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10 True Freshmen to Watch for Mississippi State

Last updated: 08-29-2019

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10 True Freshmen to Watch for Mississippi State

10 True Freshmen to Watch for Mississippi State
Mississippi State offensive tackle Charles Cross (Photo: Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page, 247Sports)
For nearly three weeks, we've been able to observe limited portions of Mississippi State's training camp. We've talked to coaches and Bulldog players but as normal, true freshmen are off limits for interviews until the season begins and they play a lot.
So there's ton of information already gathered this month and that includes in-person looks and insight from those at practice, whether it be coaches or players. With that said, I opted to give my Top 10 true freshmen based on my opinion and what I've seen so far. This list was tough to complete towards the bottom, mainly due to there being so much depth in the class. It was a close call with some guys and you could make a serious argument for the likes of offensive linemen Nick Pendley and Brevyn Jones .
There are some surprises and some expected names from the Class of 2019 donning this list. To note, we just included true freshmen and did not consider juco transfers or graduate transfers. Obviously, if we did, the likes of quarterback Tommy Stevens , offensive lineman LaQuinston Sharp  and receivers Isaiah Zuber and JaVonta Payton would don that list.
So agree or disagree with my selections, here we go....
1. Cornerback Martin Emerson Jr.
Martin Emerson (Photo: Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page, 247Sports)
During each recruiting cycle, there's always a handful of prospects that I stand on the table for concerning their rating. Sometimes my argument is observed and accepted and sometimes not. But the main player I spoke up for early and often in the Class of 2019 was Emerson, who was a 247Sports three-star prospect.
He ended up as the fourth lowest-rated signee in the class and what a steal that was. Emerson checks off a lot of boxes when it regards a prototypical SEC cornerback. He's got size, he's got a high football IQ and he also has that confident, cornerback mentality. He competes with the best the receivers have to offer every day yet still won his share of battles. I don't see any way that Emerson doesn't play this season, and I mean more than four games. When you earn early praise from Bob Shoop , you know the Bulldogs have a player.
2. Defensive end De'Monte Russell
De'Monte Russell (9) (Photo: Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page, 247Sports)
This selection is not as surprising. After all, we all knew about Russell's burst off the edge and his well above-average athleticism. Plus, he was a 247Sports four-star prospect and the third highest-rated signee for the Bulldogs. All Russell needs to do is become familiar with the playbook and continue to add more weight. He enrolled at 218 pounds and is already close to 240 pounds, so that's been pleasing to see.
Russell has the length, too, and his athleticism with added strength will make him quite the force in the future. Unlike cornerback, the Bulldogs do have proven depth at defensive end and have a two-deep of seniors and juniors. That aspect may allow Russell to redshirt but some folks inside the program believe he could be too good to redshirt.
3. Cornerback Jarrian Jones
Jarrian Jones (Photo: Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page, 247Sports)
Another expected 2019 signee to be high on this list. Like Emerson, Jones also possess good length on the island and has never been one to shy away from competition. Also similar to Emerson, they both face a stiff learning curve in the SEC where nearly every team has multiple NFL-caliber receivers to defend.
Whether Jones redshirts or not could depend on injuries or just how much depth position coach Terrell Buckley wants to use this year. We know the starters are Cameron Dantzler and Maurice Smitherman, and that Tyler Williams is the third corner in the rotation with Korey Charles also in the mix. Jones will also play on special teams, as well.
4. Offensive tackle Charles Cross
Mississippi State offensive tackle Charles Cross (Photo: Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page, 247Sports)
The first-ever 247Sports five-star offensive lineman signed by the Bulldogs, Cross has not disappointed thus far. Of course, he arrived in January as an early high school graduate and had the benefit of going through spring practice. His footwork and athleticism is the best I've covered during my days on the recruiting scene regarding Mississippi State signees.
Yes, Cross still needs to add more weight and is currently at 270 pounds. That will happen eventually but despite that lack of weight right now, Cross still holds his balance well. It doesn't take long to watch him to realize he has a special future ahead of him. He is also a candidate to play this season and to play more than four games. Injuries, as usual, could play a key and could determine if Cross plays a lot at left tackle.
5. Running back Lee Witherspoon
Lee Witherspoon (22) (Photo: Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page, 247Sports)
Possibly another surprise mention to some. But not to those who have heard the comments sprayed around about Witherspoon's abilities and speed. Like any new freshman back, he still has to learn what to do when he doesn't have the football, such as blocking.
One of the question marks about Witherspoon when he signed was his weight and some even suggested he might play slot receiver. But the Alabama native removed all doubts about that, gaining some 20 pounds after enrolling and is now at 200 pounds. The Bulldogs are short on depth at running back so Witherspoon's presence will be needed this year. He will have some growing pains but the way he accelerates in his cuts is fun to watch. Like others, Witherspoon has been productive in training camp scrimmages.
6. Quarterback Garrett Shrader
(Photo: Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page, 247Sports)
Yes, originally I expected Shrader to redshirt and play no more than four games this season. And yes, he is still a year away from seriously competing for the starting job. But based on what we saw transpire from April to this month, it has been impressive to see the strides Shrader has made. And now that Keytaon Thompson has entered the transfer portal, Shrader may very well play more than four games as a true freshman.
Another one taking advantage of early enrollment, Shrader has improved his throwing motion (with work still left to do) and his arm has gotten stronger. In our limited view inside training camp, Shrader has thrown it accurately in individual drills and is quickly learning his receivers and the timing involved.
7. Safety Collin Duncan
(Photo: Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page, 247Sports)
Duncan didn't enroll until July but wasted little time making an impression on his teammates and coaches. He has a nose for the football and while there's a lot left to learn from Bob Shoop, he takes good angles in coverage and has always been labeled a physical player.
Duncan was close to earning four-star status by 247Sports and was a solid late get for the Bulldogs back in February. He may redshirt this season due to older guys ahead of him. But with a pair of seniors at strong safety and nickel, Duncan should enter the mix next year and could compete for a starting job sooner than later.
8. Defensive lineman Nathan Pickering
(Photo: Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page, 247Sports)
The former 247Sports four-star prospect has a quick burst and is among the most athletic interior defenders. That was what we saw from Pickering in high school, too, and he was the second-highest rated Bulldog signee in the Class of 2019.
Pickering is working with a lot of younger guys and most in the defensive tackle/noseguard rotation are just a year older than him. Still hard to know for sure but he may not redshirt this year either, and how deep the rotation is at his position will determine that. He is a major piece of that future interior, however.
9. Safety J.P. Purvis
(Photo: Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page, 247Sports)
The versatile athlete was another one that was underrated in the Class of 2019, and most of that was due to Purvis getting most of his high school reps at quarterback. These days he has made the transition to the defensive backfield, and continues to look as athletic as ever.
He is still a little stiff at safety and his technique will come with more practice reps. He also has the instincts and frame to play either safety or nickel in the future. I have a feeling we will look back on Purvis as the biggest sleeper in this class and his current coaches share the same thoughts.
10. Defensive end Jack Harris
(Photo: Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page, 247Sports)
The Oak Grove High School product was the third-lowest rated signee in the Class of 2019. But he put up good numbers and has always been ahead of the curve from a physical standpoint.
But even so, Harris surprised a lot of the Bulldog veterans with his speed in offseason drills and later in training camp. He has held his own from a strength standpoint in those drills observed by the media. Harris may not flash like others in this class but he does a lot of things good.

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