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Role Playing: Comparing 2019 prospects to impact freshmen

CLASS OF 2019 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | State | Position | Team

CLASS OF 2020 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | State | Position

Noa Pola-Gates
Noa Pola-Gates (Nick Lucero/Rivals.com)

With most of the class of 2019 already signed, fans from around the country are already envisioning how the influx of new talent will help their favorite teams. Today, we compare some of the impact true freshmen from the 2018 season and compare them to class of 2019 defensive recruits for a potential glimpse into the future.

RELATED: Role Playing - offensive prospects

MORE: Where former five-stars in the transfer portal might land


Comparison: Patrick Surtain

Surtain went into Alabama as a five-star true freshman and it didn’t take long for him to see the field, as his quick development combined with a number of injuries pressed him into action. By the end of the year, he was starting in the SEC Championship and the College Football Playoff and quickly living up to his ranking. Stingley enrolled at LSU in time to participate in bowl practices, and if early returns are any indication he has a chance to start from day one with the Tigers.


Comparison: Brendan Radley-Hiles

No player in college football has a physical build like Radley-Hiles, who is short and doesn’t have tremendous length but he’s unafraid to be physical, looks to knock helmets off and plays with incredible passion every second he’s on the field. That’s why he started 11 games in his freshman season. Pola-Gates is more athletic and wiry strong than Radley-Hiles, but he still brings the lumber. He can play in center field and hunt down anything up the middle or something stretched to the sideline and he loves to play physical and tough - as shown by a major hit in the All-American Bowl. Like Radley-Hiles, Pola-Gates can play corner or safety, so his versatility will get him on the field at Nebraska.


Comparison: Caden Sterns

Sterns flew up the rankings at the end of the 2018 cycle and finished as a five-star, a move that looked very smart after he stepped into the lineup at Texas and quickly became one of the team’s most important players. Hill, a lightning-fast safety with a nose for the ball, will be expected to do the same thing once he arrives in Ann Arbor. The two have similar builds and ball skills, and if Hill can come in and have the type of impact that Sterns did this past season Michigan fans will be very happy.


Comparison: Tyson Campbell

A long, rangy cornerback from South Florida, Campbell went north to Georgia and was a star as a freshman, starting in 11 games and recording 45 tackles. Dent is hoping to replicate Campbell’s success as he heads north to Tallahassee, where he will be counted on to help the Seminoles turn things around. Like Campbell, Dent keeps a relatively low profile off the field but makes a lot of plays on it.


Comparison: Xavier Thomas

They are both from South Carolina, they’re both athletic, both are physical specimens and they both look like future stars in the college game and possibly the NFL. Could a comparison be any easier? Actually, Thomas is slightly more physical and stout with incredible aggression and relentlessness off the edge, but Pickens is special. He might be a tad longer than Thomas with the same tremendous athleticism, motor and playmaking ability. Thomas made his mark on Clemson’s defense this season even behind a phenomenal front four. Pickens should have the chance to immediately be a starter on South Carolina’s defense.


Comparison: Micah Parsons

In high school, Parsons played all over the field and once he got to Penn State, coach James Franklin moved him around from defensive end to linebacker, and it worked out well. The five-star led the Nittany Lions with 83 tackles and he had two forced fumbles, establishing himself as one of the Big Ten's future stars. Thibodeaux is similar in so many ways. Parsons is thicker and a bigger hitter, but the Oregon signee is incredibly fast off the edge, an athletic specimen who could also drop in coverage and if he moved to linebacker full time, Thibodeaux could make plays with his speed and length.


Comparison: Merlin Robertson

When Robertson was at Gardena (Calif.) Serra, he flew all over the field, made a ton of tackles and played with reckless abandon all the time. It’s what made him such an attractive recruit. So when he went to Arizona State and led the Sun Devils with 77 tackles and five sacks as a freshman, it wasn’t a surprise because Robertson brought that same intensity to Tempe. While Smith is leaner – he’s listed 10 pounds lighter than Robertson – he plays with the same toughness and he has the same bad intentions on the field. Smith flies all over the place, loves to lower the boom and he’s a productive linebacker on every play.


Comparison: Ronnie Perkins

Oklahoma isn’t exactly known for its defensive prowess, but Perkins was a major bright spot for the Sooners in 2018, stepping into the lineup and recording 37 tackles and five sacks as a true freshman. Perkins saved some of his best showings for the biggest games, and USC could be getting a similar player in Jackson, who made a nice leap in the rankings after excelling at the All-American Game in San Antonio. The two have nearly the same measurables and both are capable of playing multiple positions along the defensive line. Jackson will have every opportunity to earn early playing time, much like Perkins did with the Sooners.


Comparison: Jordan Davis

Davis was a bit of a surprise for some with the impact he made in his first year at Georgia, becoming an integral part of the Dawgs' defensive front during the back half of the season. Walker comes into Athens with much fanfare but also has the advantage of playing next to Davis, and the two should make quite the pair along the line next fall. Walker is listed at 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, a little slighter than the 320-pound Davis, but by the time fall rolls around the two should be closer in weight, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Walker have a similar impact.


Comparison: Jaiden Woodbey

Woodbey flipped to Florida State late in the recruiting process after being committed to Ohio State for a long time. Cross has been pledged to Florida State since early September, but Maryland and Penn State, among others, are trying to flip him. The two are very similar on the field as well. They're just about exactly the same size and both are tremendous playmakers who trust their instincts and then have the athleticism and physical nature to go make a play. Woodbey had a great freshman season for the Seminoles, and Cross was one of the best defensive backs all week at the All-American Bowl. In the same secondary, that would be a scary proposition for Florida State’s opponents.