Week 11 was a perfect display of freshman star power in the SEC. Major players as freshmen are having massive impacts not only in this conference but around the college landscape, too. Case in point – Johnny Manziel.
We’re only three weeks away from completing the 2012 regular season (can you believe it?!), so let’s rank the freshmen according to the ability they’ve shown so far this season. If you don’t think the future is bright, think again. The SEC is set up with star power for years to come.
Naturally, most of the impact freshmen are at offensive skill positions. Again, this is not a ranking of where they will be in the future, but rather what they have shown in their first season.
Here is the top 10:
Cream of the Crop
1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Nine games into Johnny Manziel’s career, Texas A&M has seven wins and the Aggies lead the SEC in scoring offense, total offense, rushing offense and second in passing offense. Much of it has to do with Kevin Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury, but Manziel is the lifeblood of the operation. He’s totaled 3,449 yards and 31 touchdowns. Johnny “he didn’t just do it again” Manziel has only struggled against LSU and Florida – two of the best defenses in the country, and he gets his shot to make up for it against Bama this weekend. Will he have a Heisman moment against the Tide?
2. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: Through the first four or five weeks, to me, Todd Gurley was the biggest impact freshman in the SEC. He was breaking off 50-yard runs every game, averaging over nine yards per carry and housing 100-yard kickoff returns. We knew Georgia had a star player in the making in Gurley from his very first game. He leads all SEC running backs with 857 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. If not for Manziel, Gurley would be the biggest impact freshman in the country. He’s absolutely given the Georgia offense another dimension, with his power and physical running style.
3. TJ Yeldon, RB, Alabama: America got their taste of Yeldon last weekend against LSU. While he did produce a costly turnover, he made it up for it with his 28-yard screen pass for a touchdown. Yeldon possesses superior speed, vision and power, and he could be better than Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. He’s the best back on the roster in his rookie year. Nick Saban and the offense will lean on Yeldon down the stretch run as they make their way towards a national championship.
4. Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU: Mr. Hill announced his arrival on the scene against South Carolina, housing a 50-yard touchdown run that put the game out of reach. Just in the last three games, Hill has rushed for 358 yards and four touchdowns. While he’s built like a power back at 225 pounds, he has the elite speed to get to the corner and turn up field. He can pick up three-yard first downs and outrun defenders for a breakaway touchdown. What a great looking player, and he’s leading the Tigers in rushing with 429 yards and six touchdowns.
The Rest of the Best
5. Denzel Nkemdiche, LB, Ole Miss: Leading the charge for the Rebels’ resurgence on defense this season has been linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche. Nkemdiche is not your prototypical linebacker and is undersized, but he makes up for it when he hits the ball carrier head on. He’s forced four fumbles, good for second in the SEC behind Jarvis Jones. He brings tenacity and plays with an edge. He has a bright future, and I heard his brother is pretty good, too…only the #1 high school player in the country.
6. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M: It’s not every day you see a former basketball player with limited football experience step up and dominate as a freshman. But Evans is doing just that. All the quarterback has to do is throw the ball anywhere close to Evans, and he’s making the grab, with his eight-foot wingspan. Evans has caught a team-high 56 passes for 802 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 14.3 yards per reception. He, Manziel and Trey Williams will be a dynamic three for the Aggies’ SEC future.
7. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: In addition to TJ Yeldon, Amari Cooper has been one of the more instrumental freshmen for the Tide. His emergence for AJ McCarron in the passing game is a big reason McCarron’s being mentioned in the same breath for the Heisman Trophy. Cooper leads the Tide with 32 catches for 472 yards and five touchdowns – think Julio Jones Part Deux.
8. Keith Marshall, RB, Georgia: Marshall may play second fiddle this season as Gurley’s backup, but he’s got a massive future in front of him. He has more wiggles than Gurley, and he is devastating with his speed on the edge and on defenders trying to tackle him in the open field. No, he hasn’t been as good as Gurley in year one, but he could have more upside. We’re going to find out. And these guys play on the same team. Boy, is the future bright in Athens.
9. Jalen Mills, DB, LSU: Mills will forever be known as the guy who replaced Tyrann Matheiu on defense after his dismissal. But he’s making a name for himself, and he’s played very well for the Tigers this season. He’s picked off two passes, recorded three pass breakups and five passes defended, to go along with his 38 tackles on the season. Mills will be a landmark in the Tigers’ defensive secondary for the next few years.
10. John Theus, OL, Georgia: Rarely do offensive linemen get much playing time as a freshman, but it’s even rarer that one starts from day one. John Theus did just that for Georgia. Sure, he’s had his moments at tackle for the Bulldogs with penalties and rush ends getting by him to put a lick on Aaron Murray, but he’s getting better with more experience. He’s a great looking player and will be the centerpiece to the Bulldogs’ line moving forward.
Photo Credit: Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE