Figuring out which true freshmen could make an impact is more challenging than usual this year with the coronavirus pandemic having such an impact on the preseason.
Much of the offseason focused on the viability of having a season all rather than detailing which newcomers were making a statement.
Did the unusual nature of the offseason limit opportunities for freshmen to make much of an impression? Or will the number of upperclassmen opting out create more chances for first-year players to contribute immediately?
While this is a tough year to guess which freshmen could step forward this year, we decided to give it a try anywhere. Here’s a list of true freshmen who could come in and make a difference right away.
We’re focusing this on true freshmen, which explains is why redshirt freshmen such as Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler aren’t on this list.
BRYAN BRESEE, DT, CLEMSON
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has said Bresee has been “better than advertised.” That’s a pretty bold statement, considering that Bresee was the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect in his high school class according to composite rankings of recruiting sites compiled by 247S ports. Bresee, listed at 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, had 80 ½ tackles for loss and 35 sacks in his career at Damascus (Maryland) High School. Top-ranked Clemson already is strong at defensive tackle with Tyler Davis and Nyles Pinckney, but Bresee is talented enough to have some kind of role this season.
ZACH EVANS, RB, TCU
Evans had an eventful college selection process. He reportedly signed with Georgia but got released from his letter of intent and was connected to a few different schools before eventually becoming the first five-star recruit ever to sign with TCU. Evans rushed for nearly 5,000 career yards at North Shore High in Houston and was the nation’s No. 16 overall recruit according to the 247Sports Composite. TCU’s top returning rusher is redshirt freshman Darwin Barlow, who had 22 carries for 99 yards while playing just three games to take a redshirt last year.
ARIK GILBERT, TE, LSU
Gilbert caught 101 passes for 1,760 yards and 14 touchdowns his senior season at Marietta (Georgia) High and became the first tight end to get selected as the Gatorade national player of the year since the award started being given out in 1985. He’s the No. 5 overall prospect in his class according to the 247Sports Composite. Although he enrolled at LSU early, Gilbert couldn’t participate in spring practice because he was recovering from shoulder surgery. But he’s certainly made a name for himself with his performance in preseason camp with the sixth-ranked Tigers. “Arik is the type of tight end we’ve been looking for to stretch the field,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said.
TONY GRIMES, DB, NORTH CAROLINA
North Carolina is getting Grimes a year earlier than expected. The former 2021 recruit from Princess Anne High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, decided to reclassify by graduating this summer. That makes him eligible to play for the 18th-ranked Tar Heels this fall. Before Grimes reclassified, the 247Sports Composite had rated him as the nation’s No. 1 cornerback and No. 7 overall player in the 2021 class. Grimes’ early arrival fortifies an already strong North Carolina secondary.
JAYLAN KNIGHTON, RB, MIAMI
Knighton showcased his speed while rushing for 126 yards on 10 carries in the Hurricanes’ first preseason scrimmage. While Cam’Ron Harris figures to open the season as Miami’s No. 1 running back, Knighton has the speed to warrant some type of role. He averaged 9.7 yards per carry and ran for 19 touchdowns his senior year at Deerfield Beach (Florida) High School.
CHRIS TYREE, RB, NOTRE DAME
Notre Dame’s unsettled running back situation should create plenty of early opportunities for Tyree, the nation’s No. 1 all-purpose back and No. 70 overall prospect in his class according to the 247Sports Composite. The 10th-ranked Fighting Irish don’t return any running backs who rushed for over 200 yards last year. The No. 1 running back on the depth chart currently is Kyren Williams, who had just four carries last year. Notre Dame’s running backs will have the benefit of working with a veteran offensive line.