PFF's All-Freshman team entering Week 9
With eight weeks in the books, we have enough of a sample size to pull out the best true freshman performances around the country. If there’s one thing that stood out during this exercise, it’s just how difficult it is for true freshmen to come in and make an impact at certain positions, particularly the offensive line, where it was difficult to find standout performances. As always, many true freshmen start making an impact around mid-season, so there may be some turnover on this list when we re-visit at the end of the year.
Here’s a look at the best freshmen by position through eight weeks of the season.
Josh Rosen, UCLA, +7.7
Despite the usual freshman ups and downs, the entire body of work has been impressive for Rosen, who leads all true freshmen quarterbacks at +7.7, a grade that ranks eighth among Pac-12 quarterbacks.
Runner up: Brett Rypien, Boise State
Saquon Barkley, Penn State, +12.1
It was a heated battle for the top spot between Barkley and Gaskin, but Barkley’s monster games against Rutgers and Ohio State won out. He’s broken 30 tackles on 86 rushes, averaged 4.59 yards after contact, and posted a ridiculous elusive rating of 184.8.
Runner up: Myles Gaskin, Washington
Christian Kirk, Texas A&M, +8.3
Kirk leads Texas A&M in receptions (41), receiving yards (625), and touchdowns (four), and he’s averaging 8.4 yards after the catch per reception. He’s grading at +6.1 in the passing game, and +1.1 when used as a runner.
Britain Covey, Utah, +6.4
Covey did his best to keep Utah undefeated with seven catches for 129 yards and two touchdowns against USC last weekend, but it wasn’t enough. His 2.03 yards per route rank fourth among FBS true freshmen.
Calvin Ridley, Alabama, +2.1
Another true freshman leading his team in receptions (45), yards (525), and touchdowns (3), Ridley has become the go-to playmaker for the Crimson Tide in recent weeks. He’s averaging 2.16 yards per route, good for third among FBS true freshmen.
Connor Williams, Texas, +6.1
The nation’s best true freshman tackle at +6.1, Williams has surrendered only seven total pressures on 206 attempts, good for a +4.7 pass block grade. He’s played all but six snaps this season.
Maea Teuhema, LSU, -3.4
Teuhema has been the left guard for every game of the season, one of only two SEC true freshmen offensive linemen to play at least 400 snaps this season. He’s given up six pressures on 135 attempts, while posting a -2.0 run blocking grade.
Zack Bailey, South Carolina, -9.2
Options are thin among true freshmen centers, so seeing the field is almost an accomplishment in itself. Bailey has been okay in pass protection, surrendering only three hurries on 106 attempts, while struggling in the run game at -8.3.
Jordan Dowrey, Marshall, +6.9
The only true freshman guard to grade +1.0 or above, Dowrey has given up a sack, hit, and three hurries on 172 pass blocking attempts while posting a strong +4.8 grade as a run blocker.
Trevon Tate, Memphis, +3.0
Tate is the only true freshman right tackle grading above +1.o, as he’s surrendered only six pressures on 196 attempts, while grading at +2.2 in the run game.
Josh Sweat, Florida State, +12.1
A key part of the Florida State defensive line all season, Sweat leads all true freshman edge players with a +9.1 grade against the run; he’s added a sack, hit, and 15 hurries on 152 attempts to grade at +2.1 as a pass rusher.
Arden Key, LSU +2.7
Key leads all true freshman edge rushers with 23 total pressures (five hits, 18 hurries), good for a pass rush productivity of 9.0 and pass rush grade of +4.8. He’s added seven run stops and a +0.4 grade against the run.
Runners up: Chase Robison, Arkansas State; CeCe Jefferson, Florida
Interior defensive line
Terry Beckner Jr., Missouri, +18.1
Beckner has been an important part of Missouri’s defensive line rotation all season, and he’s seen the field even more in recent weeks. His +16.9 grade against the run leads all true freshmen and ranks 12th overall nationally.
Trenton Thompson, Georgia, +12.1
Perhaps the best true freshman in the nation over the last few weeks, Thompson has emerged as one of Georgia’s top defensive linemen. His +10.8 grade against the run ranks third among the nation’s true freshmen, and he leads in run stop percentage at 12.5 percent. Thompson has tacked on a sack, hit, and two hurries on only 67 rushes.
Runners Up: Daylon Mack, Texas A&M; Shy Tuttle, Tennessee
Chris Orr, Wisconsin, +3.8
Positive grades against the run and in coverage have highlighted Orr’s 409 snaps, as he became a key part of Wisconsin’s linebacking corps in Week 3. As a pass rusher, he’s picked up a hit and 11 hurries on 64 rushes and his run stop percentage of 8.0 ranks second among true freshman inside linebackers.
Cameron Smith, USC, +3.4
A three-interception game was a breakout performance for Smith as he was a key cog in USC’s win over Utah last weekend. On the season, he’s played 360 snaps, grading at +2.5 in coverage on the strength of that performance. He leads all true freshman inside linebackers with a run stop percentage of 11.8 percent to go with a solid grade against the run at +1.0.
Montrel Wilson, TCU, +2.4
Wilson’s 431 snaps rank fourth among true freshman linebackers, and he leads the way with 28 stops. He’s also posted the top coverage grade at +3.1, while adding three sacks, three hits, and three hurries on only 21 rushes.
Kevin Toliver II, LSU, +7.3
No Power-5 cornerback has stepped right in as smoothly as Toliver, whose +7.3 grade ranks second among all true freshman cornerbacks. He’s surrendered catches on 15-of-27 targets for 208 yards, while posting a strong grade against the run at +2.1.
Herb Miller, Florida Atlantic, +4.6
FAU has a plethora of true freshman contributors, with Miller among the best of the bunch. His +5.1 coverage grade ranks second in the class, as he’s given up 7-of-17 for 113 yards to go with an interception and two passed defensed.
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama, +3.6
Fitzpatrick has become a playmaker for Alabama from their slot “star” position, leading all true freshman cornerbacks with two sacks and four passes defensed. He’s graded at +2.5 in coverage and +1.0 as a pass rusher.
Derwin James, Florida State, +13.3
Quickly emerging as one of the biggest impact players in the class, James has seen a huge uptick in snaps in recent weeks. Early on, he did his damage as a pass rusher, notching two sacks, two hits, and five hurries on only 14 pass rushes, and he became a full-time player in Week 6. He leads all true freshman safeties with a +4.7 grade against the run, while ranking second with a +2.8 coverage grade.
Jordan Whitehead, Pittsburgh, +3.0
Staying in the ACC, Whitehead has made an impact for Pittsburgh every week this season. He’s graded well across the board, including a +0.9 mark in coverage and a +1.1 grade against the run. His run stop percentage of 7.3 percent leads all Power-5 true freshman safeties.