Examining which freshmen could have the biggest impact this fall
College football’s 2019 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. And if teams didn't fill their needs on the recruiting trail, a trip to the transfer portal could be in order. With spring practice just around the corner for all 130 teams, the focus around the nation now shifts to the upcoming season and how incoming freshmen or junior college recruits fit into the depth chart.
There will be several impact performers from the 2019 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 2019 and how they could impact their team in on-field action.
College Football's Top 20 Impact True Freshmen for 2019
Antonio Alfano, DL, Alabama
With Quinnen Williams and Isaiah Buggs departing from a line that didn’t have a ton of depth in 2019, Alabama will need help from its incoming recruiting class to restock the trenches. The Crimson Tide inked a couple of players who could help right away, including Alfano – the No. 5 overall recruit by the 247Sports Composite. Alfano recorded 76 tackles (28 for a loss) and 10 sacks as a high school senior in 2018.
Dominick Blaylock/George Pickens/Makiya Tongue, WR, Georgia
With Riley Ridley, Mecole Hardman and tight end Isaac Nauta off to the NFL, quarterback Jake Fromm is losing his top three statistical options from 2018. The cupboard isn’t bare for new play-caller James Coley, but the Bulldogs could dip into the freshman class for help. Blaylock ranked as the No. 36 overall prospect by the 247Sports Composite, while Tongue checked in at No. 196. Pickens – a five-star recruit – was a February signing day pickup for coach Kirby Smart.
Trejan Bridges/Jadon Haselwood/Theo Wease, WR, Oklahoma
Oklahoma returns CeeDee Lamb, but Marquise Brown left for the NFL and no other receiver that caught more than 26 passes last fall. The Sooners inked three of the nation’s top receivers, as all three ranked inside of the top 100 for the 247Sports Composite. Haselwood ranked No. 4 overall, Wease at No. 21 and Bridges at No. 66. All three of these talented playmakers could factor into the offense for coach Lincoln Riley and new quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Zach Charbonnet, RB, Michigan
Charbonnet was expected to carve out a role in Michigan’s offense when he signed in December, but the California native’s arrival could be even more crucial now that Chris Evans’ status for 2019 is uncertain. Charbonnet rushed for 4,741 yards and 62 touchdowns in his high school career.
Baylor Cupp, TE, Texas A&M
With Jace Sternberger departing for the NFL, coach Jimbo Fisher needs a new go-to option to emerge at tight end for quarterback Kellen Mond. Cupp could be the answer at this position, as the Texas native was regarded as the No. 1 tight end prospect by the 247Sports Composite. Cupp caught 20 passes for 492 yards and six scores as a high school senior.
Jayden Daniels/Ethan Long/Joey Yellen, QB, Arizona State
Manny Wilkins leaves big shoes to fill in Tempe this offseason, but coach Herm Edwards landed three intriguing quarterbacks in the 2019 class. Daniels ranked (No. 35 nationally) the highest among the trio in the 247Sports Composite, but all three enrolled in time to compete in spring ball.
Akeem Dent, DB, Florida State
Florida State’s secondary finished 10th in the ACC in pass efficiency defense in 2018, so there’s plenty of room for improvement this offseason. Coach Willie Taggart’s second signing class should provide help, as Dent – a four-star recruit and the No. 50 overall prospect by the 247Sports Composite – could push for snaps right away at cornerback or safety.
John Emery Jr., RB, LSU
Emery was a key in-state hold for coach Ed Orgeron. The Louisiana native ranked as the No. 2 running back prospect and five-star recruit by the 247Sports Composite and will have an opportunity to play right away with the Tigers losing leading rusher Nick Brossette (1,039 yards).
Dax Hill, S, Michigan
Michigan’s secondary allowed only 14 passing scores in 2018 and should be among the best in the Big Ten once again in ’19. Coordinator Don Brown will have to replace cornerbacks Brandon Watson and David Long and safety Tyree Kinnel, but Lavert Hill (CB) and Josh Metellus (safety) are back. Additionally, Hill – a speedy and versatile five-star freshman – should push for immediate snaps this offseason.
George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue
Karlaftis was a big-time pickup for coach Jeff Brohm on the recruiting trail and should factor into the mix right away in 2019. The Indiana native ranked as the No. 59 overall prospect as a four-star recruit and finished his high school career by accumulating 106 tackles and 17.5 sacks in ’18.
DeMarvin Leal, DT, Texas A&M
The Aggies are set to lose a couple of key seniors from their 2018 defensive front, as Landis Durham, Daylon Mack and Kingsley Keke have finished their eligibility. Coach Jimbo Fisher reeled in an elite recruiting class to restock the roster for ’19, which included Leal – the No. 16 overall player in the 247Sports Composite. The five-star prospect finished his high school career by recording 83 tackles (16 TFL), six sacks and four forced fumbles in ’18.
Bo Nix, QB, Auburn
The battle to replace Jarrett Stidham is expected to be a wide-open competition this spring for coach Gus Malzahn. Malik Willis, Joey Gatewood and Cord Sandberg took snaps as a reserve in 2018, but none are guaranteed the starting job with Nix slated to arrive this offseason. Nix ranked as the No. 33 overall prospect and a five-star recruit by the 247Sports Composite. He accumulated over 12,000 career yards at Pinson Valley High School in Alabama.
Jake Smith/Jordan Whittington, WR, Texas
Smith and Whittington should help ease the loss of receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey to the NFL. Smith caught 58 passes for 1,070 yards and 15 scores as a high school senior, while Whittington compiled 35 receptions for 633 yards and 11 receiving touchdowns. Additionally, Texas’ receiving corps could get another boost if Bru McCoy is ruled eligible for the 2019 season.
Wanya Morris/Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee
Improving the offensive line will be a top priority for new coordinator Jim Chaney and coach Jeremy Pruitt this offseason. The good news? Help is on the way. Both Morris and Wright were five-star recruits by the 247Sports Composite, with Wright checking in at No. 10 and Morris ranking No. 28. Both could push for a starting job right away this offseason.
Owen Pappoe, LB, Auburn
Auburn is set to lose three key seniors at linebacker, including first-team All-SEC selection Deshaun Davis. Pappoe ranked as the No. 1 outside linebacker prospect and the No. 25 overall recruit by the 247Sports Composite in the 2019 signing class. He should compete for time right away this offseason.
Zacch Pickens, DE, South Carolina
Thanks to Javon Kinlaw passing on the NFL for his senior year in Columbia, South Carolina’s two-deep up front returns intact for 2019. However, coach Will Muschamp will have to find playing time for Pickens. The five-star freshman ranked as the No. 8 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite and has the versatility to play off the edge or on the interior next to Kinlaw in 2019.
Wandale Robinson, RB/WR, Nebraska
With the departure of receiver Stanley Morgan and running back Devine Ozigbo, coach Scott Frost will be looking for a couple of new playmakers for quarterback Adrian Martinez in 2019. Robinson – a four-star recruit and a top-100 player – should fit that mold as an all-purpose weapon. According to Nebraska’s early signing release, Robinson accumulated 8,582 yards from scrimmage and 118 offensive touchdowns in his high school career.
Nolan Smith, LB, Georgia
Coach Kirby Smart reeled in another outstanding recruiting class, and there’s no shortage of potential defensive stars to develop on this side of the ball. Smith ranked as the No. 1 prospect by the 247Sports Composite and could factor into the mix at end or linebacker. The Georgia native recorded 14.5 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks during his senior year.
Derek Stingley, CB, LSU
The NFL Draft’s early entry deadline was a mixed bag for LSU’s secondary. Greedy Williams left for the next level, but Kristian Fulton decided to return for 2019. While Williams is going to be missed, there’s no shortage of talent at cornerback for coordinator Dave Aranda. Stingley ranked as the No. 3 recruit by the 247Sports Composite and will push for snaps right away.
Kayvon Thibodeaux, DL, Oregon
Thibodeaux’s commitment to coach Mario Cristobal helped Oregon land the Pac-12’s No. 1 signing class for 2019. The California native ranked as the No. 2 player in the 247Sports Composite after accumulating 54 sacks during his high school career. Thibodeaux will help to bolster a pass rush that loses Justin Hollins and Jalen Jelks.
(Main photo of Kayvon Thibodeaux courtesy of Oregon Ducks' football twitter feed)