College football freshman power rankings: Georgia’s Malachi Starks, Penn State’s Nicholas Singleton impress

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malaki starks georgia defense us College football freshman power rankings: Georgia's Malachi Starks, Penn State's Nicholas Singleton impress

Prospect rankings and recruiting evaluations carry little weight once players step between the lines for the first time at the college level, but several true freshmen have already shown impressive growth as difference makers entering Week 4 of the season. The pace of play has already slowed down for this group, and that’s the first thing you’ll notice as the rookies start to emerge as key components for their respective teams.

As the transfer portal bullies talent acquisition, some of these newcomers are battling veterans for reps and so far, they’ve got an early edge. Many of these true freshmen have already stepped onto the national stage and made significant impacts against quality competition. And, “Who’s that guy?” Nothing screams that. Like a game-changing play with a hand gesture to silence the crowd.

Grab a list. It’s time to get to know these first-year players. Much of this list should fluctuate throughout the season, but those at the top are likely here to stay.

Rookie Power Rankings

1. Malachi Starks, S, Georgia: In his first collegiate appearance against Oregon, Starks recorded an acrobatic interception and tallied eight tackles as a reserve. This led to him earning a starting spot. He then dominated down the field against South Carolina, picking off another pass on a wheel route on Spencer Radler’s underthrow near the Georgia sideline.

2. Nicholas Singleton, RB, Penn State: A five-star of few words since he stepped on campus, Singleton’s workload of 10 carries in each of the first three games led to 334 yards rushing and four touchdowns. He held Auburn to 124 yards and a pair of late scores, including a 54-yard rumble that emptied Jordan-Hare Stadium.

3. CJ Donaldson, RB, West Virginia: This 6-foot-2, 240-pound guy makes opponents tremble when he runs downhill. He already has two 100-yard games and a team-high six touchdowns as the Mountaineers’ top offensive threat. Donaldson, a former three-star prospect, averaged 9.4 yards per carry.

4. Kelvin Banks, OT, Texas: Matched college football’s average lead in Week 2 against Alabama, Banks allowed just one more pressure than Will Anderson Jr. at home. Left tackle is a position to draw attention to, and Banks is reliable for an offense that needs to do everything it can to keep Steve Sarkisian’s quarterbacks off the ground.

5. Dan Key, WR, Kentucky: In need of a field-stretcher following the departure of Von’Dale Robinson, the Wildcats offense and quarterback Will Lewis are thanks to the emergence of Key. He has scored in every game, and the Lexington native leads all Kentucky wideouts in catches, yards and touchdowns. Florida’s Jalen Kimber converted a punt return for a 55-yard score in Week 2.

6. Nick Emmanuel, S, South Carolina: An unlikely starter this season, Emmanwori’s upside in fall camp forced him onto the depth chart, and he quickly made his presence felt with a key fourth-down stop in the opener. Through three games into his career, Emmanwori leads the nation with 24 separate tackles and is tied with veteran R.J. Roderick made the most of his opportunity with the Gamecocks’ first team after an early setback through injury.

7. Dasan McCullough, LB, Indiana: Dawson, one of four sons of Notre Dame assistant Deland McCullough, stuck with his Indiana commitment to his father’s alma mater during the early signing period. Hoosiers are certainly glad he did. The four-star defender already has a team-best three sacks, and Indiana is undefeated.

8. Omarion Hampton, RB, North Carolina: The Tar Heels offense is well-stocked with playmakers this season, including redshirt freshman quarterback Drake Maye. Hampton’s play is equally splashy. He packs a considerable punch with his 6-foot, 220-pound frame and is a red-zone player in this backfield. Hampton’s five touchdowns are second in the ACC behind Clemson’s Will Shipley.

9. Roman Hemby, RB, Maryland: If he takes a stab at Michigan’s front seven this weekend, the freshman has a chance to be a well-known name nationally. Hemby averaged 9.2 yards per carry for the Terrapins and already has runs of 70, 50 and 33 yards this season. Two of those accounted for a pair of his five touchdowns.

10. AJ Swann, QB, Vanderbilt: The Commodores switched to Swann midway through the third quarter of a Week 2 loss at Wake Forest, and the rest is history. Swann led two touchdown drives against the Demon Deacons, and his four touchdown passes in last week’s win at Northern Illinois pushed Vanderbilt to 3-1 overall. Alabama is next to Swann and an improved offense.

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