Redshirt freshmen make an impact for every college football team during the course of a season, and it’s no surprise a handful of talented players are ready to push for time after sitting out the 2016 campaign. A variety of reasons could be pinpointed for the redshirt year, but the extra time could be beneficial to learn a scheme, develop physically in the weight room or help provide some space on the depth chart with a stacked group of upperclassmen departing the following year.
Which redshirt freshmen could make an impact in the Pac-12 in 2017? Here are 20 names to watch:
20 Redshirt Freshmen to Watch in the Pac-12 in 2017
Renard Bell/Grant Porter, WR, Washington State
The Cougars have a few holes to fill at receiver after standouts Gabe Marks and River Cracraft expired their eligibility. The receiving corps has a solid foundation in place with Tavares Martin, Isaiah Johnson-Mack and Robert Lewis returning, but Bell and Porter – both three-star recruits in the 2016 class – should have an opportunity to push for snaps.
Ronnie Blackmon/Trey Udoffia, DB, Colorado
The Buffaloes finished 2016 with one of the nation’s best defensive backfields. Under former coordinator Jim Leavitt, Colorado ranked fifth nationally in pass efficiency defense. The secondary was anchored by three standout seniors last season – Chidobe Awuzie, Tedric Thompson and Ahkello Witherspoon – but that trio has finished their eligibility. Udoffia and Blackmon should help fill the voids left behind by Awuzie, Thompson and Witherspoon, after a redshirt year for the former three-star recruits.
Brady Breeze, S, Oregon
New coach Willie Taggart made one of the offseason’s best assistant coach hires by luring defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt to Oregon from Colorado. While the Ducks certainly have room to improve on defense, this unit returns largely intact and some help is on the way from the last two signing classes. Breeze ranked as a four-star recruit in last year’s haul and was the No. 281 player by the 247Sports Composite. He could push for a starting spot at safety this offseason.
Devaughn Cooper, WR, Arizona
Arizona enters spring ball looking to revamp a receiving corps that lost three out of its top four statistical performers from 2016. Cooper is an intriguing prospect for coach Rich Rodriguez, as the Los Angeles native is expected to push for significant playing time after a redshirt year. Cooper received limited snaps in the first three games of 2016 but only caught one pass for 15 yards. He ranked as a three-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite.
Related: Early Pac-12 Predictions for 2017
K.J. Costello, QB, Stanford
With Keller Chryst rehabbing from a serious knee injury suffered in the Sun Bowl against North Carolina, Ryan Burns and Costello are expected to battle for the top spot in spring ball. Costello ranked as the No. 46 overall player in last year’s signing class and spent 2016 learning the offense under coach David Shaw.
Nygel Edmonds, CB, California
After coordinating one of the nation’s top defenses at Wisconsin last season, new coach Justin Wilcox inherits a California unit ranked 127th nationally in scoring and 100th in pass efficiency defense. Wilcox and coordinator Tim DeRuyter certainly have a lot of work ahead this spring, but six starters are back and the secondary returns a handful of cornerbacks with experience. Edmonds is another name to add to the mix in the secondary, as the three-star recruit and top defensive prospect in California’s 2016 class is ready to contribute.
Isaiah Gilchrist/Byron Murphy, CB, Washington
The Huskies were hit hard by departures in the secondary, as cornerback Sidney Jones and safety Budda Baker left early for the NFL, while cornerback Kevin King expired his eligibility. However, Murphy and Gilchrist should be part of the solution for coach Chris Petersen, as both players used a redshirt year to develop last fall. He ranked as a four-star prospect and the No. 98 overall player in the 2016 247Sports Composite. Gilchrist was also a four-star prospect and ranked No. 257 overall.
Related: Pre-Spring Top 25 for 2017
Max Gilliam, QB, California
Davis Webb’s one season at California was a successful one, but the Golden Bears enter spring with a wide-open battle under center. Gilliam is one of five candidates vying for the starting job after a redshirt year. The California native ranked as a three-star prospect in last season’s class and was the No. 361 overall recruit by the 247Sports Composite.
Mique Juarez, LB, UCLA
Juarez was one of the highest-ranked recruits in last year’s signing class to not see a snap of game action in 2016. After a neck injury forced him to miss time in spring ball, Juarez took a leave of absence from the team during the regular season. All signs point to Juarez returning in 2017, which is a huge boost for a UCLA defense losing Jayon Brown (119 tackles) and linemen Tak McKinley and Eddie Vanderdoes.
Chase Lucas, DB, Arizona State
Arizona State’s secondary has struggled over the last two seasons, but there’s optimism for 2017 with this group returning nearly intact. Lucas should be an impact addition for new coordinator Phil Bennett after taking a redshirt year in 2016. The Arizona native ranked as a four-star prospect and the No. 236 player in last season’s signing class and was a high school teammate of Arizona State freshman standout receiver N’Keal Harry.
Jacob Colacion/Kahi Neves, LB, Arizona
Arizona’s linebacking unit was hit hard by departures this offseason. Standout Paul Magloire and Michael Barton expired their eligibility, leaving a relatively inexperienced group battling for time this offseason. Senior DeAndre’ Miller is one answer for coordinator Marcel Yates, but who will step up at the other spots? Neves and Colacion – three-star recruits in last year’s class – could be a key contributors in 2017.
Kaden Smith, TE, Stanford
Tight ends are a key cog in Stanford’s passing attack, and Smith should team with Dalton Schultz to form a talented duo for coach David Shaw in 2017. Smith ranked as a four-star recruit and the No. 37 overall player in last year’s signing class.
Maxs Tupai, DL, Utah
Sack Lake City will be looking for new standouts in the trenches after the departure of Hunter Dimick, Pita Taumoepenu and Pasoni Tasini. The return of Kylie Fitts at end alleviates some of the rebuilding project, as well as Tupai’s development after a redshirt year. He ranked as Utah’s No. 1 high school prospect in last year’s signing class and was regarded as a four-star recruit by the 247Sports Composite.
Trevon Sidney/Tyler Vaughns, WR, USC
In order for USC quarterback Sam Darnold’s Heisman campaign to take off in 2017, the sophomore is going to need a few names to emerge at receiver. The Trojans open spring ball looking to replace JuJu Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers, while Deontay Burnett (56 catches) is likely entrenched as the early No. 1 option. Vaughns and Sidney are two names coach Clay Helton will be counting on to produce this year. Both players ranked as four-star recruits in last year’s class, with Vaughns ranking as the No. 34 prospect by the 247Sports Composite.
Christian Wallace, CB, Oregon State
Wallace was Oregon State’s top-ranked recruit by the 247Sports Composite last season, but the Texas native was forced to redshirt due to academic reasons. The four-star recruit is in good standing this spring and is participating in practice. With Xavier Crawford developing into a rising star at one cornerback spot, Wallace’s emergence could give the Beavers two promising young defensive backs to build around this fall.