PFF’s freshman All-American team

Steve Palazzolo reveals the top freshmen at every position this season.

| 5 months ago
(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

PFF’s freshman All-American team


With bowl season upon us, it’s time to celebrate the best true freshman performances of the year. It was an epic year for elite defensive talent along the interior defensive line, as Houston’s Ed Oliver and Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence became immediate contributors on top teams. 2016 also saw Alabama head coach Nick Saban turn to true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts and not miss a beat in an undefeated regular season for the Crimson Tide. Here is the rest of the 2016 PFF College Freshman All-American team:

Offense

Quarterback: Jalen Hurts, Alabama

Stepping in to play quarterback for a Nick Saban as a true freshman is one thing, but Hurts has also led an undefeated Alabama team into the College Football Playoff while transforming the offense along the way. He added a dynamic running element that the Crimson Tide have never had, finishing the season with 652 yards and seven touchdowns on designed runs while adding another 305 yards and four touchdowns on scrambles. Hurts has some work to do as a passer, but he still led all true freshmen with an accuracy percentage of 76.0 percent in Alabama’s short passing game.

Running Back: Benny Snell, Kentucky

A midseason breakout by Snell vaulted him to the top of the freshman running back rankings. He led all true freshmen with 42 forced missed tackles and 13 touchdowns as he paired with Stanley Williams to form one of the best duos in the nation with nearly 2,200 combined rushing yards and 20 scores.

Wide receivers: Ahmmon Richards, Miami (FL), and N’Keal Harry, Arizona State

Richards emerged as the top receiver on Miami’s offense and he was one of the best big-play receivers in the country. He averaged 18.8 yards per reception and led all true freshman receivers with a 77.9 overall grade. Harry led freshman receivers with 58 catches and tied for fourth with five touchdowns as he flashed his downfield ball skills throughout the year on his way to the No. 2 grade among freshman receivers at 74.6.

Tight end: Isaac Nauta, Georgia

By far the best true freshman tight end in the country, Nauta finished with 353 yards on 27 catches as he developed early chemistry with fellow true freshman quarterback Jacob Eason. Nauta was a key weapon for the Georgia passing game, lining up on the outside and in the slot quite a bit as he dwarfed the rest of the nation’s true freshman tight ends statistically.

Offensive tackle: Jonah Williams, Alabama, and Jawaan Taylor, Florida

Williams stepped right in as the starter at right tackle for Alabama and actually graded better than much-heralded teammate Cam Robinson. His 78.6 overall grade ranked 37th among the nation’s tackles and it’s one of the best true freshman performances we’ve seen at tackle in our three years of grading college. Taylor took over at right tackle for Florida in the second game of the season and he held his own in a tough SEC with a 71.8 overall grade.

Guard: Gus Lavaka, Oregon State, and Nate Herbig, Stanford

Two monster Pac-12 guards led the way among true freshmen this season as Lavaka graded at 73.7 overall and Herbig came in at 70.8. Lavaka allowed only four pressures, all hurries, while ranking third among all freshman guards with a 73.7 run block grade while Herbig allowed only a sack and three hurries after taking over as starter in Week 7.

Center: Don’t mistake activity for achievement

Only two FBS centers played more than 116 snaps and neither player warranted All-American status.

Defense

Edge defenders: Nick Bosa, Ohio State, and Malcolm Roach, Texas

One of Ohio State’s most effective pass-rushers down the stretch, Bosa made the most of his 314 snaps with an 83.5 overall grade including an 81.8 pass-rush grade that led all freshmen. He also led the way with 37 pressures, including five sacks, six QB hits and 26 hurries. Roach led freshmen edge defenders with an 83.8 run-defense grade while tying for second with Bosa with 20 total stops. He saw an uptick in playing time in Week 5 and finished with 472 total snaps to rank fourth among freshmen edge defenders.

Defensive interior: Ed Oliver, Houston, and Dexter Lawrence, Clemson

In three years of college grading, only two true freshman interior defensive linemen have ranked among the top 30 in the nation and both reside in this year’s class. Oliver finished fourth overall with an 89.1 grade and he led the country with a 91.4 grade against the run. Lawrence came in 12th overall at 86.7 and he finished among the top 34 both as a pass-rusher and against the run. Both players put on two of the better true freshman performances that we’ve seen in three years while immediately establishing themselves as impact players nationally.

Linebacker: David Reese, Florida; Shaquille Quarterman, Miami (FL); Caleb Kelly, Oklahoma

Injuries opened the door for Reese to start down the stretch after impressing in a backup role early on. He played well in coverage while missing only six of his 50 tackle attempts. Quarterman paired with Michael Pinckney to form the best true freshman linebacker duo and he led all Power-5 freshmen with 44 stops. Kelly came on strong down the stretch, keeping the ball in front of him in coverage while finishing with a solid 70.6 grade against the run.

Cornerback: Taylor Rapp, Washington and Jaylon Jones, Ole Miss

Stepping right in as a key part of a strong Washington secondary, Rapp spent most of his time in the slot where he ranked 13th in the nation allowing only 0.55 yards per coverage snap and picked off three passes on 13 targets. Jones led all freshmen with a 78.3 coverage grade while allowing only six of his 21 targets to be completed (28.6 percent) to go with three pass breakups.

Safety: Ben Deluca, Charlotte, and Antoine Winfield Jr; Minnesota

Deluca posted the top coverage grade among freshman safeties at 79.9 as he picked off two passes and broke up two others. He was also a sure tackler, missing only six of his 70 attempts. Winfield Jr. was strong against the run, ranking third among freshman safeties and he didn’t leave many plays on the table with only five missed tackles on his 53 opportunities.

Special teams

Kicker: Butch Hampton, Western Michigan

Hampton made 18-of-23 field goals including 3-of-4 from 40 to 49 yards.

Punter: Tom Sheldon, North Carolina

A 27-year-old Australian, Sheldon allowed only six return yards all season while topping freshman punters with a net 40.2 average.

Returner: Kene Nwangwu, Iowa State

Nwangwu averaged 26.8 yards per kick return including a touchdown to lead all freshman returners.

| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

  • Tony

    Wait. Jake Hansen from Oregon can make second team all Pac-12 at Center, but can’t be 1st team Freshman AA with no choices?