Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence showed off his talent and skill in the national championship game and throughout his true freshman season. He was one of plenty of first-year players put into the spotlight to help their teams win.
Now that the early signing period has come and gone in recruiting, and a majority of current college football players have declared their intentions with the NFL draft, we have a better idea of what team needs are and who could fill those holes. After Lawrence shined this season, there are plenty of names from the 2019 recruiting class that could do the same, albeit likely on a much smaller scale than Lawrence.
Here is a look at some of the most important prospects from the 2019 class who could see the field next season.
No. 1 Clemson: DT Tyler Davis
The Tigers are losing a lot along the defensive line, with Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, Austin Bryant and Albert Huggins all moving on. Clemson signed five-star defensive ends Xavier Thomas and K.J. Henry, ESPN 300 defensive end Justin Mascoll and four-star defensive tackle Darnell Jefferies in the 2018 cycle. With Thomas, Henry and Mascoll, the end positions should be in good shape, but there are some big holes left on the interior. At 6-foot-2, 293 pounds, Davis is the No. 7-ranked defensive tackle in 2019 and has an opportunity to contribute early.
No. 2 Alabama: DT Antonio Alfano
Running back Trey Sanders declared on signing day in December that he plans to win the Heisman Trophy in his first season on Alabama's campus. But since Alabama is losing Isaiah Buggs and Raekwon Davis, a projected first-round NFL draft pick, Alfano might be a more impactful pickup in the 2019 class. The ESPN 300 defensive lineman is listed at 6-foot-4, 275 pounds and will fit right in with the Tide's defense. He's versatile enough to help in running and passing situations, and since he is enrolling early, he should be able to get comfortable enough with the playbook and weight room to see a role early for Alabama.
No. 3 Georgia: DE Nolan Smith
Defensive linemen Jonathan Ledbetter and Jay Hayes are both gone in 2019, so Smith should have an opportunity to contribute early. Smith is the No. 2 overall prospect in the 2019 class and a versatile enough player to explode off the edge or drop back in coverage. Landing him was a huge deal for the Georgia defense. It's a two-for-one win, as nabbing him kept him from joining Alabama's defense.
No. 4 Ohio State: WR Garrett Wilson
The Buckeyes gained a huge boost to the offense when quarterback Justin Fields decided to transfer from Georgia. If Fields can get a waiver to play next season, it will be a big win for new coach Ryan Day. The offense is going to need as many playmakers as it can get around Fields, and Wilson should have an opportunity to help from day one. Ohio State is losing receivers Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon, who accounted for 29 touchdowns this past season. K.J. Hill announced he is returning for his senior season, but Wilson, the No. 2 receiver in the 2019 class, could make a big splash for this Ohio State offense next season.
No. 5 Notre Dame: S Kyle Hamilton
Notre Dame's biggest pickup in the class could very well be kicker Jay Bramblett, who will likely fill a need at punter. It could also be defensive end NaNa Osafo-Mensah, who could provide a pass rush in 2019. But Hamilton is just too good to keep off the field and should be able to make an impact at safety and on special teams early on for Notre Dame. At 6-foot-4 and nearly 200 pounds, Hamilton has size and speed and could end up one of the top performers from this class when his college career is over.
No. 6 Oklahoma: QB Spencer Rattler
Oklahoma isn't losing much on defense and is adding some really good prospects in the secondary, including Jeremiah Criddell and Jaden Davis, who could help improve that side. But Rattler is coming in right as Heisman winner Kyler Murray is on the way out. Rattler is going to have to compete with Austin Kendall and Tanner Mordecai, but Rattler brings a lot more of that big-play ability that Murray showed this season. There is a chance Rattler wins the starting job and gets on the field right away. With receiver Marquise Brown leaving, Rattler could see true freshman receivers Jadon Haselwood and Theo Wease Jr. lined up with him. There could be a few early contributors from this class, but if we're talking most important prospects, Rattler gets the nod.
No. 7 Florida: DB Chris Steele
The Gators have a good number of starters returning for the 2019 season, so there aren't a ton of holes to be filled right away. The team is losing quite a bit along the offensive line, but that position group is typically tough to break into as a freshman. There will be some departures along the defensive line as well, but there might not be any immediate-impact prospects in the 2019 class to fill those holes. Defensive end Lloyd Summerall will help at the buck position vacated by Jachai Polite and CeCe Jefferson. Mohamoud Diabate could compete for a spot early as well, but Steele might be able to make the biggest impact overall. At 6-foot-2 and 182 pounds, he doesn't lack size. While Florida returns a good chunk of the secondary, Steele could help elevate the competition and boost a pass defense already on the rise.
No. 8 Texas: LB De'Gabriel Floyd
The Longhorns are going to have quite a few departures on defense, but the 2018 recruiting class should help fill a lot of those holes. Floyd, a 2019 signee, could work his way onto the field ahead of the 2018 class, though. Texas is losing outside linebacker Gary Johnson, which is where Floyd would fit on the defense. There is also a chance that receiver signees Jordan Whittington and Jake Smith make an impact on offense, but there is a lot of buzz around Floyd and his potential within the defense.
No. 9 Texas A&M: S Brian Williams
The Aggies are going to lose some big names along the defensive line, so 2019 defensive tackle DeMarvin Leal could see early playing time. But ESPN 300 safety Williams could help improve the Texas A&M secondary in a big way. Williams is the No. 2-ranked safety in the class and is a rangy safety who could help in coverage and run support. Safety Demani Richardson is another safety in this class who could help early, but Williams seems to be a name that comes up more often than not.
No. 10 LSU: DB Derek Stingley Jr.
LSU has gotten the roster into a situation in which it doesn't need certain prospects to come in and play right away, but Stingley might push his way onto the field anyway. He is already on campus and participated in bowl practice with the Tigers. Reports out of those practices are that Stingley is living up to the lofty hype surrounding him. John Emery, receiver Trey Palmer, defensive tackle Siaki Ika and linebacker Marcel Brooks could eventually push their way onto the field as well, but by all accounts, Stingley looks like he could make a big impact in 2019.
No. 11 Michigan: DT Mazi Smith
Michigan is losing a lot along the defensive line, with Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich, Bryan Mone and Lawrence Marshall off the roster. The interior also took a hit when defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon transferred to Tennessee. That decision made Smith that much more important to this 2019 class, as he could help fill in at tackle right away. At 6-foot-3, 285 pounds, Smith is a big presence in the middle and should see the field very early in his career.
No. 12 Oregon: DE Kayvon Thibodeaux
Oregon was ranked 49th in sacks this past season but is losing Kaulana Apelu, Justin Hollins and Jalen Jelks, who accounted for 10.5 of Oregon's 29 sacks in 2018. There is a need for a pass-rusher, and Thibodeaux specializes in getting to the quarterback. The No. 1-ranked prospect overall, Thibodeaux could provide an immediate boost this season. He is enrolling early, which should allow him to put on any necessary weight and acclimate himself to the playbook. If he gets on the field next season, he will bring a level of speed and athleticism to the defense that will help replace some of the pass-rush production from this past season.
No. 13 Washington State: QB Gunner Cruz
Gardner Minshew threw for 4,477 yards and 36 touchdowns for Washington State this season, but he won't be on the roster next season. That opens the door for Cruz to step in and take over right away, especially because quarterbacks not named Minshew attempted only 14 passes last season for Washington State. Cruz threw for 3,598 yards and 30 touchdowns last season in high school, and besides his stats, is there a better name than Gunner to run a Mike Leach offense? Cruz might not win the starting job, but he is enrolling early and has the opportunity in front of him.
No. 14 UCF: DE Raymond Cutts
UCF has 10 defensive line commits in the 2019 class, including Cutts. Since junior college prospects aren't eligible for this list, Cutts is listed as one of the more important high school recruits in the class. The junior college commits along the defensive line, including Jalen Pinkney, William Hancock, Noah Hancock and Cam Goode, could take playing time from some of the high school prospects, but as you can see from the number of defensive linemen signed in this class, it's a priority for the UCF staff. Cutts is one of three defensive line four-star commits in this class. Tre'Mon Morris-Brash and Keenan Hester are the others.
No. 15 Syracuse: LB Lee Kpogba
If junior college players were allowed on this list, offensive tackle Darius Tisdale would be the pick. They're not, though, so Kpogba is the name we'll go with for true freshmen. Syracuse is losing quite a bit at linebacker and is going to need some immediate help next season. Kpogba, at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, is enrolling early and has a chance to get on the field right away. ESPN 300 linebacker signee Mikel Jones, who is a similar size to Kpogba, also has the opportunity. Both were big additions to this class in terms of filling a need, and both should provide some competition at the position.
No. 16 Washington: DE Laiatu Latu
Washington ranked 83rd in sacks this season, tallying 24 in 14 games. The players who accounted for 10 of those 24 sacks are gone after this season, and Latu could help replace that production. He was a terror off the edge in high school. At 6-foot-5 and 237 pounds, he could be versatile enough to fill a few roles, depending on how he fills out. Ranked as the No. 239 prospect overall, Latu should improve an area that could use a boost if he can play his way onto the field.
No. 17 Penn State: RBs Devyn Ford and Noah Cain
The Nittany Lions are losing their top two rushers this season, running back Miles Sanders and quarterback Trace McSorley. Those guys combined for nearly 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. The offense is returning running back Ricky Slade, who saw action as a freshman, and has Journey Brown on the roster, but adding Ford and Cain will give the run game a shot in the arm next season. Cain is 5-foot-11, 209 pounds, and Ford is 6-feet, 191 pounds, so both have good size and the ability to add more weight. Both were highly sought after, and there is a chance they could help the offense early next season.
No. 18 Utah: OLs Sataoa Laumea and Marist Talavou
Utah fans should be excited about next season because there is a lot of talent coming back on a team that finished with nine wins this season. There aren't many holes that need to be filled, either. Safety could be one spot, but there aren't many fill-in candidates in the 2019 class. The other main area of need is offensive line, with Lo Falemaka, Jordan Agasiva, Jackson Barton and Alani Havili-Katoa all gone after this season. There will likely be some shuffling, but there also will be opportunity for offensive linemen Laumea and Talavou to earn a spot along the interior of the line. It might be difficult to do, but those two could eventually make an impact.
No. 19 Northwestern: WR Bryce Kirtz
Northwestern's offense isn't losing much at receiver on the outside, but slot receiver Flynn Nagel is gone after this season. Kirtz, at 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, could fill that role and bring some athleticism to this offense. He is electric with the ball and has speed that could help him see the field early on. On top of his attributes, Kirtz played high school football with quarterback Hunter Johnson, who transferred to Northwestern from Clemson, at Brownsburg. Kirtz could be a comfortable option for Johnson if he wins the starting job next season. ESPN 300 wide receiver Genson Hooper-Price could also see time early on, but there are more receivers returning on the outside, which might give Kirtz a faster route to the field.
No. 20 Iowa State: RBs Breece Hall and Jirehl Brock
Iowa State isn't losing much from this past season, and the system allows players to develop rather than plug and play. That said, if running back David Montgomery opts for the NFL draft, running back signees Breece Hall and Jirehl Brock become very important pieces of this 2019 class. Montgomery was the main back in Iowa State's offense, and replacing his production would be difficult, but both Hall and Brock have an opportunity to build off what Montgomery was able to do and provide some consistency in the run game.
No. 21 Wisconsin: QB Graham Mertz
The Badgers are returning starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook, but Mertz is still the pick. Mertz is the No. 2-ranked pocket passer in the 2019 class and ranked No. 43 overall. He is very likely the best quarterback Wisconsin will have on its roster since Russell Wilson transferred from N.C. State. The Badgers are losing some of the big names along the offensive line but return running back Jonathan Taylor and last season's leading receivers. Inserting Mertz into that offense to go with Wisconsin's stout defense could help push this team to the next tier.
No. 22 Missouri: S Jalani Williams
Missouri recorded only 10 interceptions this past season while allowing 24 pass touchdowns and 262 pass yards per game. The secondary needs help, and safety Jalani Williams could provide that. At 6-foot-2, 170 pounds, he is a big safety with a lot of athleticism. He's ranked No. 288 overall in the class and could help early at safety and make an impact in the return game in his first season. Williams is a much needed piece, joining a defense that had issues last season and is losing some of its bigger contributors from this past season.
No. 23 Auburn: QB Bo Nix
Quarterback Jarrett Stidham is headed to the NFL, and Auburn is in need of a new quarterback. Nix is a legacy recruit whose father, Patrick, also played quarterback at Auburn in the '90s. The younger Nix is going to have every opportunity to come in and earn the starting job now that Stidham is gone. Auburn is returning a good amount of offensive production from last season and most of its starting offensive line, so plugging in a freshman quarterback won't be too much of a shock or problem, given what he will be surrounded by. Owen Pappoe could also get the nod here, as Auburn will need help at linebacker, but Nix could make the bigger impact if he wins the starting job.
No. 24 Nebraska: ATH Wandale Robinson
Nebraska's offense showed tremendous improvement throughout the season and is poised to pick up where it left off next season. The offense is returning quarterback Adrian Martinez, running back Maurice Washington and receivers JD Spielman and Jack Stoll. Running back Devine Ozigbo and receiver Stanley Morgan are gone, however, so that's where Wandale Robinson's impact could be important. Robinson has been compared to Purdue freshman Rondale Moore, and he could help Nebraska in both the run and pass game, giving the offense a versatile athlete to utilize in multiple ways. Inserting Robinson into Scott Frost's offense could be a perfect match and could help make the Huskers even more dangerous.
No. 25 Army: DT Ryan Bryce
No, you didn't miss a name in Army's 2019 recruiting class. Bryce is from the 2018 cycle. Army, and all the military academies, do things a little differently, however, when it comes to recruiting. Most of the prospects who sign with Army will attend the United States Military Academy Preparatory School before actually starting their eligibility. The academies aren't able to redshirt prospects, so this is their way of getting around that and getting the prospects prepared for the college level. Bryce is a defensive tackle in the 2018 class who attended the prep academy in 2018 and will technically be a freshman this season. Army loses starting nose guard Ray Wright to graduation, and Bryce could help fill that hole.