Top true freshmen by position

Steve Palazzolo breaks down a list of potential college football stars that had breakout freshman campaigns.

| 12 months ago
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Top true freshmen by position


It’s time for the youngsters to get some recognition as we unveil the PFF College Freshman All-American Team.

We’ve limited the team to just true freshmen, so these are all players who just stepped onto campus within the last year. The list is filled with players who pushed right into starting roles; others emerged in the second half, and even a few have established themselves as current and future superstars.

Here’s a look at the 2015 PFF College Freshman All-American Team:

Quarterback

Jake Browning, Washington, +16.5

While Josh Rosen got off to the better start, Browning had a strong finish and posted positive grades in five of his last six games. His accuracy percentage of 74.6 percent ranked second among the nation’s true freshmen.

Runner up: Josh Rosen, UCLA

Running back

First Team: Myles Gaskin, Washington, +24.4

Similar to the quarterback competition, Gaskin battled Penn State’s Saquon Barkley all season before finishing with a flurry. He ranked second among the true freshmen in missed tackles forced (51) and third in elusive rating (95.9), all while averaging 3.65 yards after contact per rush.

Second Team: Saquon Barkley, Penn State, +12.1

Fullback

First Team: Chandler Cox, Auburn

Cox took home All-SEC honors, as well as a +6.4 blocking grade, ranking ninth among the “dinosaurs” that are the nation’s fullbacks.

Wide Receiver

First Team: Calvin Ridley, Alabama, +8.4 receiving, and Britain Covey, Utah, +8.5 receiving

Ridley became Alabama’s go-to guy as the season wore on, leading the freshmen with a +9.7 receiving grade against Power-5 competition. Covey had fewer opportunities, but made the most of them, with 15 forced missed tackles on only 41 receptions.

Second Team: Deon Cain, Clemson, and KaVontae Turpin, TCU

Slot

First Team: Christian Kirk, Texas A&M, +11.0 receiving

A Second-Team All-SEC selection, Kirk ranked 12th in the nation with 808 yards from the slot, while his 569 yards after the catch ranked 13th among all receivers.

Second Team: Penny Hart, Georgia State

Tackles

First Team: Connor Williams, Texas, +6.1; Kolton Miller, UCLA, +8.1; Mitch Hyatt, Clemson, -2.2

With so few positively-graded freshman offensive linemen, we’re going with a three-man team at tackle. Williams has been a staple on our top freshman lists all season, as he leads the group with a +3.2 pass blocking grade. Miller stepped in nicely for UCLA in Week 7, tying Williams for the top run blocking grade at +6.1. Hyatt has played the most snaps among freshmen offensive tackles, with 898, and allowed just 16 pressures on 463 attempts while grading at +2.1 in the run game.

Guards

First Team: Jordan Dowrey, Marshall +2.9, and Keaton Sutherland, Texas A&M, -5.8

Options are limited among interior offensive linemen, but Dowrey posted a +4.1 run block grade as Marshall’s right guard. Sutherland seemed overwhelmed at times in the SEC, but surrendered only 13 pressures on 305 pass blocking attempts.

Edge

First Team: Josh Sweat, Florida State +13.3 and Arden Key, LSU +10.6

Sweat posted the best grade against the run (+13.4) among freshmen edge defenders, while Key was the top pass rusher with three sacks, nine hits, and 26 hurries on 309 attempts, good for a +11.2 pass rush grade.

Second Team: Chase Robison, Arizona State and CeCe Jefferson, Florida

Interior defensive line

First Team: Terry Beckner Jr., Missouri +14.9 and Trenton Thompson, Georgia +13.7

Both First-Teamers finished the season with injuries, but they made their mark before going down. Beckner was a part of Missouri’s strong defensive line rotation all season, ranking second among freshmen against the run (+14.7) and third as a pass rusher (+2.5). Thompson flashed his top-recruit status as a disruptive presence against the run at +11.9.

Second Team: Daylon Mack, Texas A&M and Daron Payne, Alabama

Linebacker

First Team: Montel Wilson, TCU, +2.5 and Cameron Smith, USC, -1.0

Wilson was one of few freshman linebackers to grade positively in coverage at +2.4, while adding three sacks, three hits, and four hurries as a pass rusher. The nation got to know Smith due to his three-interception game against Utah, though he was actually better against the run, leading all freshman inside linebackers with a run-stop percentage of 11.9 percent.

Second Team: Andre Smith, UNC, and Kaden Ellis, Idaho

Cornerback

First Team: Kevin Toliver II, LSU, +7.0, and Darrien Molton, Washington State, +8.0

Toliver II started the season in style with a breakout game against Mississippi State, and finished with the second-best coverage grade among freshman corners at +5.4. Molton was right with Toliver at +4.4 in coverage, and played 84 percent of Washington State’s defensive snaps.

Second Team: Carlton Davis, Auburn, and Ronnie Hoggins, USF

Slot

First Team: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama +8.0

Stepping right into Alabama’s “star” position, Fitzpatrick lead all freshman corners with a +6.4 coverage grade while allowing only 0.61 yards per coverage snap, good for third among freshman slot defenders.

Second Team: Ocie Rose, Florida Atlantic

Safety

First Team: Derwin James, Florida State, +25.3, and Jordan Whitehead, Pittsburgh, +10.0

The ACC mops up at the safety position, led by James, who is already a star. He’s rare talent that can line up as a deep safety, as he did on 368 snaps, but he can also drop down and rush the passer as a true edge rusher (not just as a blitzer). He led true freshman safeties in coverage (+5.8), against the run (+7.7), and he posted a ridiculous +12.2 pass rush grade as he notched five sacks, two hits, and 16 hurries on only 52 rushes.

Second Team: Adonis Alexander, Virginia Tech and Dameon Baber, Nevada

Kicker

First Team: Greg Huegel, Clemson

Huegel made 22-of-25 field goals for the nation’s top team.

Punter

First Team: Austin Seibert, Oklahoma

Only 18.4 percent of Seibert’s punts were returned, and he dropped 21-of-49 inside the 20.

Returner

First Team: Antonio Callaway, Florida

The All-SEC returner graded at +11.0 on punt returns to top the entire nation, highlighted by his TD return in the SEC Championship.

| Senior Analyst

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

  • GreenCPA

    Way to go Darrien Molton!

    #GoCougs

    • mhzeman

      Browning looks like a zombie on the field and his stats were mostly a result of playing against a HS quality OSU team. Rosen was a stud, which is hard to say for a guy that doesn’t like Rosen or UCLA. Hopefully he graduates early. All I really care about though is that Molton makes the list. Hopefully next year he picks Browning a few times so people can see through the stats. If you really think Browning should be on the list, step away from the spreadsheet and watch a replay of one of his games. Its hard to tell if he is even awake out there.

    • Dawg53

      Indeed – that kid is a stud and will be in the Pros one day…

  • Kennedy

    Browning over Rosen? I’m a Trojan fan but this pick alone devalues the entire list. Iman Biggie Marshall should have made the list at CB.

    • Adam

      Browning has better stats and a stronger finish while playing on a worse team…

      • EncinitasBruin

        Rosen had 3351 yards, 20 TDs, and 9 picks, with a 59.5 completion percentage, while Browning had 2671 yards, 16/10 TDs to INTs, and a 62% completion. Rosen led the Bruins to an 8-4 record vs 6-6 for UW. Not even close.

        • Dawg53

          So, let’s talk stats here:
          QBR: Rosen – 133.2, Browning – 139.9 (the most meaningful statistic of all).

          Yds/Att: Rosen – 7.5/att, Browning – 8.0/att
          Comp. %: Rosen – 59.5%, Browning, 62%

          TDs/attempts: Rosen – 1 per 22.35 attempts, Browning – 1 per 20.87 attempts

          The only reason Rosen had more yards is because he threw the ball 113 times more than Browning. Total yardage is not a good ranking statistic – that all depends on the offense that’s run; it’s Yds/attempt that counts, and Jake won that. Rosen also played behind a much better line (sacked 15 times in 447 pass attempts to Browning’s 29 sacks on 334 attempts) and yet still the only meaningful stat that he won was TDs to INTs ratio. Hardly makes the case for Rosen being “so much better”. Whether Rosen emerges as the better QB remains to be seen, but I think I would take that bet…

          • EncinitasBruin

            Actually, the most important statistic is wins. Rosen wins that category. I’m sorry, but I’ve watched both QBs, and there really is no comparison in the year each had–Rosen played at a much higher level and was the more successful player. He got jobbed.

          • John Tucker

            So wins decide the best FR QB? Then mangum from BYU is the best FR QB as they won 9 games. Encinitas you really know how to cut through the chase.

          • EncinitasBruin

            So if Rosen isn’t the best true freshman QB in the nation, why is he running away with nearly every Freshman All-American Team award, including PAC-12 (over both Mangum and Browning), USA Today, and Campus Insiders? I may just be a homer, but I rest my case with how Rosen is winning most of the awards. If you have an argument with those awards, take it up with the sports writers.

          • John Tucker

            you’re the one who said wins is most important not me, I was just poking fun at your comment which obviously you don’t even believe. I have no problem with Rosen winning, but I don’t see the big gap between the performances of Browning vs. Rosen as some of you UCLA homers believe exists – stats don’t lie.

          • EncinitasBruin

            Fair enough. Good luck to whatever team you follow!

          • John Tucker

            I am dawg fun and I can say we are just excited with the future of our freshman QB as you Bruin fans are with yours. I think both of them along with Falk are going to put up some good numbers over the next couple of years. Will also be interested in seeing how Max Browne does next year, assuming he wins the job at SC

    • EncinitasBruin

      Agree. That’s a joke. Rosen runs circles around Browning. And in the head-to-head, Rosen handily beat Browning. And Marshall being left off is also a farce!

      • Jack

        Head-to-head? they never played each other.

        If I had to bet money, I’d pick Rosen to emerge from college as the better quarterback, but I think Browning had a better year (which is what they’re saying).

    • John Tucker

      Kennedy must be mad that browning beat his Trojans while Rosen didn’t

  • docmike75

    LJ Scott ? Spartans used 3 running backs all year. LJ was the best of the bunch and if he would have been the featured back he would have gained well over 1000 yards and most likely first or second team. Don’t have any issue with the RB picks…

  • Goldar…

    iman marshall??