Impact signees: Which 2014 recruit will make biggest first-year splash?

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Michigan signee Jabrill Peppers at the Under Armor All-American game in St. Petersburg, Fla. (Mark LoMoglio/Icon SMI)

Jabrill Peppers

Freshmen aren't always game-changers when they first take the field. But each season, there are a handful of top recruits who dramatically improve their new teams. On National Signing Day, we watched as the country's most prized recruits pledged their services to programs across college football, but once the season begins, the hype will turn into expectation.

So which freshmen should we expect to make an early impact? Here are 10 names to watch:

1. Adoree' Jackson, ATH, USC

Jackson is the rare signee who can contribute in all three phases of the game. That's a nice tool for first-year coach Steve Sarkisian in Los Angeles. Jackson had six picks as a senior defensive back at Junipero Serra High in Gardena, Calif., while also hauling in 812 receiving yards and seven touchdowns as a wideout. He could be an immediate replacement for Marqise Lee -- a fellow Junipero Serra graduate -- at receiver. But many expect him to excel on defense, so even though the Trojans' roster should return three starters in the secondary, don't be surprised if Sarkisian finds a spot in the group for Jackson. -- Zac Ellis

2. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M

Missing players like Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans is going to hurt the Aggies, but the way coach Kevin Sumlin has recruited offensive talent, A&M will still put points on the board. The bigger concern – as was the case last year – is on the defensive side of the ball. Garrett, the No. 2 overall player in the Rivals 2014 class, is a monster. At 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, he runs a 4.6 40-yard dash and had a Max Preps-recorded 39 tackles for loss in his senior season. The defense needs to make strides for the Aggies to stay competitive in the SEC, and Garrett should help push them in the right direction. -- Martin Rickman

3. Cameron Robinson, OT, Alabama

When the Crimson Tide won their most recent BCS title after the 2012 season, many thought they boasted the best offensive line in college football. Last season's unit never advanced beyond being a work in progress, and Robinson could play immediately for the unit. He fits the mold of past Alabama offensive linemen (6-5, 330 pounds) and was a top-five player according to most recruiting services. Even with the Tide's depth, Robinson should see the field plenty as a freshman as Alabama looks to replace two pieces of its offensive line. -- Ellis

4. Jabrill Peppers, CB, Michigan 

Momentum isn’t going the Wolverines’ way. They lost five of their last six games in 2013 (the lone victory in that stretch came in three overtimes against Northwestern), watched home-state product Malik McDowell sign with Michigan State and, in the last couple of months, have had running back Damien Harris and wide receiver George Campbell, both 2015 recruits, decommit. Peppers stayed, however, and that is a big deal. The five-star corner from New Jersey was the third best player overall in the Rivals 2014 class and the top defensive back. He is exactly the kind of player that Michigan needs if it is going to keep pace with the rest of the Big Ten. -- Rickman

5. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

The gem of Les Miles' 2014 class heads to Baton Rouge at just the right time from a depth-chart perspective. Tigers running backs Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue both opted to leave school early for the NFL draft. That opens the door for the 6-1, 225-pound Fournette to step in and make some noise. The in-state product -- the top running back recruit in the country -- rushed for 1,802 yards and 17 scores as a senior at New Orleans' St. Augustine High. -- Ellis

6. Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State

McMillan was's No. 1 inside linebacker of 2014, and he's arriving in Columbus expecting to compete for a starting role. Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer even told McMillan after the Orange Bowl that he should prepare to see the field. Junior Joshua Perry and senior Curtis Grant are returning starters in the linebacking corps, but Ohio State will lose a lot of punch with the departure of Ryan Shazier. The 6-4, 225-pound McMillan has the frame of an upperclassmen, which could give him an advantage when competing for playing time. -- Ellis

7. Travis Rudolph, WR, Florida State

The Seminoles boasted some of the best wide receivers in the country last year as they rode a high-scoring offense to the BCS title. That offense will be without wideouts Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw in 2014, and Rudolph has enough talent to become a primary target for quarterback Jameis Winston. The five-star recruit snagged 63 catches for 1,237 receiving yards during his senior year. Perhaps he could become the 'Noles next freshman sensation. -- Ellis

8. Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma

What was the Sooners’ reward for beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl? Recruiting wins in the 2014 class. Arguably the best of the decorated bunch is Mixon, an all-purpose back from Oakley, Calif., and the eighth-best player in the Rivals '14 class. He is big and strong, and he averaged 7.5 yards per carry in his senior season, rushing for 1,704 yards and 23 touchdowns. Oklahoma’s offense has a lot of potential headed into next fall, especially if quarterback Trevor Knight can build on his bowl game success. Mixon is the type of player who won’t be wasted on the bench. -- Rickman

9. Zach Whitley, LB, UCLA

With no Jordan Zumwalt or Anthony Barr for the Bruins next year, somebody is going to have to pick up the slack and help Myles Jack keep keep the linebacking corps strong. Whitley is a perfect candidate, and as Jack showed last year, Jim Mora Jr. isn’t afraid to play true freshmen if they can help the football team. Whitley, who's from Houston, had 144 tackles and seven sacks last year, and at 6-2, 223 pounds, he has the size to make an impact. -- Rickman

10. D’Ernest Johnson, RB, USF

For a team that won just two games in 2013, the Bulls made a killing on the recruiting trail. Jason Kirk of SB Nation mentioned that, “In terms of pound-for-pound recruiting, USF might've assembled the most impressive class of anybody in the country.” For all those quality players, one who can come in right away and make a difference is Johnson. A four-star recruit out of Immokalee, Fla., the 5-11 runner adds quality depth to a backfield that returns just 115 carries from last season. -- Rickman

Honorable Mentions: 



North Carolina


Wake Forest