College News & Analysis

15 highest-graded true freshmen of the 2022 college football season

Frisco, Texas, USA; Boise State Broncos running back Ashton Jeanty (2) runs the ball against North Texas Mean Green linebacker Sean-Thomas Faulkner (25) in the first half at Toyota Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Boise State running back Ashton Jeanty: The former three-star recruit was the highest-graded true freshman in college football this season.

Ole Miss running back Quinshon Judkins: The former three-star recruit was tied for the highest-graded Power Five true freshman this season.

Michigan cornerback Will Johnson: The former five-star recruit was the highest-graded true freshman defender this season.

Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins

It’s rare to be a college football star. It’s even rarer to be one mere months after your senior prom.

That’s exactly what these 15 players have done. Here were the highest-graded true freshmen in college football in the 2022 college football season.


1. RB Ashton Jeanty, Boise State Broncos: 89.5

Jeanty didn’t have any Power Five offers coming out of high school but finished this season as the highest-graded true freshman in the nation.

The former three-star recruit was among the top 15 FBS running backs in both overall grade and rushing grade (90.6). George Holani was Boise State’s leading rusher, but Jeanty was more impressive on his touches. Of Jeanty's 821 rushing yards, 73.8% came after contact, a top-10 rate among Group of Five running backs.

T-2. RB Quinshon Judkins, Ole Miss Rebels: 88.2

Jeanty may have graded out higher, but there wasn’t a better true freshman running back than Quinshon Judkins. 

The former three-star recruit was a true workhorse for the Rebels this season. He ranked in the top 10 in college football in attempts, rushing yards, yards after contact and forced missed tackles. Judkins also had 91 rushing first downs or touchdowns, which was the fourth most in the country.

T-2. CB Will Johnson, Michigan Wolverines: 88.2

Will Johnson was a top-20 recruit coming out of high school and showed that he should’ve been rated even higher this season.

The former five-star recruit locked down his opposition this season en route to a Power-Five-leading 91.1 grade in man coverage. Johnson’s three interceptions in man coverage were also tied for seventh among all cornerbacks in college football.

4. RB Damien Martinez, Oregon State Beavers: 85.9

Damien Martinez had only five FBS offers coming out of high school in Texas but became Oregon State’s top running back as just a true freshman.

The former three-star recruit’s 53 rushing first downs or touchdowns were the third most among Pac-12 running backs. His 3.5 yards after contact per attempt ranked fourth among that same group.

 

5. S A.J. Haulcy, New Mexico Lobos: 85.5

Haulcy collected just three FBS offers coming out of high school: Kansas, Louisiana and New Mexico.

This year, the former three-star recruit was the nation’s sixth-highest-graded safety and ranked second in the Group of Five. Haulcy parlayed that dominant freshman season into a transfer to Houston, just in time for the Cougars’ first season in the Big 12. 

 

6. RB Richard Reese, Baylor Bears: 85.3

Like Haulcy, Reese ended up with only three FBS offers coming out of high school: Ole Miss, UTSA and Baylor.

The former three-star recruit gained positive yardage on 95.9% of his carries this season, the fifth-highest rate among Power Five running backs. He was also third in the Big 12 with 14 rushing touchdowns.

7. RB Jaydn Ott, California Golden Bears: 85.0

Ott was a tackle-breaking machine this season. The former four-star recruit’s 49 forced missed tackles and 0.29 forced missed tackles per attempt this season were top-three marks in the Pac-12. He also placed fourth in the Pac-12 with 561 rushing yards after contact. 

 

8. CB Mansoor Delane, Virginia Tech Hokies: 82.7

Delane’s 82.7 grade in 2022 ranked second among ACC cornerbacks, behind only Virginia’s Fentrell Cypress II (now at Florida State). 

The former three-star recruit allowed only a 45.7% completion rate, the fifth-lowest mark among that same group.

9. RB Kaytron Allen, Penn State Nittany Lions: 81.0

Fellow true freshman Nicholas Singleton actually led the Nittany Lions in rushing this season, but it’s Kaytron Allen who edges him out in PFF grade.

The former four-star recruit forced a missed tackle on 27% of his attempts this season, the fourth-best rate in the Big Ten. Allen’s 28 runs of 10-plus yards were the fourth-most in the conference, as well. Penn State has a lethal duo at running back for at least the next two seasons with Allen and Singleton leading the way.

10. DI Mason Graham, Michigan Wolverines: 80.7

Will Johnson wasn’t the only true freshman to make an immediate impact on Michigan’s defense. 

Only IllinoisJer’Zhan Newton earned a higher grade than Graham this season among Big Ten interior defensive linemen. The former four-star’s 11.8% pass-rush win rate ranked fifth among that same group.

 

11. LB Jaishawn Barham, Maryland Terrapins: 78.5

Barham excelled in coverage this season.

The former four-star recruit’s 83.1 coverage grade ranked fifth among Power Five linebackers this season. Barham allowed only five first downs or touchdowns into his coverage this season, which was tied for the third fewest among Big Ten linebackers.

T-12. CB Benjamin Morrison, Notre Dame Fighting Irish: 77.2

Morrison was a ballhawk this season.

The former four-star recruit recorded six interceptions — tied for the most among Power Five players. He also allowed only a 29.2 passer rating when targeted, which was the fourth-lowest figure among FBS cornerbacks. For perspective, spiking the ball every play nets a 39.6 passer rating.

T-12. LB Harold PerkinsLSU Tigers: 77.2

Like Barham, Perkins also excelled on passing downs, except his dominance came as a blitzer.

The former top-10 recruit’s 21.4% pressure rate led all true freshmen defenders by nearly six points. His 91.0 pass-rushing grade was also the highest among Power Five linebackers. He’s a name to know next season and looks like the best LSU linebacker since at least Devin White.

 

14. LB Abdul Carter, Penn State Nittany Lions: 76.2

Between Kaytron Allen, Nicholas Singleton and Carter, Penn State enjoyed a special year from its true freshmen. 

Carter wears the same No. 11 that Micah Parsons did a few years ago at Penn State, and both dominate downhill. The former four-star recruit finished with the third-best pass-rushing grade among Big Ten linebackers, while his 83.0 run-defense grade was in the top 15 for Power Five linebackers. Carter’s six sacks were tied for fifth among Power Five linebackers, as well.

15. OT Will Campbell, LSU Tigers: 75.4

It’s not easy to be a good left tackle in the SEC. It’s next to impossible to do so as a true freshman.

That’s precisely what Campbell did this year for LSU, though. The former top-40 recruit allowed pressure on only 2.7% of his pass-blocking snaps, which was the eighth-lowest rate among SEC tackles. His negatively graded run-blocking rate was also the second lowest among that same group.

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