Ranking the top 10 true freshmen in college football

A pair of Pac-12 quarterbacks make our list of the best true freshmen in college football so far this season.

| 12 months ago
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Ranking the top 10 true freshmen in college football

Last week we took a look at the mid-season All-Freshman Team, but this week we’re back to ranking the nation’s best true freshmen. As expected, some freshmen take a while to get started, but once they do, future superstardom is easy to spot. That’s what we’re seeing from our new top player on the list. The rest of the top 10 consists of year-long performers and midseason breakouts, so let’s have a look at the best true freshmen in the country.

1. Derwin James, S, Florida State

One of the hottest players in the country, James has been a force on the FSU defense since taking over as starter in Week 6. His +17.0 overall grade ranks third among all safeties, including a +7.4 mark against the run that ranks 10th and a strong +2.8 grade against the run. James has also been a menace when rushing the passer, picking up two sacks, two hits, and six hurries on only 15 rushes.

2. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

Barkley has bounced back nicely after an early-season injury to lead all true freshman runners with 716 yards, 35 missed tackles forced, and an elusive rating of 153.0 that leads the nation. His 4.2 yards after contact per rush ranks sixth among all FBS running backs.

3. Terry Beckner Jr., DT, Missouri

After a midseason lull, Beckner bounced back to form against Vanderbilt last weekend with a +3.7 grade. His +15.5 overall grade leads all true freshman interior defensive linemen, as does his +15.9 mark against the run. As a pass-rusher, he’s notched three sacks and six hurries on 133 rushes, good for a +2.1 grade.

4. Josh Sweat, DE, Florida State

Perhaps the most consistent true freshman in the country, Sweat has posted only one negative game this season. His +9.6 mark against the run leads among true freshman edge rushers, while his pass-rushing has improved in recent weeks. He’s grading at +3.7 rushing the passer, notching a sack, hit, and 17 hurries on 171 rushes.

5. Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington

Gaskin has seen an increase in workload since Week 6, and he’s challenging Barkley as the top freshman running back. He’s run for over 100 yards in three of his last four games, while ranking right behind Barkley with 27 forced missed tackles. His elusive rating of 106.7 ranks 17th in the entire nation, and his 4.1 yards after contact per rush ranks 10th.

6. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

Even with the usual hiccups of a first-year starter, Rosen’s body of work has more than impressed as he’s posted positive grades in five of his eight games. His talent has been evident every week, and even though the freshman mistakes creep into his play, when Rosen gets on a roll, it’s an impressive sight. For the season, he’s picked up 571 yards on deep passes, good for 20th in the nation and he’s done his best work against the blitz with an impressive +9.0 grade.

7. Jake Browning, QB, Washington

While he is not getting the same publicity as Rosen, Browning is right there with him, with particularly impressive games against Utah State and Arizona. He’s grading at +5.0 when pressured, including an accuracy percentage of 63.4 percent that ranks third among Pac-12 quarterbacks. With positively graded games in five of his seven starts, it looks like Washington has their signal-caller of the future.

8. Kevin Toliver II, CB, LSU

The top-graded true freshman cornerback among Power-5 teams, Toliver has been an important part of LSU’s defensive backfield, playing 85.0 percent of their snaps this season. He’s posted a +4.6 grade in coverage, allowing 15 receptions on 27 targets for 208 yards, while also notching an interception and getting his hands on one other pass.

9. Trenton Thompson, DT, Georgia

A candidate to become the top player on this list by the end of November, Thompson has come on strong for the Bulldogs since taking on an expanded role in Week 5. His +11.8 run grade ranks third among true freshman interior defensive linemen, while his run stop percentage of 13.6 percent leads the way. He’s picked up four pressures on 74 rushes, good for a pass-rush grade of +0.6.

10. Connor Williams, OT, Texas

A consistent performer all season, Williams returns to the list as the top true freshman offensive tackle in the nation. His +5.2 pass-blocking grade ranks 22nd among all tackles in the nation, as he’s surrendered only a hit and eight hurries on 238 attempts. Williams has also posted a respectable run-blocking grade of +1.2.

| Senior Analyst

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

  • Matt

    “His +17.0 overall grade ranks third among all safeties, including a +7.4 mark against the run that ranks 10th and a strong +2.8 grade against the run.”

    One of those should probably say “pass” and not run.

  • Kelli Bennett

    No Mitch Hyatt or Christian Wilkins on this list? Hmmmmm……

  • John Robert Andren

    Derek Johnson is a h.omo

  • Jeff

    How about Brett Rypien QB – Boise St. ? He has been much better then Jake Browning.

    • dhg72

      trade schedules and see if he’s still better. UW had the #1 SOS coming into the year, Boise St was at #86.

  • http://profiles.google.com/kentuckyloan joel lobb

    Derwin James is a superstar. Kid has all the tools.