May 25, 2024

Ohio State’s Jeremiah Smith headlines 10 highly-ranked college football recruits quickly meeting the hype


Spring football practices around the country wrap up this weekend. While most practice reports are centered around veterans and offseason additions via the transfer portal, there are still plenty of youngsters that made splashes in one way or another. 

Last year, it was five-star safety Caleb Downs who broke through at Alabama during the spring months. His remarkable freshman season might have come as a surprise to some, but not to those that had been scouting and evaluating him since his days in high school. The same goes for other instant impact blue-chip recruits like Alabama offensive tackle Kaydn Proctor, Texas linebacker Anthony Hill and Miami offensive tackle Francis Mauigoa.

So, whose ranking are we feeling good about coming out of spring practices? Below, we highlight ten freshmen that lived up to the hype. The group includes nine true freshmen along with one very famous redshirt freshman. 

We had little concern at 247Sports about ranking Jeremiah Smith as our No. 1 overall prospect in the class of 2024 after a dominant senior season, but we’re sleeping a little bit better after seeing all the footage out of Ohio State.

Smith became the fastest player ever to lose their black stripe with the Buckeyes and was recognized as an “official member” of the team after just four spring practices. Ohio State has recruited and developed wide receivers at an astonishing level in recent years under the direction of assistant Brian Hartline. None created the buzz Smith has, especially this early. 

It’s rare for a wide receiver that has yet to play in a collegiate game to draw so much hype, but Smith absolutely deserves the attention. He’s got ready-to-play size to go along with top-flight athleticism and an advanced feel for the position. The kicker? He’s only going to get more polished with his pro-like mindset. Smith has been one of college football’s stories of the spring. His father, Chris, is not surprised.

“He’s very, very ready,” Chris told 247Sports. “He’s been ready since he was 9.”

Any other cycle, Cam Coleman would have finished as the top-ranked wide receiver for us. 

Coleman shot plenty of life into Auburn’s passing attack on A-Day, catching four passes for 92 yards and a touchdown. The Tigers haven’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since the 1999 season and the smart money should be on Coleman, who finished as the No. 5 overall prospect in 2024, to eventually end the drought. He’s going to be a superstar. 

On the younger side for his grade, Coleman took a major step forward between his junior and senior seasons of high school. That had us feeling good about his upward trajectory, but what really sold us on him being a potential game-breaker was an excellent week of practices at the Under Armour All-America Game. Coleman proved to be a straight-up mismatch on the perimeter as he used his length and bounce to make acrobatic grabs.

There wasn’t a player in America who had a better senior season this past fall than DJ Lagway, who earned both MaxPreps and Gatorade Player of the Year Honors.

The big sticking point with Lagway throughout the evaluation process was his consistency as a passer. The raw arm talent was there, but the flashes were just flashes. However, things started to click in a big way for the athletic Lagway during his final prep season down in Texas and his performance in Florida’s Orange and Blue Game was extremely encouraging.

Lagway, who rose to No. 3 overall and the top-ranked QB in the final rankings for the 2024 cycle, completed 12 of 21 passes for 173 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He also moved the chains with his legs. It certainly was far from a perfect outing, but Lagway has come a long way in a short amount of time and should only continue to progress under the direction of Billy Napier, who gets a lot of hate but hasn’t gotten much credit for quietly revitalizing the career of Graham Mertz.  

While most schools use the transfer portal to plug roster holes, Dabo Swinney continues to build his roster through the high school ranks – no matter how many players he loses to the portal. That has created a situation where true freshmen have to play and Sammy Brown is pretty much a lock to avoid a redshirt.

Brown not only held a five-star grade from us, but ranked No. 1 on my annual ‘Freaks List.’ A workout warrior and decorated wrestler with elite track and field markers, Brown tied for a scrimmage-high eight tackles in Clemson’s spring game. He also recorded a sack on his first drive, which is notable because he wasn’t asked to blitz a ton in high school.

The Tigers welcome back a future NFL Draft pick at linebacker in Barrett Carter and plan to pair him up front with a budding star in Wade Woodaz, but Swinney has already made it clear that Brown is ready to help Clemson in Year 1.

Zabien Brown is one of the most ready-to-play freshmen from the 2024 recruiting cycle
USATSI

No position group at Alabama was hit harder this winter than the cornerback room as the Crimson Tide lost multiple players to the transfer portal. Kalen DeBoer and his new staff have brought in veterans to help, but it wouldn’t be shocking if Zabien Brown gets plenty of burn as a true freshman after he repped with the first-team defense.

In our eyes, there wasn’t a more technically-advanced cornerback in the 2024 cycle than Zabien Brown. He was one of the few defenders that could hang with Jeremiah Smith at the All-American Bowl and played his best football at the tail end of his senior season. 

Brown didn’t bat 1.000 percent on A-Day, but he drew praise from DeBoer for his consistent play during practices and has the tools to play on the outside in the SEC. There could be some initial growing pains with the No. 3-ranked cornerback, but investing in Brown makes sense for Alabama.

Nebraska fielded one of the nation’s worst passing offenses last season. Matt Rhule has yet to name a starting quarterback, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where five-star Dylan Raiola doesn’t see the field in some type of capacity as a true freshman. Not after a solid showing last weekend.

In the Cornhuskers’ spring game, the No. 2-ranked quarterback connected on 16 of his 22 pass attempts for 239 yards with two touchdowns to go against one interception. He wowed not only with the touch on his deep shots, but also the torque he was able to create with different arm angles.

Raiola’s recruitment featured no shortage of drama, but there’s no question that he’s got what it takes to be a difference-maker on Saturdays given how he throws the football and buys himself time in the pocket.

UNC returns seven of its top eight pass catchers from last season, but it might be difficult for Mack Brown and the Tar Heels to keep Jordan Shipp out of the wide receiver rotation.

A late addition to the All-American Bowl, we were blown away in San Antonio by Shipp’s college-ready size and advanced ball skills. He was a major riser in our final rankings update, slotting in as the No. 19 wide receiver in the class after a decorated prep career: 128 catches for 2,283 yards and 29 touchdowns over his final two seasons.

After getting a head start and participating in a few Duke’s Mayo Bowl practices, Shipp looked the part in UNC’s spring game, catching four passes for 38 yards and a touchdown.

Mario Cristobal has quickly raised the level of expectations in Coral Gables by retooling his roster. While a majority of the notable additions have come via the transfer portal, the case of freshman Elija Lofton makes for a fun storyline in player versatility and adaptability that will be something for college football diehards to track. Recruited as a tight end, Lofton got some reps at running back during spring practices and turned heads. 

Lofton doesn’t have prototypical measurables for the tight end position, but one of the main reasons why he finished as the nation’s No. 10-ranked tight end for us is because of what he was able to do as a ball carrier in high school. As a senior, Lofton was frequently featured as a short-yardage running back and found the end zone nine times on the ground.

It wouldn’t be shocking to see Lofton emerge as a Swiss Army Knife for the Hurricanes in an H-back role with his soft hands, contact balance and body control. Kudos to Miami and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson for possibly unlocking Lofton’s best self so early. 

A dismal fall followed by a portal season that took as much as it gave — there just hasn’t been much to get excited about in East Lansing as of late. Maybe Nick Marsh could change that.

Marsh was a bit of an outlier for us when it came to the rankings (No. 22 wide receiver, No. 107 overall), but we were bullish on the physical traits, lateral fluidity and multi-sport background. We also liked the fact that he was on the younger side and just starting to round the corner.

In Michigan State’s spring game, Marsh hauled in a 75-yard touchdown pass, finishing the day with three catches for 105 yards. The Spartans lost four of their top-six pass-catchers from a deflating 2023 season to graduation or the transfer portal and it looks like Marsh could emerge as a go-to target for quarterback transfer Aidan Chiles as new coach Jonathan Smith looks to right the ship.

If you guessed Arch Manning as that very famous redshirt freshman, congratulations — DM me for a free month’s subscription over at 247Sports.

And what a difference 12 of those months made for Arch. Many ridiculously labeled the then-freshman as a bust following a dismal performance in last year’s spring game (5 of 13 passing for 30 yards), our No. 1-ranked prospect in the class of 2023 has quickly turned into the toast of the town for the burnt orange.

Manning stole the show in this year’s spring game, completing 19 of 25 passes for 355 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those scores were 75-yard bombs where Manning pushed the ball well into the deeper third.

Quinn Ewers is undoubtedly the starter for Texas after leading the Longhorns to the College Football Playoff, but Manning’s performance reinforced that he’s exactly who we thought he was two years ago: an elite processor with a prototypical frame that can make all the throws. Too bad no one will be able to play with him in the EA Sports College Football 25 video game. 





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