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Top Recruits From the 2023 Recruiting Class Who Are Quickly Making an Impact

Top Recruits From the 2023 Recruiting Class Who Are Quickly Making an Impact

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 21: USC Trojans wide receiver Zachariah Branch (1) celebrates a touchdown during the college football game between the Utah Utes and the USC Trojans on October 21, 2023, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA.(Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Sometimes, teams and recruiting analysts get it right.

    Like most years, the 2023 rendition of the college football season features a tantalizing core group of elite true freshman playmakers. While it takes the vast majority of guys a lot of time to adjust to the speed of the game, others click right away.

    From an electrifying USC do-it-all star in Lincoln Riley's offense to an unblockable defensive lineman in Miami, first-year stars who were thought highly of by recruiting analysts across the nation are shining.

    To make this list, you had to be at least a 247Sports composite 4-star prospect, therefore magnificent freshmen such as the trio of Kevin Concepcion (N.C. State), Tyler Brown (Clemson) and Eric Singleton Jr. (Georgia Tech), Baylor cornerback Caden Jenkins, Purdue safety Dillon Thieneman and Texas A&M linebacker Taurean York aren't here. All were 3-star prospects and jewel evaluations.

    Also, a potential star such as Alabama offensive tackle Kadyn Proctor finally had a quality start against Tennessee this past weekend, but the former 5-star hasn't been consistent enough to include. It would be unwise to think he's going to be anything but a future star, though.

    Here are several stars who were predicted to be quality players and are proving themselves already midway through the 2023 season.

Rueben Bain Jr., Miami Defensive Lineman

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    MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 21: Rueben Bain Jr. #44 of the Miami Hurricanes reacts during the fourth quarter of the game against the Clemson Tigers at Hard Rock Stadium on October 21, 2023 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

    Megan Briggs/Getty Images

    The former Miami Central High School standout was considered a top-100 player by the 247Sports composite rankings, but he's playing like a 5-star early in his career. The Miami Hurricanes' true freshman defensive lineman just keeps getting better, too.

    In a massive win over Clemson on Saturday night, he was simply unblockable at times. He finished with eight tackles, two tackles for loss, two sacks and one forced fumble, but even those stats don't tell the whole story.

    Nobody could stop him, and it's a sign of things to come.

    At 6'3", 275 pounds, he can do it all. He has power, speed, strength, and his motor is relentless. His 29 quarterback pressures lead all true freshmen, and he's a havoc-wreaker who is proving to be the U's biggest pull from this year's class.

    For the year, Bain has 19 total tackles, including five for a loss, 4.5 sacks, and he's forced two fumbles. The game is slowing down for him, so the rest of the ACC should watch out.

Peyton Bowen, Oklahoma Safety

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    NORMAN, OKLAHOMA - SEPTEMBER 9:  Defensive back Peyton Bowen #22 of the Oklahoma Sooners dives to knock down a pass on fourth and five intended for wide receiver Jordan Kerley #1 of the Southern Methodist Mustangs to turn the ball over on downs at SMU's 30 yard line in the fourth quarter at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on September 9, 2023 in Norman, Oklahoma.  Oklahoma won 28-11. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    By now, you've perhaps forgotten about all the national signing day drama surrounding Peyton Bowen from last year's cycle. The one-time Notre Dame commit signed with Oregon after flipping from the Fighting Irish, then reneged and wound up at Oklahoma.

    His on-field play is making that a distant memory. The Sooners safety is proving he was worth the extra attention.

    That's not surprising considering he was a 5-star prospect from powerhouse Denton (Guyer HS), Texas and the nation's No. 16-ranked overall player. Even though coach Brent Venables has a deep secondary, OU can't keep him off the field.

    The 6'0", 185-pound hard-hitting star is fifth on the team with 25 tackles, and he's added four pass breakups and a forced fumble. His lone sack came late in the fourth quarter in a close victory over UCF last weekend, which forced the Knights to punt and helped Oklahoma win the game.

    "You don't just look up and make plays," Bowen told reporters. "It's more of like practice tendencies, habits, film watching and just knowing the game. ... Hard work pays off at the end of the day, and I believe that."

    Couple that attitude with talent, and a big-time player is in the making in Norman.

Zachariah Branch, USC Wide Receiver

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    LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 21: Zachariah Branch #1 of the USC Trojans returns a punt 61 yards in the fourth quarter against the Utah Utes at United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on October 21, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

    Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

    Zachariah Branch is a get-your-popcorn-ready type of player every time he touches the ball. Even in an able stable of NFL-ready offensive talent for the USC Trojans, the freshman from Las Vegas stands out.

    When he has the pigskin, an entire stadium holds its breath.

    It happened again Saturday night when he took a punt, shook a tackler and surged 61 yards to set up a Caleb Williams go-ahead touchdown over Utah. Those heroics were overshadowed by the Utes' surging comeback on USC's porous defense, but the fact remained: The Trojans needed a play, and Branch delivered.

    The former top-ranked receiver and No. 4 overall player in the country is a can't-miss dynamo who already is impacting the game on offense and special teams game-in and game-out. He can do it all.

    So far, Branch has 16 grabs for 197 yards and two touchdowns, has run for 49 yards on six carries with another score, but he's perhaps most electrifying as a returner. The first-year playmaker has 310 kick-return yards, featuring a 96-yard house call against San Jose State. He's added 303 punt-return yards, including another 75-yard score. He even has a tackle.

    We get two more years of this do-everything excitement, too.

Caleb Downs, Alabama Safety

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    TUSCALOOSA, ALABAMA - SEPTEMBER 02:  Caleb Downs #2 of the Alabama Crimson Tide tackles m9during the first quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 02, 2023 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Arguably, the most talented, college-ready player in the 2023 recruiting class was Alabama signee Caleb Downs, a savvy safety who seemed geared to step right in and play.

    And that's exactly what he's done.

    This comes as a surprise to nobody. Downs was underrated as the nation's top-ranked safety and the No. 8 overall player in the country. Perhaps only Rueben Bain Jr. and Zachariah Branch can match his impact so far, but neither can match his consistency.

    Alabama head coach Nick Saban signed the top-ranked class in the nation by far with player after stellar player, and Downs has been the most consistently brilliant of them all.

    On an upstart defense that has seen a resurgence under first-year veteran coordinator Kevin Steele, Downs isn't just a cog. He's an anchor.

    The 6'0", 203-pound former 5-star prospect from Hoschton, Georgia, leads the 7-1 Crimson Tide with 63 tackles (14 more than the next-highest player). He also has a tackle for a loss, two interceptions and a forced fumble.

    Downs plays like a veteran, and in a program known for great defensive backs, he has the potential to end up as one of the best to come through Tuscaloosa.

Luke Hasz, Arkansas Tight End

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    BATON ROUGE, LA - SEPTEMBER 23: Arkansas Razorbacks tight end Luke Hasz (9) catches a pass during a game between the LSU Tigers and the Arkansas Razorbacks on September 23, 2023, at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    In a forgettable season for the Arkansas Razorbacks, there was a bright spot at tight end in Luke Hasz.

    However, the 6'3", 242-pound prospect broke his clavicle during the first drive of a 34-22 loss to Texas A&M on Sept. 30, likely ending his season before it could really get going.

    What a season it was, too. So strong, in fact, that Hasz made this list in spite of the fact that his numbers won't change between now and the end of the year. He remains second on the team with 253 receiving yards and three touchdowns. It's clear the Hogs have a star on their hands, even if they have to wait to see him shine.

    It's frustrating that he got hurt on the first drive of the fifth game, theoretically burning his opportunity for a redshirt, since you have to play in four or fewer contests.

    His numbers are even more remarkable when you consider just how awful the Hogs have been on offense this year, with KJ Jefferson regressing and coach Sam Pittman on the hot seat. Just this week, Arkansas paid the $2.8 million buyout and fired offensive coordinator Dan Enos halfway through his first year.

    Hasz was a huge prospect out of Bixby, Oklahoma, just missing the top-200 players in the country and coming in as the 11th-rated tight end. He's done for the year, but his impact was major while he was healthy.

Anthony Hill Jr., Texas Linebacker

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    WACO, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 23: RJ Martinez #15 of the Baylor Bears throws a pass under pressure applied by Anthony Hill Jr. #0 of the Texas Longhorns in the second half at McLane Stadium on September 23, 2023 in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

    Tim Warner/Getty Images

    If there's anybody in the nation with Harold Perkins Jr. potential this year, it's Texas freshman Anthony Hill Jr.

    The 6'3", 234-pound second-level defender can line up all over the field, get after the quarterback, go out in coverage, do it all. He was the nation's 17th-ranked overall player and a 5-star in the 2023 class, and he's showing out so far.

    While the Longhorns would love to see a little more consistency from him, his flashes burn brighter than most. When he times snaps, it looks like he's been fired from a cannon.

    Hill is the second player on this list from Denton, Texas, but he wasn't a teammate of Oklahoma's Peyton Bowen. He instead played at Ryan High School.

    The linebacker's best games have come in the two biggest of Texas' season, and while he has mostly come off the bench, he sees a lot of crunch-time snaps. First off, he spied Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe in an early-season upset and was highly effective.

    Then, in a narrow loss to rival Oklahoma, Hill finished with eight tackles.

    For the year, he has 30 stops, included four for a loss and three sacks, but he's really just scratching the surface of his huge potential.

Avery Johnson, Kansas State Quarterback

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    MANHATTAN, KS - OCTOBER 21: Kansas State Wildcats quarterback Avery Johnson (5) breaks free for a big run in the first quarter of a Big 12 college football game between the TCU Horned Frogs and Kansas State Wildcats on Oct 21, 2023 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, KS.  (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Kansas State coach Chris Klieman hasn't become a legendary coach at different college football levels because he's stubborn. When he needs a spark, he pushes the right buttons.

    That's why it would be unwise to consider the Wildcats out of the Big 12 race.

    Now that Klieman has discovered how to utilize true freshman quarterback Avery Johnson, watch out. It isn't often a 4-star signal-caller comes to the "Little Apple" to play for K-State, and he was never going to watch from the sideline for long.

    Adding the wrinkle of a two-quarterback system where Johnson enters games and provides a dual-threat spark to go along with veteran Will Howard's dropback passing ability has made the Wildcats a horror for defensive coordinators.

    Since Klieman started rotating Johnson into the game, K-State is 2-0 with lopsided wins over Texas Tech and TCU.

    Against the Red Raiders, the freshman from Maize, Kansas who was a top-100 prospect, completed 8-of-9 passes for 77 yards and ran for 90 more and an eye-opening five touchdowns. When they played the Horned Frogs, he added 90 passing yards and a scoring toss, along with 73 rushing yards.

    The defending Big 12 champions are suddenly dangerous again after Johnson helped wake up a stagnant rushing attack.

Jalon Kilgore, South Carolina Safety

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    KNOXVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 30: South Carolina Gamecocks defensive back Jalon Kilgore (24) tackles Tennessee Volunteers running back Jaylen Wright (0) during a college football game between the Tennessee Volunteers and the South Carolina Gamecocks on September 30, 2023, at Neyland Stadium, in Knoxville, TN. (Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    There was so much promise in South Carolina at the end of last season as Shane Beamer's side upset Tennessee and Clemson to crush their College Football Playoff chances.

    This year, though, Beamer's bunch don't have many accolades on which to hang their hat.

    It's been a forgettable season for a team that features Spencer Rattler and not much else, but one true freshman defender has proved he has the chops to be a future star.

    Safety Jalon Kilgore was a top-300 prospect and a 4-star out of Eatonton, Georgia, when he was signed by the Gamecocks a year ago, and it hasn't taken him long to become an alpha on the back end of their defense.

    The 6'1", 204-pound defensive back registered 15 tackles in a loss to Tennessee, and he just continues to make plays and gobble up tackles. He leads the team with 61 tackles, including 1.5 for a loss, one interception and four pass deflections.

    He wasn't the starter to begin the season, but when Nick Emmanwor left the North Carolina game with a hamstring injury, Kilgore entered and never looked back. Even though the Gamecocks' defense has been poor, he has been a great tackler and solid in coverage.

    Kilgore looks like a building block for the future.

Francis Mauigoa, Miami Offensive Tackle

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    MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 21: Emory Williams #17 of the Miami Hurricanes celebrates with teammate Francis Mauigoa #61 after scoring a touchdown against the Clemson Tigers during overtime at Hard Rock Stadium on October 21, 2023 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

    Megan Briggs/Getty Images

    It's never easy to step in as a true freshman and start at offensive tackle. Just ask Alabama's Kadyn Proctor.

    But the Crimson Tide first-year star prospect is beginning to get the hang of it, as is Miami's Francis Mauigoa, who has been a little more consistent and therefore above Proctor on this list.

    After a rough start to the season, the former 5-star prospect has been brilliant during the past four games and is really settling in to be the force everybody thought he'd be. The former IMG Academy standout has allowed just three sacks all season protecting Tyler Van Dyke.

    Mauigoa had some rough moments against fellow freshman phenom T.J. Parker in Saturday's game against Clemson, but he is more than holding his own.

    "He's been all ears and eyes and just listening and learning," tight end Cam McCormick told the Sun-Sentinel's Adam Lichtenstein. "But as the season's gone on, he's gotten a lot more comfortable with being out there, and you can obviously see that. I definitely feel like he's stepped up to be in the role that he's in. He's doing a phenomenal job, and a lot of people salute him for that."

    At 6'6", 341 pounds, Mauigoa is massive, strong and a great athlete for his size. He is going to be a megastar, and he's only now beginning to really blossom.

Dante Moore, UCLA Quarterback

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    STANFORD, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 21: Dante Moore #3 of the UCLA Bruins warms up prior to the start of the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium on October 21, 2023 in Stanford, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    It may be controversial to put Dante Moore on this list of impact freshmen. But even though it appears the UCLA first-year signal-caller has lost his position for now, he has still done some positive things.

    The former five-star prospect is going to be a phenomenal player, and out of all the talented quarterbacks from a generational 2023 class, he's really the only one making an impact throwing the football so far.

    So, even though junior Ethan Garbers started over him and was effective against Stanford, Moore's season isn't over. He will continue to improve.

    The problem with Moore isn't ability; it's making too many mistakes. Considering coach Chip Kelly's team is a good one that can make noise in the Pac-12, he's having to balance who gives him the best chance for a win. Both quarterbacks seem to get it.

    "We support each other in anything we do—I look for his success, he looks for mine," Garbers said, per Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times.

    The 6'3", 210-pound Detroit native has thrown for 1,330 yards this season with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. During a gauntlet of ranked opponents versus Utah, Washington State and Oregon State, though, his lack of experience led to a 1-2 record.

    Moore completed less than 50 percent of his passes in those games with three touchdowns and six interceptions, necessitating a change. However, he has still shown glimpses of brilliance for the future.

T.J. Parker, Clemson Defensive Lineman


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    MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 21: T.J. Parker #12 of the Clemson Tigers in action against the Miami Hurricanes during the first half of the game at Hard Rock Stadium on October 21, 2023 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

    Megan Briggs/Getty Images

    Phenix City, Alabama, is a recruiting hotbed for the Clemson Tigers, and the latest superstar prospect from the town may just wind up being the best of the bunch.

    Back during the recruiting process, top-50 prospect T.J. Parker was known by his first name of "Tomarrion," and everybody wanted him. He decided to follow in the footsteps of former star receivers from there—Justyn Ross and E.J. Williams—and go to Clemson.

    Parker is a big, athletic defensive lineman who has size and strength but also plenty of speed to get after quarterbacks packed into his 6'3", 255-pound frame.

    He's tied for sixth on the Tigers' roster with 25 total stops but is tied for the team lead with Jeremiah Trotter Jr. with 8.5 tackles for a loss. He leads the team with four sacks and is second with seven QB pressures.

    Along with his major ability comes an insatiable desire to learn more.

    "He's always watching film," Trotter told reporters. "The way he practices, as well, you might not see from young guys, running to the ball, trying to be as technically sound as possible, like he's playing an actual game but in practice."

    Against Syracuse, he was named the ACC defensive lineman of the week. He shares snaps with sixth-year seniors Xavier Thomas and Justin Mascoll because they can't keep him off the field.

Suntarine Perkins, Ole Miss Linebacker

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    OXFORD, MISSISSIPPI - SEPTEMBER 30: Suntarine Perkins #4 and Jaxson Dart #2 of the Mississippi Rebels celebrate the game-winning touchdown against the LSU Tigers at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on September 30, 2023 in Oxford, Mississippi. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)

    Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

    When you're a phenomenal running back at Ole Miss, you get comparisons to Deuce McAllister. When you're a superstar linebacker, you're the next Patrick Willis.

    They love their legends in Oxford, and the "next Willis" terrorizing offenses close to the Grove is Suntarine Perkins, a former 5-star defensive playmaker and top-20 overall player everybody wanted because of his size and speed, and he's showing why.

    He's easily the biggest defensive recruiting victory for Ole Miss in the Lane Kiffin era, and he could be special. But he's no Willis. They are two different types of players, but that shouldn't change the excitement about Perkins.

    The 6'3", 205-pound linebacker is a stand-up edge-rusher from Raleigh, Mississippi, who torched Alabama for a pair of sacks. He is fifth on the Rebels with 29 tackles and is tied for the team lead with 3.5 sacks.

    Or, as Kiffin said, he's the "only player Bama wanted" on the Rebels' roster.

    Truthfully, he needs to be on the field more than he is. He earned co-SEC defensive freshman of the week for Saturday's performance against Auburn, and he continues to grow and improve.

    If he keeps getting better and lives up to his massive potential, folks around Oxford someday may be saying "Player X" could be the next Suntarine Perkins. He has that same sort of next-level potential.

Darius Taylor, Minnesota Running Back

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    EVANSTON, IL - SEPTEMBER 23: Minnesota Golden Gophers running back Darius Taylor (1) runs the ball hile being grabbed by Minnesota Golden Gophers defensive back Aidan Gousby (7) during the college football game between the Northwestern Wildcats and the Minnesota Golden Gophers on September 23, 2023, at Ryan Field in Evanston, IL (Photo by Ben Hsu/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Ben Hsu/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Even though he was a 4-star prospect, Darius Taylor often got overlooked during the recruiting process.

    The Walled Lake, Michigan, prospect was ranked No. 350 overall and ultimately chose the Minnesota Golden Gophers over a number of MAC schools. Michigan and Michigan State showed late interest, but he was set on P.J. Fleck's team.

    Boy, are they glad he did.

    Following the departure of Mohamed Ibrahim to the NFL, the Golden Gophers needed another offensive centerpiece and, when healthy, it's been Taylor. Still, he's getting overlooked. Maybe it's because he's missed around a month with an injury.

    However, his numbers haven't suffered in the least. In just five games this season, he has amassed 591 rushing yards and scored four touchdowns on a 5.7 average. He's also caught nine passes for 81 yards and a touchdown.

    Taylor's season has been highlighted by huge games against Eastern Michigan (193 yards), North Carolina (138 yards) and Northwestern (198 yards).

    Staying healthy has been an issue, but if he gets back to full strength, Taylor may flirt with 1,000 yards in limited action.

    All stats courtesy of CFBStats and Sports Reference unless otherwise noted. Recruit rankings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.


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