Highest-graded true freshmen in college football ahead of Week 10

College Station, Texas, USA; Mississippi Rebels running back Quinshon Judkins (4) runs the ball against Texas A&M Aggies defensive back Tyreek Chappell (7) in the first half at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Ole Miss running back Quinshon Judkins: He’s the highest-graded true freshman in the Power Five, sporting an 87.7 grade.

New Mexico safety A.J. Haulcy: Despite having only three FBS offers out of high school, he’s the highest-graded true freshman in the country.

Maryland linebacker Jaishawn Barham: The former four-star recruit is the Power Five’s highest-graded true freshman defender, at 76.9.

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

That’s exactly what these 10 players have done. Here are the highest-graded true freshmen in college football through the first nine weeks.

1. S A.J. Haulcy, New Mexico Lobos — 89.8

Coming out of high school, A.J. Haulcy had just three FBS offers: Kansas, Louisiana and New Mexico.

Now, the former three-star recruit is not only the highest-graded true freshman in the country, but also the second-highest-graded safety overall. He’s one of only six safeties in the country with 80.0-plus grades as both a run-defender and in coverage. 

2. RB Quinshon Judkins, Ole Miss Rebels — 87.7

Quinshon Judkins has established himself as a Heisman sleeper for No. 11 Ole Miss this season. 

The former three-star recruit’s 61 forced missed tackles are the second-most in the country, behind only Bijan Robinson, who looks like a definite first-round pick in 2023. His 611 yards after contact are the fourth-most among Power Five running backs. 

3. RB Jaydn Ott, California Golden Bears — 84.6

Jaydn Ott had one of the most dominant games of any running back this season. He finished with a 93.4 rushing grade in Week 4 against Arizona, the highest by a Power Five running back since 2020.

In that game, the former four-star rushed for 264 yards and three touchdowns on just 18 carries, with 13 forced missed tackles and 131 yards after contact. 

4. RB Richard Reese, Baylor Bears — 82.7

All Richard Reese does is move the chains.

The former three-star recruit’s 52 rushing first downs are the fifth-most among Power Five running backs this season. He has 24 runs of 10-plus yards, tied with Bijan Robinson for the second-most in the Big 12. 

5. RB Damien Martinez, Oregon State Beavers — 80.4

Damien Martinez has made the most of his carries this season. The former three-star has averaged 6.5 yards per carry this season, with 3.9 coming after contact. Both of those figures trail only UCLA star Zach Charbonnet among Pac-12 running backs. He’s forced 0.29 missed tackles per attempt, as well — third-highest in the Pac-12. 

6. RB Kaytron Allen, Penn State Nittany Lions — 77.2

The Nittany Lions have relied on a pair of true freshmen for their rushing production this season in Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen. Singleton may have been the five-star recruit, but it’s Allen who edges him out in the grading department.

Seventeen of Allen’s runs have gone for 10 or more yards this season, tied for fifth-most in the Big Ten. The former four-star has also picked up a first down or touchdown on 30% of his carries, the seventh-highest rate in the Big Ten.

Penn State’s run game is set for at least the next few seasons with Allen and Singleton leading the charge.

7. LB Jaishawn Barham, Maryland Terrapins — 76.9

Jaishawn Barham is a star on passing downs. He’s the only Big Ten linebacker with top-five grades as both a pass-rusher and in coverage.

The former four-star recruit has forced an incompletion on 18.2% of his targets this season, tied for the sixth-highest rate among Power Five linebackers. His three sacks are tied for the eighth-most for Power Five linebackers.

8. EDGE Gabe Jacas, Illinois Fighting Illini — 76.1

There are plenty of reasons why the Fighting Illini’s defense has the lowest EPA per play allowed in the country. One of them is the emergence of Gabe Jacas along their defensive line. 

The former three-star’s 21.9% pass-rush win rate is the sixth-highest among Power Five edge defenders, while his 18.2% pressure-rate ranks seventh. 

9. DI Deone Walker, Kentucky Wildcats — 74.1

Deone Walker has excelled as a pass-rusher this season. His 82.3 pass-rushing grade is the eighth-best among Power Five interior defensive linemen. The former four-star recruit’s pass-rush win rate and pressure rate rank fifth among SEC interior defensive linemen.

10. DI Latrell Bullard, Georgia Southern Eagles — 73.7

Latrell Bullard’s only FBS offers were from Georgia Southern and Central Michigan coming out of high school. 

He’s made a lot of schools regret passing him up since. His 78.2 run-defense grade is among the 20 best marks for Group of Five interior defensive linemen. 

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