The Freshman 15: Green-Beckham headlines instant-impact first years
Dorial Green-Beckham is one of seven wide receivers on our 2012 Freshman 15
High school player of the year Johnathan Gray should strengthen Texas' offense
Greg Reid's dismissal creates an opportunity for Ronald Darby at Florida State
Your Freshman 15 probably crept up on you. That sort of thing happens when a young person gets thrown into an environment with little adult supervision and around-the-clock availability of 16-inch diameter hunks of cardboard with minimal cheese and sauce for less than $5.
The members of SI.com's Freshman 15 probably will not need months to get noticed. By spring break, when their fellow freshmen will try furiously to lose the pounds packed on during football season, these guys could be household names on their campuses.
WR Nelson Agholor, USC: With George Farmer recovering from a hamstring injury, the No. 3 receiver job behind Robert Woods and Marqise Lee is open. Veteran De'Von Flournoy is an option, but so is Agholor. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound native of Nigeria, who moved to the United States at age 5 and played his high school ball in Tampa, Fla., plays an awful lot like Woods, which bodes well for USC in 2012 and in the future.
DE Arik Armstead, Oregon: The Ducks already have a feared pass rusher in 6-7, 241-pound senior Dion Jordan, but they hope another defensive end with a power forward's frame will chase Pac-12 quarterbacks this season. Armstead is 6-8 and 290 pounds, so he could be especially potent at end when the Ducks use a 3-4 look. Given Ducks defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti's affinity for hockey-style line changes on his defense, expect Armstead to log plenty of snaps as a freshman even if he doesn't start.
WR Amari Cooper, Alabama: While Alabama's receiving corps lacks a star the caliber of Julio Jones (or even Marquis Maze), the Crimson Tide might be deeper at the position than at any other point in the Nick Saban era. Kenny Bell, Christion Jones, DeAndrew White and Kevin Norwood have earned their reps, but Cooper, a 6-1, 190-pounder from Miami, can get targeted by quarterback AJ McCarron as well. Cooper was an electrifying playmaker at Miami Northwestern, and early reports out of Alabama's practices suggest that talent should translate to the next level.
CB Ronald Darby, Florida State: The Seminoles brought in a highly touted group of defensive linemen, with defensive end Mario Edwards and defensive tackle Eddie Goldman cracking the overall top 10 in the Rivals.com rankings. But Florida State is loaded along the line, so if Edwards or Goldman earns significant playing time, it means the Seminoles have suffered a rash or injuries or the freshmen are really, really good. More likely, those youngsters will play limited roles as they learn from talented veterans. That may not be the case for Darby. With last week's dismissal of Greg Reid, Florida State has an opening for a starting cornerback. While the Seminoles could shift safeties Lamarcus Joyner or Terrence Brooks to cornerback, they also could go with Darby, a Maryland native with elite speed.
WR Stefon Diggs, Maryland: Diggs is the highest rated recruit to sign with his home-state school in years, so the expectations are huge. For the Terrapins, who are coming off a 2-10 season, Diggs may become the playmaker they lacked last season. But while the speedy Diggs may be able to jump in and make an immediate impact, he also may need time to adjust to the college game. While most of the other players listed here should have some time to learn from qualified veterans, Diggs probably won't have that luxury.
RB Johnathan Gray, Texas: For the third consecutive season, the Longhorns will try to establish themselves as a power-running team. Coach Mack Brown would love to run a balanced offense, but unless quarterbacks David Ash and/or Case McCoy got much better in the offseason, the Texas offense will rely on the ground game. Sophomores Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron give Texas a fine tandem, but adding Gray, the Gatorade National High School Player of the Year in 2011, should strengthen an already beastly group. Besides, no one in Austin has forgotten how pathetic the Texas offense was against Missouri last year when Brown and Bergeron sat out a 17-5 loss with injuries and then-senior Fozzy Whitaker went down with a season-ending injury. No team can ever have enough elite backs, and Gray will be a welcome addition to the offense.
WR Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri: Steve Greenberg of The Sporting News transmitted a disturbing admission from Green-Beckham, the top-ranked recruit in the class of 2012. This week, Green-Beckham broke some news that put the lie to one of the oft-repeated touts that followed him through his recruitment. He isn't 6-6. He's 6-5 ½. OK, so he isn't an exact clone of Calvin Johnson. But he's still quite tall, and he still runs quite fast, and he still will play in a wide-open offense with a capable quarterback. In other words, the cornerbacks of the SEC have their hands full.
DE Darius Hamilton, Rutgers: Hamilton comes to Rutgers from nearby Don Bosco Prep, which is one of the top high school programs in the nation. Players from Don Bosco typically adjust well to the college environment because they've received superior coaching as high-schoolers. Add that to the fact that Hamilton is 6-4, 260 pounds and exceptionally quick, and it's a recipe for an early contribution.
RB Duke Johnson, Miami: Johnson was the pied piper in a Miami recruiting class that could have melted down after Yahoo! dropped a Nevin Shapiro-shaped bomb on the program. He helped bring in safety Deon Bush and cornerback Tracy Howard, who also may need to contribute immediately. But Johnson, from Miami Norland High, will have to do more than recruit now. He'll have to replace some of the yards gained by Lamar Miller, who rushed for 1,272 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011.
QB Wes Lunt, Oklahoma State: Unlike many coaches who seem content to let their quarterback competitions drag through camp and into the season, Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy wanted his offense to know its triggerman going into the summer. So after spring practice, Gundy named Lunt, a 6-4, 211-pounder from Rochester, Ill., the Cowboys' starter. In the past week, Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken got his first chance to coach Lunt since the spring. Monken seems confident in the youngster's instincts, and he's imagining the possibilities when Lunt truly masters his system. "There's been a setback of learning because we don't get to coach him in the summer," Monken told reporters in Stillwater on Sunday. "Every now and then he comes in and wants to watch film, but it's not the same as really dissecting it. He's sped back up and he's back to where he was and the good news is that he still doesn't really know what he's doing. The good news is that he's doing great and he really still doesn't know what he's doing."
RB Keith Marshall, Georgia: The dismissal of Isaiah Crowell leaves the Bulldogs without a top tailback, and the job is wide open. Richard Samuel and Ken Malcome have the most experience, but like last year, when Crowell won the job as a freshman, a rookie might rise to the occasion. Marshall, a 5-11, 190-pounder from Raleigh, N.C., got a head start on fellow North Carolinian Todd Gurley by enrolling in January. Marhsall was limited in the spring by a hamstring injury, but he spent valuable time with coaches learning the system.
WR Trey Metoyer, Oklahoma: Metoyer was supposed to begin his Oklahoma career last year, but the Texan failed to qualify academically and wound up at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va. Metoyer arrived in Norman in January and immediately began impressing teammates with his speed, his route-running and his hands. Metoyer was the breakout star of the spring game, catching six passes for 72 yards. With Ryan Broyles gone and veteran receivers Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks coming off suspension, Metoyer could wind up joining Kenny Stills as a favorite target of quarterback Landry Jones.
DT Ondre Pipkins, Michigan: Veteran defensive tackle Will Campbell, a former five-star recruit who hasn't lived up to the hype to this point, slimmed down and worked hard this offseason so he can prove why he was rated so high coming out of high school. At the same time, Campbell also has taken Pipkins under his wing. His goal? Help the 340-pound freshman avoid the pitfalls that hindered Campbell. This is all fine and good, as long as Campbell also encourages Pipkins to continue honing his Brady Hoke impression. With a little practice, Pipkins-as-Hoke could rival former Alabama receiver Rob Ezell's Nick Saban impression.
WR Latroy Pittman, Florida: Offensive tackle D.J. Humphries was Florida's most touted recruit, and Humphries may wind up contributing some early, but the Gators have experienced, serviceable tackles. What they don't have is a proven receiver. Enter Pittman, a 6-foot, 201-pounder from tiny Citra, Fla. Pittman was the breakout star of Florida's spring practice, and he could give Florida quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel a target beyond tight end Jordan Reed. Florida badly needs a receiver to stretch the field, and Pittman may give the Gators their best chance to do that.
WR Michael Thomas, Ohio State: Anyone who watched Urban Meyer's first year at Florida knows the Meyer offense -- so effective in previous and successive years -- was severely hamstrung by a lack of playmakers and depth at receiver. At Ohio State, Meyer didn't inherit a very proven group of receivers, either. Tight end Jake Stoneburner, who should remind Meyer of Aaron Hernandez, gives the Buckeyes one intriguing weapon in the passing game, but Meyer would prefer to have at least five. He may have another in Thomas, a 6-2 freshman from Los Angeles who caught 12 Braxton Miller passes for 131 yards in Ohio State's spring game.