Top 10 true freshmen in college football

Dexter Lawrence and Ed Oliver hold their lead on our list of the best young stars in the country through six weeks.

| 8 months ago
(Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

(Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Top 10 true freshmen in college football

At this point in the season, true freshman have gotten into a groove with the college game, which means we should be seeing even more contributions for first-year players as the season progresses. However, we’re here to highlight the freshmen who stepped right in and played major roles on their respective teams, and it’s the interior defensive linemen who steal the show.

Not only do Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence and Houston’s Ed Oliver top our freshman rankings, they’re both ranking among the top linemen in the nation. Here’s a look at the rest of the top true freshmen around the country:

  1. Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson 86.4

It’s getting even tighter at the top as Oliver had another monster game, but Lawrence maintains his No. 1 ranking for at least one more week. He ranks right behind Oliver in the run game, but has supplied more pressure, getting to the quarterback with a sack, seven QB hits, and 10 hurries on his 107 rushes. Lawrence can both disrupt and finish plays against the run and his run stop percentage of 11.8 percent ranks eighth in the nation.

  1. Ed Oliver, DT, Houston 86.6

While Houston suffered their first loss at the hands of Navy, Oliver did his part with 11 solo tackles and another six run stops. He is now tied for the best run stop percentage in the nation at 14.3 percent, something we’ve yet to see a true freshman defensive tackle even come close to accomplishing in our three years of grading. He didn’t need to rush the passer often against Navy but he has three sacks, a QB hit and six hurries on 144 rushes on the year.

  1. Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama 78.8

Same story for Hurts who is coming off yet another strong game and his continued development makes the best team in the country even better. He leads all true freshmen with 11 deep completions (20-plus yards in air) for 433 yards and his adjusted completion percentage of 72.7 percent ranks second only to Shane Buechele. He had an efficient day throwing the ball against Arkansas, but the real addition he’s made to the Alabama offense is his ability to keep defenses off balance in the designed running game. He has 240 yards on 36 designed runs (6.7 yards/attempt) to bring a dynamic that Alabama has never had under Nick Saban.

  1. Rashan Gary, Edge, Michigan 80.8

Gary continued his strong play with a four-pressure day against Rutgers, and he did so on only 10 rushes. He now has two sacks, five QB hits, and eight pressures on 90 rushes this season, doing most of his work coming off the edge. Perhaps most impressive has been Gary’s ability to even see the field on Michigan’s loaded defensive line, but he’s stepped right in and contributed from day one.

  1. Trayveon Williams, RB, Texas A&M 77.5

Few freshmen are on the rise as much as Williams who put together another monster day against Tennessee, a late fumble aside. With 217 yards on 28 carries and a score, Williams has developed into one of the nation’s most dynamic threats, averaging 8.6 yards/carry to go with 25 forced missed tackles to lead all freshmen. Williams is a big reason why Texas A&M’s offense now provides a good complement to their strong defense and they’ll continue to do damage in the SEC West.

  1. Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida 79.5

Florida didn’t play this week, but here’s what we said about Taylor after last week’s action:

Maintaining his spot in the top 10, Taylor has been one of Florida’s best offensive linemen since stepping in full-time in Week 2 against Kentucky. He’s tapered off some since that time, but he’s season grades in pass protection (79.6) and as a run blocker (77.8) are very good for a true freshman. Taylor will continue to get challenged as the SEC schedule heats up, but for now, it appears as though the Gators have found a solid starter at tackle.

  1. Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama 77.7

Williams moves back up a couple notches after a strong game against Arkansas. He has the top pass blocking grade among freshmen offensive tackles as he’s only surrendered a sack and a QB hit on 212 attempts. He hasn’t been as efficient in the run game, particularly against Kentucky in Week 5, but the overall body of work has been impressive for a true freshman.

  1. Joshua Jacbos, RB, Alabama 75.1

Maintaining a spot on the Top 10 for another week, Jacobs made the most of his limited opportunities last week with 57 yards on only three carries. His status on the top 10 will depend heavily on just how often he sees the field for Alabama, but the small sample size has been outstanding as he’s forced 11 missed tackles on only 37 carries and added another seven misses on his five receptions.

  1. Michael Pinckney, LB, Miami 79.3

Pinckney returns for the second straight week after a solid game against Florida State in which he tied for the team lead with three stops. Pinckney maintains the top coverage grade among freshmen linebackers while also leading in pressures with four sacks, two QB hits and one hurry on on 36 rushes.

  1. Nick Bosa, Edge, Ohio State 81.5 

Bosa is primed to move up the list very quickly after he took advantage of a career-high 30 snaps against Indiana to post three hurries and three run stops. He’s played well for about 20 snaps per game as part of the defensive line rotation but if that continues to increase into 30-plus snaps, Bosa will be pushing the top five in no time.

Dropped out

N’Keal Harry, Arizona State

Watch list:

Jacob Eason, QB, Georgia
Greg Little, OT Ole Miss
Brian Burns, Edge, Florida State
Carter Coughlin, Edge, Minnesota
Tai’yon Devers, Edge, Minnesota
J.J. Taylor, RB, Arizona
Demetris Robertson, WR, Cal
Benito Jones, DI, Ole Miss
Isaac Nauta, TE, Georgia
Shane Buechele, QB, Texas
Troy Dye, LB, Oregon



| Senior Analyst

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

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