Farrell 50: Counting down the top 50 players in the nation
Mark Pszonak contributed to this report.
With the college football season nearly upon us, it’s time for another installment of the Farrell 50, the top 50 college football players in the country. We take a quick look at how each ranked out of high school and if they are exceeding or simply living up to expectations. Today we move on to Nos. 26-30, led by one of the SEC’s best receivers.
The skinny: Jefferson took November and December official visits to Texas, LSU, Texas A&M and UCLA before committing to the Longhorns a week before Christmas. It was a huge recruiting victory for Texas, who pulled Jefferson away from the Aggies. While the Longhorns have experienced their fair share of lackluster play, Jefferson made an immediate impact since he stepped foot on campus. Totaling 121 tackles and nine sacks in two seasons, even bigger things are expected out of him this fall.
Farrell’s take: Jefferson was a fun kid to cover, a driven player who made sacrifices like pushing through family hardship to play in the Under Armour All-America Game when he could have easily gone the local U.S. Army All-American Bowl route. This kid knew what he wanted and he did everything he could to make it happen. Jefferson was a five-star and he has certainly delivered for a Texas defense that is young and improving. His early impact was a surprise, but the fact that he’s become a defensive leader after two seasons is not surprising at all. He’s always been an impressive young man and he’s maturing before our eyes.
The skinny: Vea committed to Washington as part of the Class of 2013, but due to academic issues, he didn’t actually make it to campus until 2014. He took a year off from football to focus on getting his grades in order before making the move to Seattle. After redshirting in 2014 and then easing into the college game in 2015, Vea began to flourish last fall with 39 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss and five sacks. Now one of the unquestioned leaders of the Washington defense, he is hoping to lead the Huskies back to the College Football Playoffs.
Farrell’s take: Vea was ranked as a big defensive end for us out of high school but played on the nose his senior year and was very active. He started off as a four-star pass rusher for us but dropped to three stars as he got bigger but lost some quickness. He was a tough evaluation because he hadn’t played a ton of football and was very effective when he played, but he was a ‘tweener for us and it was hard to figure out what scheme he would fit into. He’s found his home as a defensive tackle and should lead the Huskies defense.
The skinny: Freeman trimmed his list to Oregon, UCLA, USC and Florida before committing to the Ducks in July. With the Ducks, Freeman has been a huge part of the offense since day one. After rushing for 1,365 yards as a true freshman and then 1,838 yards and a Pac-12 leading 17 touchdowns in 2015, Freeman only managed 945 yards and nine touchdowns last fall during a disappointing season. With new coach Willie Taggart’s love of the running game, Freeman has a great opportunity to rebound in a big way this fall.
Farrell’s take: We knew Freeman was good as a top 60 prospect with great size, but we didn't know he'd fit so well into the speedy offense of Oregon, where smaller, slashing backs tend to get the attention. He has increased his quickness in college and he's tough to bring down like he was out of high school. Last year was a down year for the entire team, but I expect Freeman to bounce back and show the skills that made him so heavily recruited and such a success his first two years.
The skinny: Sweat took official visits to Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State and Virginia Tech, and surprised many by deciding to leave Virginia and commit to the Seminoles. He made an immediate impact in Tallahassee as a true freshman and has continued to improve his game. After finishing with 41 tackles, 11.5 tackles for a loss and seven sacks last fall, he will be heavily depended on this season to cause chaos in the backfield.
Farrell’s take: Sweat's recovery from what some saw as a career-threating injury during his senior year is nothing short of astonishing. At the very least, I figured it would hamper the start of his career, but it simply hasn't. He's an athletic freak, super long and very explosive and all of that has returned to form after hard work in rehabbing his knee. He's now scratching the surface of his potential and seems to get better each game, so it's scary to think how he'll be this season.
The skinny: Ridley was an early commitment to the Crimson Tide, and while rumors persisted throughout his senior season and leading up to Signing Day that he was taking a look at other programs, he stuck with his word and signed with Alabama. Ridley, who became an immediate star at Alabama as a true freshman, has totaled 161 receptions for 1,184 yards and 14 touchdowns heading into his junior season. Now with Jalen Hurts more comfortable with the offense, will the Tide look to air the ball out more this fall?
Farrell’s take: Ridley set freshman records at Alabama as a receiver, the same place where Julio Jones and Amari Cooper dominated, so that's heady stuff. Ridley was always an elite prospect in high school and a no-brainer five-star for us from the start, and other websites followed suit. He was an accomplished route runner, had solid size and amazing hands and just needed to fill out and find his way into the Alabama offense. Now he should have a great third and final season and head off as a first-rounder like his predecessors.