Which freshmen could have the biggest impact next fall?
College football’s 2018 National Signing Day is officially in the books. Every FBS program inked recruits to a National Letter of Intent on Wednesday or in the early period in December, 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 2018 season. Some of the top names from 2018 signing classes include Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, Georgia running back Zamir White, Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain and Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons.
There will be several impact performers from the 2018 class this season, and it’s impossible to narrow the names down to just 20. However, now that signing day is complete, let’s take a look at 20 names (plus a few bonus picks) to watch in 2018 and how they could impact their team in on-field action.
College Football's Top 20 Impact True Freshmen for 2018
Bryan Addison, ATH/WR, UCLA
Chip Kelly’s high-powered offense in Westwood is looking for help at receiver this offseason. Jordan Lasley left early for the NFL, and Darren Andrews expired his eligibility after catching 60 passes in nine games as a senior. With a void at receiver, look for Addison to push for playing time this fall. The California native caught 46 passes for 582 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior and ranked as the No. 98 prospect in the 247Sports Composite.
William Barnes, OL, North Carolina
North Carolina’s offensive line was hit hard by attrition this offseason. The Tar Heels are set to replace four starters in the trenches, including left tackle Bentley Spain. Considering the losses up front, the Florida native could work his way into a starting job in 2018. Barnes checks in at 6-foot-4 and 320 pounds and ranked as a four-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite.
Jackson Carman, OL, Clemson
Clemson’s depth chart doesn’t have many glaring holes for 2018, but the line is set to lose three players on the interior. Mitch Hyatt is a stalwart on the left side, and assistant Robbie Caldwell will have to find the right mix to settle this group over the offseason. Carman ranked as the No. 17 prospect in the 2018 signing class and could slide into a rotational or starting role.
James Cook/Zamir White, RB, Georgia
Even though Georgia is losing Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, the cupboard isn’t bare for coach Kirby Smart at running back. D’Andre Swift anchors the ground attack after an impressive freshman season, and the incoming signing class will provide help. White ranked as the No. 9 overall recruit in the 247Sports Composite, while Cook wasn’t far behind at No. 41. Considering how much Georgia used three running backs last year, both Cook and White could see significant carries in 2018.
Justin Fields (Georgia)/Trevor Lawrence (Clemson), QB
The development and playing time of Lawrence and Fields will be something to watch in 2018. These are the top two quarterbacks in the 2018 signing class and ranked as five-star prospects by the 247Sports Composite. While talent isn’t the question mark, both are blocked by proven starters under center. At Georgia, Fields will battle Jake Fromm after the freshman led the Bulldogs to an appearance in the national championship. Kelly Bryant had a solid debut as Clemson’s starter in 2017, but Lawrence – a more gifted passer – is expected to push for time right away.
Emory Jones, QB, Florida
New coach Dan Mullen is searching for answers on offense this offseason. Florida’s offense averaged only 22.1 points a game and 5.2 yards a play last year. With Malik Zaire and Luke Del Rio not returning in 2018, the only quarterback with experience on the roster is Feleipe Franks (1,438 yards and 54.6%). With Mullen bringing the same style of offense that excelled at Mississippi State during his tenure there, Jones would be a good fit as a dual-threat quarterback within the scheme. The Georgia native ranked as the No. 85 prospect in the 2018 247Sports Composite.
Lorenzo Lingard, RB, Miami
A season-ending ankle injury to Mark Walton hindered Miami’s rushing attack for most of the 2017 season, as coach Mark Richt’s offense averaged only 160.8 yards a game on the ground (10th in the ACC). But help is on the way for the Hurricanes in 2018, as Lingard – a five-star recruit by the 247Sports Composite – arrives on campus this offseason poised to push for significant carries. The Orange City native earned Florida Gatorade Player of the Year honors after rushing for 1,701 yards and 26 touchdowns as a senior.
Terrace Marshall, WR, LSU
With DJ Chark moving onto the NFL, LSU needs a new No. 1 target to emerge. Could Marshall be that guy in 2018? The 6-foot-4 target ranked as the No. 2 receiver in the 2018 247Sports Composite and joins the mix in Baton Rouge after missing his senior year due to injury. Marshall is expected to be full strength for 2018 and enrolled early to compete in spring ball. New coordinator Steve Ensminger plans to upgrade the passing game over the offseason for 2018. Marshall could be a key cog in LSU’s hopes of jumpstarting its aerial attack.
Asa Martin, RB, Auburn
With Kerryon Johnson moving on to the NFL, Auburn’s rushing attack is searching for a new go-to back this offseason. The answer could come in the form of Martin. The Alabama native enrolled in time to compete in spring ball and arrives after rushing for 2,228 yards and 33 touchdowns as a high school senior. Martin ranked as the No. 202 overall recruit by the 247Sports Composite.
Adrian Martinez, QB, Nebraska
New coach Scott Frost wasn’t afraid to start a true freshman at quarterback at UCF (McKenzie Milton), and it’s likely he will follow the same format in 2018 at Nebraska. The California native was unable to play due to injury as a high school senior, but his junior film showcased why he would be a good fit in Frost’s offense. Martinez threw for 2,562 yards and 25 touchdowns and added 1,462 yards and 14 scores as a junior in 2016. Martinez enrolled early and is slated to participate in spring ball.
Micah Parsons, DL/LB, Penn State
Coordinator Brent Pry has a few voids to fill on defense this offseason, including linebacker Jason Cabinda, cornerback Grant Haley and safety Marcus Allen. The Nittany Lions have recruited well on this side of the ball, so Pry and coach James Franklin will have talent to build around. Parsons is one of those players, as the coaching staff hopes he can help at linebacker after playing defensive end in the high school ranks. At 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, Parsons certainly has the range and size to fill an immediate need at linebacker. He ranked as the No. 5 overall recruit in the 247Sports Composite.
Ronnie Perkins/Ron Tatum, DL/Brendan Radley-Hiles, CB, Oklahoma
Oklahoma’s defense needs help from its incoming class after giving up 5.84 yards a play last season. Perkins and Tatum are both four-star recruits and could provide immediate help for a front seven that struggled to stop the run last year. Radley-Hiles joins a secondary that featured key contributions from freshmen Tre Norwood and Tre Brown last fall, but the No. 38 overall prospect from the 247Sports Composite could be too talented to keep on the sidelines.
Nicholas Petit-Frere, OL, Ohio State
Petit-Frere was a huge pickup for coach Urban Meyer on signing day. The Florida native ranked as a five-star recruit and the No. 7 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite. He could push for a starting job at one of the tackle spots with the departure of standout left tackle Jamarco Jones.
Justin Shorter, WR, Penn State
The Nittany Lions are set to lose DaeSean Hamilton and Saeed Blacknall and tight end Mike Gesicki from last year’s receiving corps. While Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins provide a good foundation, quarterback Trace McSorley is going to need more weapons. That’s where Shorter comes in. The No. 8 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite should find his way into game action this fall.
Marquis Spiker, WR, Washington
The Huskies struggled to replace the big-play ability of receiver John Ross in 2017 and head into 2018 looking to replace last season’s No. 1 target in Dante Pettis. Spiker – the No. 59 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite – should provide some immediate help for quarterback Jake Browning. The California native caught 244 passes for 4,661 yards and 72 scores during his high school career and brings a good combination of size (6-foot-3) and speed to the table.
Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC
USC’s offense is undergoing some offseason renovation after quarterback Sam Darnold, receiver Deontay Burnett and running back Ronald Jones each left for the NFL. But the cupboard is hardly bare for coordinator Tee Martin. In addition to rising star Stephen Carr at running back, the Trojans are bringing in help via the 2018 signing class. St. Brown – the brother of former Notre Dame receiver Equanimeous St. Brown – ranked as the No. 11 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite. Another name from USC’s 2018 class to watch: Quarterback J.T. Daniels.
Caden Sterns, S, Texas
Texas inked four defensive backs ranked in the top 55 of the 2018 247Sports Composite and all could see the field right away this fall. DeShon Elliott had a standout 2017 campaign but left early for the next level, leaving the door open for Sterns to stake a claim for immediate playing time. The Texas native ranked as a five-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite and finished his high school career with 235 tackles and 11 picks.
Dante Stills, DL, West Virginia
After giving up 204.2 yards a game in 2017, West Virginia’s rush defense is an area of focus for coordinator Tony Gibson this offseason. Sills – the No. 124 prospect in the 247Sports Composite will be expected to push for time this offseason. The West Virginia native is the son of former Mountaineer standout Gary Stills and finished his senior year with 11 sacks. At 6-foot-4 and 284 pounds, Stills already has the necessary size to be a factor in the trenches.
Patrick Surtain, CB, Alabama
Surtain was a huge addition on signing day for coach Nick Saban. With Anthony Averett, Levi Wallace and Tony Brown departing, the cornerback position is thin on proven options headed into spring ball. Surtain – the No. 1 overall cornerback and five-star prospect in the 247Sports Composite should be an impact player for Saban’s defense.
Jaiden Woodbey, S, Florida State
Florida State’s secondary must replace three contributors to its safety rotation, including standout Derwin James. Woodbey was a flip in the early signing period for new coach Willie Taggart, as he chose Florida State over Ohio State and USC. The four-star prospect from California is a solid all-around performer and should fit in well with new coordinator Harlon Barnett’s scheme.