As recently as 50 years ago, some programs prohibited true freshman from seeing the field. The sport of college football has come a long way since then.
More and more, first-year college players are making a significant impact right away. Don’t expect that growing trend to change any time soon.
With that in mind, Pro Football Focus highlighted the three most valuable true freshman seasons since 2014, and all three have come in the last two years.
Last season, in helping lead LSU to a 15-0 national championship, Stingley was among the nation’s top defensive backs. Not only was Stingley a first-team, All-SEC performer, he was also a consensus first-team, All-America selection.
Stingley had 38 tackles (one for loss) with six interceptions, 15 passes defended and one fumble recovery a season ago. He partnered with fellow cornerback Kristian Fulton, a second-round 2020 NFL Draft pick of the Tennessee Titans, to give LSU one of the country’s most elite tandems at the position.
“I think this year you’re not going to see us just use Derek in man free coverage, I think you’re going to see him blitzing, I think you’re going to see him use his talents in some places where we need him on defense,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “I think (defensive coordinator Bo Pelini is) going to mix it up where he’s going to have our corners doing different things.”
Stingley arrived at LSU with high expectations. According to the industry generated 247Sports Composite, the Baton Rouge, La., native was the nation’s No. 3 ranked overall player.
Moore was revelation for Purdue in 2018. Not only did he come up big in the passing game, Moore was also a factor on the ground and in the return game.
With Moore in the fold, Purdue achieved bowl eligibility for the second consecutive season. He finished the year with 114 catches for 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns, while rushing for two additional scores and averaging more than 10 yards per carry. On special teams, Moore averaged 20.1 yards per kickoff return.
“The knock on Moore coming out of high school was his size at only around 5-foot-9 but his strength coach at Louisville Trinity raved about what he could do in the weight room and he was one of the fastest players in the entire 2018 class,” said Barton Simmons, 247Sports’ Director of Recruiting. “It was important for Rondale to go to a program that would use him effectively and for that you have to give Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm some credit. He recognized Moore’s talent and has schemed opportunities that Moore has capitalized on.”
Waddle made himself known to thousands of fans last season at Alabama, but it was his freshman campaign of 2018 that set the stage for what was to come.
In helping Alabama reach the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, Waddle caught 45 passes for 848 yards and seven touchdowns, while averaging 14.6 on punt returns, which including a touchdown.
“I certainly think that Jaylen has a lot of ability,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said early last season. “We want him to be a very positive contributor. We want him to play with great consistency in performance, and we’re going to continue to work with him so that maybe he can do that a little better. But we have a lot of confidence in him and a lot of ways to do a lot of good things for us.”