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Rivals Roundtable: Discussion on impact true freshmen in '17

Cam Akers
Cam Akers

The Rivals Roundtable returns this week with a debate over true freshmen and their impact on the 2017 college football season.

MORE: Class of 2017 rankings

OLE MISS: Farrell's thoughts | Recruits react | Fans react | Five teams that will benefit

1. Which true freshman is going to make the biggest impact this college football season?

Donovan Peoples-Jones
Donovan Peoples-Jones

ROB CASSIDY (Florida/jucos): Well, I’ve already pushed all-in on Florida State freshman running back Cam Akers, saying I think he was the top prospect in last year’s class, so I might as well double down here. The only thing that may slow Akers in 2017 is FSU’s insane depth at running back, which may limit his touches. Clemson’s Hunter Johnson is a great bet should he win the starting quarterback job.

MIKE FARRELL (National): Akers is best set up for success at Florida State I believe. I don’t think he’s the go-to-guy right away but he will be by midseason and has the talent to be mentioned by many nationally as the 'Noles make a run at the national title. There are others out there like Jerry Jeudy, Najee Harris and Lamont Wade that come to mind, but I’ll go with Akers.

ADAM FRIEDMAN (Mid-Atlantic): Michigan's wide receiver corps looks wide open this season so the answer has to be one of the few big-time prospects signed at the position in the 2017 class. Donovan Peoples-Jones, Tarik Black, Nico Collins and Oliver Martin will all have an opportunity to play extensively. My money is on Peoples-Jones or Black to have a big impact on the Michigan offense this season.

ADAM GORNEY (National/West Coast): Michigan needs receivers and playmakers on the outside and there are no more talented receivers in the 2017 class than former five-star Donovan Peoples-Jones, who not only is talented but also smart and should be able to make an early impact for the Wolverines. Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson and Jake Butt are all gone and the wide receiver position is wide open. Nobody on the roster is as talented as Peoples-Jones so he'll see the field early.

JOSH HELMHOLDT (Midwest): Donovan Peoples-Jones, a five-star and the No. 1 wide receiver in the 2017 class, walks into a great situation at a Michigan program that lost its top three pass catchers from last season. Wide receiver is traditionally one of the easiest positions at which to impact early, and Peoples-Jones should have no issue stepping in and handling the physical aspects of the position.

NICK KRUEGER (Texas): Cam Akers should be the guy we’re all talking about just a couple of weeks into the season. He fills a hole left behind by Dalvin Cook, and even though the Seminoles have fellow former five-star running back Jacques Patrick on the roster and due for an expanded role this season, he’s not the same sort of dynamic playmaker that Akers will be. A legitimate discussion was had as to whether or not Akers was better than last year’s top guy, Najee Harris, but Harris won out due to his versatility as an offensive player. With Bo Scarbrough still expected to get the lion’s share of the action at Alabama this season, Najee might have to wait one more year before we can have a true discussion as to which guy was the better player in last year’s class.

CHAD SIMMONS (Southeast): Out Dalvin Cook, in Cam Akers. Akers was arguably the top 2017 prospect in the country and after a strong spring, he is on track to make an immediate impact at Florida State. He played a lot of quarterback in high school, so him enrolling early was crucial to not only pick up the system, but to work on blocking and the little things that make running backs successful. He is the total package and Akers could be one of the top freshmen in America this fall.

WOODY WOMMACK (Southeast): Even though I love Jacques Patrick, the likely starter at running back for Florida State, it's tough for me not to see Cam Akers making an immediate impact with the Seminoles. Florida State is going to be a school in the hunt for the College Football Playoff and the addition of Akers will only bolster its chances. It may take him a little while to get going, but by the end of the year I expect him and Patrick to be a pretty impressive 1-2 punch.

2. Which under-the-radar true freshman do you expect to surprise people with a strong first college year?

Danny Davis
Danny Davis

ROB CASSIDY (Florida/jucos): I guess this depends on our definition of an under-the-radar freshman. If we thought a two-star was going to start as a true freshman at a major program, we would have ranked him higher. I’ll go deep into the bag, though, and guess one of the Florida-based Illinois freshman will impact the season. Owen Carney saw some meaningful snaps during the program’s spring game and could see time at defensive end this season. Wide receiver Carmoni Green also has the talent to help the upstart Illini right away.

MIKE FARRELL (National): Keep an eye out for Travis Etienne at Clemson. I think Clemson has some talent at the position and certainly Tavien Feaster has a lot of local buzz, but Etienne was a steal away from LSU out of Louisiana and could make an early impact.

ADAM FRIEDMAN (Mid-Atlantic): I'm looking at teams that upgraded at a particular position in last year's recruiting class here. Maryland has a senior-laden front seven on defense but it really upgraded the secondary in last year's recruiting class. The Terps have some strong incumbents at both cornerback positions so I'm looking at former Rivals250 safety Markquese Bell to surprise some people this year. He is a physical specimen with a nose for the ball that the coaches have really enjoyed coaching so far.

ADAM GORNEY (National/West Coast): John Ross is no longer at Washington as he became a first-round pick after running the fastest 40-yard dash ever at the NFL Combine and so there are some question marks at wide receiver for Washington. Dante Pettis is back and he will be target No. 1 but others need to step up. Look for freshman Ty Jones to be that guy. He's long and rangy, can stretch the field and definitely is a matchup nightmare against smaller cornerbacks. With a talented quarterback in Jake Browning leading the way, the former three-star receiver from Utah could be a favorite target.

JOSH HELMHOLDT (Midwest): Rob Wheelwright is gone from Wisconsin and the Badgers are looking for someone to step up at wide receiver and take the heat off of No. 1 Jazz Peavy. Danny Davis was a Rivals100 prospect in the 2017 class, so maybe "under-the-radar" is not wholly applicable here, but this was a guy Ohio State and many top recruiting programs bypassed. His skill set is elite, though, and he plays with a quiet confidence that could translate into an early impact and provide the Badgers with another receiving threat to balance out the offense.

NICK KRUEGER (Texas): The two guys that I am most familiar with because of my region and focus on the Big 12 would be Kansas running back Dominic Williams and Baylor offensive lineman Xavier Newman. At the recent Big 12 Media Days, Jayhawks head coach David Beaty told me he thought that Williams has looked great in camp so far and that he expects him to be one of the team’s playmakers for the next few years. I was not a huge fan of Newman as a prospect, but the other Rivals analysts that saw him during the Under Armour All-American Game thought that he showed well enough to earn a fourth star on his way out to Baylor. Bears head coach Matt Rhule said that depth on the offensive line is going to be a major issue for his team this season, and I think Newman is capable of playing multiple positions, so he should at least get the opportunity to step up and play well.

CHAD SIMMONS (Southeast): Unless you are a Louisville fan, you may not know a lot about Kemari Averett. He is an athletic tight end who fits into the Cardinals' offense perfectly. He has great size, he can run and Bobby Petrino is already talking about him getting on the field this fall. He just needs to pick up the system and get stronger because he has the tools to be a real surprise in Louisville's 2017 class and he could make an impact this season.

WOODY WOMMACK (Southeast): The guy I've heard a lot about is Jontre Kirklin, a three-star who is set to try to make an early impact at LSU. Kirklin played multiple positions in high school but his athleticism appears to be catching the eyes of both his teammates and the LSU coaches. The Tigers are known for developing players and Kirklin could be the guy that was lowly ranked that ends up impressing.

3. With which highly touted true freshman will fans need to show patience because he won't make their expected impact in 2017?

Najee Harris
Najee Harris

ROB CASSIDY (Florida/jucos): Ohio State freshman Trevon Grimes is a fair answer here. Grimes is coming off of a knee injury and missed significant time because of it. I think he’ll eventually shine at Ohio State, but he may need a year to adjust to the college game and get stronger. He has unlimited upside, but his development may have been stunted.

MIKE FARRELL (National): If Akers stars at Florida State early then Khalan Laborn might be a guy with whom FSU fans have to be a bit patient. Jacques Patrick is talented, Akers could be a great compliment and Laborn might see more action as a pass catcher at first before he starts gobbling up carries. Najee Harris is our No. 1 player for 2017 and he could also have to wait his turn.

ADAM FRIEDMAN (Mid-Atlantic): Chase Young is supremely talented and has a very bright future at Ohio State but the Buckeyes are loaded at defensive end. He will have plenty of time to develop behind the likes of Sam Hubbard, Nick Bosa, Tyquan Lewis, and Jalyn Holmes but should see some time in mop-up duty this year.

ADAM GORNEY (National/West Coast): I'm starting right at the top with five-star RB and No. 1 overall player Najee Harris. Alabama is so incredibly loaded at running back that the top-rated running back in the 2016 class, B.J. Emmons, is already transferring. Bo Scarbrough could have a breakout season and Damien Harris is incredible as well, which means there probably won't be too many carries for Harris this season. He will see the field because he's way too talented, and he's probably better than Scarbrough and Harris over the long term. But there is an established order in Tuscaloosa so Harris might not be an immediate star, even if he has all the potential to be a future first-round pick.

JOSH HELMHOLDT (Midwest): Alabama fans are not likely to expect an instant impact from class of 2017 No. 1 Najee Harris because they know the depth chart situation in Tuscaloosa heading into the fall, but the rest of the college football world may not. Sophomore B.J. Emmons is transferring, but that still leaves the top three rushers from last season in Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough and Josh Jacobs on the roster. Each of those backs has at least two more seasons of eligibility left, so it may be some time before Harris is able to show the skills that made him No. 1.

NICK KRUEGER (Texas): The guy that I was never all that high on was offensive lineman Calvin Ashley. He had a lot of the physical things that are desirable in top offensive tackles, but when I watched him as a junior, I thought that he didn’t play with enough ferocity and wasn’t particularly interested in pass-blocking. After he transferred high schools a couple of times and ended up at Auburn after his senior year, he finished as a high four-star prospect although he was brought up as a potential five-star at times. At SEC Media Days, the word was that he wasn’t expected to make a huge impact on the line after his efforts this spring, so Tigers fans may need to wait a little while longer for him to put it all together.

CHAD SIMMONS (Southeast): Any time you are a quarterback, you usually have to wait your turn at a top program. That will be no different for Jake Fromm. The No. 20 prospect in the 2017 class will enter Georgia as the No. 2 quarterback, but at best, he is expected to have to sit for two years behind former five-star Jacob Eason. Fromm is one the fans like and could see some in 2017, but with Brice Ramsey deciding to return to Athens, the Dawg Nation will likely have to wait awhile to see this five-star signal caller.

WOODY WOMMACK (Southeast): Davis Mills is one of my favorite prospects from the 2017 class but I think he's going to have to wait quite awhile for his turn at Stanford. While he's likely to redshirt this year and might even have to wait another year to see the field, he will be worth the wait as I expect him to be a future star and the type of guy that NFL teams will eventually be taking a long look at heading into the draft.