Top 8 true freshmen in college football

Steve Palazzolo ranks the best true freshmen in the country heading into Week 6.

| 2 years ago
(AP Photo/Mike Groll)

(AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Top 8 true freshmen in college football

As the season unfolds, we’re starting to separate the top true freshmen from those simply making a contribution in their first year on campus. Though as we mentioned last week, just because a freshman hasn’t made an impact just yet, doesn’t mean all is lost for this season. Every year we see an influx of first-year players emerge during the second half of the year. Until a few more players begin to unlock their potential, we’re forced to focus on those making the instant impact.

Here’s a look at the top true freshmen in the country.

  1. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

Still atop the true freshman receiving rankings with a +6.1 grade, Kirk is fully-entrenched as a top option for the Aggies. He added another eight catches for 77 yards last week, though he did have two drops. His 334 yards after the catch rank second in the nation, and he’s found the end zone four times as a receiver and once as a punt returner. He’s a difference-maker on an undefeated SEC contender.

  1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

Barkley missed last week’s game against Army, but he’s still been the premier freshman running back in the country. Here’s what we said last week: “Barkley has now rushed for 373 yards on 42 carries (8.9 yards/carry) and three touchdowns. His elusive rating of 312.7 is off the charts as he’s forced 18 missed tackles on his 42 carries while adding five more on his one reception that went for a 22-yard touchdown.”

  1. Kevin Toliver II, CB, LSU

Toliver’s debut was as good as any freshman in the country and he’s continued the strong play since that time. His +7.3 grade leads all true freshmen cornerbacks, as does his +4.8 grade in coverage. He’s been targeted 15 times, surrendering eight catches for 92 yards to go with an interception and one pass defensed.

  1. Terry Beckner, DT, Missouri

The last two weeks have vaulted Beckner up the list, particularly his game against Kentucky two weeks ago that saw him grade at +6.1 as a run defender. His +14.2 season grade in that department leads all true freshmen interior defensive linemen, and he’s supplemented it with five hurries on his 69 pass rushes. Unfortunately, he was ejected from Saturday’s game against South Carolina due to a targeting penalty, limiting him to only 16 snaps.

  1. Connor Williams, OT, Texas

Seemingly the one steady hand at Texas, Williams posted yet another positive grade Saturday despite the Longhorns getting blown out by TCU. He allowed only one pressure on 42 pass blocks, bringing his season total to seven pressures on 169 attempts. He’s added a +2.0 run-block grade and Williams remains the one bright spot on a poor offensive line at Texas.

  1. Josh Sweat, DE, Florida State

Despite getting shut out as a pass-rusher last weekend against Wake Forest, Sweat had another strong outing against the run, and he leads all freshmen edge rushers in that department at +7.4. While he’s off to a good start, LSU’s Arden Key and Florida’s Cece Jefferson are hot on his trail in the battle to determine the nation’s best true freshman edge rusher.

  1. Daylon Mack, DT, Texas A&M

Despite not registering a pressure on his 64 rushes this season, Mack has played well against the run as his +8.2 grade attests. He leads all true freshmen interior defensive linemen with 11 solo tackles and five stops. Single blocks usually get moved into the backfield against Mack, a common sight in the second half of the Arkansas game two weeks ago.

  1. Jerry Tillery, DT, Notre Dame

Tillery’s 169 snaps rank second among true freshmen interior defensive linemen and he’s made the most of them. His +4.7 grade against the run ranks sixth among his peers and he’s added a sack, hit, and two hurries on his 76 pass rushes. He’s coming off his best game of the season as he graded at +3.7 on 37 snaps against Clemson.

Watch List: DE Arden Key, LSU; DE CeCe Jefferson, Florida; S Derwin James, FSU; WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama; RB Markell Jones, Purdue

| Senior Analyst

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

  • Jeffrey Holder

    How can Mali Jefferson of Texas not be on this list? Conner Williams has been a very pleasant surprise but, Jefferson shines in every game also.