony Jennings (the quarterbacks battling for the starting job) will be looking for Dupre throughout the season because the New Orleans native will be a beast. I spoke to a coach who worked with him this offseason who was very impressed with all of Dupre's physical tools.
LSU QB Brandon Harris: As mentioned above, he'll need to hold off Jennings for the starting gig. But we will see him at some point this fall, and it's likely to be sooner rather than later. The same coach who saw Dupre this offseason said Harris has the complete skill set to succeed, and he could be the first true freshman to start under center in Baton Rouge.
Other names you need to know:
Maryland OT Damian Prince: A huge in-state coup for Randy Edsall's program because it needed an impact player up front, especially as it enters its new league. Fellow true freshman Derwin Gray could also start opposite him, giving Edsall potentially two true freshman tackles.
Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett: Did you see the A&M defense last season? It was atrocious, allowing 6.4 yards per play and well over 30 points per game. Head coach Kevin Sumlin has made bringing in high-impact defenders a priority, and Garrett has the athleticism to be a difference-maker right away.
Penn State WR Saeed Blacknall: With Allen Robinson gone, Blacknall could emerge as star quarterback Christian Hackenberg’s top target.
Clemson QB Deshaun Watson: While Cole Stoudt will start and run the prolific Chad Morris offense, fans of the Tigers will get to see Watson on the field in the opener against Georgia. The dual-threat will eventually be a star in this offense, although how long will Morris be with the Tigers?
Tennessee RB Jalen Hurd: Vols head coach Butch Jones has a lot of young offensive toys at his disposal, including the homegrown Hurd. He has a very nice size-speed combo and was one of the gems of the Vols' 2014 haul.
Florida State WRs Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph: The Seminoles bring back Rashad Greene, but Kelvin Benjamin is gone. Lane and Rudolph are elite receiver prospects.
And a few more names:
North Carolina RB Elijah Hood, Baylor WR K.D. Cannon, USC OL Damien Mama, Texas A&M WR Speedy Noil, Virginia DT Andrew Brown, Virginia S Quin Blanding and Kentucky DT Matt Elam.
Note: Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon was poised to make this list because the Sooners are seeking a No. 1 back this fall as they try to make the inaugural College Football Playoff. But he remains sidelined as the investigation into a July 26 incident near campus continues. He watched a recent OU scrimmage from the sideline, but he isn’t practicing. And it remains to be seen if and when he becomes an impact player for Bob Stoops and Co. Before the off-the-field issue, he had a chance to beat out fellow running back Keith Ford, who had just 23 carries last season. The Sooners lost Brennan Clay, Roy Finch and Damien Williams from last season.
Dave Miller, the college football editor for the National Football Post, is on Twitter @Miller_Dave.
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