- ESPN staff writer
- Joined ESPN in 2011
- Graduated from Central Michigan
- Senior National Recruiting Analyst for ESPN.com
- Coached in four professional football leagues
- Graduated from Eastern Kentucky and Marshall
Despite an influx of transfer players filling voids on college football teams, plenty of true freshman have made an impact in 2022.
We have seen highly touted prospects turn into nationally recognized names and stat leaders in a matter of weeks. Georgia hit gold with safety Malaki Starks, who has stepped right in and contributed.
Penn State has seen a resurgence on offense with a pair of first-year running backs — Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen — but the staff also found a gem in linebacker Abdul Carter, who is second on the team with 18 tackles.
Not every true freshman who has made an impact was a five-star or top prospect in the 2022 class, either. We’ve seen four-star Cal running back Jaydn Ott emerge as a leader on offense, three-star defensive end Gabe Jacas has been an important piece of Illinois’ defense and three-star AJ Swann is now Vanderbilt’s starting quarterback.
We ranked the top 25 freshmen through the first five weeks of the season. Of the 19 five-star recruits in the 2022 cycle, only five of them make this list. Conversely, eight of the top 25 freshmen on this list weren’t in the ESPN 300 rankings as recruits. Let’s dig into the list, with the first 12 written by Luginbill and the final 13 written by VanHaaren:
1. Malaki Starks, S
Georgia | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 12
Starks was the former No. 12 prospect in the ESPN 300 and has played up to that billing so far in 2022. He plays like a veteran on a defense that lost five players in the first round of last year’s NFL draft. He’s mature, and the game is not too big for him. At times he flashes his dominance. As Georgia’s second-leading tackler (23), and with two interceptions, Starks has proven he can play any position in the secondary.
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