True freshmen already making an impact on defense this spring
RELATED: Impact offensive freshman to watch for 2019
Mark Pszonak contributed to this report.
Spring football is over and there are many true freshmen that have already made an impact on their new school. Today we look at the defense.
DJ DALE - Alabama
The skinny: Dale took spring visits to Alabama, Clemson, Auburn, Tennessee and Florida State, but it was the last visit to Tuscaloosa that pushed him to commit in early May. The buzz has been building around Dale ever since Quinnen Williams mentioned him as the next star defensive lineman at Alabama. He then went out during the spring and proved that he has that potential. With Williams and Isaiah Buggs off to the NFL, there is available playing time, and Dale has already done enough to earn plenty of it this fall.
Farrell’s take: Dale was a massive defensive tackle coming out of high school with some solid offers, but Alabama saw something in him we didn’t and he’s showing that very early. It’s not like he was ranked very low, he was a high three-star, but we didn’t see this immediate potential. He’s a big kid and he can move and could be the next great defensive tackle at Alabama.
TYLER DAVIS, SHERIDAN JONES - Clemson
The skinny: Davis committed to Clemson over Ohio State, Miami and Florida State on the early Signing Day, while Jones’ visit during the spring to Death Valley put the Tigers over the top over Ohio State, Alabama and Tennessee. Out of all the impressive performances during the spring from Clemson early enrollees, it was Davis who established himself as the front-runner. And with the Tigers losing their entire starting defensive line to the NFL, playing time should be immediate for him. Jones also turned in an impressive spring, which was highlighted with seven tackles, a tackle for a loss, a forced fumble and an interception of 42 yards for a touchdown during the spring game.
Farrell’s take: Davis could start at defensive tackle with all the losses Clemson had along the defensive line and that’s a bit of a surprise. Jones had a great spring game and it’s unclear what his role will be but he should see playing time as well. Both guys were four-stars out of high school and highly ranked, so it’s good to see them hit the ground running. I’m more surprised about Jones than I am about Davis.
ZACH HARRISON - Ohio State
The skinny: Harrison took spring official visits to Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State, but waited until the early Signing Day to make his commitment to the Buckeyes. The three Big Ten powers all made Harrison a priority during the last two years. While the defensive line is loaded at Ohio State, Harrison did enough during the spring to bring him into the conversation for serious playing time this fall. It will be interesting to see how much time he gets at the start of the season and how much that playing time progresses from September to December.
Farrell’s take: Harrison was a five-star for a reason, but he was very raw coming out of high school, so this early impact is a bit of a surprise. However, if he’s just starting to scratch the surface of his potential and he continues to get better and better, he will continue the defensive end tradition of first-rounders from Ohio State down the road.
DRAKE JACKSON - USC
The skinny: Jackson took official visits to USC, Washington, Arizona State and Illinois during his senior season before committing to the Trojans on the early Signing Day. This was a battle between the Trojans and Sun Devils until the last minute.
It is not often that a freshman who has been on campus for only four months is regarded as a “first-round talent”, but that phrase has already been used numerous times regarding Jackson. He dominated throughout the spring and performed like a veteran, which has raised expectations extremely high for the freshman.
Farrell’s take: Jackson was ranked very high and a kid on the cusp of five-star status coming out of high school, so it’s no surprise he has impacted early and should be part of the rotation. He had good size and he was an excellent pass rusher who could handle the run as well. He also comes from a good school and was coached well. He could be a big end or a defensive tackle down the line.
GEORGE KARLAFTIS - Purdue
The skinny: Karlaftis committed to Purdue during his junior season over offers from Michigan, Ohio State, Miami, Penn State, Alabama and others. The staff then did a magnificent job keeping him in the fold. Plenty of expectations arrived on campus with Karlaftis in January, and through the spring he definitely did not disappoint. His transition to the college game was seamless, which should pave the way for a productive first season in West Lafayette.
Farrell’s take: Karlaftis is one of the biggest names to commit to Purdue in recent memory so it’s no surprise he’s in the running to be a starter very early. Like Jackson, he was physically imposing as a high school prospect and good against the run as well as a powerful pass rusher. He could end up being a special player for Purdue and an all-Big Ten guy.
JAYLEN MCCOLLOUGH - Tennessee
The skinny: Alabama, Florida State, Georgia and Auburn were all serious contenders at different times, but at the end it came down to Tennessee and South Carolina. McCollough ended that drama with a commitment to the Vols in mid-August. Progress was made in Jeremy Pruitt’s first season in Knoxville, but one area of the team that still needs improvement is the secondary. McCollough’s play during the spring may begin to alleviate that issue. He already has SEC size and athleticism, to go along with big-play potential that was showcased in the spring game with two interceptions. Expect to see plenty of McCollough on the field in 2019.
Farrell’s take: McCullough was a big safety coming out of high school who could cover a lot of ground and didn’t mind getting physical. His ball skills were solid and an early impact was expected, but his two picks in the spring game were a bit of a surprise. He looks like he’s going to be a big part of the defense this year.
BRANDON SMITH - Penn State
The skinny: While Smith never released a list of top programs, Penn State, Clemson, Ohio State, Michigan, Texas A&M and Notre Dame were considered the favorites leading up to his commitment ceremony in mid-May. Numerous visits to Happy Valley and a strong relationship with James Franklin put the Nittany Lions over the top. The Nittany Lions look to be set with their starting trio of linebackers, but Smith showcased the athleticism and versatility that should earn him substantial playing time this fall.
Farrell’s take: Smith was a big and physical linebacker coming out of high school who I felt could grow into a defensive end if needed. However, he’s very good standing up as a tradition linebacker and he can cover and disrupt passing lanes. He should see some playing time this season and will be a very effective starter down the line.
DEREK STINGLEY, JR., SIAKI IKA - LSU
The skinny: Stingey trimmed his list down to LSU, Florida and Texas before committing to the Tigers in mid-June, while Ika waited until the early Signing Day to commit to LSU over USC, Florida, Utah and Oregon. Being the No. 1 recruit in the 2019 Rivals100, Stingley is already used to the pressure. He responded by showcasing all of the abilities that should make him a star in Baton Rouge. Slightly overshadowed by Stingley was Ika, which is tough to do with his 6-foot-4, 345-pound frame. Despite his enormous size, he showed exceptional feet, athleticism and agility, which should make him an immediate contributor on the defensive line for the Tigers.
Farrell’s take: Stingley is not a surprise as the only cornerback to ever be ranked No. 1 in the country in Rivals history and he will be special. Ika is also not surprising because he was a Rivals100 kid, but we thought he might need a year of conditioning first. It looks like both will have a huge impact on the defense early and that’s good news for LSU.
MYKAEL WRIGHT - Oregon
The skinny: Calling Oregon his “dream school”, the Ducks were considered his heavy favorite after they offered. USC, Washington and Arizona put in serious attempts, but he ended any drama with a commitment to the Ducks in late May. While Kayvon Thibodeaux arrived on campus with the most hype, and also performed well, it was Wright who excelled during the spring. He then put an exclamation point on everything during the spring game with an interception, three pass break-ups and five tackles.
Farrell’s take: Wright was a smooth corner coming out of high school with a solid frame to add weight, excellent ball skills and good instincts. His ability to lock up in man was evident when we saw him and he closed very well. It’s not surprising he’s seen early success because of that high ranking, but he’s playing even more physical than we expected.