Which freshmen could have the biggest impact?
College football’s 2015 National Signing Day is officially in the books. Prospects from across the nation and for all 128 FBS programs inked a National Letter of Intent on Wednesday, which should provide all coaches with a good snapshot of how their program looks for the upcoming season.
There will be several impact performers from the 2015 class this season, and it’s impossible to narrow the names down to just 10. However, now that signing day is complete, let’s take a look at 10 names to watch in 2015 and how they could impact their team in on-field action.
10 Instant-Impact College Football Recruits for 2015
Byron Cowart, DE, Auburn
247Sports Composite: No. 1 Strong-Side Defensive End, No. 3 Nationally
Why You Need to Know About Cowart: With Will Muschamp calling the defensive signals at Auburn next year, expect the Tigers to show marked improvement on defense. Cowart is a key piece of the puzzle for Muschamp, as the Tigers need an improved pass rush to compete for the SEC title. In 2014, Auburn mustered only 21 sacks, with 10 of those coming in conference play. Cowart and the return of end Carl Lawson should significantly boost the Tigers’ performance in the trenches next year.
Breiden Fehoko, DT, Texas Tech
247Sports Composite: No. 8 Defensive Tackle, No. 50 Nationally
Why You Need to Know About Fehoko: Texas Tech’s defense is in need of a major fix after giving up 6.2 yards per play last season. While the numbers weren’t pretty from last year, there’s hope for a turnaround with the addition of new coordinator David Gibbs. And Gibbs has to be optimistic about his defensive line for next season, especially with Fehoko ranked as one of the top 50 recruits in the nation. The Hawaii native recorded 16 sacks and six forced fumbles at Farrington High School in 2014. Expect Fehoko to play right away for the Red Raiders in 2015.
Martez Ivey, OL, Florida
247Sports Composite Rank: No. 1 OT, No. 2 Nationally
Why You Need to Know About Ivey: It’s a cliché, but winning championships and contending for SEC titles has to start in the trenches. New coach Jim McElwain has major holes to fill up front on the offensive side this offseason, as the Gators return just one starter on the line and lost four players with starting experience. Guard Trip Thurman is the lone returning starter from a group that gave up only 16 sacks in 2014. Ivey ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the 247Sports Composite, and while the increased physical demands of playing in the SEC will be a challenge, the playing time is certainly there for the talented tackle.
Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
247Sports Composite: No. 1 OLB, No. 10 Nationally
Why You Need to Know About Jefferson: It’s no secret Texas coach Charlie Strong is one of the top defensive minds in college football. The Longhorns limited Big 12 offenses to just 23.4 points per game (No. 2 in conference) in 2014 and should be one of the best in the conference once again in 2015. Jefferson is an instant-impact defender for Strong and should play right away with Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond departing the linebacking corps.
Canton Kaumatale, DL, Oregon
247Sports Composite: No. 16 Nationally, No. 3 Strong-Side Defensive End
Why You Need to Know About Kaumatale: Oregon is losing end Arik Armstead and nose guard Sam Kamp, leaving a line that was already thin on depth with a need for instant-impact performers. Enter Kaumatale. The Hawaii native checks in at 290 pounds and will only get better and physically ready for Pac-12 play with an offseason in Oregon’s weight room. Kaumatule has good quickness off the line and a 6-foot-7 frame will allow him to provide plenty of headaches for opposing offensive linemen. Kaumatule should be a good fit in Oregon’s 3-4/4-3 scheme.
Iman Marshall, DB, USC
247Sports Composite: No. 1 CB, No. 4 Nationally
Why You Need to Know About Marshall: USC signed one of the nation’s top classes this season, and Marshall could be the top freshman from the signing haul in 2015. The Long Beach native has coveted size for cornerbacks at 6-foot-2 and was regarded by coach Steve Sarkisian for his physicality at the line of scrimmage. USC gave up 20 passing scores in 2014, but with Marshall involved and the development of safety Su’a Cravens, this secondary should take a step forward on the stat sheet in 2015.
Kahlil McKenzie, DT, Tennessee
247Sports Composite: No. 2 DT, No. 6 Nationally
Why You Need to Know About McKenzie: Tennessee has a chance to surprise in the SEC East this year if the lines of scrimmage develop over the offseason. McKenzie is the type of difference maker that the Volunteers lacked on the interior this season, as Tennessee’s defense ranked ninth in the SEC against the run. McKenzie did not play his senior year of high school but dominated as a junior with 12 sacks and 74 tackles. At 327 pounds and a 6-foot-3 frame, McKenzie is the type of player coach Butch Jones needs to get Tennessee’s defense near the top of the SEC.
Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
247Sports Composite Rank: No. 1 WR, No. 11 Nationally
Why You Need to Know About Ridley: Alabama recorded 290 receptions last season, and 183 of those catches are gone as DeAndrew White and Christion Jones expired their eligibility after the Sugar Bowl, while Amari Cooper left for the NFL. Chris Black (15 catches) and ArDarius Stewart (12 catches) are the top statistical returning wide receivers for 2015. Ridley was considered a five-star prospect and had a monster junior year by catching 41 passes for 1,131 yards and 12 scores in 2013. With Cooper, Jones and White leaving, there’s an immediate opportunity for Ridley to play major snaps in 2015.
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
247Sports Composite Rank: No. 1 Pro-Style QB, No. 12 Nationally
Why You Need to Know About Rosen: Brett Hundley is gone, leaving a huge void under center for the Bruins. Jerry Neuheisel is the team’s most-experienced option at quarterback, but the job is expected to be a three-man battle this spring. Asiantti Woulard is also in the mix with Rosen and Neuheisel for snaps in 2015. Rosen enrolled in time to compete this spring, which should give the California native a chance to play right away. Starting as a true freshman quarterback in the Pac-12 is never easy, but Rosen has a chance to do just that in 2015.
Trent Thompson, DT, Georgia
247Sports Composite: No. 1 DT, No. 1 Nationally
Why You Need to Know About Thompson: He’s the No. 1 recruit in the 2015 signing class by the 247Sports Composite. Keeping Thompson in the state of Georgia and out of the hands of another SEC rival was a big deal for coach Mark Richt and coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. The 6-foot-4 defensive tackle should be poised for immediate playing time this fall, with nose tackle Mike Thornton and defensive ends Ray Drew and Toby Johnson expiring their eligibility. It’s always tough for linemen to physically prepare for the challenge of playing in the SEC, but all signs point to Thompson being up to the task.
Other Players to Watch in 2015
Blake Barnett, QB, Alabama
Terry Beckner Jr., DT, Missouri
Jake Browning, QB, Washington
Derwin James, S, Florida State
CeCe Jefferson, DE, Florida
Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson
DaMarkus Lodge, WR, Ole Miss
Daylon Mack, DT, Texas A&M
Jamal Peters, S, Mississippi State
Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State
Kendall Sheffield, CB, Alabama
Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson