This article will look at some of the freshmen who are most likely to make a fantasy impact in college football, be it this year or in the upcoming seasons. Redshirts, injuries, suspensions, transfers and other complications figure to whittle down the list over time, but for now, these are some of the best bets to make noticeable box score impacts in the next couple years.
Kyle Allen, Texas A&M
Texas A&M possesses a simply absurd abundance of quarterback talent, with Allen, Kenny Hill and 2015 No. 1 quarterback recruit Kyler Murray all eying the school's starting role over the next couple years. Allen is the consensus No. 1 quarterback recruit of 2014, meanwhile, and enrolled early at A&M to get a head start in the competition with Hill, an elite recruit from 2013.
The general narrative states that Allen will start over Hill in 2014, in which case he'd probably make an immediate fantasy impact in an Aggies offense overflowing with talent. I don't think Allen will start, though. Keep in mind that I'm largely alone on this and have no inside information on the A&M program, but based on their skill sets and high school film, I can't see why Allen would start over Hill in 2014.
Allen is a pure pocket passer who has the look of a traditional NFL quarterback, which I think is playing a large role in the pro-Allen narrative. He stands tall in the pocket and shows very good anticipation and accuracy. However, Hill's skill set is almost identical to that of Johnny Manziel, and going with him as the starter means A&M wouldn't need to at all renovate its offense or alter its playcalling from the last two years. Hill is a talented runner who shows a very nice deep ball, and his ability to threaten the edge as a runner and the deep sidelines as a passer make him an obvious big-play machine for the Aggies. Meanwhile, coach Kevin Sumlin has given no public reason to suspect either quarterback is ahead of the other.
Whoever ends up starting for A&M should put up big numbers. Even if Hill or/and Murray get in Allen's way this year or next, he'd probably be a prized transfer target with a likely starting job waiting for him.
Drew Barker, Kentucky
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown has been unable to get the Kentucky version of the Air Raid running the last two years, but the former Clemson and Troy offensive coordinator hopes the arrival of Barker will give him his most competent quarterback prospect to this point, with an immediate upgrade over the likes of Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow in mind.
Whitlow transferred and Smith dealt with a shoulder surgery in the offseason, so Barker will have a legitimate chance to start in a pass-heavy offense this year. The SEC won't be friendly to him, but if Barker is the talent Kentucky hopes he is, he just might hold his own.
Kevin Olsen, Miami (FL) (RS)
The brother of former Miami tight end and current Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, Kevin is a redshirt freshman quarterback who was a fairly high recruit a year ago, and he's the favorite to start for the Hurricanes since Stephen Morris graduated and Ryan Williams suffered an ACL tear recently.
Miami generally isn't a pass-heavy school and Olsen likely won't be that efficient as a first-time starter, but he will have an extremely talented offense around him. Running back Duke Johnson is one of the nation's absolute best, and the receiver group of Stacy Coley, Herb Waters and Philip Dorsett is excellent, as well.
Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Cole Stoudt doesn't seem to get much respect at Clemson, as he's perceived as a low-upside prospect despite throwing for 413 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions last year off the bench. Still, Stoudt's experience as a fourth-year player and strong showings as a backup over the last two years make him the favorite to open the season as the starting quarterback in Clemson's profitable offense.
If Stoudt struggles at all, though, a program with Clemson's ambitiousness won't settle long for mediocrity. It would likely turn to Watson in such an event, as the high-ranking 2014 recruit is perhaps the most anticipated player in the entire program.
Malik Zaire, Notre Dame (RS)
It seems at a glance as if Zaire might be a long shot to beat out 2012 starting quarterback Everett Golson for the starting role at Notre Dame, but by most accounts he's making a very real push for that role and has at least a 50-50 shot to win it. Like Golson, Zaire would be a dual-threat sort of quarterback rather than the pure pocket-passing game Tommy Rees played last year.
Leonard Fournette, LSU
Other than Jadeveon Clowney, it's difficult to remember a prospect whose high school film was as comically lopsided as Fournette's. To say he bullied his competition would be a horrible understatement, as Fournette is already built like an NFL runner at around 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, and his speed and power combination was simply unfair at the high school level.
Of course, the SEC will be a much bigger challenge for Fournette, but he should still remain one of the absolute best athletes on the field of any given game, even as a true freshman. Other than veteran backs Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, it's not obvious who will compete for carries in the LSU offense now that Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue are gone. Even in a crowded backfield, Fournette should make a fantasy impact as a true freshman.
Nick Wilson, Arizona
Wilson is a solid four-star 2014 recruit who might land in a starting role for Arizona this year. The Wildcats are thin at running back after losing Ka'Deem Carey in the offseason, and Wilson probably has the best pedigree among the potential replacements. Wilson probably won't offer much power at just about 200 pounds, but his speed is quite impressive. In a Rich Rodriguez offense, Wilson will be a significant threat to turn the corner or split the safeties and find the end zone from long distances.
Elijah Hood, North Carolina
The Tar Heels have one major talent at running back in sophomore T.J. Logan, and Romar Morris was very effective for them not long ago, but the depth is otherwise lacking in the North Carolina backfield. That's particularly true as far as the power element goes, because both Logan and Morris are small, speedy runners.
Hood's arrival to North Carolina changed all that. He's one of the nation's elite running back recruits this year, and at 6-foot, 220 pounds he has the size to offer a bruising element that Logan and Morris can't. The presence of Logan and Morris probably means Hood will be just a part-time player in 2014, but he should eventually emerge as a workhorse. As a big back with good power and standout straight-line speed, he reminds a bit of a healthy Knile Davis.
Racean Thomas and Peyton Barber (RS), Auburn
Along with Fournette, Cook and Mixon, Thomas probably rounds out the top tier of the 2014 running back class. He might struggle to crack the top three on the Auburn depth chart this year, however, as the Tigers bring back Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne from last year's squad, and Barber might be ahead of all of them. Former Minnesota Gophers and Dallas Cowboys star Marion Barber is Peyton's cousin, and like Marion, Peyton is a rocked-up power runner at 5-foot-11, 225 pounds. Gus Malzahn puts a premium on the ability to convert short-yardage plays, so whichever Auburn runner establishes himself in that regard might emerge as the lead runner in 2014.
Marquez Grayson, East Carolina (RS)
Grayson was a high-ranking recruit for East Carolina last year, reportedly choosing the Pirates over programs like Clemson, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia Tech. After redshirting in 2013, Grayson will have a huge opportunity ahead in 2014, as two-year starter Vintavious Cooper is gone after posting 2,883 yards and 22 touchdowns from scrimmage over the last two years.
Wayne Gallman, Clemson (RS)
Among its returning running backs from last year, Clemson simply doesn't have much talent. D.J. Howard has a sub-4.0 YPC over the last two years, and he headed into the fall on the top of the Clemson running back depth chart.
Don't expect that to last. Gallman is a more talented player than Howard or Zac Brooks, and he or fellow 2013 recruit Tyshon Dye ought to secure the top of the Clemson depth chart soon enough.
Kurt Scoby, Fresno State
Josh Quezada and Marteze Waller are both back after performing effectively in significant roles last year for Fresno State, so Scoby might not make an immediate impact in 2014. Beyond that, though, he looks like he might be a hit for the Bulldogs. At around 5-foot-8, 190 pounds with impressive cutting skills and surprisingly good tackle-breaking ability, an optimist might compare this bowling ball of a runner to a young Maurice Jones-Drew. Scoby's height/weight dimensions are very similar to those of Robbie Rouse, who was enormously productive for Fresno State from 2010 to 2012.
Dalvin Cook, Florida State
Cook is arguably the top running back recruit of 2014, and he'll have a chance to immediately step in as the top backup to star lead runner Karlos Williams. The Seminoles really spread the ball around a lot in the running game. Williams is a senior, so Cook should be a star in 2015 at the latest, though he'll need to hold off fellow talented runner Mario Pender to get there.
Joe Mixon, Oklahoma
After Fournette and maybe Cook, Mixon might have been rated the top runner in this class. At about 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Mixon is a lanky runner who might look like a more speed-oriented Marcus Lattimore. It's not clear whether he'll be able to see the field immediately, as Oklahoma already has a returning high-ranking recruit in running back Keith Ford, but Mixon will be expected to contribute sooner rather than later.
Taiwan Deal, Wisconsin
Melvin Gordon is off to the NFL after this year, and the Badgers need someone other than emerging star Corey Clement to pick up the slack in 2015. Deal might be the guy to do it. He's kind of redundant to Clement, possessing a pure bruiser style of running at about 225 pounds, but the Badgers won't worry about the style points so long as Deal moves the chains.
Royce Freeman, Oregon
With a frame to pack on 230 pounds, Freeman clearly projects as a workhorse runner eventually, but he might have to wait a couple years since Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner are already on the Oregon depth chart. The Oregon offense usually has room for two productive runners, though, and both Marshall and Tyner are early entrant candidates for the NFL, so Freeman might get his shot in 2015.
Dominique Booth, Indiana
Although Booth's recruiting grade isn't as high as some of the other players on this list, he's still a high-ranking catch for Indiana and, unlike some of the other top freshmen this year, Booth might have a big role in store for him immediately in 2014. Booth (6-foot, 200 pounds) is widely considered a four-star recruit for the Hoosiers, who Booth reportedly chose over schools like Alabama, Florida State, Texas A&M, Mississippi, Missouri, Wisconsin, and many others.
Promising quarterback Nate Sudfeld is back this year for Indiana, but the Hoosiers are short on proven pass catchers. Cody Latimer, Kofi Hughes and Ted Bolser left during the offseason, and 154 catches went with them. Other than Shane Wynn, Nick Stoner (12 catches in 2013) is the most proven returning Hoosiers receivr.
Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane, Florida State
Rudolph and Lane are both elite recruits for 2014, and both were early enrollees with the Seminoles and have a head start on the playbook heading into the fall. Both players reportedly impressed upon their arrivals, and it looks like the duo might emerge as Florida State's second and third receivers in some order behind lead workhorse Rashad Greene.
Frank Iheanacho and Speedy Noil, Texas A&M
As if the Aggies needed more help on offense after bringing back a deep backfield and a wideout rotation featuring Malcome Kennedy and No. 1 2013 wideout recruit Ricky Seals-Jones, the rich got richer as the Aggie reeled in Noil, perhaps the best big-play threat in the 2014 class, and the 6-foot-7, 220-pound Iheanacho. Both players have skill sets that the Aggies can use immediately in 2014, making both potential fantasy factors. At 6-foot-7, Iheanacho is particularly intriguing thanks to his red-zone potential.
KD Cannon and Davion Hall, Baylor
Top 2013 recruit Robbie Rhodes was just kicked off the team, and returning wideouts Antwan Goodley, Levi Norwood and Clay Fuller are all seniors. That leaves just Corey Coleman and Jay Lee as established current Baylor wideouts who will stick with the team beyond 2014. Cannon and Hall are both elite recruits from this year, with Cannon providing rare speed and Hall possessing WR1 upside at around 6-foot-3, 190 pounds.
Saeed Blacknall and Chris Godwin, Penn State
The Nittany Lions seem to have one wideout spot accounted for with redshirt sophomore Geno Lewis, but after that...? It doesn't necessarily look bad per se, as Blacknall and Godwin are two of the better receiver prospects of this year, but the duo might need to step into significant roles immediately as true freshmen. Other than Lewis, Penn State's next most productive returning wideout is Matt Zanellato, who caught four passes for 53 yards last year.
Josh Malone, Tennessee
There's a lot of excitement surrounding wideout Marquez North at Tennessee, and a fair amount of hype for Pig Howard and Jason Croom behind him, but it really looks like Malone might be the best of the bunch. He received a great deal of hype in the offseason, and it sounds like he might push North right away for the WR1 distinction with the Volunteers. Malone, who is apparently quite the acrobat, might be a Jordan Matthews-like talent for Tennessee. The problem for Malone's fantasy potential is that Tennessee doesn't seem to have a quarterback.
Bryce Bobo, Colorado
Bobo appears set to earn a top-three receiver role for Colorado this year, and might even beat out senior D.D. Goodson to start opposite locked-in WR1 Nelson Spruce. Bobo (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) could be surprisingly busy as a true freshman, because Colorado has a promising passing game developing thanks to sophomore quarterback Sefo Liufau, and the departure of wideout Paul Richardson (1,343 yards, 10 touchdowns in 2013) means there's a big opportunity up for grabs.
Thaddeus Snodgrass, Kentucky
If Drew Barker is to succeed at quarterback for Kentucky, the Wildcats will need to get more talent at the receiver position, where Javess Blue and Ryan Timmons appear to be the only noteworthy players. Snodgrass reportedy committed to Kentucky over a wealth of more heralded programs, perhaps most notably Ohio State, Penn State, South Carolina and Notre Dame.
Nate Brown, Missouri
Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt are the only remotely proven receivers at Missouri heading into this year, and both of them are seniors. That means the Tigers will be even thinner in 2015, at which point they might need Brown to step up as the team's workhorse receiver. Brown (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) has the tools to emerge as a No. 1 wideout, and the promising quarterback Maty Mauk ought to do a good job of getting him the ball over the next three years.
Lonnie Johnson and Javonte Seabury, Western Michigan
Johnson and Seabury might be the two biggest recruits Western Michigan has ever secured. Johnson has the look of a potential workhorse wideout at a listed size of 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, while Seabury looks like an open-field big-play threat at 5-foot-9, 160 pounds. Johnson reportedfly chose the Broncos over schools like Ohio State, Missouri and Nebraska, while Seabury reportedly took Western Michigan over programs such as Florida State and Miami (FL).
Darryl Richardson, San Diego State (RS)
Richardson arrived to San Diego State as a quarterback recruit, but it looks like his future will be at tight end. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound target reportedly chose the Aztecs over programs like Mississippi, Missouri and UCLA, so his athleticism really ought to stand out in the MWC. San Diego State is short on proven pass catchers after losing five players in the offseason who accounted for 123 catches last year, and the Aztecs might throw even more than last year after the departure of workhorse runner Adam Muema.
Mavin Saunders, Florida State
Standout starter Nick O'Leary is in his final season with the Seminoles, so Florida State will need a new tight end beyond this year. Saunders has the look of a high-upside prospect at around 6-foot-5, 235 pounds with a basketball background. He didn't play football until his junior year of high school, but he was so good at basketball prior to that point that he received an offer to play at Connecticut during 9th grade.
Darryl Long, Kentucky
Listed at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, Long is a big target who shows a good combination of speed and flexibility for a player of his size, making him look like a good pass-catching prospect at tight end. Three graduated Kentucky tight ends from last year combined for 23 catches for 299 yards and a touchdown, and Long is probably a talent upgrade over all of them. He might move to wide receiver in a year or two, because Kentucky has an even bigger 2015 recruit at tight end in C.J. Conrad.
Jeb Blazevich, Georgia
Presumed 2014 starter Jay Rome is a junior who could leave for the NFL if he has a big enough season, and Blazevich could be the next Georgia starter as a high-ranking 2014 recruit.