The SEC is not a place for newcomers to cut their teeth. The stars of the league are typically experienced veterans who have paid their dues and learned from others who came before them. However, we’ll occasionally be treated to some young players whose talent cannot be held back. It looks like we’ll see more than the usual amount of impact newcomers in 2010. Here is my list of the top 15 freshmen, redshirt freshmen, and transfers in the SEC this year:
15. Matt Elam S Florida (Fr) – Elam is one of the most talented true freshmen in the SEC. The 6’0″ 205 pound safety was one of the top recruits in the nation, and he might be starting this fall for most schools. At Florida, he’ll play behind Ahmad Black and Will Hill but will still see the field in certain situations and make an impact.
14. Craig Loston S LSU (RFr) – Loston was the nation’s top safety prospect in the Class of 2009 and after a redshirt year due to injury, Loston is competing for a starting position. Regardless of whether he starts, he’ll see the field a good bit. By mid-season, don’t be surprised to see Loston as a regular starter for LSU.
13. Trovon Reed WR Auburn (Fr) – Reed is a perfect fit as a slot receiver in Auburn’s offense. His quick acceleration and sharp cuts should be deadly once he gets the ball with a little space to maneuver. Auburn has a bit of a crowd at the skill positions, but Reed will work his way onto the field.
12. Michael Ford RB LSU (RFr) – Ford is a very balanced back that has good power, better than average moves, and always seems to be falling forward for positive yardage. He will not start out the season as LSU’s premier back. But based on his performance this spring, he may end the season that way.
11. Ronald Powell DE Florida (Fr) – Powell is a freakishly talented athlete who was widely regarded as the nation’s top prospect. The pass rusher could step right into Carlos Dunlap’s departed position, but he’ll have to beat out some veterans in order to do so. The smart money is that he’s a regular on Florida’s defense sooner rather than later.
10. Da’rick Rogers WR Tennessee (Fr) – Rogers looks like a guy that could have a Julio Jones or A.J. Green type of impact as a freshman. Rogers has great size at 6’3″ 210 pounds and next level talent. The only thing holding back Rogers will be the uncertain quarterback situation for the Vols. Regardless, I expect him to make a presence in 2010.
9. Jelani Jenkins LB Florida (RFr) – Jenkins was a very impressive linebacker prospect from the Class of 2009. After a redshirt year, Jenkins steps into the top group of the Gators’ linebackers along with A.J. Jones, Brandon Hicks, and Jon Bostic. Whether he starts or not, he’ll be on the field a lot and his talent will shine.
8. Sam Montgomery DE LSU (RFr) – Montgomery came to LSU as an undersized pass rushing specialist. After a year in the weight room, Montgomery is now a 250 pound athletic freak that is holding down one of the starting end positions for LSU. He was virtually unblockable during spring practice and looks primed for a big year.
7. Marcus Lattimore RB South Carolina (Fr) – At 5’11″ 215 pounds, tons of talent, and more hype than you can imagine, freshman Marcus Lattimore is expected to take over the starting tailback job. He’ll have some competition for carries with Kenny Miles and Jarvis Giles, but expect Lattimore to completely take over at some point.
6. Sharrif Floyd DT Florida (Fr) – Floyd is a beast who not only looks ready for SEC ball, but looks ready for the NFL. He has already made an impression on his teammates in fall camp. Despite the presence of Lawrence Marsh, Omar Hunter, and Jaye Howard, Floyd should play quite a bit this fall.
5. Andre Debose WR Florida (RFr) – While a few tried their and at playing “The Percy Harvin role” in Florida’s offense last year, Debose is the guy that can actually succeed. Debose has incredible acceleration and top end speed and should flourish in the Gators’ offense. He missed 2009 with a pretty bad hamstring injury but is now ready to go.
4. Jeremiah Masoli QB Ole Miss (Sr) – Masoli was receiving some pre-season Heisman hype at Oregon before running into trouble off the field. Now he lands at Ole Miss and gives them a play maker at quarterback that they otherwise lack. Masoli is best in a spread offense where he’s allowed to run the football and Ole Miss has used the Wildcat a good bit over the last couple of years. If Masoli does not begin the season as the Rebels’ starter, it won’t be long before he’s out there making plays. With the supporting cast at Ole Miss, don’t expect Masoli to duplicate his numbers from Oregon, but he should still be one of the league’s most exciting quarterbacks.
3. Michael Dyer RB Auburn (Fr) – In my opinion, Dyer was the top running back prospect in the nation. He steps into a situation at Auburn with a great opportunity to earn a ton of playing time. At 5’8″ 200 pounds and plenty of speed, Dyer is like a bowling ball. While Mario Fanin may begin the season as Auburn’s primary runner, Dyer will take over before long. Don’t be surprised if Dyer rushes for 1,000 yards in 2010.
2. Aaron Murray QB UGA (RFr) – I’m a big fan of Murray’s, and I think he’s going to have a very nice season as Georgia’s starter.
While he’ll make some freshman mistakes, his style will suit Georgia’s offense well. Murray is a heady, accurate quarterback. Georgia has solid playmakers at receiver such as A.J. Green and Rontavious Wooten, a weapon at tight-end in Orson Charles, a star running back in Washaun Ealey, and a stout offensive line who returns all five starters. With those weapons, Murray should be a good distributor of the football and put up some nice numbers.
1. Cameron Newton QB Auburn (Jr) – Newton (pictured) comes to Auburn from junior college after originally transferring from Florida. Newton has incredible size at 6’6″ 245 pounds and is a very adept runner. In short, he looks like the perfect fit for Gus Malzhan’s spread offense. If Auburn got Chris Todd to complete 60% of his passes and throw 22 touchdowns against just six interceptions, then it’s scary to think that offense can do for a talent like Newton. I expect he’ll thrive and put up some really outstanding numbers.
Others to watch:
Eddie Lacy RB Bama (RFr)
D.J. Fulker OL Bama (RFr)
Montrell Connor RB MSU (RFr)
Michael Brockers DT LSU (RFr)
Randall Mackey QB/ATH Ole Miss (Jr)
Matt Simms QB Tenn (Jr)
Josh Shaw CB UF (Fr)
Gerald Christian TE UF (Fr)
Chris Dunkley WR UF (Fr)
Junior Karnell Hatcher has been receiving some time with the starting unit at safety. John Chavis stated that Jai Eugene, Craig Loston, and Karnell Hatcher are all competing for the other safety spot opposite Brandon Taylor. I expect that we’ll see Hatcher in the game quite a bit in running situations.
Kadron Boone continues to draw positive comments from media in attendance as the most polished of the freshman receivers.
Jahkari Gore also consistently earns positive comments from those in attendance. He looks very quick on the clips of practice that are available to watch.
Defensive tackle Michael Brockers is another guy who is making a good impression thus far in camp.
Tampa, FL quarterback Phillip Ely will make his decision on Wednesday at 4:00 PM CST. Based on the reports coming out of LSU and looking at the fact that LSU took a commitment from Stephen Rivers, I am expecting Ely to choose somewhere else.