CFB Impact 2021 Freshman Performers

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Caleb Williams | QB | Oklahoma

The consensus top quarterback in the 2021 class, Williams is the hand picked successor to Spencer Rattler in Oklahoma. He was bestowed five-star status by 247 Sports and Rivals, however ESPN only awarded him a four-star grade. The Washington D.C. area product won the D.C. area player of the year and MaxPreps sophomore All-American status in 2018 when he threw for 2,624 yards and 26 touchdowns in his first year as a starter. Williams followed that up by leading Gonzaga to a 46-43 victory in the WCAC finals by completing a 41-yard hail-mary touchdown pass with time expiring. It’s hard to imagine a more storied ending to a high school career.

Williams enrolled early and participated in the spring game, where he unveiled his full arsenal of tools over the course of spring practice, capped off with a standout spring game performance that loudly announced his arrival. Here he hits Jackson Sumlin on a back end-zone touchdown strike. Williams appears to look at Jadon Haselwood on the outside, but doesn’t like the coverage and makes the progression to his second read, Sumlin.

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On the day, Williams was masterful, completing 10-of-11 passes for 99 yards and a touchdown, while also leading the team with 6 rushes for 61 yards. The blue-chip signal caller flashed running ability that evokes memories of Jalen Hurts when he ran for 1,298 yards and 20 touchdowns. It’s a skill set that Rattler does not possess and opens up the playbook for HC Lincoln Riley. He was also accurate, hitting receivers in stride on short-to-intermediate routes while extending plays with his legs and breaking off chunk plays. He is lethal when flushed and has a sturdy enough frame to take the shots that come with a running oriented quarterbacking style. It’s hard not to get excited about what Caleb Williams is capable of achieving in 2022 with the Sooners.

Emeka Egbuka | WR | Ohio State

The Buckeye faithful couldn’t wait to get a look at the consensus 2021 #1 wide receiver prospect, Egbuka, in the team’s spring game. He did not disappoint, as the five-star freshman reeled in seven receptions for 123 yards in his OSU unveiling and flashed the elite ball skills that had the scouting community raving. Egbuka deftly worked the short-to-mid-levels of the field like an established vet, displaying an easy confidence with his hands while dicing up OSU’s zone scheme. I don’t want to read too much into the performance, as he didn’t face much man-to-man coverage and was relegated to working zone soft spots and the flats, but it was a noteworthy debut nonetheless. Here’s a cut up of his revelatory spring game showing:

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The Steilacom, WA native and Washington Gatorade Player of the Year didn’t play in 2020 due to the pandemic but still tallied almost 4,000 career yards and 61 touchdowns. However Egbuka’s 2019 highlight reel boasts a college-ready 6-foot-1, 203 pound rocked-up body and the ability to make defenders miss in tight quarters despite his large frame. He ran a verified 4.42 second 40-yard dash in January, 2019 in addition to a 4.19 second short shuttle and 35” vertical jump, so his play speed and ability to separate is verified by the watch. Here’s a quick jaw-dropping highlight reel clip MaxPreps put together of his high school tape:

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He’s at his deadliest when breaking tackles in open space and then using his incredible acceleration to beat converging safeties who have the angle on him. That’s not to discount his crisp route running and exceptional long speed, but Egbuka’s strength/speed combo is going to make him a handful to deal with as his career in Columbus unfolds.

Treyveon Henderson | RB | Ohio State

A product of Hopewell, VA, Henderson was named a USA Today All-USA second-team performer who played DB, WR and RB in addition to being a track standout who ran a blazing 10.94 second 100-meter dash. The five-star recruit and number one ranked running back from the 2021 freshman class, Henderson enrolled early at Ohio State and immediately played a prominent role in the team’s spring game, leading the running backs in carries (6), receptions (5) and total yards (55). He served as the primary, second-team ball carrier with Master Teague sitting out and Marcus Crowley splitting time between the first and second team. The freshman looked particularly comfortable catching the ball:

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Henderson was a force in high school, showing advanced balance, burst and change of direction ability that should earn him ample playing time as a freshman. He should continue to add size to his frame that can easily handle 215-22 pounds at his peak, which with his high-end agility and athleticism should make him a chore to try and tackle. Shows the ability to grind between the tackles or bounce it outside and has clear three-down ability as is evidenced by his spring game receiving output. Henderson should be a core contributor in the OSU running backs room right out of the gate and could even earn the starting job as a true freshman at some point this year if Master Teague continues to have injury issues.

Troy Franklin | WR | Oregon

If there is anything the Ducks need to raise their program to national prominence, it’s a top flight number one wide receiver who can be a running mate for five-star freshman QB Ty Thompson. Mycah Pittman came in with a lot of fanfare, but disappointed with injuries and inconsistency while Jaylon Redd is a manufactured touch slot receiver who is best left to the underneath routes. Franklin might be the best wideout the Ducks have had on campus since Darren Carrington, and he is ready to see game action right away if his spring game performance is any indication of his readiness:

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He took a big shot and held onto the ball on his first catch of the game while securing a tough, low comeback throw on his last reception. Franklin (6’2/180) worked the sideline with precision while also showing the ability to stretch the field deep. His highlight tape is littered with stunning returns as well, as his knack for making people miss shows up in all phases of the game. He gets by more on athleticism right now than route running acumen, but he is getting better by the day on the front. He should be able to slide into the WR3 role early on this year and should be in place to start in 2022.

Mario Williams | WR | Oklahoma

An early enrollee and pro prospect baseball player, Williams is considered a five-star receiver by Rivals and is granted four-star status by 247Sports and ESPN. He is considered the number one receiver in the nation according to ESPN and second best on Rivals’ 2022 big board. The Plant City, FL native enters a young and talented OU wide receivers room that includes five-star 2019 wideout Jadon Haselwood, 2020 breakout star Marvin Mims, Arkansas 600-yard transfer Mike Woods and four-star recruit Theo Wease. Even among a talented group, Williams stood out for his fast-twitch short-area quickness and penchant for tracking down deep balls. Here he reels in a high degree of difficulty Spencer Rattler spring game deep shot:

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Williams ran with the first-team during the entire spring game and was on the receiving end of Spencer Rattler’s first completed pass of the afternoon. Though he’s only 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, Williams has a pretty thick trunk that will allow him to put on functional weight and displays a tenacity for making big, acrobatic plays downfield. He appears to have climbed the Sooner WR depth chart that has been unsettled since the departure of CeeDee Lamb. Mims should be the lead dog here, but there’s no reason why Williams can’t be an effective starter as a freshman before taking over the team’s alpha-wideout status when Mims departs and Caleb Williams is calling the signals.

LJ Johnson | RB | Texas A&M

A consensus four-star rated running back, each of the major three scouting services had Johnson ranked as a top-five RB from the 2021 class. The Cypress, TX native checks in at 5’11/205 with a sturdy frame that can handle another 15 pounds and still hold up his verified 4.42 second 40-yard dash speed. He employs a one-cut, downhill style that is accentuated by excellent vision and a well timed pace step that Johnson uses to throw off the timing of pursuing defenders. Accelerates through holes well thanks to advanced vision and hits his cruising speed quickly. Subtle movements set up his cuts and a stout lower body helps the young Aggie to shed tackles.

Johnson will have an apprentice year to simmer behind All-SEC RB Isaiah Spiller and big-play machine Devin Achane before likely moving onto a carry-share of some kind between himself and Achane in 2022. Achane has a more slight frame and is better suited for manufactured touch plays, screens and outside runs while Johnson has a more complete skillset. HC Jimbo Fisher posted the seventh best recruiting class in 2021 and currently has the eighth best class in 2022. Texas A&M continues to churn out competitive teams in the talent-laden SEC West and LJ Johnson has all the tools to be the next star Aggie tailback.

Sawyer Robertson | QB | Mississippi State

Mississippi State HC Mike Leach has made it abundantly clear that the QB competition between 2020 four-star incumbent Will Rogers and former Southern Miss transfer Jack Abraham rages on in the wake of the spring game. Beyond that, he let it be known that incoming freshman Sawyer Robertson was very much in the mix to start right out of the gate after Rogers underwhelmed in the spring game, throwing for 255 yards and an interception while committing multiple turnover worthy throws and converting just one drive into a touchdown. Abraham completed 67 percent of his throws for 162 yards and two touchdowns while making the proper reads and moving the ball efficiently down the field.

It’s easy to understand why HC Leach is bullish on the consensus four-star rated gunslinger out of Lubbock, TX. Robertson was recently named the 2020 Gatorade Texas Football Player of the Year, joining an illustrious list of past winners such as Christian McCaffrey, Emmitt Smith, Matthew Stafford and last year’s winner Jaxson Smith-Njigba. Robertson’s (6’4/198) production was prolific, completing 297-of-457 passes for 4,509 yards, 58 touchdowns and seven interceptions while leading Coronado High School to a 12-1 record. He is rated as the ninth best dual-threat QB by Rivals and 11th overall signal caller according to ESPN. Robertson is the most heralded quarterback Mike Leach has ever signed and succeeded in a pass-heavy spread offense in high school. Though he did not attend spring practice, Robertson could very well emerge as the starter at some point this season.

Donovan Edwards | RB | Michigan

Might as well include a Michigan player to balance out the two Ohio State standouts I mentioned previously. Edwards (5’11/190) is well worth the hype, as the consensus four-star recruit is rated as the fourth best running back in the nation according to both ESPN and 247Sports. The homegrown West Bloomfield, MI native has played all over the offensive formation, be it QB, RB, slot or out wide and has shown the speed to get on top of defenders in the passing game in a way you rarely see from a traditional running back. Runs with power and can hit the gas when he sees a hole, but isn’t ultra-elusive. Runs like an athlete with the skillset of an all-purpose weapon as opposed to a polished between the tackles technician, still can learn to setup his blocks better.

The Wolverine running back group has been a quagmire in the Harbaugh era, with multiple would-be lead backs fizzling out and getting shuffled into their committee approach. Zach Charbonnet certainly found out how crowded the UM RB room can be. However Edwards’ three-down potential and big-play ability should afford him touches as a true freshman and then possibly take over formal starting duties after Hassan Haskins or Blake Corum either depart or get passed on the depth chart. Though the comparison is obviously lofty, Edwards is being comped to Saints superstar Alvin Kamara due to his ability to make big plays in all phases of the game. Now let’s see if Harbaugh will use him to his fullest potential.