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February 7, 2007

Instant impact: Five who should play right away

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Getting our recruiting analysts to agree on prospects isn't the easiest thing to accomplish.

So we were flabbergasted when they came to a consensus pretty quickly on which five signees in the class of 2007 will have the biggest impact next season.

Who are college football's next freshman phenoms? Here are some good bets, based on their talent and the opportunity they will have to step in and compete for a starting job. The players are listed alphabetically:

Instant Impact Freshmen
Marvin Austin, defensive tackle, North Carolina
The five-star prospect is No. 1 at his position and No. 7 overall in the Rivals.com rankings. He's 6 feet 2, 291 pounds and loaded with speed, strength and quickness. "He'll step right in and have an immediate impact on that program," Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. Austin, who is a pretty fair drummer (https://footballrecruiting.rivals.com/content.asp?CID=638749 ), had offers from all points of the globe. He took official visits to Illinois, Tennessee, Southern Cal, Florida State and UNC. It came down to the Tar Heels and the Seminoles, with Austin choosing to cast his lot with Butch Davis. The new North Carolina coach was elated, and believes Austin will be drumming opponents in Chapel Hill for the next few years. "He is a passionate football player; he's explosive, he's disruptive," Davis said. "The other part is that this guy is charismatic. This guy is a leader. He will raise the expectations of the football team."
Arrelious Benn, wide receiver, Illinois
Benn, who long listed Notre Dame as his leader, caused much consternation when he committed to the Illini. The 6-1, 210-pound wide receiver is ranked fifth at his position and 24th overall nationally by Rivals. "He will probably be their No. 1 receiver right away," Farrell said. Benn will need to have an immediate impact: Illinois was ranked last in the Big Ten and 105th nationally in pass offense last season. Illinois mustered just 156.5 passing yards per game. "I know it will shock a lot of people and they'll question why I did it," Benn told Rivals.com in November about choosing Illinois. "But I feel comfortable there. I have a trust in the coaches, and I think the team is a few playmakers away from being a contender in the Big Ten."
Eric Berry, cornerback, Tennessee
Berry (5-11, 194) not only is No. 1 at his position and No. 3 overall in the Rivals.com rankings, but he is one of the fastest players in the class of 2007. He ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the Nike camp in Athens, Ga. He has otherworldly athleticism, a high football IQ and improving ball skills. "Not only is he very good, but he will play early because Tennessee needs defensive backs so badly," Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Jeremy Crabtree said. Berry chose the Vols over the Georgia Bulldogs. It didn't hurt that his father, James, was a captain of the football team at UT in the late 1970s.
Jimmy Clausen, quarterback, Notre Dame
Everyone knows the Irish are looking for somebody to replace Brady Quinn, so why not the top prospect in the nation? Clausen, Rivals.com's No. 1 overall prospect, has signal-calling in his blood (brothers Casey and Rick were starting QBs at Tennessee). The 6-3, 200-pounder made an early commitment to play for Charlie Weis and stuck to it. "There's no doubt he'll play, but I don't know if he'll start," Farrell said. "The fans will clamor for him. The fact he'll be there for spring practice will be a big help." Clausen passed for more than 10,000 yards and 146 touchdowns in his California prep career.
Joe McKnight, running back, USC
When experts compare you to Reggie Bush, you had better be good. When given that comparison you decide to attend USC, you'd better be really, really good. McKnight (6-1, 193) is, by all accounts. He averaged 15 yards per carry and 31 yards per reception last season. He led his high school team to a state title in Louisiana and a No. 2 finish in the USA Today Super 25. "He does so much athletically they won't be able to keep him off the field, even as much talent as they have," Farrell said of Rivals.com's No. 2 overall prospect and No. 1 running back. "They'll use him as a slash-type guy. They'll put him in the slot, run him and play him on special teams."
Rivals5: Impact Sleepers
We asked our recruiting analysts to give us a few selections for impact sleepers, guys outside the Rivals100 who - if given the chance and the right circumstances - could be the surprise of their class. Here's what they said:
Quentin Castille, RB, La Porte (Texas) La Porte Nebraska
Walter Hill, WR, Gainesville (Ga.) East Hall Georgia
Chasen Stangel, QB, San Jacinto (Calif.) San Jacinto Arizona State
Cody Johnson, RB, Waller (Texas) Waller Texas
Corey Eason, DE, Mansfield (Mass.) Mansfield Boston College

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