NCAAF
April 28, 2020
BY Bryan Zarpentine

10 Incoming College Football Freshmen You Need to Know About in 2020

More than ever before, college football has become a young man’s game. That’s not to say that teams with rosters heavy with juniors and seniors don’t have an edge, but more and more true freshmen are finding their way onto the field and carving out impact roles for themselves.

In the past decade, both Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston have won the Heisman Trophy as redshirt freshmen while Lamar Jackson became the youngest Heisman winner as a true sophomore. This could indicate that the day is coming when a true freshman will be a legitimate Heisman contender. If that happens in 2020, it could end up being one of these 10 players that every college football fan should know about before the season starts.

DeaMonte Trayanum, Running Back, Arizona State

Trayanum had offers from coast to coast and the Ohio native looked poised to head to a Big Ten school. However, he surprised everyone by heading to the desert to play for Herm Edwards at Arizona State.

Getting Trayanum was a big deal for Edwards and the Sun Devils. ASU just lost Eno Benjamin, who racked up over 2,700 yards over the past two seasons. More importantly, backup running back A.J. Carter had just 19 carries last season. There’s going to be a lot of carries up for grabs in the ASU backfield this season, creating a wonderful opportunity for Trayanum to see the field and potentially rise up the depth chart to become the starter.

He’s the kind of physical, workhorse back who can handle a lot of touches, so he could end up being the back to fill Benjamin’s shoes right away.

Desmond Evans, Defensive End, North Carolina

Mack Brown is somehow putting together one of the best-recruiting classes in the country, and he did it with in-state prospects like Evans. He had interest from Alabama and Clemson but chose the Tar Heels, making him a big part of UNC’s freshmen class.

While North Carolina was better than expected in Brown’s first season back in Chapel Hill, the UNC defense struggled to get consistent production from its defensive line.

Evans is a long and lean athlete who was one of the best defensive end prospects in the country. At North Carolina, he’ll have a chance to step onto the field right away and make an instant impact for the North Carolina defense.

Clark Phillips III, Cornerback, Utah

Utah’s secondary was devastated by departures following the 2019 season. The Utes lost their top three cornerbacks along with their best nickel back. The silver lining is that it will create an opportunity for Phillips, who is arguably the best player in Utah’s recruiting class.

The California native looked to be headed on his way to Ohio State, only to flip his commitment to Utah. At Ohio State, there would have been intense competition for playing time, but at Utah, it’s a safe bet that Phillips will see the field right away.

As one of the most talented freshmen cornerbacks in the country, he’ll have a chance to shine with the rebuilding Utes.

MarShawn Lloyd, Running Back, South Carolina

Lloyd was a top-50 recruit who will join a backfield at South Carolina that just lost its top three rushers from last season. He was on campus during the spring and already impressed new offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who said the young back has a chance to be “special.”

With some of the growing pains that quarterback Ryan Hilinski had last season when he was forced onto the field as a freshman, the Gamecocks will need to lean on their running game. Bobo has also commented on Lloyd’s maturity and eagerness to learn, which also points to him being a big part of the South Carolina backfield this season.

Jeff Sims, Quarterback, Georgia Tech

When he was hired at Georgia Tech, head coach Geoff Collins inherited a roster of offensive players recruited to run the triple-option rather than his pro-style offense. Four different quarterbacks saw time for the Yellow Jackets last season, and together they completed just 46% of their passes. Ouch. That leaves the door wide open for Sims to win the starting job as a true freshman.

After initially committing to Florida State, Sims will head to Georgia Tech, giving the Yellow Jackets a quarterback who can push the ball downfield with his arm and has enough athleticism to make plays with his legs.

Sims is a better fit for the Yellow Jackets' new offense than anyone else on the roster, so it’d be surprising if he doesn’t become the starter at some point this season, if not by Week 1.

Noah Sewell, Linebacker, Oregon

The Ducks have a big vacancy to fill at linebacker after Troy Dye was drafted in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, but they may have his replacement lined up in Sewell. Most freshmen linebackers aren’t physically ready to be every-down players, but Sewell is one of the few exceptions to that. Standing 6-foot-2’ and 266 pounds, Sewell already looks the part of a big-time linebacker.

Sewell’s older brother is already at Oregon, which gives him a mentor to help with all of the off-field aspects. That should make his on-field transition a little easier. Considering all of the talent the Ducks bring back on defense — especially on the defensive line — Sewell could be one of the most productive linebackers in the Pac-12 right away.

Elias Ricks, Cornerback, LSU

LSU has a history of producing NFL-caliber cornerbacks, and Ricks could be the next in line. He played at the famous Mater Dei High School in California before ending up at IMG Academy in Florida, where he refined his skills as one of the top cornerback prospects in the 2020 recruiting class.

At 6-foot-3, Ricks has the kind of size that few cornerbacks possess, which is why Ed Orgeron is high on his future at LSU. The Tigers happen to have a vacancy at cornerback with Kristian Fulton being a second-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, and Ricks will have a chance to earn regular playing time and establish himself as a starter early in his career.

Ricks could form a devastating duo with sophomore Derek Stingley, Jr. 

Myles Murphy, Defensive End, Clemson

During Dabo Swinney’s time at Clemson, the Tigers have churned out NFL defensive ends better than almost any other college program. Odds are, Murphy is going to be the next in line. He might actually be one of the most talented defensive linemen that Swinney has recruited to Clemson.

Murphy was rated as the best high school player in the state of Georgia last year and chose Clemson over the likes of Georgia, Alabama and Auburn.

Of course, the Tigers aren’t exactly thin along the defensive line, either. But Murphy is too talented not to get a chance to play as a true freshman and show that he can make an immediate impact.

Tank Bigsby, Running Back, Auburn

With last year’s leading rusher JaTarvious Whitlow entering the transfer portal, the Auburn backfield is wide open heading into 2020. That opens the door for a freshman like Bigsby to get significant carries and become a difference-maker right away.

Bigsby was one of the most well-rounded backs in the 2020 recruiting class, possessing the toughness to run between the tackles and the speed to be a home-run threat. Bigsby impressed during spring ball, setting himself up to be a part of the rotation in the Auburn backfield when the season kicks off.

Bryce Young, Quarterback, Alabama

It’s hard to believe that Alabama will have another five-star talent who’s ready to be an instant star, right? Of course, Young will start the 2020 season behind Mac Jones on the depth chart. But even compared to the other quarterbacks on the Alabama roster, Young has a skill set that stands out.

Young might be a little undersized at 5-foot-11, but his combination of arm talent and running ability can’t be matched by any other quarterback the Crimson Tide have. While Jones has a few starts under his belt, it’s not like he’s completely established himself as the team's starting passer.

Young will get a fair shot to win the quarterback job. For anyone who’s seen Young play, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him win the starting job and lead an Alabama team that expects to be a national championship contender.

Photo: Getty Images