Examining which freshmen could have the biggest impact this fall
College football’s 2021 National Signing Day is officially in the books. Alabama signed the best class in modern recruiting history, with Ohio State, Georgia, Clemson, Oregon, LSU, USC and Texas A&M rounding out the next tier of top hauls for '21. 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 2021 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 (early) names to watch in 2021 and how they could impact their team in on-field action.
College Football's Top 20 Impact True Freshmen for 2021
Tommy Brockermeyer/JC Latham, OL, Alabama
New Alabama line coach Doug Marrone has plenty of talent to work with this offseason, but with three full-time starters gone, the best offensive line from the 2020 season has to be rebuilt. Brockermeyer and Latham ranked as five-star prospects by the 247Sports Composite and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see either take the field for the first snap in ’21.
Jacorey Brooks/Agiye Hall, WR, Alabama
Brooks and Hall are two players in an impressive receiving haul for Nick Saban’s program in 2021. Brooks ranks as a five-star prospect on the 247Sports Composite after catching 99 passes for 1,281 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2019. Hall, Christian Leary and JoJo Earle are all four-star prospects who should join Brooks in pushing for snaps, especially with DeVonta Smith departing for the NFL.
Derrick Davis/Sage Ryan, S, LSU
LSU is set at cornerback with Derek Stingley anchoring the secondary, but the defense could use help at safety with JaCoby Stevens off to the NFL and some overall inconsistency at the position in 2020. Davis and Ryan are both four-star prospects and ranked in the top 10 of incoming defensive backs by the 247Sports Composite.
Donovan Edwards, RB, Michigan
Hassan Haskins is back after pacing the Michigan offense in rushing yards (375) and touchdowns (six) last season. However, coordinator Josh Gattis and coach Jim Harbaugh want to rotate multiple players here, so Edwards should have a chance to push for snaps this offseason. The Michigan native comes to Ann Arbor after posting huge rushing totals at West Bloomfield High School and ranked as the No. 41 overall prospect for 2021.
Thomas Fidone, TE, Nebraska
Nebraska needs playmakers to emerge with Wan’Dale Robinson transferring and very few proven weapons back in 2021. Fidone could be a flex receiver/tight end as he develops and should have every opportunity to earn snaps this offseason.
Korey Foreman, DL, USC
Keeping the No. 1 overall prospect in the state of California was a huge recruiting win for coach Clay Helton. Foreman should chip in off the edge right away for the Trojans after recording 32 tackles and five sacks at Centennial High School in 2019.
Bryce Foster, OL, Texas A&M
The Aggies have some retooling to do up front with four starters departing. Kenyon Green is a good place to start the rebuilding effort, but line coach Josh Henson will be searching for the right mix and positions for those five players this offseason. Foster – a four-star prospect from Katy, Texas – has the size and skill-set needed to push for a starting job.
Nyland Green, CB, Georgia
Restocking a secondary that loses Richard LeCounte, Tyson Campbell, Mark Webb, DJ Daniel and Eric Stokes is a top priority for coach Kirby Smart this offseason. Green was an in-state star at Newton High School and ranked as a four-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite.
TreVeyon Henderson, RB, Ohio State
Trey Sermon is off to the NFL, and while the Buckeyes have experience returning here, Henderson isn’t going to be on the sidelines for long. The five-star prospect from Virginia ran for 2,424 yards and 45 touchdowns as a junior in 2019. Fellow freshman Evan Pryor could also push for snaps in ’21.
Destyn Hill, WR, Florida State
The Seminoles need playmakers to emerge with just one wide receiver returning that caught at least 20 passes in 2020. Hill committed to Florida State on Feb. 3 and should help right away. The Louisiana native has good size (6-foot-0 and 200 pounds) and is known for his speed. He ranked as the No. 113 prospect by the 247Sports Composite.
Branden Jennings/Terrence Lewis, LB, Maryland
The Terrapins lost linebacker Chance Campbell to the transfer portal earlier this offseason, but coach Mike Locksley quickly restocked this position on the recruiting trail. Lewis was a huge pickup for Locksley, as the Florida native ranked as the No. 1 linebacker prospect by the 247Sports Composite. Jennings isn’t far behind at No. 12 among linebackers and ranks as the No. 108 overall prospect.
Tywone Malone, DL, Ole Miss
The Rebels gave up 206.9 rushing yards a game last season, so Malone could be a huge pickup for coach Lane Kiffin as he looks to get the defense back on track. Malone committed to Ole Miss on National Signing Day after being a two-sport star at Bergen Catholic. Malone ranked as a four-star recruit and the No. 62 overall prospect by the 247Sports Composite.
Jason Marshall, CB, Florida
Kaiir Elam is set at one cornerback spot, but Marshall could easily push Jaydon Hill to replace Marco Wilson on the other side. Marshall rated as the No. 2 cornerback recruit in the 2021 class by the 247Sports Composite and comes to Florida after recording five interceptions and 15 pass breakups in ’19.
Ga’Quincy McKinstry, DB, Alabama
Patrick Surtain is off to the NFL, leaving a big void for Alabama to fill at cornerback. McKinstry – the No. 17 overall prospect in the 2021 247Sports Consensus – could step into that void right away this fall.
Ja’tavion Sanders, ATH, Texas
The new Texas staff will sort out where Sanders will play this offseason, but the 6-foot-4 athlete might make the biggest impact from the 2021 class in Austin. The Denton native caught 35 passes for 658 yards and 11 touchdowns, while also recording four sacks on defense. Sanders’ versatility and eventual position will be something to watch in 2021 practices.
Will Shipley, RB, Clemson
Travis Etienne is off to the NFL, and while the Tigers have good replacement options returning in Lyn-J Dixon and Chez Mellusi, Shipley will be hard to keep on the sidelines. The North Carolina native ran for 4,173 yards and caught 84 passes for 1,411 yards in three seasons at the high school level.
Preston Stone, QB, SMU
The Mustangs are looking for a new triggerman for their high-powered offense with Shane Buechele off to the NFL. Coach Sonny Dykes brought in Oklahoma transfer Tanner Mordecai this offseason, but Stone could end up as the starter. The Texas native threw for 3,429 yards and 35 touchdowns and added 536 yards and 10 scores on the ground as a high school senior. He ranked as the No. 111 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite.
Leonard Taylor, DL/James Williams, S, Miami
Let’s group Taylor and Williams in this space. Both players are rated as five-star prospects by the 247Sports Composite, but the ‘Canes have good depth returning at defensive tackle and safety. Regardless of that depth, it’s going to be difficult to keep either player on the bench in 2021.
Ty Thompson, QB, Oregon
Let’s roll the dice a bit here. The Ducks have two experienced options in Tyler Shough and Anthony Brown, but Thompson is simply too good to keep on the sidelines. The four-star recruit arrives in Eugene after throwing for 9,891 yards and 100 touchdowns and adding 1,145 yards and 20 scores on the ground during his high school career in Arizona.
J.T. Tuimoloau, DL, TBD
Tuimoloau didn’t sign on Feb. 3 and it’s not clear on when he will officially announce. However, the Washington native ranks No. 3 on the 247Sports Composite and is down to Ohio State, Alabama, Washington, Oregon and USC in his final five of schools. Wherever Tuimoloau lands, he should be able to find snaps right away in 2021.