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College Football's Top 10 Impact True Freshmen for 2016

Hugh Freeze

Hugh Freeze

College football’s 2016 National Signing Day is officially in the books. Every FBS program inked recruits to a National Letter of Intent on Wednesday, which means coaching staffs should have a good snapshot of how their program looks for the upcoming season. With spring practice just around the corner, the focus around the nation now shifts to the 2016 season. 

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There will be several impact performers from the 2016 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 2016 and how they could impact their team in on-field action. 

10 Instant-Impact College Football Recruits for 2016

Oluwole Betiku, DE, USC

New coach Clay Helton inked the Pac-12’s top class in the 247Sports Composite rankings, landing at No. 8 overall nationally. Securing talent and depth in the defensive trenches was critical for Helton, and the Trojans have four new prospects joining the roster this offseason. Betiku is the one garnering the most attention as the No. 16 overall player in the 247Sports Composite. The California native registered 17 sacks and 28 tackles for a loss in 2015 and enrolled in time to compete in spring practice. With Delvon Simmons, Claude Pelon, Greg Townsend and Antwaun Woods departing Los Angeles, Betiku could be asked to play a lot of snaps as a true freshman.

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Related: College Football's Top 50 Players Returning for 2016

Nate Craig-Myers/Kyle Davis, WR, Auburn

Upgrading the offense is an offseason priority for coach Gus Malzahn. Auburn averaged only 22.1 points a game and 5.1 yards per play in SEC contests last season and question marks remain under center and at receiver going into spring practice. The top two receivers – Ricardo Louis and Melvin Ray – have expired their eligibility after combining for 66 of Auburn’s 179 catches last year. Just how important were the signings of Davis and Craig-Myers to Auburn’s recruiting class? Consider this – the top returning receiver for 2016 is Jason Smith with 13 catches. Craig-Meyers and Davis have a clear path to playing time next fall.

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Jacob Eason, QB, Georgia

Georgia’s passing game left a lot to be desired last season. The Bulldogs ranked 12th in SEC-only contests in 2015 and tossed only six touchdowns to eight interceptions. Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey are back in 2016, but Eason is the frontrunner to take the first snap of the year for new coach Kirby Smart. The Washington native enrolled early and will compete in spring practice.

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Rashan Gary, DT, Michigan

Gary ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the four major recruiting services – Scout, 247Sports, Rivals and ESPN – and is the anchor for a Michigan class that finished No. 5 in the 247Sports Composite. The New Jersey native boasts a powerful 6-foot-5, 293-pound frame and is capable of wreaking havoc at the line of scrimmage with his quick first step and explosiveness. Even though Michigan has one of the Big Ten’s top defensive lines in place, Gary will see plenty of snaps for new coordinator Don Brown.

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Related: College Football's Pre-Spring 1-128 QB Rankings for 2016

Patrick Hudson, OL, Baylor

Baylor’s offensive line was one of the best in college football last season, but coach Art Briles has some work to do in the trenches this spring. Four starters depart last year’s standout group, including left tackle Spencer Drango. Center Kyle Fuller is the lone returning starter up front, but the cupboard is far from empty. Hudson was a key pickup for the Bears in the 2016 signing class, as the Texas native ranked as the No. 50 overall recruit in the 247Sports Composite. Additionally, junior college recruit Branton Autry is also expected to push for time. Hudson is a player to watch this offseason for Baylor’s high-powered attack.

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Gregory Little, OT, Ole Miss

Hugh Freeze inked another stellar recruiting class on Wednesday, which includes two of the nation’s top prospects in Little and quarterback Shea Patterson. Little is a key pickup for the Rebels at a position of need. The offensive line loses four key starters, including standout left tackle Laremy Tunsil. Starting as a left tackle in the SEC is no easy assignment, but Little has the talent, size and strength to protect quarterback Chad Kelly’s blindside next fall.

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Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson

Clemson continues to churn out elite defensive linemen, and there’s no shortage of talent in the pipeline for coordinator Brent Venables. The Tigers have a bigger need at end with the departures of Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson than the interior this offseason, but Lawrence is too talented to keep on the sidelines. The North Carolina native ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the 247Sports Composite and could slide into a rotation at tackle, adding depth to a group that already features Carlos Watkins, Christian Wilkins, Scott Pagano and Albert Huggins.

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Related: College Football's Top 10 Teams on the Rise for 2016

Austin Mack, WR, Ohio State

Ohio State was hit hard by early departures to the NFL, including its top two receivers – Michael Thomas and Jalin Marshall – who combined for 92 catches in 2015. But that’s not all the Buckeyes have to replace in the receiving corps. Also departing is Braxton Miller (26 catches), tight end Nick Vannett (19 receptions) and running back Ezekiel Elliott (27 grabs). Coach Urban Meyer indicated on Signing Day he wants the incoming freshmen play a lot of snaps in 2016, and Mack could be one of the instant impact recruits. The Indiana native ranked as the No. 76 prospect in the 247Sports Composite and is capable of being a physical presence on the outside with his 6-foot-2 frame. Two other incoming freshmen to watch – running back Antonio Williams and defensive end Nick Bosa.

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Ed Oliver, DT, Houston

It’s rare to see a five-star recruit sign with a program outside of the Power 5 ranks. However, Houston is a program on the rise under coach Tom Herman, and the Cougars have plenty of talent in their backyard in one of the nation’s most fertile recruiting areas. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why Herman is having success keeping talent at home and away from Power 5 teams. Oliver played at Westfield High School – just under 30 minutes away from Houston’s TDECU Stadium – and ranks as the No. 6 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite. The Cougars must replace one contributor (Tomme Mark) from the 2015 defensive line, so Oliver may not have to start right away. However, he should be an impact performer for Houston in 2016.    

Devwah Whaley, RB, Arkansas

With Alex Collins leaving for the NFL, the Razorbacks are looking for a new standout at running back to anchor Bret Bielema’s ground attack. Kody Walker is back for his senior season, but Rawleigh Williams III is coming off a significant neck injury. Whaley rushed for 1,530 yards and 21 scores as a high school senior and possesses a good blend of size, speed and power. He should have an opportunity to push for carries right away.

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Others to Watch

McTelvin Agim, DL, Arkansas

Shane Buechele, QB, Texas

Ben Davis, LB, Alabama

Devin Duvernay, WR, Baylor

B.J. Emmons, RB, Alabama

Damar Hamlin, DB, Pittsburgh

N’keal Harry, WR, Arizona State

Daelin Hayes, LB, Notre Dame

Malik Henry, QB, Florida State

Theo Howard, WR, UCLA

Benito Jones, DL, Ole Miss

Trayvon Mullen, CB, Clemson

Isaac Nauta, TE, Georgia

Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State

Jeffrey Simmons, DE, Mississippi State

Levonta Taylor, CB, Florida State

Kareem Walker, RB, Michigan

Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama