Ranking the Top 50 Sophomores Heading into the 2014 College Football Season

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistApril 10, 2014

Ranking the Top 50 Sophomores Heading into the 2014 College Football Season

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    Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell is one of the best sophomores in college football entering the 2014 season.
    Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell is one of the best sophomores in college football entering the 2014 season.Rogelio V. Solis

    When it comes to college football players, there's a certain pecking order for hype bestowed on the various classes.

    The junior class tends to get the most recognition, since it's loaded with the best of the draft-eligible standouts whom we expect to see playing on Sundays next year. That's followed by the seniors, the veteran unit that's stuck it out all four years and will be relied on for experience and leadership.

    Next come the freshmen, a class full of promise and (often) overwhelmingly high expectations. Their exploits at the prep level are considered a blueprint for how they'll perform in college.

    And that leaves us with the sophomores, collectively the least regarded of the classes, despite being home to the previous season's top first-year players. And that was a heck of a group in 2013, which makes the 2014 sophomore class one of the best in the game in some time.

    Here's a look at the top 50 sophomores heading into the 2014 season.

50. Derrick Henry, Alabama

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Position: Running back

    There's too much talent on Alabama's roster for Derrick Henry to expect to be the featured attraction on offense this season. But if that were to happen, there's a good chance he'd excel in that role.

    His true freshman season was mostly quiet and full of promise—that is until he blew up for 162 yards and two total touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl. His size and speed will give opposing defenses fits this year, no matter how seldom he gets used.

49. DeVon Edwards, Duke

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Position: Defensive back

    DeVon Edwards had a good freshman season in Duke's secondary, but he showed what kind of an impact he could have in the future during one late flourish against North Carolina State last season.

    He returned a pair of interceptions for touchdowns on back-to-back drives to help the Blue Devils come back, capping a game that also saw him bring back a kickoff 100 yards for a TD.

48. Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Position: Linebacker

    It took a little bit for Dominique Alexander to work his way into Oklahoma's rotation at linebacker last season, but once he got in there, it was hard to get him out.

    His breakout game was a 19-tackle performance against rival Texas. Though the Sooners lost, the freshman was all over the field and registered 13 solo takedowns.

47. Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Wide receiver

    Jhajuan Seales had a solid, if not spectacular, redshirt freshman campaign in 2013, catching 39 passes for 571 yards with three touchdowns. Expect those numbers to increase exponentially this year.

    He will be among the most experienced receivers coming back for Oklahoma State, and his good hands and great footwork will get him lots of chances to shine.

46. Nate Phillips, Arizona

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Wide receiver

    Arizona's receiving corps was one of the youngest and least experienced in the country in 2013, which makes what Nate Phillips did as a true freshman a great sign for the future.

    He led the Wildcats with 51 receptions, 696 yards and seven touchdowns and ended the year with nine catches for 193 yards in the bowl win over Boston College. Arizona's receiver depth is much better this season, but Phillips will still be a big part of that unit.

45. Roberto Aguayo, Florida State

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Kicker

    Florida State didn't have any games come down to a game-winning kick during its national title run, but if it had, there's a good chance Roberto Aguayo would have drilled the attempt.

    He was one of the most consistent kickers in the country last season, not just among freshmen. He made 21 of 22 field goals—the only miss coming from outside of 40 yards in a blowout win over Wake Forest—while converting all 94 extra-point attempts.

44. Alex Kozan, Auburn

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Offensive lineman

    As a redshirt freshman in 2013, Alex Kozan had the opportunity to be a part of one of the best offensive lines in the country. The experience gained from last year will go a long way now that his role will increase for the Tigers.

    He was at left guard all last year, and he'll likely be there again this fall. That consistency will make replacing left tackle Greg Robinson less stressful for Auburn's coaches.

43. Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Position: Offensive lineman

    Not every player on this list was a breakout star in his first year of college football, which is a good way to describe Ronnie Stanley's debut. It was good, but he definitely has room for improvement.

    He managed to hold down the fort at right tackle in 2013, and though he has work to do to become an elite blocker, it was easy to see that he has the potential.

42. Corey Davis, Western Michigan

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    Stew Milne

    Position: Wide receiver

    On a 1-11 team, there's usually not a lot that went well, but Corey Davis found a way to shine on Western Michigan's woeful team in 2013.

    He was superb as a true freshman, catching 67 passes for 941 yards and six touchdowns. He had five 100-yard games, including a 154-yard, two-touchdown effort in the Broncos' lone victory last season.

41. Cameron Sutton, Tennessee

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Position: Cornerback

    Cameron Sutton made a great debut last season, returning an interception 36 yards for a touchdown in Tennessee's 52-20 win over Western Kentucky. He finished the year with 36 tackles but didn't have any highlights as big as that first one.

    He has a chance to be a good one and will get plenty of practice against some great receivers. That experience will suit him well when having to defend some of the SEC's best wideouts.

40. Jacoby Glenn, Central Florida

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    Garry Jones

    Position: Cornerback

    Central Florida's defense didn't get enough credit last season, but the stars on offense overshadowed what the Knights were able to do to stop opponents. Jacoby Glenn was a big part of that.

    He had two sacks, two interceptions and 49 tackles despite routinely getting paired up against the best receivers last season.

39. Ryan Janvion, Wake Forest

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    J Pat Carter

    Position: Safety

    Ryan Janvion was one of the few standouts from Wake Forest's defense in 2013, and his production should make him a key figure for the Demon Deacons under new coach Dave Clawson.

    He only had one interception, but he did manage 95 tackles as a solid hitter on Wake's back line.

38. John O'Korn, Houston

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    Butch Dill

    Position: Quarterback

    John O'Korn didn't put up the big numbers that some of Houston's notable quarterbacks have produced over the years, but at the same time the freshman also didn't look as raw as some of those guys did at the start of their careers.

    He threw for 3,117 yards and 28 touchdowns while starting all 13 games for the Cougars, tossing three or more TD passes in six different games.

37. Kareem Hunt, Toledo

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    Rick Osentoski

    Position: Running back

    Kareem Hunt was supposed to get eased into Toledo's running game as a way of preparing him for the starting job in 2014, but an injury to the Rockets' top back thrust the freshman into the spotlight. No sweat.

    He rushed for 789 of his 866 yards in Toledo's final six games, five of which resulted in at least 100 yards to go along with six touchdowns. A short but powerful runner at 5'11" and 200 pounds, he should be a big force this season.

36. Scooby Wright, Arizona

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Position: Linebacker

    Scooby Wright stepped right into Arizona's defense and thrived as a true freshman, starting all 13 games and recording 83 tackles. He also had a key interception at the start of the Wildcats' upset of Oregon.

    He is the lone starter returning from the middle of Arizona's 3-3-5 defense, and he'll be expected to keep developing his skills.

35. Marquez North, Tennessee

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Wide receiver

    Marquez North was Tennessee's most productive receiver in 2013, but that wasn't saying much from a passing offense that left a lot to be desired. He had 38 catches for 496 yards but only one touchdown, yet he was a reliable target.

    He will have plenty of talent around him on the outside this year, but his experience should make him the top target when the Volunteers need a big catch. 

34. Corey Coleman, Baylor

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Wide receiver

    Baylor's bevy of offensive weapons in 2013 made it so anyone could be the big winner on any given night. Corey Coleman didn't have any 100-yard games or multi-touchdown outings, but with 35 catches for 527 yards, he got his career off to a great start.

    He should see increased chances this year with Tevin Reese no longer in the mix. Though not tall at 5'10", he should use his 190-pound frame to excel in the open field.

33. Hunter Henry, Arkansas

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    Bill Haber

    Position: Tight end

    Arkansas' passing offense wasn't anything to write home about in 2013, but the play of Hunter Henry in his first year is something to build around as that facet of the attack moves forward.

    He was second on the team with 28 receptions and 409 yards, while his four touchdown catches tied for tops on the squad with now-graduated wideout Javontee Herndon.

32. Maty Mauk, Missouri

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    Tim Sharp

    Position: Quarterback

    Missouri's quarterback of the future got an early start on his contribution to the Tigers offense last season when James Franklin injured his shoulder midway through 2013. Mauk didn't blink in his new role, throwing for 10 touchdowns in four games as the starter.

    He didn't get many chances to show off his mobility last year, but his 114-yard output against Tennessee was a sign of what Missouri fans can expect from the quarterback position this fall.

31. Geno Lewis, Penn State

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Wide receiver

    Geno Lewis was a receiving option for Penn State as a freshman last season, but he'll quickly have to enhance his game with Allen Robinson's departure to the NFL.

    Lewis had just 18 catches for 234 yards and three touchdowns in 2013, but that included a breakout game in the Nittany Lions' upset win at Wisconsin to end last season. He had three catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns, including a 59-yard score.

30. Chris Jones, Mississippi State

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Position: Defensive end

    The SEC had plenty of talented young players who were roaming the defensive line last season, though Chris Jones didn't get as much fanfare as the others. His numbers were similar, though, as he had 32 tackles, seven tackles for loss and three sacks in 2013.

    He also kept his hands active, knocking down three passes to round out a solid first year. He should improve on those numbers this year as Mississippi State looks to keep improving on defense.

29. Maxx Williams, Minnesota

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    David J. Phillip

    Position: Tight end

    The tight end position wasn't particularly deep when it came to impact first-year players last season, but Maxx Williams was among the best. As one of Minnesota's most reliable offensive weapons, he showed he'll have a bright future.

    Though he only had 25 receptions and five touchdowns, his 20-yard touchdown catch in the Texas Bowl loss to Syracuse showed his ability to get behind defenders.

28. Jalen Ramsey, Florida State

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Position: Safety

    Jalen Ramsey was one of Florida State's many standouts on defense last season. And while several have moved onto pro careers, his performance as a freshman makes their departures easier to deal with.

    He was a go-to player in the secondary, first starting at cornerback and then strong safety before settling in as the Seminoles' free safety.

27. Leonard Floyd, Georgia

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Position: Linebacker

    Georgia's defense gave up a lot of big plays and was an overall disappointment in 2013, but Leonard Floyd's play in his freshman year gives hope that things will turn around this fall.

    He had 6.5 sacks, which is a testament to his skills as one of the best young pass-rushing linebackers in the country. With some more experience and practice defending the run, he could quickly become a complete player.

26. Jack Conklin, Michigan State

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    Michael Conroy

    Position: Offensive lineman

    Jack Conklin was redshirted in 2012 to get him better prepared for what lied ahead. That ended up being an integral part of Michigan State's offensive line—one that vastly improved as the season went along.

    He started every game last year, playing multiple tackle positions. With the Spartans losing several starters on the line, he may have to bounce around yet again this fall.

25. Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Defensive end

    Eddie Vanderdoes was already making an impact on UCLA's defensive line when he got into the act as one of the Bruins' brief two-way players midway through last season, scoring on a rushing touchdown. Even without the extracurricular activity, he stood out defensively.

    He should again be a big part of UCLA's front line this season, though a broken bone in his foot ended spring ball early. Assuming a full recovery, look for him to significantly increase his 37-tackle output from a year ago.

24. Kermit Whitfield, Florida State

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Wide receiver/kick returner

    Sometimes all it takes is one play for a college football player to make a name for himself. Just ask Kermit Whitfield, who burst onto the national scene with an electric 100-yard kickoff return touchdown for Florida State in the BCS title game.

    He only caught five passes in limited receiving duty in 2013, but he averaged more than 36 yards on returns to prove his true wealth. With the chance to contribute both ways this season, look for him to become more than just a one-play wonder.

23. Stacy Coley, Miami (Fla.)

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    John Raoux

    Position: Wide receiver

    Stacy Coley was most effective at catching passes in his first year of college ball, with seven touchdowns on just 33 receptions. But that was just the tip of what he could do as one of the most versatile freshmen in the country.

    He also scored TDs on a run, punt return and kick return. He'll likely get touches in all of those areas again this season.

22. Thomas Tyner, Oregon

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    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Position: Running back

    It took a little while for Thomas Tyner to crack the rotation for carries in Oregon's backfield last season, but after touches became available following an injury to De'Anthony Thomas, the powerful runner quickly began to make a name for himself.

    Tyner averaged 6.2 yards per carry and scored nine touchdowns last season in limited duty, but this year he should be the No. 1 rusher and put up big numbers in the Ducks' spread-option attack.

21. Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss

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    247Sports

    Position: Offensive line

    Starting on the offensive line of any FBS team as a true freshman is a big deal no matter where it happens, but when it's at an SEC school, there's more prestige attached to what Laremy Tunsil managed to do last season.

    He was an anchor at right tackle for the Rebels, and he'll once again protect Bo Wallace's blind side this season.

20. Steve Longa, Rutgers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Linebacker

    While Rutgers' current personnel might not fit what you'd expect from a Big Ten team as a whole, that can't be said of Steve Longa, one of the team's most promising young players.

    He had 120 tackles and three sacks last season, notching at least 10 tackles in seven different games. His ability to pursue up the middle and contain on the edges should fit in well when the Scarlet Knights face their new Midwestern foes.

19. Alex Collins, Arkansas

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    Rogelio V. Solis

    Position: Running back

    Alex Collins began his career better than anyone else in SEC history, becoming the first freshman in the league to rush for 100-plus yards in each of his first three games. He hit a wall after that, though, but still finished with 1,026 yards and four touchdowns.

    He is in a fight for carries this season with junior Jonathan Williams, but assuming he can show the same spark he had early last year, he'll easily top 1,000 yards again.

18. Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame

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    David Zalubowski

    Position: Linebacker

    Notre Dame has always had a great tradition of linebackers, and that continued in 2013 with Jaylon Smith. His effort right out of the gate was as good as anyone could have predicted, with 66 tackles and 13 starts.

    Though on the thin side at 230 pounds for his 6'3" frame, he made up for any size issues with amazing speed that kept him involved in big plays. This will continue in 2014.

17. Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Defensive lineman

    Robert Nkemdiche was the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2013 recruiting class, and while he didn't set the world on fire with his play, he still had a very impressive first season of college ball.

    He had 34 tackles and two sacks for Ole Miss last year, providing a nice combination of size and speed both as a tackle and an end. That versatility will continue to be maximized by the Rebels as they push to make even deeper in-roads in the SEC this season.

16. Joey Bosa, Ohio State

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    Darron Cummings

    Position: Defensive end

    Ohio State's defensive line was stocked with stars in 2013, and Joey Bosa could end up being the best of the lot when it's all done based on how he performed as a freshman.

    Playing end last year, he registered 7.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss, getting involved in messing up opponents' passing and running games.

15. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State

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    Morry Gash

    Position: Quarterback

    Christian Hackenberg didn't have to wait to get his shot at playing as a true freshman; former coach Bill O'Brien put him in there from the opening snap, and the first-year quarterback fared well throughout the season.

    He finished with 2,955 passing yards and 20 touchdowns, numbers that could have been better if he had managed to avoid sacks. Now a seasoned veteran with 12 starts under his belt, including wins over Michigan and Wisconsin, he should have an even better second season.

14. Carl Lawson, Auburn

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    Todd J. Van Emst

    Position: Defensive end

    A look at Carl Lawson's statistics won't provide the full story of how well he played as a freshman, though his four sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss were integral. What it did show, though, was how good he's going to be.

    He didn't see significant snaps last season, but with Dee Ford gone from the Tigers defensive line, Lawson will be called on to fill that void as part of an improved unit in 2014.

13. Davis Webb, Texas Tech

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    Lenny Ignelzi

    Position: Quarterback

    Texas Tech was in the unique position of starting two different freshmen at quarterback during the 2013 season, with both producing solid results. But Davis Webb heads into this fall as the man in charge, locking down that gig with an amazing postseason performance.

    He threw for 403 yards and four touchdowns in Tech's Holiday Bowl win over Arizona State, despite having not seen action in either of the Raiders' previous two games. In 10 games, he threw for 2,718 yards and 20 TDs.

12. Germain Ifedi, Texas A&M

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    David J. Phillip

    Position: Offensive line

    Germain Ifedi was a rock on the right side of Texas A&M's offensive line in 2013. He was an almost immovable force at guard that helped keep defenders from affecting Johnny Manziel's ability to scramble.

    But with the Aggies looking to shift around their linemen to help protect their new quarterback this season, Ifedi may end up being the right tackle. That kind of versatility will keep him among the top blockers in the country for the rest of his career.

11. Ryan Switzer, North Carolina

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    Nell Redmond

    Position: Wide receiver/punt returner

    Ryan Switzer didn't get many touches during his freshman season, but he more than made the most of them—especially when it came to lining up to return a punt, an exercise he turned into a work of art in 2013.

    He returned five punts for touchdowns last season, tying the FBS season record in North Carolina's bowl win over Cincinnati. He also had three TD catches and 32 receptions as a backup wideout, and with an increased role in the offense, Switzer could be even more of a force in 2014.

10. A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Position: Defensive end

    Alabama's depth is annually so good that true freshmen don't often get to start right away, but A'Shawn Robinson was a special case. As a result, he put together an amazing first year as a nearly unstoppable force on the Crimson Tide's defensive line.

    He didn't start all season, but when he was in the game, Robinson made his presence known. He had 5.5 sacks and was involved in plenty of other negative plays, helping Alabama once again have one of the nation's top defenses.

9. Shock Linwood, Baylor

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Running back

    Baylor had more weapons on offense in 2013 than one team should be allowed to have—so many that at first it might have been possible to overlook what Shock Linwood did as a freshman. Despite starting the year far down the depth chart, he still finished with 881 yards and eight touchdowns.

    He'll be the go-to guy this year now that Lache Seastrunk is headed to the NFL, but as he showed in relief of Seastrunk last season (rushing for 369 yards in a two-game span against Oklahoma and Texas Tech), he's more than capable of carrying the load.

8. Addison Gillam, Colorado

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Linebacker

    Addison Gillam was just as important as a freshman as any other player on this list, but that's where the similarities end. That's because his performance in 2013 was almost completely unexpected based on his lack of fanfare coming out of high school.

    Despite the lower expectations, he thrived in the middle of Colorado's defense, registering 109 tackles (including 71 on the solo end), three sacks and an interception. He was an all-around force for the Buffaloes.

7. Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Cornerback

    No freshman had more interceptions last season than Kendall Fuller, who picked off six of them en route to one of the best seasons by a first-year defensive player in ACC history.

    The younger brother of former Virginia Tech defensive back Kyle Fuller, Kendall also defended 11 passes in 2013, as the Hokies had the No. 8 pass defense in the nation. He also saw time at linebacker when injuries required Tech to shuffle its lineup.

6. Su'a Cravens, USC

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Position: Safety

    With all of the injury and depth issues that USC had to deal with during a turbulent 2013 season, one place the Trojans were able to look to for some consistency was in the secondary thanks to Su'a Cravens.

    A highly touted recruit entering college, he lived up to the hype by holding down the back end of USC's defense, registering 53 tackles (many of which were of the head-rattling variety) and four interceptions in 13 starts.

5. Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Wide receiver

    Laquon Treadwell was named the SEC's Freshman of the Year in 2013, a lofty award if ever there was one. And the wide receiver was more than deserving of that honor, catching 72 passes and scoring five touchdowns as Ole Miss' No. 2 option.

    The Rebels lost Donte Moncrief early to the NFL, but because of Treadwell, that departure won't be as hard to endure.

4. Myles Jack, UCLA

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Linebacker

    Though what helped Myles Jack make national headlines isn't likely to be a regular part of his career from here on out, his ability to play effectively on both sides of the ball last season shows his versatility and value to UCLA.

    He managed to earn the Pac-12's offensive and defensive freshman of the year awards in 2013. That unprecedented feat was made possible after the Bruins inserted him at running back late in the year, and he went on to score seven touchdowns on just 38 carries. Add that to his great performance at linebacker, and it's easy to see he'll be a good one for several years.

3. Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Position: Wide receiver

    A good sign that someone had a great first year is when his numbers are compared to (and in some cases surpass) one of the most prolific freshman wideouts ever. That's what Tyler Boyd did last year for Pittsburgh.

    He had 85 catches for 1,174 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013 for the Panthers, numbers that topped the freshman feats of former Pitt greats Antonio Bryant and Larry Fitzgerald. He also showed off his return skills throughout the year, including returning a punt for a touchdown in Pitt's Little Caesars Pizza Bowl victory.

2. Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Position: Cornerback

    Vernon Hargreaves III was the most impactful defensive freshman in the country last season, and if how he played as a freshman is any indication, he has a shot at being one of the best defenders in college football history.

    He intercepted three passes and defended another 11 last season, numbers that would have been much higher had SEC quarterbacks quickly realized it was wise not to throw his way. And with Florida's secondary getting even younger in 2014, look for him to be viewed as a veteran leader.

1. Jameis Winston, Florida State

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    David J. Phillip

    Position: Quarterback

    This should be no surprise, as Jameis Winston is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. And with defending national champion Florida State returning mostly intact, there's every reason to have last year's best overall player atop the list for his class.

    He rewrote the freshman passing record book in 2013, throwing for more than 4,000 yards with 40 touchdowns and leading the nation in passing efficiency. Toss being the quarterback on the BCS champs and the throwing of the title-winning TD into that basket with the Heisman, and there's no doubt who the top sophomore in college football is.

     

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.