Ten redshirt freshmen to watch this season
Many focus on the true freshmen ready to take college football by storm but let’s not forget the redshirts who took a year to get bigger, stronger and faster, and are ready to make a big impact. Mike Farrell lists his top 10 redshirt freshmen to watch in college football this season.
Mark Pszonak contributed to this report.
JUST RELEASED: New Top 10 for 2021 class
1. WR Justin Shorter, Penn State
Recruiting: Shorter avoided any real drama in his process by committing to Penn State during the summer leading up to his junior season. Michigan, Virginia Tech and Rutgers were also considered, but the Nittany Lions were considered the heavy favorite.
The skinny: Shorter likely would have made an impact in 2018, but some nagging injuries slowed his progress. He has impressed throughout his time on campus and has continued to improve as we near the 2019 season. The Penn State wide receiver group has plenty of potential, but it is Shorter who has the greatest likelihood of becoming a star during his time in Happy Valley.
Farrell’s Take: Shorter was a five-star for a reason, a kid who had great size and an uncanny ability to adjust to the football. In the Penn State offense he can be a huge weapon, especially in the red zone and in the middle of the field. I wasn’t convinced he was a five-star until the end of the process but he kept improving and now expectations are high.
2. DT Keondre Coburn, Texas
Recruiting: Coburn committed to Texas in August, but didn’t sign during the early period and took an official visit to Miami in January. The Canes became a realistic threat, but at the end he stuck with the Longhorns.
The skinny: Coburn saw minimal action in two games last fall, totaling two tackles, but by all accounts, he is poised to become a significant contributor at nose guard for the Longhorns this season. Currently in line to win the starting job, Coburn possesses an impressive combination of speed and strength, which should make him a playmaker at the position.
Farrell’s Take: I loved Coburn out of high school and liked him better each time I scouted him. He was explosive off the snap but had great athleticism and counter moves off initial contact. I like his fit in the Texas defense as a guy who can play strong against the run but also flush the passer. He’s going to be a good one.
3. QB Matt Corral – Ole Miss
Recruiting: Corral initially committed to Florida during the summer leading up to his senior season, but then took official visits to Ole Miss and Alabama. A few days after his visit to Oxford he flipped to the Rebels.
The skinny: When Shea Patterson decided to transfer, the quarterback position became an instant priority for the Rebels in the class of 2018. Corral was signed and has been groomed since that day to become the starter in Oxford. That day has arrived and expectations are high that he will be able to handle the stress and rigors of the SEC in his first season. While there will undoubtedly be ups-and-downs, he has the skillset to produce.
Farrell’s Take: Corral always had the skills to be special and was a five-star at one point because of that. At times he looked remarkable but consistency was an issue and maturity was a question mark. All reports are that he’s done a great job becoming a leader for Ole Miss and he could have a great career there. He was one of the more interesting prospects to follow and scout.
4. ATH Jaelen Gill, Ohio State
Recruiting: Being from Ohio, the Buckeyes had long made Gill a recruiting priority in the class of 2018. While he also considered USC, Virginia Tech and Tennessee, when it was time to make his decision in early March, he decided to play in Columbus.
The skinny: Possessing the potential to be a dynamic playmaker, look for Gill to be lined up all over the field this fall. While he will likely spend most of his time in the slot, seeing him run a few jet sweeps while also being a constant threat on special teams should give opposing coaches plenty to be concerned about as they prepare to play the Buckeyes.
Farrell’s Take: I liked Gill a lot because he was sneaky strong but super quick and athletic and he’s that perfect fit as a do-everything all-purpose back in the Ohio State offense. The Buckeyes need to get the ball in his hands this season as he will make the offense that much more dangerous.
5. DE K.J. Henry, Clemson
Recruiting: Henry took official visits to Clemson, Virginia Tech, South Carolina and Georgia before committing to the Tigers a few days before Christmas. He also considered Alabama, but was a longtime lean toward Clemson.
The skinny: There aren’t too many programs in the country that would have had the luxury to redshirt someone with the skill level of Henry, but due to the abundance of riches Clemson had last season on the defensive line, he was given a season to mature and prepare himself for life in the ACC. Tigers’ fans did get a glimpse into the future last fall as in two games Henry totaled six tackles and two tackles for a loss. While more eyes will be on Xavier Thomas this fall, don’t be surprised if Henry also makes a statement.
Farrell’s Take: Clemson will reload on the defensive line because it has guys like Henry waiting in the wings. Thomas will be the focus of most offenses but Henry is long and athletic enough to be a handful from the other side. He was a five-star for a reason – he has speed, bend and a great shoulder dip.
6. WR Kearis Jackson, Georgia
Recruiting: Jackson trimmed his list of top schools down to Georgia and Alabama before committing to the Bulldogs in August.
The skinny: The Bulldogs need playmakers at the receiver position and Jackson has the potential to become one sooner rather than later. The likely emergence of Demetrius Robertson may diminish some of his overall numbers, but look for Jackson to become a big-play option for Georgia throughout the 2019 season.
Farrell’s Take: Jackson is a guy who doesn’t do anything great but does everything well. I think he’s going to be very steady and a quarterback's best friend. He has reliable hands, he has straight-line speed and he’s a physical receiver. He might not be a star right away but he will get better each season.
7. OL Ed Montilus, North Carolina
Recruiting: Montilus took January official visits to North Carolina and Ole Miss before committing to the Tar Heels on National Signing Day.
The skinny: After an impressive spring, Montilus positioned himself nicely to become a mainstay on the North Carolina offense line. He has continued his impressive performance through the first half of summer camp, as he is now the likely starter at left guard. Athletic and powerful, the Tar Heels may have found a multi-year starter for their interior line.
Farrell’s Take: Montilus is an athletic lineman who showed he could reach the second level in high school and hit moving targets and he improved every time we saw him. He had great feet and a good work ethic, which will take him a long way in the UNC offense. Watch for him to be a steady star.
8. WR Erik Ezukanma, Texas Tech
The skinny: Ezukanma only caught two passes in 2018, one of them for a touchdown, but he has still created a great deal of buzz around Lubbock during the off-season. He has gradually worked his way up the depth chart during the spring and summer, to the point where he is now expected to be a consistent contributor this fall. His big play ability will also likely come into play for the Red Raiders.
Farrell’s Take: Ezukanma was a huge get for Texas Tech, a raw receiver with a great ceiling and good size and speed who would eventually dominate. Now he’s starting to put it all together and before too long he’ll be one of the better wide receivers in the Big 12.
9. DE Dennis Briggs, Florida State
Recruiting: While it seemed as though Miami was in the lead heading into the last couple of weeks of the recruiting season, a late official visit to Florida State put the Seminoles over the top.
The skinny: The buzz has been building around Tallahassee regarding Briggs throughout the summer. As he has earned more playing time and attention, he has continued to excel. Look for him to be in the regular rotation at the beginning of the season, at which time it will be up to him to prove his worth on the field.
Farrell’s Take: Briggs was a guy who was hot and cold in evaluations throughout the process as he would look great one time and average the next. However I really thought he came on late and started to use his leverage and power in addition to his excellent balance to make plays. He’s going to be an interesting one to track.
10. WR Matthew Hill, Auburn
Recruiting: Hill trimmed his list of top schools to Auburn, Alabama and South Carolina in July before committing to the Tigers in August. Tennessee was considered an early favorite, but Auburn became the front-runner for several months leading up to his decision.
The skinny: Hill did see limited action in four games last fall, but then burst onto the scene during the Tigers’ spring game with five receptions for 128 yards and two touchdowns. There is depth at the position, but with sophomore Anthony Schwartz recently going down with a broken hand, Hill may see increased playing time sooner rather than later. Capable of lining up outside or in the slot, look for him to become an important part of the Tigers’ offense this fall.
Farrell’s Take: Hill is a steady receiver with good ball skills who could gain separation and run precise routes so an impact down the line was inevitable. Now he has a chance to be a major player in the Auburn offense and he’ll be one of its more reliable receivers.