The year's impact freshmen
But we also have freshmen making big impacts all across the country. Today, let's take a look at the first-year players having the best seasons and giving their teams immediate production.
WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson: Besides the play of quarterback Tajh Boyd in coordinator Chad Morris' new offense, perhaps the biggest reason why Clemson is off to its undefeated start is the electric play of receiver Sammy Watkins. The 6-1, 180-pound true freshman has 38 catches for 623 yards and 6 touchdowns in his debut campaign, and he's added 94 yards on 19 carries as well. Last week, he hauled in seven catches for 152 yards against Boston College en route to being named ACC rookie of the week for the third time on the year. The most impressive aspect of his game is not even his dynamic play-making ability; it's his fluid route-running and demeanor for such a young player. One of the real gems of head coach Dabo Swinney's Class of 2011.
Jadeveon Clowney has made a stout South Carolina defensive line even stronger.
DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina: The Gamecocks boast serious talent and depth on the defensive line, led by senior Melvin Ingram and junior Devin Taylor. But it's true freshman Jadeveon Clowney who has lived up to all of the hype after his elite prep career. The 6-5, 254-pounder was just added to the watch list for the Bednarik Award, which goes to the nation's top defensive player, and he ranks second in the SEC in sacks. He already looks like a future NFL player, which is a scary thought for opposing offensive linemen on Saturday afternoons.
RB De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon: We've know about the Ducks' backfield depth for awhile now. And although Kenjon Barner is in line for most of the carries while LaMichael James is sidelined by an elbow injury, De'Anthony Thomas is primed for an increased role as well. The true freshman, who everyone thought would end up enrolling at USC, has 25 carries for 191 yards and two touchdowns on the season. But his true value his been in the passing game, where he's lined up in the slot and has been a major threat for quarterback Darron Thomas in the aerial attack. The 5-9, 160-pounder has 17 catches for 286 yards and four more scores, and my concern with James being out is whether the Ducks will lose that aspect of the offense with Thomas lined up in the backfield. Last week against Cal, he had a team-high six catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns and added another score on the ground. Nicknamed "Black Mamba" by Snoop Dogg, Thomas also competes on special teams and is ranked fifth in the Pac-12 in all-purpose yards with an average of 145.8 per game.
RB/KR Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska: The Cornhuskers needed all the playmakers it could get in Tim Beck's new offense, and Abdullah has been a special weapon for Nebraska even though most of his damage has come on special teams. He's a dynamic, explosive force who ranks second nationally in kickoff returns, averaging 31.9 yards per return, and he's dangerous on punt returns as well. He already set a school-record with 211 yards on five kick returns in a win over Chattanooga, and the true freshman has seven returns of 30 yards or more this season after his 35-yard return in the first quarter last Saturday against Ohio State.
RB Isaiah Crowell and WR Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia: Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray badly needed a supporting cast to step up around him this fall in Athens, and that's exactly what Isaiah Crowell and Malcolm Mitchell have done. Crowell was able to assume No. 1 duties in UGA's backfield after the team suffered serious personnel issues throughout the offseason. He has rushed for 573 yards and four touchdowns on 118 carries, averaging 4.9 yards per rush. The 5-11, 215-pounder has rushed for at least 85 yards in four of his last five games, and he found the end zone twice despite being limited to 58 yards last week against Tennessee. Meanwhile, Mitchell has emerged as the team's best receiver, catching 25 passes for 438 yards and three scores. The highly recruited prospect will miss the team's game Saturday against Vanderbilt, however, with a left hamstring injury. He likely will return after the team's bye week for Georgia's contest against Florida.
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