NCAA Football

Five 2017 college football recruits who will make an immediate impact

Written by Andrew Kulha

For many college football recruits, the process of becoming a big part of the team takes time. Tons of freshman take a redshirt year in an effort to get used to the college experience, the scheme they’ll be playing in and hit the weight room to get bigger, faster and stronger.

Others are unfortunately hidden behind a stacked depth chart, but that’s part of being a freshman. Especially at major programs like Alabama, even five-star freshman have a hard time getting playing time.

But then there are those few superstar college football recruits who are just so good that there’s no way they don’t see the field and make an immediate impact for their college football teams.

These five players fit that description.

A.J. Epenesa, five-star defensive end, Iowa

It has been a very, very long time since the Iowa Hawkeyes had a freshman like A.J. Epenesa.

Checking in at 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, Epenesa is a real deal at defensive end. He’s big, strong and explosive — equally effective against the pass as he is the run — and Iowa can use him off the edge right away.

According to the 247Sports Composite, which is an average ranking of all the major recruiting services, Epenesa was the No. 2 strong-side defensive end in the 2017 class and the No. 29 overall player in the class. The 247Sports only rankings were even higher on him, ranking him as the No. 1 SDE and the No. 6 overall player in the class.

Epenesa was a three-year high school All-American and a U.S. Army All-American Bowl participant. As a senior, he notched 31 solo tackles, 13 tackles for loss, five sacks, 14 quarterback pressures and nine blocked kicks.

He has the raw size, talent and speed to bully opposing offensive tackles in the Big Ten from day one in Iowa City.

Hunter Johnson, five-star quarterback, Clemson

Replacing Deshaun Watson isn’t going to be easy. He went out on top with a national championship win after all. But Johnson has the tools to do it. He’s a 6-foot-2, 201-pound quarterback and recruit that 247Sports Composite ranked as the No. 2 overall pro-style quarterback in the 2017 class and No. 30 player overall. ESPN ranked Johnson as the top quarterback in the nation.

Indiana’s 2016 Mr. Football, Johnson was a three-year high school starter. In his senior season, he completed 166-of-318 passes for 2,233 yards and 25 touchdowns while rushing for 525 yards and three scores on the ground.

Johnson is built a bit bigger than Watson and doesn’t run with the same explosive grace, but he’s still an elite runner for a quarterback. As a plus, he has a heck of an arm.

It’s never easy for a young quarterback to adjust. But Johnson will certainly be coming to Clemson with extremely high expectations and has the athleticism, arm and running ability to pick up the slack left behind by No. 4.

Jeffrey Okudah, five-star cornerback, Ohio State

Ohio State is losing three defensive backs heading into the 2017 season — Malik Hooker, Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore. So without a doubt, Urban Meyer is going to need one or two young players to step up in the secondary.

Luckily for him, asking a freshman to step up and play a big role hasn’t really been an issue during his time in Columbus. And that should be the case once again with Okudah.

The 247Sports Composite ranked Okudah as the No. 1 cornerback in his class and the No. 2 recruit from the state of Texas, which is one of the most talent-rich football states in America.

At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, Okudah was a U.S. Army All-American and unanimous five-star recruit. He played offense and defense as a high schooler, notching 43 tackles, five pass breakups and 795 total yards on offense in his senior season.

Okudah is rangy in open space, has great ball skills and isn’t afraid to fly down to the line of scrimmage to lay the hammer as a tackler. As a plus, he could make a big impact for Ohio State as a special teamer, so overall 2017 should be a big year for him.

Kellen Mond, four-star dual-threat quarterback, Texas A&M

We know that freshman quarterbacks can thrive in Kevin Sumlin’s Texas A&M offense. So it isn’t a huge stretch to predict that Mond can come in and contribute right away for the Aggies.

Mond was only ranked as a four-star recruit, according to the 247Sports Composite, but he was the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the class and a top-110 player nationally.

At 6-foot-2, 191 pounds, Mond was an Under Armour All-American and a star player for IMG Academy, which is a football-centric school down in Florida known for churning out elite talent. In his senior season, Mond passed for 1,936 yards and 20 touchdowns while rushing for 775 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Mond is the perfect quarterback for Texas A&M’s system. He has that Johnny Football-esque quality as a quarterback to make huge throws in big moments. He also has the elusiveness and running ability to make defenders miss in the open field.

Cam Akers, five-star running back, Florida State

Cam Akers was an elite college football recruit, and there are many in the world of college football who expect him to be the next big thing at running back. He’ll be tasked with replacing the superstar that was Dalvin Cook at Florida State, and he has all the talent in the world to do just that.

Akers was ranked as the No. 1 running back in the 2017 class as well as the No. 2 overall recruit according to the 247Sports Composite. He was a U.S. Army All-American as well as the U.S. Army Player of the Year, which goes to the nation’s most outstanding senior high school player.

What makes Akers so impressive as a running back recruit is the fact that he actually played quarterback in high school. In a four-year varsity career, he passed for over 8,000 yards and 78 touchdowns. He also rushed for 2,105 yards and 34 rushing touchdowns in his senior season.

Akers is an elite athlete. He’s shifty, smooth and has great vision as a runner. He could be one of the best players in college football in his freshman season, and that’s not a stretch.

About the author

Andrew Kulha