College football recruiting: Ranking 24 must-watch true freshmen during the 2024 season (2024)

Team intel suggests this group of first-year players will dominate college football this fall.

Brad Crawford

Who are college football's 24 must-watch true freshmen ahead of the 2024 season? After scouring post-spring two-deep projections and through conversations with industry-leading team site analysts across the 247Sports network, there are two-dozen names mentioned most often among potential early-impact players.

Many of the spring practice moversin the 2024 recruiting cyclewere of the five-star variety, no surprise given the historical accuracy of our evaluations and player rankings. Several premiere programsare expecting first-year players within their respective two-deeps and there's a couple nationally-ranked teams looking for College Football Playoff breakthrough with notable signees as well.

Wide receiver and edge appear to be the two positions where true freshmen can make the most impact, following by those finding roles within the secondary. In other words, when you're a skill player, coaching staffs will do whatever they can to get you on the field early and often if you can help the team.

RELATED: Projecting the All-Impact Team — Freshmen who will ball out this season

Here's 24 true freshman we're expecting to be must-watch players across college football in 2024:

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24. Sammy BrownLB, Clemson

247Sports recruiting ranking: No. 14 overall, No. 2 LB

When multi-year starter Barrett Carter says you're special, focus shifts to the freshman, who turned heads this spring with his knowledge of the gameat the Mike position on Clemson's defense.

23. Landen Thomas, TE, Florida State

247Sports recruiting ranking: No. 196 overall, No. 11 TE

The Seminoles love getting their tight ends involved in the passing game and Thomas could act as a safety blanket of sorts forDJ Uiagalelei as a first-year player this fall.

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22. Ellis Robinson IV, CB, Georgia

247Sports recruiting ranking: No. 2 overall, No.1 CB

It looks like the Bulldogs have themselves another future early-round pick in Robinson, who made his presence felt quickly this spring within the two-deep. To garner snaps as a true freshman at the back end between the hedges, you have to be dependable and Robinson fits the narrative.

21.Julian Sayin, QB, Ohio State

247Sports recruiting ranking: No. 20 overall, No.3 QB

Signed out of the transfer portal after initially making things official with Alabama, Sayin gave Ohio State's offensive staff something to think about during spring after holding his own in the quarterback competition despite the logjam at the position. Kansas State transfer Will Howard is the projected starter, but Sayin isn't far behind him.

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20.Nick Marsh, WR, Michigan State

247Sports recruiting ranking: No. 107 overall, No.22 WR

The highest-rated freshman signee for first-year coach Jonathan Smith and the Spartans, Marsh flashed during Michigan State's spring showcase with three catches for 105 yards, including a 75-yard score.

19. Cam Pruitt, LB, Miami

247Sports recruiting ranking: No.489 overall, No.22 S

Pruitt signed with the Hurricanes this cycle as an underrated safety of sorts, but starred at linebacker as soon as he stepped on campus as a unquestioned first-year contributor. He'll have an important role on defense this season for a team talented enough to challenge for the ACC.

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18.Micah Hudson, WR, Texas Tech

247Sports recruiting ranking: No.25 overall, No. 5 WR

Texas Tech landing a five-star is a rarity, but the Red Raiders managed to do so this cycle and Hudson did not disappoint in the early going. The talented pass-catcher has a chance to be one of the Big 12's top wideoutsearly in Lubbock.

17. DJ Lagway, QB, Florida

247Sports recruiting ranking: No.3 overall, No.1 QB

Lagway looked wise beyond his years this spring with the Gators, assuming the No. 2 role offensively behind returning starter Graham Mertz. He might be too talented to keep off of the field and there could be a package or two that Florida utilizes to take advantage of his athleticism.

16. Terry Bussey, ATH, Texas A&M

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247Sports recruiting ranking: No. 16 overall, No. 1 ATH

The most-talented players to ever come out of tiny Timpson, Texas, Terry Bussey is a summer enrollee for the Aggies and could play either side of the football in College Station. Given his skillset with the ball in his hands or covering another team's best on the outside, Bussey is the type of athlete coaches love — play where you need them and go from there. First-year Texas A&M coach Mike Elko has a gem on his hands with the highest-rated signee in the Aggies' notable class.

15. Boo Carter, S, Tennessee

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247Sports recruiting ranking: No. 149 overall, No. 5 ATH

By all accounts, Tennessee has a slam dunk with Boo Carter in the secondary. He's part of a revised back end of the Vols' defense that will look brand-new in 2024. A versatile player, Carter performed mostly at the nickel spot this spring and already has a spot within Tennessee's two-deep defensively. Not only was he evaluated well by Tennessee's coaching staff, but Carter is already a commodity the Vols sorely needed in helping defend the pass.

14. Jonathan Paylor, WR, NC State

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247Sports recruiting ranking: No. 117 overall, No. 3 ATH

Backing upreigning ACC Rookie of the Year Kevin Concepcion at inside receiver this spring, Jonathan Paylor is a big play waiting to happen for the Wolfpack within what should be an explosive offensive attack for Dave Doeren. Paylor's fast, he's shifty and has great hands. Our friends at Pack Pride expect NC State to incorporate Paylor and Concepcion on the field at the same time in several packages this season.

13. Dylan Stewart, Edge, South Carolina

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247Sports recruiting ranking: No. 19 overall, No. 2 EDGE

Few coaches in the power conference ranks played as many freshman as Shane Beamer did last season and that's not going to change in 2024. Dylan Stewart is one of several first-year Gameco*cks who will see snaps and he's certainly earned that right based on his production this spring at the edge position. He's one of the fastest players on the defense for coordinator Clayton White and had no trouble adjusting to the speed of the college game. South Carolina needs a game-changer in the pass-rush department and this five-star still has his best years ahead of him chasing after opposing quarterbacks.

12. Deshawn Warner, Edge, Kansas

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247Sports recruiting ranking: No. 67 overall, No. 7 EDGE

Kansas is lucky to have Deshawn Warner, a much-needed plug-and-play pass rusher who just happens to be the highest-rated player to ever sign with the Jayhawks. Most first-year players aren't thrust into starting roles and certainly aren't given leadership roles on their side of the football, but Warner has the luxury of earning both of those distinctions. If there's a freshman defender in the Big 12 this fall worth keeping an eye on, it's him.

11. Bryant Wesco, WR, Clemson

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247Sports recruiting ranking: No. 57 overall, No. 11 WR

In need of big-play threats on the outside, the Tigers secured multiple pass-catchers in their 2024 class of the elite variety, including Bryant Wesco. He scored the first touchdown of the spring game last month and is already a crisp route runner. The only knock on Wesco throughout spring practice was his frame and being a bit undersized, but adding weight and muscle is the mindset this summer ahead of fall camp. He's expected to anchor a starring role in the passing game. Clemson247 has more on Wesco's expected impact along with another first-year wideout primed for success.

10. Josiah Thompson, OT, South Carolina

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Recruiting ranking: No. 37 overall, No. 2 OT

Primed to secure a starting role along the Gameco*cks' offensive front, Josiah Thompson has been as talented as advertised since stepping on campus as an early-enrollee. Five-star edge Dylan Stewart equally impressed South Carolina's staff among the newcomers and there's a belief from sources he could play more snaps than any first-year player on the team, but there's more depth on defense at the line of scrimmage than the other side of the football in Columbia. Thompson repped with the 1s in the spring game and at times, looked like a seasoned SEC starter. Listed at 6-foot-7, 300 pounds, Thompson is agile and brings a much-needed presence.

9. LJ McCray, Edge, Florida

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247Sports recruiting ranking: No. 4 overall, No. 1 DL

Florida losingpass rusher Princely Umanmielen to Ole Miss via the transfer portal may not be felt as severely as it could've been had the Gators not held on to LJ McCray at EDGE. The five-star showed up on campus this spring with a body that already looked like a seasoned SEC veteran and his play matched the eye test on the field. He's the top-rated defensive lineman in the 2024 cycle for a reason and Billy Napier is expected to line him up where he can this fall.

8. Elija Lofton, TE, Miami

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247Sports recruiting ranking: No. 181 overall, No. 10 TE

Seven Miami signees in 2024 rank ahead of Elija Lofton in individual player rankings, but post-spring information suggests the four-star tight end is one of the unexpected jewels of this class for Mario Cristobal. Lofton turned heads during several scrimmages and played multiple positions, including a stint at running back. He brings power and athleticism to a Miami offense with several new faces at playmaker spots, including Washington State transfer Cam Ward at quarterback and Damien Martinez from Oregon State as the new featured option in the RB1 role.

7. Jordan Seaton, OT, Colorado

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247Sports recruiting ranking: No. 13 overall, No. 1 OT

Given Colorado's revamp in the trenches, there were several starting spots up for grabs and five-star Jordan Seaton looks to have earned the nod at left tackle. He was the first-team choice to protect Shedeur Sanders' blindside in the Buffaloes' spring game and passed his initial test with flying colors. Colorado enters the Big 12 with a grueling slate and keeping Sanders clean is top priority for a position group that allowed more sacks than any power conference team in 2023.

6. Ryan Williams, WR, Alabama

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247Sports recruiting ranking: No. 8 overall, No. 3 WR

Several true freshmen defensive backs of the elite caliber generated widepread love in Tuscaloosa, but those close to the program are most looking forward to the arrival of Ryan Williams. He officially enrolls next week and has a strong chance at cracking the starting lineup among pass-catchers given his heightened abilities. Per Bama247's Mike Rodak, the biggest question for Williams — a multi-sport athlete — is not appearing on the fall two-deep, but whether the Crimson Tide freshman will have an opportunity to start. A couple years ago, Williams became the first sophom*ore in Alabama prep football history to be named Mr. Football in the state.

5. KJ Bolden, S, Georgia

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247Sports recruiting ranking: No. 15 overall, No. 1 safety

Five-star cornerback Ellis Robinson IV shined during the early portion of spring camp, but it was another five-star — safety KJ Bolden — who was the most consistent newcomer at the back end of the defense for the Bulldogs. Kirby Smart made it clear throughout spring that from a rotational standpoint, Georgia's top talent is going to playand Bolden has picked up the scheme quickly, like a sponge, under the tutelage of Travaris Robinson.

4. Colin Simmons, Edge, Texas

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247Sports recruiting ranking: No. 28 overall, No. 4 Edge

Sources at Texas cited Colin Simmons and wideout Ryan Wingo as the most likely true freshmen impact players for the Longhorns this season, but Simmons has already ascended the depth chart in a — at worst — second-team role at EDGE. That means from a rotational sense, he's going to play considerable snaps as Texas enters the SEC as one of the nation's national championship contenders. The puzzle at wide receiver is still being worked out post-spring with so many new portal additions on the Forty Acresalong with the development of speedster Johntay Cook II, so expect Simmons to be the most plug-and-play ready freshman for Steve Sarkisian's loaded team.

3. Cam Coleman, WR, Auburn

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247Sports recruiting ranking: No. 5 overall, No. 2 WR

Will Auburnovercome quarterback questions thanks to a new-look corps of wide receivers? That's the plan for Hugh Freeze with Cam Coleman, Penn State transfer KeAndre Lambert-Smith and others in tow. Coleman offered a "preview of what's to come" on The Plains with a jaw-dropping performance in the spring game after collecting several highlight-reel catches, including a 34-yard touchdown reception. His ability to win jump balls and track sideline throws are impressive for a first-year player.

2. Dylan Raiola, QB, Nebraska

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247Sports recruiting ranking: No. 7 overall, No. 2QB

One of the worst kept secrets in the Big Ten is the expectation that Nebraska second-year coach Matt Rhulehands the key to the Huskers' offense over to a true freshman during fall camp after Dylan Raiola immediately assumed a leadership role. Rhule did not name a starter after Nebraska's spring game, but Raiola's performance was quite eye-opening as the most-heralded recruit in program history.

1. Jeremiah Smith, WR, Ohio State

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247Sports recruiting ranking: No. 1 overall, No. 1 WR

Jeremiah Smith isn't the first heralded five-star freshman wideout tojump off the page early at Ohio State and certainly won't be the last, but the buzz surrounding the top player in the 2024 recruiting cycle mirrors the sound of twin F-18s streaking through the air over Columbus. Smith showed up with a body that looked like he was ready for Ohio State's Pro Day, not his first collegiate practice. His wide range of skills were on display throughout spring against a secondary that was among college football's stingiest last fall. Smith's ready to be an impact player from Day 1 when Ohio State opens the season.

College football recruiting: Ranking 24 must-watch true freshmen during the 2024 season (2024)
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