Instant Impact Freshmen WRs - Four & Three Stars
Picking names out of the hat for this endeavour is about as fruitful as juggling watermelons blindfolded— that is to say, it is extremely difficult.
Oh, you make my blood rush…
- Spiritbox, music band
This article is a continuation of a piece I published at Campus2Canton, which you can find here.
Today we’re going to take a look at some potential instant impact freshman WRs. I know everyone’s blood starts to rush at the thought of true freshman impact players in CFF, but a word of caution: picking names out of the hat for this endeavour is about as fruitful as juggling watermelons blindfolded— that is to say, it is extremely difficult. But, given what we’ve seen each year, there are always at least a few who crack the surface.
I will summarize a point I made in the first article: the breakouts at this position typically do not come through the highest rated recruits at the biggest programs. Additionally, everybody already knows about the Jeremiah Smiths of the world, so what use is there in writing about them? It’d be like writing about Caleb Williams last offseason, or Pat Mahomes in the NFL, I think we all know about that player already.
That being said, in the first edition I mentioned that NIL is spreading the distribution of five stars more than ever, and I highlighted a couple (Mike Matthews, Cam Coleman, Perry Thompson and Micah Hudson) that could potentially buck the trend of four stars dominating Y1 breakouts.
Today we’re going to look at some four and three stars.
Toledo WRs Tashi Braceful — 6’2, 175 & Zy’Marion Lang — 6’3, 190
In all honestly, with the amount of churn there is currently in the MAC, it’s probably a lot more likely that breakout freshmen are going to come through their ranks.
Braceful was one of the top recruits in the state of Michigan (11th according to 247 Sports), and actually held multiple P5 offers (Duke, Boston College, Kansas, Maryland, Purdue, Minnesota, just to name a few). For those of you out there who like to circle ‘big fish little pond’ prospects, this seems like a guy for you. There is basically nobody worth a damn left at any MAC program after this first portal cycle, and that extends to Toledo.
Lang is a slightly lower ranked recruit, but his offer sheet is even more impressive than Braceful, which is probably in part because Lang plays in Florida. He held offers from South Carolina (was actually CB’d to go there originally), Miami, Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Texas A&M, among other P5 offers. This is definitely a kid who probably shouldn’t be playing in the MAC, which gives me some pause as to how he ended up here in the first place.
This past season, Toledo’s lead receiver— Jerjuan Newton, averaged only 12.6 PPG, but he had some big moments. As far as I know, Newton is returning this season, but I’m not sure about that. Braceful and Lang will have an opportunity to be on the field more so than a lot of the players on this list, and their offer sheets suggests that one or both might be one of these MAC players we see portal-ing out this time next year, or the year after that.
Colorado State WR Jordan Ross — 5’11, 180
CSU’s HC runs a good system for WRs, which is a plus, the downside is that there are several bodies in the room, including CFF stud Tory Horton, who announced his return in December. There is also Justus Ross Simmons who figures to be the heir apparent after Horton leaves.
However, former sophomore and breakout(ish) receiver Louis Brown is in the portal, suggesting there could be an opportunity for a third receiver to get on the field. Ross’ build suggests he’ll be more of a slot guy, which works in his favour here, because both Horton and Simmons are like basketball players on the boundary.
Vanderbilt WRs Joseph McVay — 6’0, 180 & Markeis Bennett — 5’10, 160
I like what I’ve seen the Commodores do lately with their WRs. I understand that they have a new OC now, but I’m beginning to think that their development of the WR position might be more due to great evals and the WRs coach who’s been there since 2022, and was the WRs coach of one my favourite WRs ever at Ball State— Justin Hall.
What’s even more intriguing is that the Commodores WR room got absolutely raided in the portal. True freshman breakout star London Humphreys went to UGA, Will ‘Mr September’ Sheppard is headed off to Colorado, and Jayden McGowan is going to USCjr. (or somewhere else, we’re not sure yet).
I’ve picked out McVay amongst Vandy’s WR signees because he’s the biggest of the three and had a good offer sheet, which included offers from South Carolina, Texas A&M and Purdue. I’ve also picked out Bennett because he actually had the best offer sheet, which included offers from Ole Miss, Tennessee, Wake Forest, Cincinnati, Arkansas and Illinois, to name a few. How did both of these guys get here? One of life’s mysteries, I suppose.
Wake Forest WR Jeremiah Melvin — 6’5, 185
Wake Forest has made a killing at the WR position under HC Dave Clawson, and in particular, they have produced a number of elite boundary WRs who fit a taller profile. Melvin fits that size profile at 6’5, and with true sophomore Wesley Grimes, KeShawn Williams, and senior wideout Jahmal Banks’ departures, there will be an opportunity this season for Melvin — if he’s a stud — to come in immediately and make an impact.
Georgia Tech WR Isaih Canion — 6’3, 190
The Yellowjackets have become a surprisingly fun team with former Georgia QBs coach Buster Faulkner calling plays at OC. In 2023, multiple RBs and WRs became fantasy-relevant, in particular true freshman Eric Singleton. Canion had some interest from Georgia and Notre Dame before committing to Georgia Tech, so he must be pretty good at football. He’ll have plenty of opportunity to step in right away this season opposite of Singleton and Hayes.
Memphis WR Keonde Henry — 6’2, 185
One of the Tiger’s top signees this cycle, Henry comes in as a top 300 prospect on the 247 Sports composite, and is ranked as a top 50 player in the state of Texas. The size profile suggests he’ll be a boundary player.
Now, I know what you might be thinking, Memphis still has DeMeer Blankmuse and Roc Taylor, plus they brought in North Texas transfer Jyaire Shorter. It’s true, it’ll be an uphill battle for Henry to get on the field, but injuries happen, and this WR room could still take casualties in the next portal window. You never know. Like Toledo’s Lang and Braceful (who’s name Substack keeps autocorrecting to ‘Graceful’, bastards…), Henry is a potential big fish little pond prospect.
Michigan State WR Nick Marsh — 6’3, 200
Somehow, the Spartans managed to get Marsh, a top 150 prospect, past the finish line this cycle despite turmoil in the coaching staff. This was a big victory for the boys in East Lansing, and it could pay off immediately as they don’t have many warm bodies in the room currently. You have to like the path here for Marsh and he’s got a young and exciting player in Aiden Chiles potentially throwing him passes.
With Jonathan Smith taking over, don’t sleep on the Spartans to make some noise in the B1G either. Smith has also had some decently productive WRs in the past, and most importantly, he has had a true freshman breakout star in RB Jermar Jefferson back in 2018, proving that he will play freshmen if they’re good enough.
Mississippi State WR JJ Harrell — 6’0, 187
Harrell, a top 200 prospect from Mississippi, was a highly sought after recruit. He had offers from UGA, LSU, FSU and Alabama, to name a few. The Bulldogs of Mississippi came out on top in the end, and with new HC Jeff Lebby and transfer QB Blake Shapen, there is a renewed excitement about this passing attack.
Can Harrell break into the rotation in year one? Hard to say. State’s got some other bodies in the room ahead of him. It’s hard to play as a true freshman in the SEC, but again, you never know. Really talented player on a mid-tier SEC program is a profile I tend to like.
Oregon State WR Jordan Anderson — 6’0, 185
I know that ORST was basically gutted at the seam this offseason, but there’s good news ahead: 1) they get to play against mostly G5 teams next season, and 2) they signed a nationally rated top 200 prospect at WR. Anderson held offers from Texas, UGA, Oregon, Michigan, and Tennessee, just to name a few of his offers. Seems he’s a pretty good player. Another big fish little pond profile here. The room is pretty open for him to make a mark, too.
The Beavers brought in former UCLA QBs coach Ryan Gunderson as their new OC, who featured a few WRs in SoCal during his time with the Bruins. So that’s an added bonus.
South Carolina WR Mazeo Bennett — 6’0, 190
One of the top players in the state of South Carolina, Bennett comes into a potentially lucrative situation. It’s hard to start as a true freshman in the SEC. But South Carolina needs bodies right now on offence, and there may be opportunity for Bennett to come in and fill some major shoes left behind by Xavier Legette and Antwane Wells Jr. As a refresher for the uninitiated, Legette went over 1000 yards last season and averaged just shy of 20 PPG in 1PPR formats.
I’m not suggesting that someone is going to replicate that, or even that Bennett is that guy, but there will be targets to go around. Of note, the Gamecocks replace QB Spencer Rattler with (likely) Lanoris Sellers, who is more of a runner.
Uncommitted WR Dorian Williams — 6’2, 200
Williams was originally committed to Vanderbilt. Last I heard, he missed his senior year with a knee injury, which might have lost his spot in the Commordores room. Should he find his way back to Vandy, there could be a path. Obviously the injury would be a concern, but as I mentioned above, I like the opportunity that presents itself in Nashville this upcoming season if he finds himself back in their class.
Williams is rated as the 30th best player in Ohio according to 247 Sports, and his offer sheet includes Kentucky, Michigan State, and Pittsburgh, among some other G5 programs like Toledo and Colorado State.
One of the schools that seems to have been close in his recruitment was CSU, so maybe he ends up there instead. I like that fit also.
Bowling Green WR Caleb Goodloe — 6’1, 180
With similar reasoning to the Toledo WRs Goodloe is a WR prospect from Florida with P5 offers from Kansas, Boston College, Wake Forest and Iowa State, among others, who fits the big fish little pond description. He is ranked as a three star, and 172nd WR according to 247 Sports. The Falcons will be replacing Odieu Hidaire, who Goodloe is unlikely to replace, but there’s an opportunity here.
Wake Forest WR Ben Grice — 6’0, 180
If Melvin (above) is the Banks/Alex Perry/Sage Surratt archetype, then Grice fits the Taylor Morin mold. Grice, a three star out of the Atlanta area, is a very long shot to make any sort of impact this season, but(!) the Demon Deacon WR room is barer than a winter tree in a snowstorm, with only a few leaves left clinging desperately to the branches (thanks ChatGPT for completing that sentence for me, a bit dramatic but it gets the point across).
BYU WR Tei Nacua — 6’2, 170
You’ve seen what his brother has been doing in the NFL, right? Well, if Tei has even half the talent as big bro, he could make an early impact on a team in need of playmakers. Don’t quote me on who’s returning or not, I won’t even try to guess right now. I just flagged this one based on the last name— lazy analysis? Send a complaint into the VP interns.
Speaking of lazy, I’m just assuming this is Puka’s brother. Same last name, from the same town (Provo, UT), playing the same position, at the same school. If he isn’t his brother he might as freaking well be. Hell, he’s basically the same person.
Washington State WRs Isaiah Cobbs — 5’9, 160 & Christopher Barnes 5’8, 155
You’re probably thinking while reading this: “another one?”. I’m going with the shotgun method for this piece— surely I can’t strike out on ALL of them right? Well, actually yes, the hit rate for this kind of thing is exceptionally low, and not really something even someone who claims to be a ‘CFF Expert’ can predict ahead of time.
That being said, Wazzou’s Lincoln Victor moves on this season, and anybody who’s been paying attention the last few seasons knows that Ben Arbuckle’s slot receiver is a valuable player in CFF.
Isaiah Cobbs is a three star out of Tennessee, while Barnes is a three star out of Texas powerhouse high school North Shore out of Houston.
Who the hell knows whether Cobbs or Barnes starts in year one, but they’ve got a few things going for them: 1) they’ve got slot receiver builds and 2) the room is clearing out in front of them.
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