The 2021 college football regular season has officially come to a close, and now it’s time to recognize all of the top players across the country. After unrolling all of PFF’s All-Conference Teams last week, it’s time to dive into the top first-year players with the All-True Freshman Team.
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So with the help of PFF grades and advanced statistics — which are now available to PFF’s CFB Premium Stats+ Subscribers — we present the PFF 2021 All-True Freshman Team. Please note these are first-year players in college football only and does NOT include greyshirts or redshirt freshmen.
Williams performed at an extraordinary level — given his age — through his first four games as Oklahoma's starting quarterback, but the true freshman was unable to sustain that level of play. He owned a 95.6 PFF grade in those first four games from Week 6 through 9 and a 60.3 grade in his last three games of the season. While that final stretch of subpar play led Oklahoma to two losses, he at least showed the five-star talent and a high ceiling for his playing career moving forward. Not to mention, producing three elite-graded games above 90.0 as a true freshman is unheard of.
Henderson was the No. 1-ranked running back recruit in the 2021 class, according to 247Sports, and he very much looked the part. Henderson converted 18.7% of his carries into a gain of 10 or more yards, the sixth-highest rate among Power Five running backs. His five touchdown runs of 20 or more yards are also tied for second among that group.
Allen should still be in high school. The former four-star recruit, who is yet to turn 18 years old, decided to skip his senior year and reclassify for the 2021 class. He joined Wisconsin early with the thought of playing safety or linebacker for the Badgers. Instead, Allen is playing running back — and he is already among the best at the position nationally. He leads all Power Five backs in yards after contact per attempt at 4.7. The 6-foot-2, 238-pound back has strong contact balance and takes on defenders like a Mack Truck. Remember, Allen can’t even buy a scratch-off lottery ticket yet! He’s a star in the making.
Worthy was the Longhorns' No. 2 recruit in the 2021 cycle and the 62nd-ranked player overall in the class. He’s a 6-foot-2, 160-pound speedster and turned into the go-to option for Longhorns in the second half of the season due to a depleted wide receiver room. Worthy was targeted on 30.4% of his routes from Week 6 on as a true freshman — the ninth-highest rate among Power Five wide receivers. He made the most of the substantial workload, racking up 2.88 yards per route run and 17 receptions of 15 or more yards in that span. In all, Worthy earned an 80.3 receiving grade for the season
Williams provided reliability for the Sooners, serving in a reserve role as a true freshman. He was one of five Power Five wide receivers to have at least 30 catchable targets and zero drops to their name. The 5-foot-9, 186-pound wide receiver primarily lined up on the outside and had no issue going one-on-one in single coverage. In all, he earned a 78.8 receiving grade for the 2021 season.
WR: Jack Bech, LSU Tigers
Bech was a “big slot” for LSU his first year on campus. He spent nearly two-thirds of his snaps on the inside with the other third being mostly at inline tight end. The 6-foot-2, 207-pound true freshman was a tough one to bring down for opposing defenses: He broke 17 tackles and averaged 6.3 yards after the catch on 43 receptions.
Bowers is already in the conversation for best tight end in college football despite only being a true freshman. He has earned a 91.9 PFF receiving grade in 2021 while generating 3.23 yards per route run. That’s not just an unprecedented level of production for a true freshman, it’s at a level rarely obtained by any player at the position — Bowers leads all Power Five tight ends in both of those metrics this year. With his speed, explosiveness and ball skills, Bowers fits the modern-day tight end mold. He recorded a 4.5 40-yard time and 40-inch vertical in high school. Calling Bowers a star is an understatement at this point.
Alt was thrust into the starting left tackle spot in Week 6 and held his own right from the get-go. From Week 6 on, Alt finished as one of the 15 highest-graded tackles in the Power Five (plus Notre Dame, of course). The offensive adjustments made by offensive coordinator Tommy Rees following the Irish's Week 7 bye helped, as it tasked the line with fewer true pass sets. At the end of the day, though, the true freshman performed better than most seniors in that scenario.
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Zimmerly is undoubtedly the biggest surprise to make the offensive true freshman team considering he was a two-star recruit in the 2021 class. He struggled his first two games on the field for the Falcons at center, but the solid play commenced once he moved over to left guard in Week 3. Zimmerly earned a 66.5 PFF grade at left guard in 2021, which led all true freshmen at the position by a comfortable margin.
Foster’s pass-protection was a wild ride, but he did make a substantial dent in the run game. The 2021 four-star recruit finished his first year at College Station with a 73.0 run-block grade. From Week 7 on, that mark stood at 83.9 — the ninth-highest among Power Five centers over that span.
Colby — who took over the starting spot at right guard for Iowa in Week 4 — steadily improved as a pass-protector as the season went on. Over the course of his last five regular season games, Colby earned an 81.3 pass-block grade and allowed only three pressures. Even with that first batch of games, Colby still played well considering his age and situation with a 70.9 PFF grade overall for the 2021 season.
Fatheree is a mammoth of a tackle at 6-foot-8, 320-pounds, and he showed a lot of promise in his first season in a starting spot for the Aggies. The 2021 top-150 recruit earned a 72.4 PFF grade for the season. He ranked 35th of 79 qualifying Power Five right tackles in PFF grade. Considering he was a true freshman playing in the toughest conference in the country, that’s pretty dang good.
Brown was a two-star recruit with only a handful of FBS offers to speak of, but he’s quickly showing he should have been more coveted than that. Brown served as a reserve defensive tackle for the Mean Green and came out with an 84.7 PFF grade for the 2021 season across 234 snaps. He earned an 89.3 pass-rush grade buoyed by five sacks, two of which were strip-sack fumbles.
Williams played fewer snaps than anyone on this team with just 166 reps, but the impact he made in that limited opportunity was noticeable. The four-star recruit managed to generate 20 pressures on 106 snaps, six of which were sacks. Williams also battled a couple of passes, recorded 10 defensive stops and forced a fumble. This all led the 6-foot-3, 315-pound true freshman to a 79.7 PFF grade for the year.
Oliver made his name known for being an explosive athlete who competed heavily in track and field. The four-star earned a chance to play right away as a true freshman, and his strong play cemented his status: Oliver owned a 79.9 PFF grade in his true freshman campaign. He made the biggest dent in the pass-rush, where he earned an 80.1 grade while generating 39 pressures on 202 reps.
Stewart might be the most underrated player on this entire list. He is like the Tazmanian Devil as a pass-rusher on the edge with his quicks and power. Stewart recorded eye-popping numbers as a true freshman for the Chanticleers: He earned a 90.0 pass-rush grade while racking 40 total pressures, 15 of which were sacks and three strip-sack fumbles. The future is bright for the 6-foot-2, 245-pound edge defender.
Henderson logged two starts and 317 snaps in total as a true freshman for the Monarchs. He exceeded expectations, posting a 75.4 PFF grade for the season thanks to sound run defense (81.2 run-defense grade). Overall, he collected 29 defensive stops and two forced fumbles while missing just five tackles on 61 total attempts.
At 6-foot-6, 200-pounds, Gentry stood out on the field for his lanky frame and his disciplined play. The three-star true freshman had the lowest negatively graded play rate against the run among Pac-12 off-ball linebackers and allowed only 59 yards in coverage on 144 such snaps while breaking up two passes.
Playing outside cornerback in the SEC isn’t easy, especially for a true freshman. Chappell, however, held his own for most of the season as evidenced by his 73.2 coverage grade. The three-star recruit allowed under 35 yards in coverage in nine of his 12 games played. Alabama did catch him for seven receptions for 95 yards and two touchdowns, but he was solid in nearly every other start he made.
No true freshman cornerback earned a higher coverage grade in 2021 than Walley’s 76.7 mark. The Golden Gopher played double-digit coverage snaps in 10 games this season and allowed under 15 yards in six of those. He broke up five passes, intercepted one and forced a fumble in the process.
Mukuba looked far from a first-year player in his true freshman campaign. He is an all-around athlete who isn't afraid of physicality and already one of the top tackling safeties in college football. He missed only three tackles on 47 attempts and finished with a grade north of 75.0 both against the run and in coverage. Mukuba tallied a 78.4 PFF grade for the season that ranked 18th in the Power Five. There was a lull midyear that led to him getting moved down to a reserve role, but he regained the starting job by season’s end and the strong play returned. He has the potential to turn into one of college football’s top safeties in the years to come.
Lincoln Riley and Co. should be hyped up for inheriting Bullock. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound safety flashed high-level playmaking traits when on the field for the Trojans in Year 1. He intercepted a couple of passes while breaking up four others en route to a 75.1 coverage grade. Bullock was rather up-and-down for most of the season, but at the end of the day, the high-end was special.
Flex: Duce Chestnut, Syracuse Orange
While Chestnut had made his fair share of mistakes with some missed tackles and a handful of touchdowns allowed, it’s rare to see a true freshman make the number of plays he made, specifically when playing off-zone. Chestnut ranked second among Power Five cornerbacks in passing stops while playing zone coverage with 13. He paired that with nine forced incompletions and three interceptions overall, paving the way for a 71.1 coverage grade for the year.