Nick Chubb leads 10 true freshmen who impressed in 2014 season
While recruiting is generally a long-term game, there's also a a few players who buck the trend and make an immediate impact. Many of the top recruits in the class of 2014 jumped right into the mix in their first seasons on campus. Below are 10 that stood out.
Nick Chubb, Georgia
Chubb shined early in the season but didn’t receive more than 11 carries in a game until Todd Gurley’s midseason suspension. During a three-game stretch in October and November, the 5-foot-10, 228-pound tailback amassed 528 rushing yards and four touchdowns. He finished the year with 1,547 rushing yards and 14 scores on the ground, which ranked second and first, respectively, in the SEC.
Chubb drew scholarship offers from more than 15 schools and was rated the No. 6 running back in the class of 2014, but he’s not the only heralded true freshman running back on Georgia’s roster. Sony Michel, who recorded 410 yards and five touchdowns this season, was rated three spots higher than Chubb as a recruit. With Gurley entering the NFL draft, both Chubb and Michel should have bigger roles in the Bulldogs’ backfield in 2015.
Mike Dudek, Illinois
Dudek recorded a combined 178 receiving yards and one touchdown in wins over Penn State and in-state rival Northwestern to clinch bowl eligibility for the Fighting Illini. According to Rivals.com, the only two schools other than Illinois to extend Dudek a scholarship offer were Illinois State and North Dakota. Other Big Ten schools may already regret not following suit. The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder has quickly emerged as one of the most dynamic wide receivers in the conference. Dudek, whose workout feats have drawn considerable attention, led Illinois with 76 receptions and six receiving touchdowns and ranked second nationally among freshmen with 1,038 receiving yards.
Adoree’ Jackson, USC
Arguably the most lauded athlete of last year’s class, Jackson is listed on USC’s roster as a “CB/WR” and also contributed on special teams. The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder recorded 49 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss and 10 pass breakups to earn Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. As a receiver, he recorded 138 yards and three touchdowns.
Jackson was slowed by a hip-flexor injury but still managed to appear in every game this season and, by late October, was playing with “a lot more swagger.” For a glimpse of Jackson’s speed and explosiveness, check out this 100-yard kick return for a touchdown against Utah or this 71-yard receiving score against Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. The No. 1 athlete in the class of 2014 has lived up to the expectations attached to that lofty ranking and stoked excitement about his future.
Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
Jadeveon Clowney was virtually unblockable during his three seasons at South Carolina, but Garrett may have been more productive as a true freshman. At 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, Garrett used his combination of size, speed and strength to record an SEC freshman-record 11.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss and 53 total tackles. As productive as he was, Garrett still couldn’t lift Texas A&M’s defense out of the SEC cellar. The Aggies ranked 13th in the conference in yards allowed per play and 11th in points allowed per game. Despite the unit’s overall weakness, Garrett still gained national recognition. Be prepared for more Clowney comparisons if Garrett builds on his strong first season.
Quin Blanding, Virginia
Blanding was one of the highlights on a defense that finished the season 35th in Football Outsiders’ defensive S&P+ Ratings. A five-star recruit out of Bayside High School in Virginia Beach, Va., Blanding ranked second in the ACC and 16th nationally with 10.25 tackles per game. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound safety also recorded three interceptions, six pass break-ups and 2.5 tackles for loss while earning a second-team All-ACC nod. Blanding is already one of the top defensive players in his conference, and it will be fascinating to watch him develop in the coming years. The only downside is that Virginia hasn’t won more than five games since 2011, so it remains to be seen whether Blanding will ever play in many high-profile matchups.
Samaje Perine, Oklahoma
It took only one week for Melvin Gordon’s FBS single-game rushing record to fall. In a 44-7 win over Kansas on Nov. 22, Perine rushed for 427 yards and five touchdowns on 34 carries (12.6 yards per carry). Even though it was one of the most impressive individual performances in recent memory, focusing solely on Perine’s record-setting day would overlook the depth of his accomplishments this season. The 5-foot-11, 243-pounder rushed for a team-high 21 touchdowns and 1,713 yards, which ranked eighth in the nation, and helped the Sooners finish first in the Big 12 in rushing yards per carry. Perine wasn't even the most highly touted running back Oklahoma added on Signing Day 2014; five-star Joe Mixon was suspended for the season after allegedly punching a female student in July.
Derek Barnett, Tennessee
Like Garrett, Barnett earned second-team All-SEC honors (as voted by the coaches) despite playing on a team that finished near the bottom of its respective division. A four-star prospect out of Brentwood, Tenn., Barnett was one of more than 20 true freshmen to see action for the Volunteers this season. He made his case as the best of the group by notching 10 sacks, 72 tackles, eight quarterback hurries, a fumble recovery and 20.5 tackles for loss, seventh-highest in the country. Barnett saved his best for the end of the regular season, notching six sacks over a four-game closing stretch -- including three in an overtime win at South Carolina -- to help the Volunteers reach the postseason for the first time since 2010. He mat not have received as much media attention as Garrett, but any offensive coordinators who failed to account for Barnett regretted it.
Brad Kaaya, Miami
Kaaya may have drawn more acclaim for a two-word phrase from the movie “Friday” than anything he did on the field this season, but that’s not to suggest he wasn’t an integral part of Miami’s offense. The Hurricanes needed a quarterback to step up after losing Ryan Williams to an ACL tear (he wound up playing in one game) and Kevin Olsen to a suspension. Kaaya provided stability at the position while emerging as one of the ACC's top playmakers, throwing for 3,198 yards, 26 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a 145.88 pass efficiency rating en route to earning conference Rookie of the Year honors. Still, the West Hills, Calif., native couldn’t prevent the Hurricanes from closing the season on a four-game losing streak, including a loss to South Carolina in the Independence Bowl.
Artavis Scott, Clemson
Quarterback Deshaun Watson was listed on SI.com’s preseason “freshmen to watch” list, but while he was electric when on the field, injuries limited his playing time to such an extent that he wasn’t considered for a spot here. Watson's teammate Scott ranked fifth in the ACC with 965 receiving yards and second in the conference with eight receiving touchdowns. His 76 receptions are the second-highest total by a freshman in Clemson history (Sammy Watkins had 82 in 2011). Scott also played a big part in the Clemson’s cathartic 35-17 win over South Carolina on Nov. 29, catching seven passes for a season-high 185 yards and two touchdowns to help the Tigers snap a five-game losing streak in the Palmetto State rivalry. When Watson returns next season after undergoing knee surgery in December, he and Scott should form one of the top quarterback-receiver tandems in the ACC.
Cam Robinson, Alabama
When Robinson committed to Alabama over in-state power LSU in September 2013, he was considered a huge get for the Crimson Tide. The 6-foot-6, 323-pounder backed up his recruiting hype by starting at left tackle and helping Alabama make a seamless transition to an up-tempo offense under a new offensive coordinator (the Tide replaced Doug Nussmeier, who left for Michigan and has since moved to Florida, with Lane Kiffin). With Robinson starting every game, the Crimson Tide ranked sixth in the country in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards, which endeavors to gauge an offensive line’s ability isolated that of a running back’s. Robinson also helped keep the pocket clean for first-year starting quarterback Blake Sims, who led the SEC with 8.9 passing yards per attempt and a 157.87 pass efficiency rating. Alabama allowed just 16 sacks this season and had the 14th-lowest sacks per game average in the country.
All recruiting data from Rivals.com.