Pac-12 Football: 5 Fastest Freshmen Heading into the 2014 Football Season
The recent trend of no-huddle offenses in the Pac-12, combined with an uptempo formula that barely gives defenses a chance to set up for the next play, has led to an increased importance on one athletic trait in particular: speed.
While speed alone is never enough to create one of the best players in the country, it's almost a requirement for making plays in 2014. Those who bumble and stumble their way down the field, breaking tackles and dragging defenders along the way, still have a place in the game.
But more appealing to college coaches is the guy who can simply take the ball and outrun anybody trying to catch him. Measuring speed is one of the more inexact sciences in sports. You'll hear about a guy running a 4.3 40-yard dash and then look up his official time, which happens to be in the 4.5-4.6 range.
In ranking the five fastest freshmen in the Pac-12, we're using a combination of on-the-record times from the track (be it a 40-yard or 100-meter dash) as well as what players look like carrying the ball. De'Anthony Thomas wasn't the fastest running back at the NFL combine, but anyone who saw what he did to Wisconsin as a freshman knows he's one of the fastest players in the game when the helmet goes on.
Take a look now at the five fastest freshmen in the Pac-12 conference.
WR Devon Allen, Oregon
If you don't like reading about the Oregon Ducks, this list probably isn't for you. Though the guru of speed himself, Chip Kelly, is off to the NFL, his former team still remains one of the fastest in all of college football.
Helping solidify that reputation is redshirt freshman Devon Allen, who almost made it on last year's list of the fastest players in the game compiled by Chris Huston of HeismanPundit.com.
The dual-sport athlete is a big part of Track Town USA in addition to making contributions on the gridiron, although he didn't see action as a true freshman. Still, with a 100-meter dash time of 10.48, you can bet that head coach Mark Helfrich has several formations designed specifically with Allen in mind.
This list is all about speed, but were it also about players to watch for in 2014, count Allen as part of the group. Without Josh Huff, Daryle Hawkins, De'Anthony Thomas or Bralon Addison, new receivers will have to step up and help out quarterback Marcus Mariota.
The first chance to catch Allen in live action will be during the Ducks' spring game, but look for him to make an even bigger impact when the real games begin.
WR T.J. Johnson, Arizona
Don't blame yourself if you haven't heard much about Arizona wide receiver T.J. Johnson. The freshman wideout was a part of the Wildcats' 2013 class before failing to qualify academically.
However, Johnson stuck with it and eventually signed with Rich Rodriguez's team this past winter, and he is officially listed on the school's athletic site. At 5'8" and 165 pounds, he's not exactly an overwhelming presence. As you may have guessed, however, it's his size that helped to get him on this list in the first place.
In the state final of the Florida high school 100-meter dash, Johnson ran a 10.4 to break the old record held by none other than Sammy Watkins (via the first link), who may just become a top-five pick in this year's NFL draft.
Speed on any team makes that team more dangerous. Speed on a team coached by Rodriguez is downright scary, and when you consider that the Wildcats will also feature Notre Dame transfer Davonte' Neal and wideout Austin Hill, defenses better save up for some track shoes before playing Arizona.
WR Jordan Lasley, UCLA
The biggest reason for UCLA's resurgence under head coach Jim Mora has been an increase in talent. The athletes the Bruins have today are, on average, much better than the ones from back in 2008 or 2009.
That includes wide receiver Jordan Lasley, a commit from the 2014 class who runs a 4.44 40-yard dash, just like the next two players on the list (there's no particular order for these final three, Bruins fans, I promise).
Track speed like that hasn't been featured very often in Westwood in recent years, but it only serves to make the team more dangerous moving forward. We know what quarterback Brett Hundley is all about, and the young offensive line should be much improved with a year under its collective belt.
But add in athletes who can make plays in space and force defenses to take their eyes off Hundley now and then, and you can see why UCLA has a serious shot at the Pac-12 crown in 2014.
Given the recent influx of talent, you may see Lasley redshirt in 2014. But with the speed he brings to the table, he'll definitely be an impact player at some point in the future.
CB Arrion Springs, Oregon
The rich just get richer, at least if we're judging based off of how many speedy athletes a single team can have at one time. Instead of featuring an offensive weapon, however, this incoming Duck plays defense.
We're talking about cornerback Arrion Springs, who hails from Texas and, like Lasley, runs a 4.44 40-yard dash.
But Springs is also 192 pounds and stands at 5'11", so we're talking about one of the more complete athletes from the entire 2014 class. There's a reason why his jersey in the photo says "All-American" on the front.
With his incredible speed, look for the always-innovative Ducks to try him out at several areas on the field, perhaps at kick return or punt return. But in the end, Springs is going to spend the majority of his time at cornerback, and here's a guess that he's not going to get beat over the top on many occasions.
CB Adoree' Jackson, USC
One of the most coveted recruits from the 2014 class rounds out our list, and it's cornerback Adoree' Jackson, now a USC Trojan.
By 247sports' composite rankings, Jackson was the top corner in the entire country, which is really all you need to know here. But with speed as his greatest asset, Jackson, much like Springs, will likely have an impact on several aspects of the game.
Because he stands a hair under 5'10", you may hear a few comparisons to De'Anthony Thomas, who may have stood out just as much had he played corner for the Ducks.
Being compared to someone before playing a down of real college football isn't fair, and Jackson still has plenty to prove. But he's as dynamic as they come and could ultimately become the most important player from Steve Sarkisian's first recruiting class.