Alright folks, let’s add some names to our list and take another look at some freshman who are ready to take their new teams by storm. Let’s jump right into it!
Jadon Haselwood, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma
I could have inserted the names of Theo Wease or Trejan Bridges into the header of this slide if I wanted to. But the bottom line is everybody is excited to see what the elite incoming Oklahoma receiving corps can do, and Jadon Haselwood is the highest-ranked of any of them. Will he live up to expectations, or will he show he isn’t quite ready to step into the role vacated by Marquise Brown as OU’s top downfield threat We’ll learn a lot about that question this spring.
Lincoln Riley won one of the most hotly contested recruiting battles in the country when Haselwood decided to leave his Georgia home and head to Norman, Oklahoma, and the Sooners could use him right away. Though everybody wants to link the trio of exciting pass-catchers to incoming 5-star quarterback Spencer Rattler (and rightfully so), this 2019 Sooners team won’t be Rattler’s. Instead, it belongs to Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts, and this upcoming spring practice will be vital for them all to develop a rapport.
As Hurts arrives, he will have to become acclimated with the staff, his teammates and his surroundings. That should put guys like Haselwood, Wease and Bridges on equal footing with the rest of them. If Haselwood comes out and shows out, he stands just as good of a chance to be one of Hurts’ top targets right away. It’s exciting for OU fans to think about some of the nation’s top targets roaming the field and Hurts slinging them the ball. This spring ought to be fun. While the Sooners look to take another step forward on defense, it’s obvious the offense is restocking its weapons cabinet. Haselwood has all the ability necessary to lead that arsenal, and we’ll see if he can preform.
Frank Ladson, Wide Receiver, Clemson
Every year you think Clemson doesn’t possibly have room for another freshman impact player am I right? It seems to happen every season in Swinney’s tenure. Two years ago, it was elite receiver Tee Higgins and versatile running back Travis Etienne. In 2018’s national championship season, it was superstar quarterback Trevor Lawrence and College Football Playoff standout Justyn Ross.
Who’s it going to be in ’19? A prime candidate is 4-star receiver Frank Ladson, another recruiting victory in Florida. He joins classmate Joe Ngata as the next big things in the Clemson receiving corps. With Hunter Renfrow (FINALLY) graduated after what seemed like an eternity as a difference-maker, there’s a spot free. Of course Higgins, Ross and Amari Rodgers will have major roles in this offense as Lawrence’s top targets, but Ladson possesses the skill set to step right in and compete. He’s tall, lanky and athletic. He high-points the ball, a common trait among all those Clemson receivers.
He’s also getting some of the best coaching in the country right away from Swinney and offensive coordinator Jeff Scott. Ladson may not be a name on your radar right now, but just get ready. Lawrence is going to make a lot of kids look good. Ladson already looks pretty strong on paper, and he’s going to be stepping into an exciting situation with a remarkable 17 early enrollees joining the national champions.
Graham Mertz, Quarterback, Wisconsin
Everybody at Wisconsin was excited about luring 4-star signal-caller Graham Mertz to Camp Randall to be the quarterback of the future. He may be the quarterback right now for the Badgers if he plays well in the spring. Neither Alex Hornibrook nor Jack Coan strike fear into the hearts of any Big Ten defense, and 2018’s mediocre results, especially after the anticipation that came with such a high preseason ranking, aren’t going to cut it.
The biggest questions surrounding Mertz’s ability to be an instant-impact player are: 1) Does Paul Chryst have the guts to buck his trend of playing upperclassmen almost exclusively and roll the dice with a first-year player? 2) Can Hornibrook return to his quality 2017 form? If the answers are “yes” and “no,” the door is open for Mertz.
Of course, the prospect must do his part, too. Mertz didn’t exactly light up the competition as a high school senior in Kansas. Though he has the arm strength, size and intangibles to make a difference, he must prove it on the field. A record five-touchdown performance in the Army All-American Bowl did that, bursting onto the tips of tongues across the nation. If that’s the real Graham Mertz, Chryst won’t be able to afford to keep him off the field.
This likely is star running back Jonathan Taylor’s final season at Wisconsin, and the Badgers need a huge rebound. In order for that to happen, better quarterback play is a must. Mertz has the talent to provide it, but he has to make a strong first impression this spring.
Luke McCaffrey, Athlete, Nebraska
There are fewer more intriguing prospects in the country than Nebraska’s Luke McCaffrey. A 4-star signal-caller with a strong enough pedigree that everybody should be watching his progression this spring. McCaffrey attempts to follow in the footsteps of his father Ed and brother Christian, in terms of NFL success.
Then there’s Luke, another dynamic athlete who can play a lot of different spots on the field. He could team with Wandale Robinson to give quarterback Adrian Martinez a couple of explosive new offensive weapons. There’s only one problem with that, McCaffrey is going to remain at quarterback right now, and that may not be a “problem” at all.
Will he remain at quarterback? With Martinez’s dual-threat game, injuries are a possibility, and it would be an ace up Frost’s sleeve to have McCaffrey ready to go as a backup. But could he play receiver in the interim? Don’t be surprised if you see the Cornhuskers design several unique packages ready for him.
Everybody is excited about Martinez, who has the ability to be the league’s top quarterback as a sophomore, but McCaffrey is too talented to keep off the field. With Frost’s creativity, if any coach can figure out a way to keep two talented star quarterbacks happy, it’s him. Stay tuned for some excitement in Lincoln.