College Football 2023: 10 highest-graded freshmen ahead of Week 5

2RT2WPW MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 09: Miami defensive lineman Rueben Bain, Jr. (44) attempts to get around Texas A&M tight end Max Wright (42) in the third quarter as the Miami Hurricanes faced the Texas A&M Aggies on September 9, 2023, at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Samuel Lewis/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

Rueben Bain Jr. leads the way: The 6-foot-3, 275-pound edge rusher has won 30.3% of his pass-rush snaps over the last two weeks, fifth among all players at the position.

Darius Taylor stepping up for Minnesota: Taylor has forced at least seven missed tackles in each of the last three games and has converted 27 of his 87 carries into either a first down or touchdown.

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Freshmen are making a big impact in the FBS this season, and these 10 players are leading the way. For the most in-depth collection of NCAA player performance data, subscribe to PFF+ today!

Editor's note: Players must have played at least 100 snaps in order to qualify for this ranking. 

1. Edge Rueben Bain Jr., Miami Hurricanes

PFF grade: 88.2
Snaps: 119

Bain was a huge recruit for Miami, as he was the 10th-ranked defensive end, according to 247 Sports. He’s lived up to that billing, already earning an 84.0 pass-rush grade to go with his 11 total pressures on the year. The 6-foot-3, 275-pound edge rusher has won 30.3% of his pass-rush snaps over the last two weeks, fifth among all players at his position.


2. RB Darius Taylor, Minnesota Golden Gophers

PFF grade: 86.1
Snaps: 140

Having played only one snap in Week 1, Taylor has been given most of the carries ever since. He has forced at least seven missed tackles in each of the last three games and has converted 27 of his 87 carries into either a first down or touchdown. His 14 runs of 10 or more yards are tied for sixth-most in the nation through four weeks. 


3. WR Eric Singleton Jr., Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

PFF grade: 77.9
Snaps: 180

Singleton didn’t take long to become the Yellow Jackets' best receiver. Through four games, he leads the team in total receiving yards (250) and yards per catch (17.9). He’s caught a touchdown pass in all four games, which has led to a 77.3 PFF receiving grade.

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4. S Dillon Thieneman, Purdue Boilermakers

PFF grade: 77.6
Snaps291

Thieneman has played the most snaps of anyone on this list and has been excellent for the Boilermakers, earning 70.0-plus run defense, pass-rush and coverage grades. He's been targeted five times in primary coverage, but he has picked two passes off and has allowed only 25 receiving yards. 

5. QB McCae Hillstead, Utah State Aggies

PFF grade: 77.0
Snaps: 145

Hillstead was not the Day 1 starter for the Aggies, but he quickly earned the job after his first few outings. He looked great in Week 4, going 25-of-47 for 399 yards, four touchdowns and five big-time throws. It wasn't all great, though, as all three of his turnover-worthy plays were picked off.

The freshman signal-caller has looked terrific from a clean pocket so far, as he's completed 33 of his 52 attempts for 483 yards and six scores on dropbacks without pressure, with five big-time throws and no turnover-worthy plays.

6. LB Jordan Hall, Michigan State Spartans

PFF grade: 76.5
Snaps: 111

Hall has played more and more snaps in the box each week for the Spartans and is starting to come into his own as an inside linebacker. He has excelled against the run this season, earning a 77.0 run-defense grade. He has 10 solo tackles and nine defensive stops on the year.


7. S Peyton Bowen, Oklahoma Sooners

PFF grade: 76.3
Snaps: 141

Bowen was the third-best safety recruit in the country last year, according to 247 Sports. While it’s not surprising to see him make a positive impact, he might have even exceeded expectations for a Sooner defense that is one of the most improved units in college football. Bown has five pass breakups over his last three games, and throws into his primary coverage have netted a passer rating of just 59.4.


8. TE Luke Hasz, Arkansas Razorbacks

PFF grade: 76.2
Snaps: 229

Hasz has been a major addition to an Arkansas receiving corps that lost a ton of talent from a season ago. He’s stepped up big time as the team’s second-leading receiver, racking up 239 yards and three touchdowns. On the year, Hasz has caught 15 of his 16 targeted passes and has not dropped a pass. This has led to an elite 88.7 receiving grade.

9. S Jordan Castell, Florida Gators

PFF grade: 76.0
Snaps: 177

Castell has shored up the back end of the Gators' secondary. He has played 110 snaps at free safety and thrived in that spot, earning a 74.5 coverage grade buoyed by his Week 3 performance against Tennessee, where he broke up two of the three passes thrown into his primary coverage. 

10. Edge Logan Fano, Utah Utes

PFF grade: 75.8
Snaps: 184

Although Fano was a 2021 high school graduate, he is still considered a freshman, as he spent two years on a mission trip while at BYU. He’s a step above most freshmen out there, as he is already one of Utah’s best pass-rushers — he ranks second among the team's defensive linemen in pass-rush grade (76.9) and total pressures (12) through four weeks. 


Honorable Mention: WR ZACHARIAH BRANCH, USC TROJANS

PFF grade: 84.3
Snaps: 88

Branch doesn’t qualify for this list, as he's played just 88 snaps. However, he still deserves a mention, given how good he’s been for the Trojans. The former top-ranked wide receiver recruit has scored a touchdown as a receiver, a punt returner and a kick returner. He's hauled in 13 of his 16 targets for 178 yards, two touchdowns and seven first downs. He’s even leading his team in PFF receiving grade at 88.1.

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