True freshmen already making an impact on offense this spring
Mark Pszonak contributed to this report.
Spring football is over, and there are many true freshmen who have already made an impact on their new schools. Today, we look at the offensive players.
RB Zonovan Knight – NC State
The skinny: Knight was initially committed to Duke, but after reopening his process he took an official visit to Purdue and unofficial visits to NC State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. A couple more visits to Raleigh sealed the deal for the Wolfpack and a commitment came in August. Reggie Gallaspy has graduated and Ricky Person is out with an injury, so there was an opportunity during the spring for a running back to step up. Knight did exactly that, showcasing speed and athleticism throughout. Plus he put an exclamation point on everything during the spring game with 165 total yards, including a 73-yard touchdown run.
Farrell’s take: Knight was a big-time talent out of high school, rated as a four-star with excellent speed and breakaway ability, and he’s already shown that at the college level. He has a chance to be the man at NC State down the line and the competition from Person will be great for him. NC State has done a very good job of recruiting running backs, and Knight is next in line.
WR Garrett Wilson – Ohio State
The skinny: While he played his high school ball in Texas, Wilson lived in Ohio until he was 12 years old, making this an intense battle between the Longhorns and Buckeyes. After taking official visits to both schools during the spring, Wilson made his choice to return to Columbus. The buzz surrounding Wilson at Ohio State this spring was quick to emerge and then got louder and louder. He performed like an upperclassman and is already expected to make an immediate impact with the Buckeyes’ offense this fall. Look for big things from him for the next three to four seasons in Columbus.
Farrell’s take: Wilson was a guy we debated long and hard regarding five-star status, and he fell just short. However, he could prove us wrong, especially with the way he started. His body control and ability to go up and get the football is impressive, and he already runs routes like a college player. He could make a very early impact.
WR Mike Sainristil – Michigan
The skinny: Sainristil was initially committed to Virginia Tech, but then he took an official visit to Michigan during the spring while still committed to the Hokies. This quickly changed everything, and eventually he committed to the Wolverines during his senior season. Not many people expected Sainristil to accomplish what he did during his first spring in Ann Arbor. But after showcasing next-level abilities he quickly moved up the depth chart at wide receiver until he was announced as a starter. With new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis implementing a more open offense, Sainristil’s skills may very well be in the spotlight this fall.
Farrell’s take: We had Sainristill ranked as an athlete because he could play numerous positions, but we didn’t have him ranked high enough to make an impact like this. He’s small, but he’s super-quick and a great fit in the new Michigan offense. A lot of teams slept on him coming out of high school, but Michigan saw something special and the Wolverines could be rewarded.
ATH Jordan Whittington – Texas
The skinny: Whittington took several visits during the winter and spring after his junior season before he trimmed his list of top schools down to Texas and UCLA. While he grew up in California, the draw of playing close to his current home was too much for the Bruins to overcome in the end. If this spring is a sign of things to come, expect to see plenty of Whittington this fall. Keaontay Ingram will be the starter at running back for the Longhorns, but look for Whittington to get his fair share of carries while also being very involved in the passing game as a freshman.
Farrell’s take: Whittington was a physical specimen coming out of high school and a kid who could play safety, linebacker, wide receiver or running back at the college level with some time. He’s found an early home at running back, and he could be a beast for the Big 12 to handle. I liked Whittington enough to be a five-star, but held off because of speed concerns as a wideout or safety, the two positions where he projected the best. How will he do at running back? He could be great.
TE Baylor Cupp – Texas A&M
The skinny: With offers from elite programs such as Georgia, Alabama, LSU, Texas and Notre Dame already on the table, a weekend visit to Texas A&M quickly ended his process in April. The tight end position was rejuvenated when Jimbo Fisher arrived in College Station, and now Cupp will be the beneficiary with Jace Sternberger moving to the NFL. While Glenn Beal also has the potential to make an impact at tight end this fall Cupp has the making of a future star, as proven by his five receptions and 88 yards in the spring game.
Farrell’s take: Fisher will love what Cupp brings to the table because he can stretch the field, work the middle and sidelines and he will be a good blocker as well. At Florida State Fisher used his tight ends very well and he will showcase the position at A&M, with Cupp being the first guy with potential to become a true star.
QB Graham Mertz – Wisconsin
The skinny: Mertz picked up his offer from Wisconsin during his junior season, and only waited a few weeks to commit to the Badgers. His only other offers at the time of his commitment were from Minnesota and Kansas, however during the six months after his decision he became one of the hottest quarterbacks in the country, with offers arriving from coast to coast. While some assumed he would look around he never did, and he stayed firm with the Badgers. Mertz, who arrived in Madison with plenty of accolades, did not disappoint this spring. While he will still battle it out during the summer for the starting job, the tools are all there for him to be in charge of the offense in September.
Farrell’s take: Mertz is the best quarterback I’ve seen the Badgers recruit in the Rivals.com era, and he has the talent and maturity to start early in his college career. His competition at Wisconsin isn’t great, and if he doesn’t start from day one, I think he starts eventually during his freshman year. He’s got all the arm talent needed and sees the field very well.
RB Noah Cain – Penn State
The skinny: Early during his process, Cain seemed like a lock for both LSU and Texas at different times, but at the end it came down to the Longhorns and Penn State. Waiting until the early signing day to make his decision, he spurned his home state Longhorns and signed with the Nittany Lions. Ricky Slade and Journey Brown are likely to start the season ahead of Cain on the depth chart, but Cain brings a new dimension to the offensive rushing attack with his power and athleticism. His two-touchdown performance during the spring game has fans excited and eager to see more of Cain this fall.
Farrell’s take: Cain has emerged as the early leader for playing time among the two four-star backs Penn State recruited and is the most physically ready to step in. Devyn Ford may be more equipped for the passing game, but Cain has shown he can run with power and break tackles. Watch for Cain to impact this year.
RB Anthony Williams Jr. – Michigan State
The skinny: Williams trimmed his list of top schools down to Michigan State and Boston College before he committed to the Spartans in late June. After LJ Scott decided not to return for his fifth season, the door was open for a running back to step through. Walking through that door was Williams, whose performance during the spring has many people excited. Possessing Big Ten size, along with the speed to get to the outside, he may share carries with Connor Heyward and La’Darius Jefferson at the start of the season, but he potentially could surpass the rest of the pack sooner rather than later.
Farrell’s take: Williams has good size, he is shifty and he can catch the ball, so he could start off as a situational back and eventually emerge as an every-down guy. He’s the kind of player who just started to scratch the surface of his potential at the end of his high school career and could get better and better. Michigan State produces good running backs, and he could be the next.
WR Trejan Bridges/WR Theo Wease/WR Jadon Haselwood/TE Austin Stogner - Oklahoma
The skinny: Oklahoma pulled Bridges, Wease and Stogner out of Texas, once again proving that they are very much at home in the Lone Star State, and then snatched Haselwood away from Georgia in its own backyard. The much-vaunted Oklahoma wide receiver recruiting class did not disappoint this spring, with all three players having memorable moments. Bridges, the lowest-ranked of the three, actually proved to be the most dynamic of the group during the spring, but how will they all produce during the season? On top of that, Stogner proved that he is already ready to contribute immediately.
Farrell’s take: Offense is not the problem at Oklahoma and it looks to be in good hands, at least from passing-game standards, with this group. The OU offense, with quarterback Spencer Rattler taking over down the line, could be ridiculous in the future and the recruiting at the offensive level is off the charts. Bridges is the most college-ready because of his ball skills and route-running, but all of these guys could be stars.
WR Joseph Ngata/WR Frank Ladson – Clemson
The skinny: The Clemson coaching staff did an amazing job reeling Ngata in from California, while further strengthening its recruiting foothold in Florida with Ladson. While both players showed everyone during the spring why they were Rivals 100 recruits, how much could they possibly play, considering Justyn Ross, Amari Rodgers and Tee Higgins all return to the position? It will be interesting to see how Dabo Sweeney juggles all the talent, but what is already known is that Ngata and Ladson have star potential.
Farrell’s take: Clemson does a great job allowing true freshmen to make an impact, as we’ve seen with Higgins, Ross and others through the years. And these guys, or at least one of them, will get a chance to make an impact this season. They have the talent and will continue to keep Clemson rolling as WRU.