Most 2017 signees will spend next year preparing for bigger roles as redshirts or depth-providers on some talented Pac-12 rosters. But a select few will become immediate contributors and names that readers should start paying attention to now.
Which incoming Pac-12 freshmen will make major contributions for their team in 2017? The Pac-12 blog picks the recruit most likely to make the biggest impact for each team.
A player to watch here is cornerback Elijah Hicks, who was originally committed to Notre Dame. Some of the recruiting services rated Hicks as a four-star prospect, and he flipped his commitment from Notre Dame to Cal -- even when the Golden Bears were in the gap between Sonny Dykes and Justin Wilcox and didn't have a head coach. On national signing day, Wilcox lauded Hicks for the timing of his decision, noting that it highlighted his impressive level of dedication to the university and his future teammates.
If 2017 goes anything like 2016 did for Cal, those teammates will need Hicks' services immediately. The Bears' secondary was decimated by injuries last season, and that was a problem for an Air Raid-oriented program that was thin on defense to begin with. It will take at least one more recruiting cycle for Wilcox to fully stock the program with a more defensive-oriented talent load, so 2017 marks opportunity for Hicks.
Darius Allensworth and Marloshawn Franklin Jr. return as seniors to Cal's cornerback spots, but modern day college football -- especially the Pac-12 version of it -- demands more than just two cornerbacks. The six-foot, 185-pound Hicks, who has shown good coverage skills and the ability to get physical in run support on defense, is certainly a candidate to join the rotation in the defensive backfield.
As bad as the Bears were defensively last season, their passing defense wasn't horrible: Cal gave up 7.5 yards per attempt, ranking No. 83 in the country. It was the rushing defense that truly failed, allowing a nation-worst 6.2 yards per attempt. Blame for this should be spread around the entire unit: Even though the linebacking group was desperately thin, the Bears' defensive backs didn't do enough to help the problem in run support.
That's where a prospect like Hicks, who is physically ready, can come in and help immediately. Unlike some of his classmates along the front seven, which features positions that often demand more "man strength" than a true freshman possesses, Hicks should be ready to deliver right away. And even though the physical burden isn't as big for a defensive back, Hicks should be ready to make the necessary plays in run support.