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College Football Draft Kit: Newcomers Set to Make An Immediate Impact

Mario Puig

Mario is a Senior Writer at RotoWire who primarily writes and projects for the NFL and college football sections.

Itís next to impossible to correctly pinpoint the next group of star freshmen.

No one would have guessed last year that Mohamed Sanu, a three-star safety recruit, would end up being one of the countryís most productive receivers. No one could have known LeGarrette Blount would knockout Byron Hout, allowing LaMichael James to run wild. No one suspected that Darren Evans would tear his ACL and Ryan Williams, in his place, would have one of the most productive years in Virginia Tech history. Surely thereís no way a single person could have foreseen 1,799 yards and 18 touchdowns coming from Dion Lewis, the Pittsburgh runner whose other scholarship offers only came from lowly Miami (OH) and Tulane.

But this unpredictability isnít a reason to not bother with the freshmen. The opposite is trueóitís in your teamís best interest to have the most expansive knowledge of the potential breakout candidates as possible. You wonít be able to draft every one of these players, but at least youíll know who to put on speed dial when the breakout happens.

Weíre going to rank the freshmen (both true and redshirt) according to their 2010 value and their value as keepers. This article will focus on their value for the upcoming season.

This list only goes to 20, because thereís frankly just not any good reason to think many freshmen will put up big numbers this year. The keeper list is more exhaustive, so check there to catch up on who the really deep sleepers are.

Beware that the true freshmen are always at risk of redshirting. We make these rankings under the assumption that they will play, so check our news updates on the true freshmen when your draft comes around to make sure theyíll be suiting up this year.

The Now

1. Malcolm Jones, RB, UCLA (True)

Jones seems like a good bet to suit up as a true freshman, and if he does, we think he's got an excellent chance to start for UCLA this year. Jones is built like an NFL workhorse already, as he played in the 210-pound range in high school and checks in at about six feet tall. Heís not exactly what you would call a homerun threat, but he absolutely is a big-play threat despite his workhorse build. He cuts very well for a runner his size and has very good acceleration, so he should do a good job of consistently piling up first-downs. He reminds us of a slightly less nimble version of former Oregon runner Jonathan Stewart.

2. James Green, WR, Toledo (Redshirt)

Green is a talent that the MAC rarely sees. The former four-star recruit originally signed with Tennessee, but academic troubles ended that possibility. After briefly committing to Minnesota, Green switched his commitment to Toledo, where his high school quarterback, Austin Dantin, figures to be the starter. Given that Green also reportedly had offers from schools like Ohio State, Auburn, Mississippi, South Carolina, South Florida and North Carolina State coming out of high school, there's reason to believe he'll light up the MAC. It might not be long until Green and the spectacular Eric Page are one of the most productive wideout tandems in the nation.

3. Kendrick Hardy, RB, Southern Mississippi (Redshirt)

Hardy probably doesnít have the athletic talent that guys like Dillon Baxter, Lache Seastrunk and Marcus Lattimore have, but heís got a good chance to earn a starting spot for a high-powered Southern Mississippi offense this year. It's worth noting that Hardy was a fairly big recruit himself, however, as he reportedly chose Southern Mississippi over programs like Oregon, Auburn, Mississippi and Tennessee--programs that really know how to run the football. Although the brilliant Tracey Lampley will steal some carries as a change of pace and third-down back, Hardy is built to be the workhorse better than his competition. Hardy's top competition for the feature role probably comes from sophomore Desmond Johnson, who ran for 72 yards and a touchdown on seven carries against Alcorn State last year. If itís confirmed at some point that Hardy will definitely start for Southern Miss this year, go ahead and move him to the top spot on the list.

4. Jordan Reed, TE, Florida (Redshirt)

Reedís value being this high depends on two things. First, he needs to actually win the starting tight end spot for Florida. He seems likely to do that. Second, he needs to secure an occasional role as a wildcat quarterback. Tim Tebowís replacement, John Brantley, is an excellent talent but is a pro-style passer, not a runner. Urban Meyer probably isnít content to run a purely passing spread offense, so the occasional running quarterback formation will probably be necessary. Reed is an ideal candidate to fit that role because he was originally recruited to Florida as a quarterback, and because he has the build at around 6-3, 240 pounds to take the beating as a runner. If he can secure both of these roles, we think heíll be among the best fantasy tight ends after Ladarius Green and Lance Kendricks.

5. Nathan Scheelhaase, QB, Illinois (Redshirt)

Scheelhaase is a difficult case to project, because he hasnít done anything yet at the college level. All we know is that the former big-time recruit is an excellent athlete for a quarterback and reportedly could be playing at schools like Oklahoma, Iowa, Nebraska, Stanford, Mississippi and Missouri, among others. Heíll have a decent supporting cast at Illinois as far as the skill positions go, particularly in the running back duo of Mikel LeShoure and Jason Ford, but the offensive line might be a concern. In any case, Scheelhaase has experience both as a pro-style and option quarterback and throws a really nice spiral. Although his arm doesnít seem that strong, heís fairly well developed as a passer and should be able to operate the spread effectively. If he can get a little help this year, he might surprise people.

6. Jake Heaps, QB, BYU (True)

Heaps isnít a brilliant athletic specimen and is a bit short at around 6-1, but heís well developed as a passer and figures to be a great fit in the BYU offense. As the consensus No. 1 quarterback recruit from the 2010 class, Heaps could be a major mismatch in the Mountain West. Heíll compete with Riley Nelson for the starting spot, but Nelson really struggled as a freshman in 2006. Heaps seems like a good bet to take the starting job no later than the middle of the year. Few players have more value in keeper leagues.

7. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina (True)

South Carolina has a couple skilled runners in Kenny Miles and Jarvis Giles, but neither is suited to grinding out tough yards or carrying an offense. Lattimore is a legitimate five-star recruit with the talent to make an instant difference for South Carolina. He probably wonít receive a huge workload as a freshman, but the difference in talent between him and the other South Carolina runners will force Steve Spurrier to get Lattimore more involved as the season goes on.

8. Hutson Prioleau, TE, Texas A&M (Redshirt)

Prioleau isnít expected to put up big numbers or anything in 2010, but his situation is more stable than most of the guys ranked below him. There just isnít much competition for the starting tight end spot at Texas A&M, and Prioleau is the heavy favorite to win it. Last yearís starter, Jamie McCoy, posted 35 receptions for 367 yards and two touchdowns along with 80 yards rushing. If Prioleau can prove to be similarly effective, he could emerge as a legitimate starting tight end option in many league types.

9. Corey Robinson, QB, Troy (Redshirt)

Although there might be a competition between Jamie Hampton and Robinson for the starting quarterback spot for Troy, itís expected that Hampton has an advantage heading into the fall. The thing is, Hampton has a history of struggling as a starter, and Robinsonís record as a high school player almost makes a quarterback controversy inevitable. That might be unfair, but Robinson set the national record with 90 touchdown passes in his senior season of high school, throwing just four interceptions at the same time. With that sort of legend behind him, the temptation to put in Robinson as soon as Hampton falters will be extraordinary. And really, based on what he did in high school, do you want to bet against Robinson succeeding?

10. Michael Ford, RB, LSU (Redshirt)

Although heís currently listed third on the LSU depth chart behind Richard Murphy and Stevan Ridley, we like Fordís chances of taking over at some point this season. Ridley just isnít much of an option as a runner (besides LSUís game against Tulane, he ran 37 times for just 107 yards last year) and Murphy is coming off a season-ending knee injury and wasnít particularly impressive before that. Ford probably isnít much more than a downhill runner, but the same was the case with Charles Scott, and he put up mammoth numbers for LSU.

11. Tai-ler Jones, WR, Notre Dame (True)

Jones is expected to be one of the four starting receivers in coach Brian Kellyís spread offense, and he has as good of a shot as anyone else on the team at emerging as the second option behind No. 1 wideout Michael Floyd. If Dayne Crist can perform near the level that Tony Pike did for Kelly, there ought to be more than one fantasy-relevant receiver on the Notre Dame squad. That isnít set in stone, of course, but Jones is worth keeping an eye on in case he turns out to be one of those players.

12. Andre Debose, WR, Florida (Redshirt)

It wasnít that long ago when Florida was a goldmine for productive wideouts. Reidel Anthony and Jacquez Green ruled the í90s, and then Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell but up mammoth numbers. Thatís not to mention Chad Jackson and Percy Harvin more recently. Of course, Riley Cooper was certainly good enough last year, but the Tim Tebow era saw the end of the passing spread and the arrival of the run-oriented spread. The installment of John Bradley to the quarterback spot, however, means a return to the more Spurrier-like passing spread. Behind Deonte Thompson, no one really knows who figures to benefit from this change. Debose, however, was a five-star recruit from a year ago who usually gets mentioned by coach Urban Meyer when discussing the current wideouts. Thompson and Chris Rainey are the favorites, but Debose is a wildcard to keep close track of.

13. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia (Redshirt)

Murray is definitely the starter for Georgia this year. Weíd have listed him higher, but his usefulness in the fantasy realm isnít as high as it is in the real world. He looks like he should be a fine player for his team, but the Georgia offense doesnít call for big passing numbers. Even former No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick Matt Stafford wasnít much of a fantasy factor. Murray is someone to keep an eye on in the SEC, but heís limited by his system. Washaun Ealey and Caleb King figure to be the foundation of the run-first Georgia offense.

14. Bryn Renner, QB, North Carolina (Redshirt)

Renner heads into the 2010 season as North Carolinaís backup quarterback, but starter T.J. Yates will be on a very short leash. Coach Butch Davis needs to show some wins this year now that heís got so many big recruits on his roster, and Yates will be pulled for Renner at the first signs of trouble, because there wonít be any time to waste. If Renner does see the field, heíll have a good group of skill position players to help him out, but heíll be dealing with a questionable offensive line. Keep an eye on his situation in the ACC, but like Murray, Renner is limited by his offense.

15. Greg Timmons, WR, Texas (Redshirt)

Timmons was a big-time recruit from the 2009 class, but he hasnít done anything at the college level at this point. At around 6-3 and 200 pounds, Timmons is a big wideout with the athleticism to perform both as a big-play threat and a possession receiver. Malcolm Williams looks like a lock to be the next big-time Texas receiver, but there isnít much returning talent at the position and Timmons has a decent shot at seeing the field this year if he can prove to be better than players like James Kirkendoll, John Chiles and Marquise Goodwin. In what is usually a potent passing attack, he should be productive in such an event.

16. Austin Haywood, TE, Oklahoma (True)

With the departure of Jermaine Gresham, the Sooners are looking for a new receiving threat at the tight end position. Haywood has generated a good amount of buzz so far this offseason and heís one of the favorites to take over the tight end position. The most likely scenario we can foresee is that a tight end rotation occurs in Oklahoma, but you never know. Haywood has the athleticism to be another Jermaine Gresham, but we just canít see it happening this year.

17. Lache Seastrunk, RB, Oregon (True)

Seastrunk is unlikely to do much in 2010, but nothingís impossible. Heís arguably the top big-play threat among the 2010 class and, in the Oregon offense, he figures to be an absolute nightmare for opponents. Kenjon Barner is an entirely legitimate backup behind star starter LaMichael James, however, so it would probably take an injury for Seastrunk to really show what heís capable of. On the other hand, the 2008 Ducks offense produced two 1,000-yard, double-digit touchdown backs in Jeremiah Johnson and LeGarrette Blount, so Seastrunkís arrival could come sooner than weíre expecting.

18. Ross Apo, WR, BYU (True)
The big wideout has an uphill battle to make an immediate impact at BYU, but he's a major talent who has been generating a good amount of buzz so far. Whenever he is ready to go, he figures to be the top target of No. 1 quarterback recruit Jake Heaps, and BYU probably will take on competition that is favorable for any fantasy schedule.

Matt Perez, RB, Indiana (True)

Perez is an unknown on the national scale, but we think he has the look of a good player. His low level of competition in high school and lack of brilliant athleticism caused him to miss the radars of bigger schools, but we like his chances of emerging as the top backup to starter Darius Willis. Willis struggled with ankle troubles all year last year, so Perez could be in line for work sooner than anyone expects. He showed excellent vision, good balance and good cutting ability in high school, and he just looks like a natural as a running back.

20. Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State (True)
Randle probably won't be seeing the field much unless starter Kendall Hunter gets hurt, but given that Hunter was hurt for all of 2009, this is hardly an impossibility. Randle is one of the best runners from the 2010 class and he reportedly is proving to be a fantastic fit for the new Houston-style offense of offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen.
Make sure to check our freshmen keeper article for a bigger list.