With college coaches losing more prospects to early entry into the NFL draft, freshmen are no longer seen as a luxury. If a player is good enough, he will take the field as soon as he arrives on campus, and be depended on to make an impact.
Manti Te'o, OLB, Honolulu/Punahou, signed with Notre Dame
Te'o is physically ready, which is rarely the case for linebacker prospects. He's well built at a compact 230 pounds. Aside from having all the physical tools, Te'o has great instincts and a nose for the football, which should help him make the adjustment to the college game. His ability to play on the inside and outside positions in Notre Dame's 3-4 defense makes him likely to have an impact on day one.
Russell Shepard, ATH, Houston/Cypress Ridge, signed with LSU
Russell Shepard is simply too versatile of an athlete not to see a ton of playing time as a freshman. It remains to be seen if he'll be the Tigers' starting quarterback -- with Jordan Jefferson coming back. Still, don't be shocked if he sees some playing time at quarterback in some way. He is athletic enough to be a change-of-pace player for LSU -- similar to what Tim Tebow did during his freshman season in Gainesville. He really could play an offensive skill position or any position in the defensive secondary. The way he can accelerate and cut is unique for a player coming out of high school.
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Gasden, Ala., committed to Alabama
The country's No. 1 corner has great coverage skills and he can contribute on special teams. Kirkpatrick's a very versatile athlete with exceptional quickness and footwork. He could see the field early in either the nickel or dime packages for Nick Saban. He simply has too many skills not to be on the field in the fall of 2009.
Jacobbi McDaniel, DT, Greenville, Fla./Madison County, signed with FSU
Although he lacks ideal height at 6 feet, McDaniel has great quickness off the ball, is extremely strong in the hips and is violent with his hands. McDaniel often gets into the pass protector before he has a chance to get set. FSU traditionally likes to keep fresh D-linemen on the field, so there's no doubt that McDaniel will be in the Seminoles' two-deep (depth chart) by the end of summer camp.