NCAA Football

Top 20 True Freshmen in College Football

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True Freshmen Making Noise in 2012

Top 20 True Freshmen
Mark J. Rebilas - US Presswire

We are roughly halfway through the 2012 college football season and several true freshmen have already started to make their presence felt around the nation. We are talking about 18 year old kids competing at a high level and doing so successfully. We are talking about kids who are likely to end up playing on Sundays in the National Football League. We are talking about kids who may end up on our fantasy football squads in due time. We are talking about 18 year old beasts!

Although these guys are under-classmen, they are still men amongst boys in many cases, as they are already equipped with their grown-man bodies.

There have been several true-freshmen to make positive impacts with their squads this year, but to make this top 20 list, multiple factors have been taken into consideration. Strength of opposition, future potential, and numbers. Remember, numbers never lie.

Many of these guys were amongst the highest ranked players coming out of high school, and a few were lesser known talents. Some are skill-position cats, and some dominate on the defensive side of the ball. Some are starting every game for their respective teams, and some are working their way up a crowded depth chart.

Without further ado, let's take a look at the top 20 true freshmen in the country. Feel free to rant and let me know what you agree or disagree with by leaving a comment below.

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#20 Rushel Shell

Charles LeClaire - US Presswire

Rushel Shell was one of the top players in the state of Pennsylvania coming out of high school. At 6'1, 215 pounds, this Pittsburgh Panthers running-back is already built for the NFL and is already helping the Panther's ground game. On the year, Shell has 63 carries for 327 yards with 2 touchdowns.

His best performance came in their game against the Virginia Tech Hokies where Shell had 157 rushing yards. Shell has been dealing with back-spasms as of late, but if this injury doesn't last long, expect more dominance from the Pittsburgh running-back. Do you see that filthy stiff-arm in the picture above? This dude is mean.

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#19 Thomas Johnson

Kevin Jairaj - US Presswire

Thomas Johnson is a speedster at wide-receiver, who has shown he can run good routes and catch balls that he perhaps shouldn't have. The Dallas, Texas native has lived up to the hype for the Texas A&M Aggies this year as he already has 20 receptions for 265 yards and a touchdown. The kid runs a 4.4 forty-yard dash and has hands that may take him to the next level.

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#18 Mike Madaras

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This list wouldn't be complete without a true freshman who is showing dominance as an offensive-lineman. Mike Madaras is one of the few starting freshmen for the Maryland Terrapins and he is making the most of his opportunity.

Madaras, 6'6, 280 pounds, is protecting fellow freshmen quarterback, Perry Hills for the Terrapins and it appears this kid will keep this starting job.

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#17 Arik Armstead

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Arik Armstead was not only one of the most anticipated defensive-tackles coming out of high school, he was one of the most anticipated players. The Oregon Ducks were more than happy to get the 6'8, 280 pound California native to commit and they have high expectations for the big guy.

Armstead isn't the team's full-time starter yet, but with Isaac Remington being suspended for a DUI, look for Armstead to see more reps for the d-line.

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#16 Travis Blanks

Josh D. Weiss - US Presswire

Travis Blanks, 6'1, 195 pounds, has the ability to play safety or line-backer for the Clemson Tigers. Blanks has started four games at line-backer for the Tigers and has recorded 32 tackles, third most on the squad. This Florida native was considered one of the best safeties in the country coming out of high school and will only get better as he is already one of the team's starters.

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#15 Keith Marshall

Daniel Shirey - US Presswire

Keith Marshall is one of two true freshmen running-backs for the Georgia Bulldogs and both of these guys are future NFL backs. Marshall was arguably the best RB coming out of high school and he is living up to the hype for coach Mark Richt and company.

At 5'11, 216 pounds, Marshall runs a 4.4 forty-yard dash and is filling up the stat sheet each week. On the year, he has 64 carries for 465 yards and 5 touchdowns. Keep your eye on this Bulldog.

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#14 Johnathan Gray

Tim Heitman - US Presswire

Johnathan Gray is the future of the Texas Longhorns. This running-back was the National Player of the Year coming out of high school and is already getting solid reps for a crowded Longhorns backfield.

At 5'11, 190 pounds, Gray has more than just great speed. This kid might have the best vision and hole-hitting ability in the country as far as freshmen running-backs go. His game mirrors that of LeSean McCoy. Gray has 55 carries for 260 yards this year for Texas and we will be hearing more from him as the season goes on.

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#13 Perry Hills

Howard Smith - US Presswire

This list wouldn't be complete without a true freshman quarterback. Perry Hills is the starting signal-caller for the Maryland Terrapins and he looks as if he has been doing it for some time now. Hills wasn't one of the most highly anticipated recruits coming out of the high school but he is getting the job done and has certainly secured his spot for the future as a the Maryland QB.

Hills was inserted as the team's started after C.J Brown tore a knee ligament in August. The Pennsylvania native has completed 57% of his passes and has 1177 yards with 8 touchdowns on the year. He has also developed a nice chemistry with fellow freshman, wide-receiverStefon Diggs.

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#12 Leonard Williams

Steven Bisig - US Presswire

Leonard Williams was one of the top defensive-tackles coming out of high school and is the third Florida native in three years to come in and start for the USC Trojans.

At 6'5, 280 pounds, Williams has been a nice addition to an impressive USC d-line. Williams had a breakout game against the Washington Huskies in which he recorded four tackles, 1.5 sacks, and scooped up a fumble in the process.

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#11 Gabe Marks

Jake Roth - US Presswire

Gabriel Marks is one of the better route-running wide-receivers in the country for a freshman. The Washington State Cougars have gone to Marks early and often and the kid already has 28 receptions for 404 yards and 2 touchdowns on the year.

At 6'0, 170 pounds, Marks will need to bulk up, but the experience he is getting this early in his career is invaluable.

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#10 Amari Cooper

Denny Medley - US Presswire

Amari Cooper is a freak. I say freak in a good way. This kid is slowly starting to make people forget about Julio Jones, as this Alabama Crimson Tide wide-receiver is already helping put points on the board for Nick Saban. Cooper has 21 receptions for 263 yards and 3 touchdowns this season. At 6'1, 185 pounds, this kid has all the tools to end up playing on Sundays.

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#9 J.C. Coleman

Peter Casey - US Presswire

J.C. Coleman is arguably the most electric running-back in the country. Coleman nearly ran a 4.3 forty-yard dash and this speed has been put on display already this season. The Virginia Tech Hokie was inserted into the starting line-up last week and exploded with 183 rushing yards. He scored on runs of 45 and 86 yards and has 319 total rushing yards so far this year. If you blink, you might miss this kid flying down the sideline.

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#8 Darius Hamilton

The Star-Ledger - US Presswire

Darius Hamilton was the number one ranked player coming out New Jersey this year, and is the best recruit in the history of Rutgers Scarlet Knights football. Although he may be slightly undersized at 6'4, 250 pounds, Hamilton makes up for it in hard work and relentlessness. This beast of a defensive-tackle isn't scared of doing the dirty work and getting down in the trenches. You will undoubtedly see this kid playing in the NFL soon.

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#7 Todd Gurley

Daniel Shirey - US Presswire

Todd Gurley is the other half of the killer combo at running-back for the Georgia Bulldogs. This kid has a knack for finding the end-zone as he already has 9 rushing touchdowns this year to go with 575 rushing yards. At 6'1, 218 pounds, Gurley is already built to play on Sundays and it helps that he will be pushed by fellow running-back Keith Marshall. Well done Mark Richt. These two are nasty good.

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#6 Devonte Fields

Kevin Jairaj - US Presswire

Devonte Fields nearly ended up a Texas Longhorn but decided to commit and play for Texas Christian University. This horned-frog is the only freshman to be named first or second team mid-season All-American by Sports Illustrated. (Second team selection)

Fields has started in all six games this year and is putting up some gaudy stats. The Texas native has 6.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery.

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#5 Ronald Darby

Evan Habeeb - US Presswire

Ronald Darby has played in all seven games for the Florida State Seminoles this season and surely looks to be the future of the team's secondary. Darby was arguably the best corner-back in the country coming out of high school and has the speed and athleticism to match-up with most wide-receivers in the nation.

The Maryland native has eight solo tackles and a forced fumble so far for the Seminoles.

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#4 Stefon Diggs

Mitch Stringer - US Presswire

Stefon Diggs may be the best freshman wide-receiver in the country and had extremely high expectations coming out of high school in the state of Maryland. Diggs rounds out three true freshman who are making a monster impact for the Terrapins.

Diggs leads the Terps with 21 receptions for 453 yards and has found the end-zone 3 times. This kid is also an explosive kick-returner as he took one back 100 yards in their win over the Virginia Cavaliers.

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#3 T.J. Yeldon

Denny Medley - US Presswire

T.J. Yeldon is following in the steps on Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy as the next great Alabama running-back. At 6'2, 215 pounds, Yeldon forces defensive players to make business decisions at the end of runs. This kid punishes people.

Yeldon's debut in the season opener against the Michigan Wolverines is a sign of things to come. On a national stage, at Cowboys Stadium, Yeldon had 11 carries for 111 yards and a touchdown in the Bama win. On the year, he has 68 carries for 426 yards and 4 touchdowns. Saban strikes again.

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#2 Jordan Jenkins

Dale Zanine - US Presswire

Although Jordan Jenkins gets overshadowed by Jarvis Jones dominance for the Georgia Bulldogs, Jenkins has been able to do it all as a true freshman. Jenkins has seen reps in every game for the Bulldogs. At 6'3, 250 pounds, Jenkins is a high-motor defensive-end who is extremely athletic for his big frame.

The Bulldog already has 15 total tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery this year.

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#1 Duke Johnson

Duke Johnson
Robert Mayer - US Presswire

Randy "Duke" Johnson can not only do it all for the Miami Hurricanes, he is doing it all. This kid is an all-purpose back and his skill set is years ahead of his age. Johnson has 4.39 forty-yard dash speed and excels at catching the rock out of the backfield.

The Miami native leads the team in rushing yards with 428, has 6 totals touchdowns and has 18 receptions. This kid has NFL written all over him.

Honorable Mentions: Shaq Thompson, Landon Collins, Trey Williams, Dorial Green-Beckham, John Theus, and Max Tuerk.

Paul Bentley is a contributor to Rant Sports. Follow Bentley on Twitter at @KKingBentley and read more work from him right here!

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