Ranking the 10 best true freshmen in college football

Steve Palazzolo brings you PFF's best true freshmen through 11 weeks of college play.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Ranking the 10 best true freshmen in college football


Freshman wall or late risers? That’s the question for many of the nation’s true freshmen as some of the youngsters struggle to maintain their early-season success while others are progressing nicely as the season comes to a close. Either way, the season is winding down, rivalry games are starting up, and bowl season is right around the corner.

Here’s a look at the top true freshmen in the nation after 11 weeks of play:

  1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State +18.8

On a bye this week, Barkley maintains his top spot, but our number two is hot on his trail. Our notes from last week: A fine game from Barkley against Northwestern vaults him up to the top of the list as he gained 120 yards on 25 carries for a +2.9 rush grade while adding six catches for 50 yards and a +1.6 grade in the passing game. He sits atop our freshman running back rankings for the season, now adding some distance between himself and Washington running back Myles Gaskin.

  1. Derwin James, S, Florida State +19.9

Quickly emerging as one of the most unique players in the country, James continued his playmaking ways with a +2.0 grade against North Carolina State. Even though he’s a safety, and he’s lined up deep on 305 of his 494 snaps this season, he dropped down to rush the passer as a pure edge player quite a bit against NC State. For the season, he’s rushed the passer 34 times, picking up four sacks, two hits, and 10 hurries. Throw in a +6.6 mark against the run and +4.8 grade in coverage and James is already a superstar.

  1. Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington +16.3

Moving up a few spots, Gaskin ran for 108 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries against Arizona State and he now leads all true freshman runners with 856 rushing yards. His elusive rating of 97.9 ranks 18th in the nation as he’s forced 35 missed tackles and averaged 3.92 yards after contact per rush. He’s now rushed for over 100 yards in five of 10 games this season.

  1. Terry Beckner, Jr., DT, Missouri +16.8

Limited to only one snap against BYU, Beckner Jr has a knee injury that could threaten his season. He makes the list for at least one more week, on the strength of a +16.7 grade against the run that leads all true freshman and ranks 28th nationally. Overall it’s been a great start to Beckner Jr’s career and we’re hoping he bounces back quickly.

  1. Brett Rypien, Boise State, QB: +19.1

On a bye this week, Rypien maintains his spot at number five. Our notes from last week: After threatening the top ten all season, Rypien put together a monster game against UNLV that saw him grade at +9.6. He’s now graded positively in all but two games, and even those weren’t terrible efforts. Rypien leads all true freshmen in accuracy percentage at 79.2 percent as well as deep pass accuracy percentage at 55.9 percent.

  1. Josh Sweat, Florida State, DE: +13.5

An increase in workload hasn’t necessarily added to Sweat’s production the last two weeks, and he’s slowed down after a fine start to the season. He’s still the top-graded freshman edge player against the run at +11.3 while even a tapered-off pass rush has produced a sack, two hits, and 20 hurries this season.

  1. Josh Rosen, UCLA, QB: +12.4

Inconsistency has been the name of the game for Rosen this season, but that’s to be expected for a true freshman. His overall body of work, and UCLA’s pending future, is outstanding as his +17.5 grade against power-5 competition ranks ninth in the nation. Rosen has done his best work at the intermediate (10-19 yard) range where he’s completed 51-of-78 (65.4 percent) for 939 yards and seven touchdowns.

  1. Jake Browning, Washington, QB: +14.4

The only thing separating Browning from Rosen is Rosen’s strong performance against top competition, but Browning may overtake him shortly. He posted a strong +2.7 grade against Arizona State last weekend, good for his fourth straight positive grade and seventh in his last eight games. Browning’s accuracy percentage of 66.1 percent under pressure ranks third among the nation’s true freshmen.

  1. Trenton Thompson, Georgia, DT: +13.7

Similar to Beckner Jr, Thompson has battled injuries and has been limited to only 25 snaps in the last two games. He made a midseason push up this list, and may have been ready to jump into the top three had he not been slowed down. Still, the future is bright for Thompson whose +11.9 grade against the run ranks third among true freshmen interior defensive linemen.

  1. Connor Williams, Texas, OT: +7.3

Remaining status quo, Williams had another average game against West Virginia, but he’s still the top pass protecting true freshman offensive tackle at +4.7. He’s surrendered one hit and 10 hurries on 283 attempts, all the more impressive considering how long Texas quarterback Jerrod Heard holds onto the ball (3.19 seconds per dropback, fourth-highest in the nation).

First couple out

Colton Miller, OT, UCLA: +10.3

Added to the list last week, Miller has been a strong run blocker in his four games of extended playing time and his +8.6 grade in that department leads all true freshmen at any line position. He took a slight step back against Washington State last weekend, but he’s still on the rise and deserves mention.

Jarrett Stidham, QB, Baylor: +14.2

Sample size issues are keeping Stidham out for now, but he’s stepped right in and continued Baylor’s onslaught on opposing defenses. It’s a favorable system for quarterbacks, but a +7.6 in his two starts is impressive nonetheless. He makes the watch list for the stretch run.

| Senior Analyst

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

  • Marco Ellington

    How can there be this list without the best freshman? Whitehead for Pitt has 82 tackles and leads that improved defense… Oh and scored 2 touchdowns against notre dame and has over 100 yards rushing.

    By the way, Ollison of Pitt has nearly 900 yards rushing and 8 Tds both are true freshmen

  • Andy

    Rosen looked phenomenal last weekend.