- LSU had the best true freshman class: With Harold Perkins and Will Campbell leading the way, the Tigers had the best true freshman class of the 2022 season.
- Penn State comes in second: With both of their top running backs being freshmen and a star linebacker in Abdul Carter, the Nittany Lions have a bright future.
- Michigan rounds out the top three: Led by Will Johnson and Mason Graham, the Wolverines are poised to continue their budding dynasty in the Big Ten.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
As we turn the page from recapping the 2022 season to previewing 2023, it’s helpful to look back at the top true freshmen, as it serves as a good indicator of which teams are set up the best for the future.
Here were the 10 best teams based purely on their true freshmen's performance in the 2022 season.
1. LSU Tigers
The Tigers found a couple budding superstars in the 2022 class in Harold Perkins and Will Campbell.
Each was a top-15 pick in my mock draft if every college player was eligible. Perkins led all Power Five linebackers with a 91.0 pass-rushing grade. He was second among all linebackers in the country with 18 quarterback knockdowns (sacks/hits) and was tied for second in the country with four forced fumbles. Perkins is Micah Parsons-esque in that he can play either linebacker or edge at a very high level. He’s our second-best returning linebacker in college football.
Campbell thrived at left tackle for LSU, a difficult task for any SEC player, let alone a true freshman. His 85.6 pass-blocking grade on true pass sets was third in the country and trailed only Peter Skoronski among Power Five tackles. Campbell only gave up a pressure on 2.7% of his 515 pass-blocking snaps. He’s our sixth-best returning offensive tackle in the country.
Both LSU’s starting right tackle and tight end were also true freshmen in Emery Jones and Mason Taylor.
You can sharpie in Harold Perkins in for LB1 in 2025. pic.twitter.com/95JJMe0Tgd
— Max Chadwick (@Chad_Maxwick) November 12, 2022
2. Penn State Nittany Lions
Both of Penn State’s lead running backs were true freshmen in Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen. Singleton is our seventh-best returning running back in the country, as the former five-star recruit had the second-most yards after contact per attempt in the Power Five (4.6). Allen’s 28 runs of 10-plus yards were the fourth-most in the Big Ten as well.
On defense, Abdul Carter shined. His six sacks and three forced fumbles were tied for sixth among all linebackers in the country. He’s our eighth-best returning linebacker in college football.
87 YARDS TO. THE. HOUSE‼️
The third-longest TD run in Rose Bowl history ???? pic.twitter.com/dlg15Lb8C2
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 3, 2023
3. Michigan Wolverines
Will Johnson entered Michigan as a top-20 recruit, and even that may have been too low. The cornerback will remind many of Patrick Surtain II thanks to his size (6-foot-2) and lockdown ability. As a true freshman, Johnson led all corners in the Power Five with a 91.1 grade in man coverage. His two interceptions in man were also tied for fifth in that same group. He’s our third-best returning cornerback in college football and was a top-10 pick in my mock draft if everyone was eligible.
Mason Graham was the highest-graded true freshman interior defensive lineman in the country this past season (80.3). Colston Loveland saw 421 snaps as the Wolverines’ backup tight end this past season as well.
Will Johnson 2022 season highlight reel ????
Such an impressive freshman year! Can’t wait to watch him continue to grow in his career at Michigan. Go Blue! 〽️ pic.twitter.com/aWgbCommkH
— JD 〽️ (@MGoJDBlue) December 13, 2022
4. Georgia Bulldogs
The Bulldogs relied on a couple of top-10 recruits on their defense during their national championship season.
Malaki Starks is our third-best returning safety in college football. His 847 snaps this season led all Georgia defenders, regardless of position. Starks’ 72.1 run-defense grade this year was third among true freshmen safeties in the Power Five. He also recorded eight combined interceptions and forced incompletions, which was tied for fifth among SEC safeties this season.
Mykel Williams is our fifth-best returning edge defender in college football. His 75.9 run-defense grade ranked fourth among SEC edge defenders and led all FBS true freshmen edge defenders. Williams’ six sacks tied for the most among all true freshmen in the country while his 33 pressures were tied for the second-most. He’s one of the biggest breakout candidates for the back-to-back champs next season and was a first-round pick in my mock draft with all college players eligible.
To round it out, Brett Thorson made our All-Freshman team as the punter.
A TRUE FRESHMAN @StarksMalaki!#GoDawgs pic.twitter.com/zg3DFkovcX
— Georgia Football (@GeorgiaFootball) September 3, 2022
5. Texas A&M Aggies
The Aggies brought in arguably the best recruiting class in history in 2022. Texas A&M had nine five-star recruits in the class, the most ever signed by a school in a single recruiting class.
While none particularly excelled, the Aggies relied on a ton of true freshmen in 2022. Evan Stewart was a former top-10 recruit who led Texas A&M with 643 receiving yards. Conner Weigman took over as the starting quarterback late in the season and looks like the future of the program. The Aggies’ starting tight end, Donovan Green, was also a true freshman, as was the starting left guard Kam Dewberry and one of the starting edge defenders, Shemar Stewart.
Elite ball placement from Conner Weigman here, even better catch and concentration from Evan Stewart to come down with the catch
These two worked together a lot this offseason, chemistry is evident
— Tim Verghese (@TimVerghese) October 30, 2022
6. Ole Miss Rebels
Ole Miss had the best true freshman in college football this past season in running back Quinshon Judkins.
The former three-star recruit was a true workhorse for the Rebels this season. He was top-10 in the country in attempts, rushing yards, yards after contact and forced missed tackles. Judkins also registered 91 rushing first downs or touchdowns, which was the fourth-most in the country. He’s our second-best returning running back in college football.
On the other side, Davison Igbinosun was a starting outside corner for the Rebels and earned a 66.0 grade. However, he transferred to Ohio State this offseason.
The only player with more forced missed tackles than Quinshon Judkins is Bijan Robinson.
Judkins is a true freshman.pic.twitter.com/Ipx09mraHw
— Max Chadwick (@Chad_Maxwick) November 1, 2022
7. Clemson Tigers
Blake Miller was Clemson’s starting right tackle as a true freshman this past season. He impressed, especially in the run game. His 76.8 run-blocking grade ranked second among ACC tackles in 2022.
Antonio Williams led the Tigers with 604 receiving yards in 2022 while Toriano Pride Jr. was one of Clemson’s starting outside cornerbacks as well.
Clemson 2025 FR WR Antonio Williams has been a core contributor logging 40 snaps per game, 93% in the slot, while posting 2.27 yards per route. He showed speed and twitch on his two catches against FSU.
Williams and fellow FR Adam Randall could resurrect the CU WR legacy. pic.twitter.com/v0GLjJHRdy
— Eric Froton (@CFFroton) October 19, 2022
8. Kentucky Wildcats
Both of Kentucky’s leading receivers this past season, Barion Brown and Dane Key, were true freshmen as the Wildcats tried to replace Wan’Dale Robinson.
Kentucky’s most impressive true freshman though was interior defensive lineman Deone Walker. His 80.9 pass-rushing grade was third among SEC interior defensive linemen in 2022.
I just discovered Deone Walker from Kentucky. #0 at nose tackle.
This kid is a 6'6 330 LB true Freshman and ate a potential First Round pick (O'Cyrus Torrence) for breakfast in this game. How do you even get to 6'6 330 at 19 years old? pic.twitter.com/jyo3SlI0Dw
— Marcus Whitman (@TFG_Football) January 19, 2023
9. Texas Longhorns
Kelvin Banks Jr. was the blindside protector in his first year with the Longhorns after entering Austin as a five-star recruit.
Like Campbell, Banks dominated as a pass protector. His 3.5% pressure rate allowed on true pass sets ranked sixth among Power Five tackles. His 98.4 pass-block efficiency score was also second among Big 12 tackles only behind Oklahoma’s Anton Harrison, a top-25 prospect on PFF’s big board. Banks is our seventh-best returning offensive tackle in the country.
He wasn’t the only true freshman who started on the offensive line for the Longhorns, as Cole Hutson was the starting right guard.
So impressed by what I saw from Kelvin Banks Jr. this season.
The 5️⃣⭐️ freshman looked ready-made as a pass-protector from Day 1.
Here were a couple reps I liked from when he went against Will Anderson Jr. in his second-ever(!) collegiate game.pic.twitter.com/Ms58EtnkUH
— Max Chadwick (@Chad_Maxwick) January 17, 2023
10. Arizona Wildcats
The Wildcats had multiple players make our All-Freshman Team.
Wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan led all true freshmen in the country this past season with 702 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. Right guard Jonah Savaiinaea ranked second among all true freshman guards with a 76.0 pass-blocking grade.
Jacob Manu was one of Arizona’s starting linebackers this past season as a true freshman as well.
What a snag by true freshman 4⭐️ WR Tetairoa McMillan ????pic.twitter.com/Ifxll4IJqK
— 247Sports (@247Sports) October 2, 2022