In each addition of the College Football America Yearbook, we select a class of incoming freshmen that is the equivalent of a preseason Freshman All-America team. Our first goal is to select a class of players that has an opportunity to play immediately and potentially be impact players for their respective teams as true freshmen. Of course, this being a freshman team composed of players largely from Power 5 conferences, there’s also the reality that some of the best players at key positions like quarterback and offensive line will be asked to redshirt. So our second goal is to also find players who will have a long-term impact and compete for All-America honors and major college awards in the years to come.
Finally, we hope to select a team of players that will have the opportunity to play at the next level in the NFL someday. We also try to assemble a team that is truly geographically representative of America by locating players from all states and regions.
In order to evaluate our various goals, we continue to track our freshman classes in future editions of the yearbook. We track them in the context of an actual college football program even adhering to the 85-man scholarship limit for NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision programs. You can follow the progress of each class here on RoadTripSports.com at The Program.
Of course, each incoming class requires a lot of research, and we try to see as many players as we can in person. For example, in this year’s class, we saw more than a quarter of the players that we’ve ultimately selected as part of this year’s 27-man signing class. That’s from the dozens of players that ultimately were considered that we saw in person last fall. The rest of the players selected were reviewed via available game film and evaluated with the assistance of the various recruiting websites on the internet.
Each class includes 11 offensive starters, 11 defensive starters, a kicker and a punter for a total of 24 freshmen. Additionally, we have one wildcard slot we can use on an incoming freshman – usually, we reserve this for a specialized player like an all-purpose back, a dual-threat quarterback or a player that is being recruited under the ambiguous “athlete” category. Finally, we also select two juco transfers – one offensive player and one defensive player targeted toward areas of The Program where we might have depth issues.
Our 2016 class hails from 18 states and one Canadian province as kicker JJ Molson of John Abbott College (Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, QC) becomes the first Canadian player in The Program.
QB Jacob Eason, Georgia Bulldogs
Lake Stevens (WA)
There was a moment when the whole country wondered just how solid Eason’s commitment to Georgia truly was. When Mark Richt was fired, there were some who assumed that Eason might reopen his recruitment, but it turned out to be much ado about nothing. Eason met with new Georgia head coach Kirby Smart and almost immediately reaffirmed his commitment to Georgia.
We’ve been high on Eason all through the recruiting process, and his solid commitment to Georgia spoke volumes about his loyalty. We considered IMG Academy’s Shea Patterson who ultimately signed with Ole Miss, and we were tempted when Feleipe Franks switched his commitment to Florida while the LSU administration hung Les Miles out to dry. Ultimately, we liked the fact, however, that Eason not only committed to a coach – he also committed to a program.
APB Tavien Feaster, Clemson Tigers
The Class of 2016 wasn’t exceptionally deep on running backs with only Penn State signee Miles Sanders meriting a 5-star rating – and Sanders only emerged as the top running back in the class in the final weeks. We took a late look at Sanders and also considered Alabama signee B.J. Emmons along with Michigan’s Kareem Walker, but in the end, we stayed with Feaster who should have some opportunities to shine early at Clemson.
RB Elijah Holyfield, Georgia Bulldogs
Woodward Academy (Atlanta, GA)
The son of former world heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield prepped in the Atlanta area, and like Eason, he remained a solid commitment for the Bulldogs even after Smart was hired to replace Richt. It’s always a gamble to load up on players from one team, and the risk is greater with Smart leading a program for the first time. But we’ve got a lot of confidence in the hire, and we love the class Smart and his staff are assembling at Georgia. It’s not too hard to envision an offense led by Eason and Holyfield leading Georgia to the top of the SEC East two or three years down the road from now.
WR Kyle Davis, Auburn Tigers
Archer (Lawrenceville, GA)
We had the opportunity to see Davis in person during the Georgia state playoffs, and he’s an impressive talent – a big-bodied receiver (6-1.5, 218 pounds) who’s just as likely to run over a defensive back as he is to run around him. He’s physically ready for the college game, and should be an early impact player at Auburn.
WR Justin Layne, Michigan State Spartans
Benedictine (Cleveland, OH)
We also had the chance to see Layne in person, and he appeared to be a player who could flip the switch at any moment and dominate for stretches of time. He doesn’t have the weight on his frame that Davis carries with Layne weighing in at 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, but he still has the height and leaping ability to beat an average corner early in his college career. Davis had the feel of potentially being an immediate star at the college level, however, and it wouldn’t surprise us if Layne needed a little more time to adjust. But the high end for this guy felt like it was off the charts, and even though he isn’t necessarily one of the highest-ranked receivers in the Class of 2016, he’s still a solid 4-star talent who should ultimately become an impact player for Michigan State.
TE Avien Peah, UMass Minutemen
La Salle Academy (Providence, RI)
Sure, there are higher-ranked tight ends than Peah, but we also take the occasional flyer on a kid, and he is our first recruit from the state of Rhode Island. He’s a solid 3-star, and the loss of the nation’s leading receiver Tajae Sharpe should open up some opportunities in the passing game for the Minutemen who like to put the ball in the air. Peah could be one of the young players who benefits from those increased opportunities.
OT Matt Farniok, Nebraska Cornhuskers
Washington (Sioux Falls, SD)
Farniok is a big kid (6-foot-5, 297 pounds) who most likely would be a candidate to redshirt his first year at Nebraska. He’s a solid 4-star prospect, though, and our first recruit from the South Dakota high school ranks.
OT Gregory Little, Ole Miss Rebels
Just as Laremy Tunsil heads for the NFL, Gregory Little shows up just in time. He’s one of the key pieces of our 2016 class, and he’s the rare offensive tackle (like Tunsil before him) who should be able to show up on campus this summer and be ready to take the field by the time the season opener rolls around. One thing’s for certain – Ole Miss is counting on that.
OG Michael Onwenu, Michigan Wolverines
Cass Tech (Detroit, MI)
At 6-foot-3, 360 pounds, Onwenu is a behemoth and a future anchor for the Wolverines’ offensive line. He could use a redshirt year to get in college game shape, but don’t be surprised if Onwenu finds his way onto the field this fall. While he’s being recruited as an offensive player, it’s also very possible that Onwenu could end up playing defensive tackle at Michigan. Either way, he says he’s just ready to ‘get on the field.’
OG John Raridon, Nebraska Cornhuskers
Valley (West Des Moines, IA)
At 6-foot-2, 258 pounds, Raridon is the opposite of Onwenu – a guard that’s a little on the small side as he heads to Nebraska. He might be the most athletic guard that was available among the 4-star’s, however, and we’re taking a chance that he’ll bulk up nicely in Lincoln without losing any of his athleticism. That process might mean a redshirt year this year, but we’re patient enough to wait it out.
C Drake Jackson, Kentucky Wildcats
Woodford County (Versailles, KY)
Jackson was the anchor on a big Woodford County offensive line that featured three FBS prospects last fall. He was the biggest star of all, however, as the nation’s No. 2-ranked center prospect, and we’re ready to see what he can do over the next four to five years. He could play this fall, but the better plan would be to redshirt this fall.
DT Rashan Gary, Michigan Wolverines
Paramus (NJ) Catholic
The nation’s top-ranked prospect at any position, Gary is considered a ‘can’t-miss’ prospect. He’ll play immediately at Michigan, and he’ll likely be a high-level NFL prospect just three years from now. This is the biggest prize in Michigan’s stellar 2016 signing class.
DT Julian Rochester, Georgia Bulldogs
McEachern (Powder Springs, GA)
We saw several of the top defensive tackle prospects last fall, but something about this guy really stood out, not the least of which was just the physical appearance. He already looked like a 30-year-old NFL tackle, and his physical skills were extremely impressive. Watching him chase a quarterback and lay out horizontally to try and make a play at more than 320 pounds, well – let’s just say we were impressed. Not to mention ‘sold’ on the fact that he should be the other tackle in our Class of 2016 opposite Gary.
DE McTelvin Agim, Arkansas Razorbacks
Agim was on our radar early in the 2016 recruiting cycle, and we never wavered. Agim never wavered either – he’s an Arkansas kid, and it never was in doubt that he was going to be a Razorback. He’ll play as a true freshman.
DE Nick Bosa, Ohio State Buckeyes
St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Bosa is the younger brother of Ohio State All-American Joey Bosa, and he’ll follow in his older brother’s footsteps. It’s hard to blame him as it’s worked out pretty well for the older Bosa in Columbus, and there’s no reason to believe that Nick – a 5-star recruit himself – won’t excel under Urban Meyer’s guidance.
LB Michael Divinity, LSU Tigers
Ehret (Marrero, LA)
Divinity was an early graduate and has already been enrolled at LSU for a couple of weeks. He was already likely to play as a freshman, and the extra time going through spring practice certainly won’t hurt his chances.
LB Jeremiah Moon, Florida Gators
At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds with good speed, Moon is one of the more intriguing prospects available. His size suggests that he could almost move from linebacker to safety – or, perhaps, be a player who can play a hybrid linebacker-safety position like you see in a lot of places these days. Heck, 6-foot-4, 205 pounds even sounds like the perfect receiver. Either way, we had the chance to see him twice in high school, and took him mainly for the possibilities that his unique, physical stature will likely present to the Florida staff.
LB Lyndell Wilson, Alabama Crimson Tide
Carver (Montgomery, AL)
He waited right until the final day to make his choice known, but it was widely assumed he was headed to Tuscaloosa. Sure enough, Wilson joined with Ben Davis of Gordo (AL) to give Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide a solid one-two inside-outside punch on National Signing Day.
CB Saivion Smith, LSU Tigers
IMG Academy (Bradenton, FL)
Smith prepped at Florida’s vaunted IMG Academy (Bradenton, FL) so he’s ready for the big time. He enrolled at LSU in mid-January so he’ll go through spring practice with the Tigers and should be ready to make an immediate contribution on the field this fall.
CB Levonta Taylor, Florida State Seminoles
Ocean Lakes (Virginia Beach, VA)
Our two previous Florida State defensive backs have worked out pretty well with Jalen Ramsey projected as a Top 10 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft while Derwin James looks like the next great Seminole defensive back in a long line of them. Taylor is a 5-star cornerback, and will probably be the next name on the list under James.
S Brandon Jones, Texas Longhorns
Jones is just the kind of recruit Charlie Strong needs to start turning things around in Austin. The nation’s No. 1 safety prospect on Signing Day, he should also pave the way for future recruits who may be wondering just how committed the Longhorns are to turning their program around. Jones will be a star in Austin.
S Nigel Warrior, Tennessee Volunteers
Peachtree Ridge (Suwanee, GA)
Warrior just sounds like a guy who’s ready for the big-time, and he’ll get his chance on one of college football’s biggest stages – Tennessee’s mighty Neyland Stadium. It would be a surprise if he isn’t on the field making plays this fall.
K JJ Molson, UCLA Bruins
John Abbott College (Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, QC)
Our first Canadian recruit hails from Quebec, but he’ll play his college football in sunny southern California after signing with the UCLA Bruins. It’s hard to imagine a better place to be a kicker in college football, and he should excel for the Bruins who lost Consensus All-American Ka’imi Fairbairn to graduation.
P Jet Toner, Stanford Cardinal
Punahou (Honolulu, HI)
Toner prepped in Hawaii, and he’ll stay as close to home as he can without actually staying in the Islands. He should do fine with the Cardinal.
QB Jawon Pass, Louisville Cardinals
Carver (Columbus, GA)
For our wildcard slot, we could have gone several directions with receiver being our first impulse after cutting both Speedy Noil and Michiah Quick from our Class of 2014. But we’ve yet to get a quarterback on the field consistently, and we face the prospect that our 2015 quarterback signee – Michigan’s Zach Gentry – might convert to a tight end in the long-term. That leaves us with no young prospects in the system behind USC’s Max Browne and Stanford’s Keller Chryst so we opted to take Pass, our first dual-threat quarterback who should bring an exciting element to Bobby Petrino’s future offenses in Louisville.
Junior College Transfers
OT Garett Bolles, Utah Utes
Westlake (Lehi, UT)/Snow College
With only two offensive tackles in The Program heading into Signing Day, we decided to bolster the position by signing a junior college tackle who should be able to step in right away if necessary. Bolles fit the profile of what we were looking for, and he should get an opportunity to play at Utah.
DT Handsome Tanielu, BYU Cougars
Waianae (HI)/Snow College
We also needed help on the defensive line, and again, Snow College, which provided Bolles on the offensive line, came to the rescue. This time we take the well-named Handsome Tanielu who should give us some much-needed depth the next couple of years along the defensive interior.
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