Early Impact Freshmen for the 2012 College Football Season

Dan RubensteinCollege Football Lead WriterFebruary 7, 2012

Now that Signing Day and the 2012 recruiting cycle are officially behind us, it seems like a good enough time to figure out which of this year’s newest college football players will not only see the field, but impact games in a significant way. Some might also say it’s a good time to forget about college football, at least until spring practice starts, and those people would be wrong. So very, very wrong.

Dorial Green-Beckham, WR Mizzou

With Mizzou’s move to the SEC and the Tigers losing a couple of major pass-catching targets, the timing couldn’t be better for a physically superior receiver to arrive in Columbia. DGB should instantly provide Tiger QB James Franklin with an option who can both turn screens into a yards-after-contact situation or go vertical for passes against physical SEC DBs. The winner here may actually be presumably-healed Tiger RB Henry Josey, who may see more and more six man defensive fronts with defenses forced to honor Mizzou’s downfield dimensions.

Joshua Garnett, OG Stanford

Stanford, a team with a recent history of giving young OL significant playing time early in their careers if earned, signed the best national offensive line class, and included in that class is Joshua Garnett, a blue chip guard. With All-American guard David DeCastro off early to the NFL, it’s not unreasonable to think that a lineman with Garnett’s talent and strength could immediately work himself into the Cardinal rotation with an impressive fall camp as coach David Shaw rebuilds his offensive line.

Leonard Williams, DE USC

Even with USC’s strong 2011 season and consistent success recruiting nationally, it’s still a bit of a surprise to see Lane Kiffin out-recruiting top SEC teams for a blue chip defensive player like Leonard Williams, a Florida native. Given the turnover on USC’s defensive line, expect Williams to, much like Devon Kennard and Nick Perry before him, compete for early rotation snaps for the Red Bull himself, Ed Orgeron.

RB Johnathan Gray, RB Texas

As Texas moves away from former offensive coordinator Greg Davis’s pseudo spread and more towards a power/precision look under Bryan Harsin, expect a healthy rotation of running backs to account for the majority of the Longhorns’ 2012 offense. Add in inconsistency at QB and the loss of graduating RB Fozzy Whitaker, and we could be in for a hearty dose of Jonathan Gray, who’s shaping up to be Texas’s insta-home run threat. Alongside the more between-the-tackles types in Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, let’s just assume the rich will just keep on getting richer. Will it translate to significantly more wins? Let’s not go crazy you guys.

Tee Shepard, CB Notre Dame

One of the more interesting stories of the recruiting season, Shepard, the Fresno, CA native who almost made a last second switch to USC before Signing Day, is already enrolled in South Bend and could immediately solidify a secondary that had its fair share of ups and downs in 2011. With decent size and a reputation that preceded his arrival as a don’t-worry-about-my-side-of-the-field type corner, you could see the young Shepard have a Cliff Harris-type immediate impact for the Irish. That Harris is from Fresno and has already warned college football about how good Shepard could be only adds to the fun ahead.

Arik Armstead, DL Oregon

With the Ducks losing three year starting strongside DE Terrell Turner, Armstead, the west’s top recruit, should immediately challenge the thin depth the Ducks currently have at the strongside spot on the line. While considered elite as an OL and only very good on defense, Armstead’s size (6’8”, 285) and athleticism (also a heavily recruited basketball player) should give him a leg up to step into an Oregon defense that’s come to be defined by its tall, athletic defensive linemen.

Shaq Roland, WR South Carolina

What? An early impact true freshman WR playing in the state of South Carolina? Why, I never! But if I did, I’d point you towards Shaq Roland, who could very well step into a Gamecock receiving corps with the NFL defection of Alshon Jeffery. Roland could provide, depending on his physicality, Steve Spurrier and QB Connor Shaw with an opportunity to, much like DGB, open things up for featured weapon, RB Marcus Lattimore.

Noah Spence, DE Ohio State

After a year in which the Buckeyes took a step back defensively, Urban Meyer made it a priority to pursue the best front seven defensive players across the Midwest, and succeeded wildly in doing so. Even though the arriving talent is deep up front, perhaps the jewel of the class is Spence, a one-time Penn State commitment. At 6’3” and 240 lbs, the athletic defensive end from Harrisburg, PA should immediately be able to fortify a Buckeye DL that needs particular help against the run.

Dan Rubenstein co-hosts The Solid Verbal college football podcast and can be followed on Twitter here.