Top 10 true freshmen in college football

Houston's Ed Oliver continues his dominance and sits atop our ranking of the best true freshmen in the game.

| 8 months ago
(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Top 10 true freshmen in college football

With about a half season of collegiate play under their belts, it’s that time of year that a number of true freshmen emerge as second-half risers. Some players take time to adjust to the college game and every year we start to see the true potential on a number of freshmen around mid-season.

However, many freshmen have been contributing since Day 1 and this list is about celebrating those who have made the biggest impact so far. The defensive linemen continue to steal the show as they’ve played like veterans and are challenging for top status around the country — not just among freshmen.

Here are your top freshmen in the country after eight weeks of action.

  1. Ed Oliver, Houston 87.7

Oliver returns to the top spot for the second week in a row as he’s not only the nation’s top freshman, but also the top-graded interior defensive lineman against the run at 90.2. He’s both disrupted plays at the point of attack and finished them as his nation-leading 26 run stops attest while his run stop percentage of 13.9 percent ranks second. Throw in Oliver’s three sacks, three QB hits, and eight hurries and we’re looking at the best freshman interior defensive lineman since we started grading in 2014.

  1. Dexter Lawrence, Clemson 86.7

Right up there with Oliver, Lawrence has been a run-stopping force in his own right, grading at 87.0 to tie for 10th in the country. He ranks second with 18 total stops and he leads all freshmen interior defensive linemen with 23 pressures (two sacks, seven QB hits, and 14 hurries). Lawrence has been an integral part of Clemson’s defensive line since stepping right in with a monster debut in Week 1 against Auburn.

  1. Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama 79.4

It’s a new-look Alabama offense this season and it’s built around Hurts’ ability to run the ball as part of the designed run game. His 88.7 rushing grade ranks third among power-5 quarterbacks while his 437 yards in the designed game rank third. Even with a 69.4 passing grade, Hurts has been a game-changer for the Alabama offense, opening things up for running backs while also creating a number of easier throws as defenses have to account for his threat as a runner. The poise that Hurts has showed as a true freshman quarterback on the best team in the country cannot be overlooked.

  1. Nick Bosa, Edge, Ohio State 84.1

An uptick in playing time in recent weeks has shown Bosa’s potential as he’s been Ohio State’s best defensive lineman during that time. He’s now the top-graded freshman edge defender and he’s leading Buckeyes’ edge defenders with an 83.4 pass-rush grade. He’s picked up 25 pressures on the year (four sacks, two QB hits, and 19 hurries) while showing well against the run at 80.5. The comparisons to his brother, Joey, are inevitable, and Nick is living up to those lofty expectations to this point.

  1. Trayveon Williams, RB, Texas A&M 76.7

Already one of the most explosive running backs in the country, Williams leads all freshmen with 727 yards on the ground while averaging 8.0 yards/carry. He also leads freshmen with 26 forced missed tackles, ranking 19th in the country among all backs. Williams’ big-play ability has been a big part of Texas A&M’s 6-1 start and his pairing with QB Trevor Knight in the backfield is one of the nation’s top one-two punches.

  1. Rashan Gary, Edge, Michigan 81.8

Gary has been a key part of Michigan’s deep defensive line rotation since Week 1 and he continues to produce when given the opportunity. His overall grade ranks right behind Bosa among true freshmen and his 86.3 pass rush grade leads the way as he’s notched two sacks, six QB hits, and nine hurries on only 101 hurries. Gary has lived up to his immense hype through seven games and he’s one of a few true freshmen who will have a direct impact on the College Football Playoff.

  1. Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama 80.6

The starting right tackle for Alabama since Week 1, Williams has the best grade in pass protection among all true freshmen at 84.3 as he’s only given up three pressures (sack, QB hit, hurry) on 276 dropbacks. Williams started off slow in the run game, but he’s improved in recent weeks, including a strong game last week against Texas A&M. Williams’ ability to lock down the right tackle spot for Alabama has been critical to their offensive success this season.

  1. Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida 81.0

Maintaining his spot on the list after a bye this week – though losing a spot to Jonah Williams – Taylor has been Florida’s starting right tackle since Week 2 and he’s been strong all-around with a 79.3 pass-blocking grade and an 81.0 mark as a run blocker. He’s only allowed seven pressures (two sacks, two QB hits, and three hurries) on his 197 snaps in pass protection and he’s been a bright spot on an offensive line that is still one of the more inconsistent units in the country.

  1. Lorenzo Harrison, RB, Maryland 77.3

Harrison made his debut on the list last week and he lived up to it with a career-high 105 yards on 17 carries. He forced six missed tackles against Michigan State, bringing his season total to 23 to rank just behind Trayveon Williams among true freshman running backs. Harrison is now the leading rusher for Maryland and he’s averaging 7.7 yards/carry as he’s added a big-play dimension to the Terrapins’ offense.

  1. Michael Pinckney, LB, Miami 78.8

While he’s slowed down in recent weeks, Pinckney has the top grade among freshmen linebackers, doing fine work in coverage (81.5 grade) and as a pass rusher with four sacks, three QB hits, and three hurries). Pinckney has paired with fellow true freshman Shaquille Quarterman to form the best pair of first-year linebackers in the nation.

Watch list:

Joshua Jacobs, RB, Alabama
N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State
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, defensive interior, Ole Miss
Isaac Nauta, TE, Georgia
Shane Buechele, QB, Texas
Troy Dye, LB, Oregon
Ahmmon Richards, WR, Miami



| 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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