Making an impact as a college football true freshman isn’t an easy task. Although recruiting rankings and ratings matter to some degree, it’s all an inexact science. Until a player gets to campus and learns the schemes and spends time in a weight room, it’s just a guess on who the top players will be from a recruiting class.
With the 2013 regular season in the books, we can take a look at the top freshmen from this season. There’s no question this list of players could look a lot different three years from now. Some freshmen start from the first day of camp, while others work their way into the lineup through the first few games.
It’s tough to rank or grade freshmen just based on stats. You have to look at playing time, production, talent and impact on the team to get an accurate representation.
With the criteria in mind, here’s a look at Athlon’s top 25 freshmen for 2013. It’s a deep crop of talent this season, led by Heisman winner Jameis Winston. The redshirt freshman is clearly the No. 1 player on this list, but Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller also had outstanding seasons.
College Football's Top 25 Freshmen from 2013
1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Winston’s debut easily ranks among the best seasons by a freshman during the BCS era. The redshirt freshman opened his career by completing 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns against Pittsburgh and never looked back. Winston torched Clemson for 444 yards and three scores and threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-7 victory over rival Florida. Winston ended the year with 3,820 passing yards and 38 touchdowns, while completing 67.9 percent of his throws. The Alabama native threw just 10 picks on 349 attempts. And after a stellar debut, the hardware came in bunches for Winston. He was picked as the ACC’s Player of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and Offensive Rookie of the Year. And as expected, Winston claimed the Heisman in a landslide victory. With a chance to win a national championship on Jan. 6, Winston can only add to what has been one of the most-impressive seasons by a quarterback (regardless of year of eligibility) in recent years.
2. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
There wasn’t much good news coming out of Gainesville this season, but Hargreaves III was one of the few bright spots for coach Will Muschamp. Hargreaves wrestled his way into the starting lineup by the third game of the year and started the next 10 contests. The Florida native recorded 38 tackles, three interceptions and broke up 11 passes. Hargreaves tied for the SEC lead with 14 passes defended and was a first-team All-SEC selection by the Associated Press.
3. Kendall Fuller/Brandon Facyson, CB, Virginia Tech
Fuller ranked as the No. 4 defensive back in the nation in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100, and with an older brother (Kyle) currently playing, and two older brothers that played for Virginia Tech, there was plenty of pressure on the true freshman’s shoulders to perform. Fuller had no trouble living up to the hype, earning ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and second-team All-ACC honors. The true freshman stuffed the stat sheet, recording 56 tackles, six interceptions and 10 pass breakups. Fuller also defended 16 passes and forced one fumble. Facyson could stand on his own in the top 25, but we will group him with Fuller. Facyson played in 11 games, recording 25 tackles and five interceptions. He also defended 12 passes.
4. Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
It’s not easy starting as a true freshman on any offensive line for any FBS team. But it’s even more challenging starting as a true freshman on the offensive line in the SEC. That was the assignment for Tunsil this year, but he easily passed his first test with flying colors. Tunsil entered the starting lineup against Texas and finished the season with nine starts at left tackle. The Florida native was a second-team All-SEC selection by the Associated Press. With another offseason to work in the weight room, Tunsil is set to contend for All-America honors in 2014.
5. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
Jameis Winston’s season set the bar high for opposing quarterbacks, but Hackenberg quietly had a solid freshman campaign. The Virginia native started all 12 games for coach Bill O’Brien, throwing for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns. Hackenberg completed 58.9 percent of his passes and finished 2013 on a high note, completing 21 of 30 throws for 339 yards and four touchdowns against Wisconsin. The freshman’s 2,955 yards ranked as the third-most passing yardage in a single season in Penn State history.
6. Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
Jack’s position is listed as linebacker, but the true freshman was an all-purpose threat by the end of 2013. Jack started 11 games on defense, recording 70 tackles (five for a loss), one interception, 10 pass breakups and one blocked kick. While those numbers alone are good enough to be a top-10 player on this list, Jack became one of UCLA’s top offensive weapons late in the season. The Washington native recorded 267 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, including 120 yards on six attempts against Arizona. With Anthony Barr off to the NFL, Jack is expected to see a more prominent role on UCLA’s defense in 2014.
7. Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas
It’s no secret Arkansas’ coach Bret Bielema loves to run the football. With Collins leading the way, the Razorbacks should have no trouble establishing a run-first, physical approach on offense. In 12 games this year, Collins rushed for 1,026 yards and four touchdowns. The Florida native was picked as the SEC Freshman of the Year and was the first freshman in SEC history to start his career with three straight 100-yard rushing performances. He also caught 11 passes for 63 yards.
8. Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Bosa began 2013 as a backup to Adolphus Washington, but the freshman became a significant contributor and a starter by the end of the year. The true freshman finished with 39 tackles (12.5 for a loss), 6.5 sacks and one pass breakup. Bosa came up big at the end of the year, recording 3.5 tackles for a loss over Ohio State’s final two games. With Bosa, Noah Spence and Washington returning in 2014, the Buckeyes should have one of the nation’s top defensive lines.
9. A’Shawn Robinson, DE, Alabama
Robinson made only two starts, but that’s a bit of a misnomer, as the true freshman rotated into the game for a healthy amount of snaps each week. Defensive linemen in a 3-4 defense usually aren’t asked to make a bunch of plays behind the line of scrimmage, but Robinson did just that this year, recording 36 stops (seven for a loss) and 5.5 sacks. With Ed Stinson departing, Robinson could be the new anchor for Alabama’s line in 2014.
10. Jalen Ramsey, S, Florida State
Ramsey was the first true freshman to start at cornerback for Florida State since Deion Sanders. But due to an injury to Tyler Hunter, Ramsey moved to safety in the fourth game of the season. The Tennessee native started all 13 games and finished with 41 tackles, one sack, one interception and one forced fumble. Ramsey’s ability to move around in the secondary is valuable asset for coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, and the 6-foot-1 safety is only going to get better with another offseason to work with Florida State’s coaching staff. In addition to his size, Ramsey’s athleticism and ball skills should make him one of the top safeties in the nation by the start of 2014.
11. Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State
The Spartans’ offensive line was one of the most-improved units in the Big Ten this year, and Conklin was a key cog in this group’s emergence. After a redshirt season in 2012, Conklin earned the starting spot at right tackle for the opener. But after four games, the Michigan native was moved to the left side, where he started the final nine contests of 2013.
12. Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame
Smith ranked as the No. 1 linebacker in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and became the first freshman at Notre Dame to start at linebacker since 1995. Smith lived up to his recruiting hype this year, finishing third on the team with 61 tackles (6.5 for a loss), one interception and one forced fumble.
13. Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh
Boyd teamed with senior Devin Street to form one of the ACC’s top receiving duos this season. The freshman grabbed 77 passes for 1,001 yards and seven scores. Boyd’s best game came against Duke, as he caught eight passes for 154 yards and three touchdowns.
14. Su’a Cravens, S, USC
Cravens ranked as the No. 1 safety in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and didn’t disappoint in his debut at USC. He started 12 of the Trojans’ 13 regular-season contests and finished with 51 tackles, one forced fumble and four interceptions. Cravens earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors.
15. Chris Jones, DL, Mississippi State
Jones seemed to get better with each snap, and the Mississippi native is set for a monster 2014 season. In 12 games this year, Jones finished with 31 tackles (seven for a loss), three sacks and 10 quarterback hurries.
16. Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Ole Miss
Nkemdiche missed three games with a hamstring injury, but he still finished with 34 tackles (two for a loss) and one forced fumble. At 6-foot-5 and 294 pounds, Nkemdiche has the size and strength to play on the outside or on the interior. If he played in all 12 contests, it’s likely Nkemdiche would have ranked higher on this list. But there’s no question he has immense talent and is a future star on Ole Miss’ defense.
17. Addison Gillam, LB, Colorado
Gillam was simply everywhere for Colorado’s defense in 2013. In 12 games, he recorded 119 tackles (seven for a loss), three sacks and six pass breakups. Gillam also recorded one interception and earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors.
18. John O’Korn, QB, Houston
In his first start, O’Korn threw for 281 yards and three touchdowns against Rice. And after his performance, combined with David Piland’s retirement, O’Korn never relinquished the starting spot. The Florida native finished his true freshman campaign with 2,889 yards and 26 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.
19. Eddie Vanderdoes, DL, UCLA
Jim Mora is accumulating some impressive young talent in Los Angeles, as Vanderdoes and Myles Jack are set to anchor the Bruins’ defense for the next two years. Vanderdoes finished 2013 with 38 tackles and one forced fumble and showcased his athleticism with a touchdown run and an 18-yard catch.
20. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
Treadwell was picked as the SEC’s Freshman of the Year, and he led all Ole Miss receivers with 67 receptions and tied for the team lead with five receiving scores.
21. Jerald Hawkins, OT, LSU
Hawkins was overshadowed by Ole Miss’ Laremy Tunsil, but the redshirt freshman finished with 11 starts at right tackle in 2013.
22. Alex Kozan, OG, Auburn
Kozan was a key reason why Auburn leads the nation with an average of 335.7 rushing yards per game. The redshirt freshman started all 13 games in 2013.
23. Tony Conner, S, Ole Miss
Conner was another freshman from Hugh Freeze’s top-10 recruiting class to make an impact in 2013. He finished the regular season with 59 tackles (four for a loss), one sack and five pass breakups.
24. Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia
Floyd finished 2013 as Georgia’s No. 1 sack producer, recording 6.5 in 12 contests. He also picked up 47 tackles and two forced fumbles.
25. Stacy Coley, WR, Miami
Coley was one of the ACC’s top all-around threats, finishing with 30 catches for 559 yards and seven touchdowns, rushing for 80 yards and a score and 618 yards on returns.