Lander Barton’s status as an immediate Power Five starter at linebacker is even more impressive when you consider the context.

He’s starting in the middle of a defense for a team with legitimate title expectations. Utah wants to play for another Pac-12 title and it would like to have a shot at the College Football Playoff. That doesn’t always pair well with starting inexperienced players in key roles. But Barton — one of the highest-rated recruits in Utah’s history — isn’t your typical freshman. He came in with a game that looked readymade for this level, and he’s largely held up.

ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren and Tom Luginbill recently ranked the top 25 freshmen in college football through the first five weeks of the season, and they’ve got the Utah legacy linebacker on the list at No. 24

Here’s what they wrote on Barton:

Utah lost star linebacker Devin Lloyd and Nephi Sewell, its two leading tacklers from last season. The coaching staff brought in Gabe Reid from Stanford and Mohamoud Diabate from Florida, as well as Barton in the 2022 recruiting class. Ranked the No. 5 inside linebacker (No. 213 overall), Barton was the Utes’ second highest-ranked commit in the class behind quarterback Nathan Johnson, and he has already produced this season. Barton is seventh on the team in total tackles (15) and has 2.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and a quarterback hurry on the Pac-12’s best defense.

ESPN’s recruiting index significantly undervalued Barton.

He was a top-100 prospect in the 247 Composite — which takes ESPN’s service into account — and a top-50 prospect by 247Sports’ own talent evaluators. The Salt Lake City native has come on strong for Utah, even as Diabate has been sidelined with an injury and even more responsibility has been on Barton’s plate.

“Man, has he made strides every single week,” said defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley said, per The Deseret News. “You just keep putting him in there because you believe in his athleticism and believe in his talent. He’s picked it up fairly quickly and that ’backer spot is not an easy one to pick up. I’m excited for his future.”