Projecting the SEC’s 13 biggest breakout players for 2013


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Being the next breakout star in the SEC isn’t easy, and it’s even tougher to predict. Who saw Johnny Manziel or Todd Gurley exploding onto the scene? Exactly. No one.

But let’s look into the crystal ball and hopefully forecast some players who will impact the SEC landscape and finally get their chance at becoming elite:

Super sophomores

1. Jordan Jenkins, OLB, Georgia (SO)
2. Dante Fowler, DE, Florida (SO)
3. Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri (SO)

Jordan Jenkins managed to make only five sacks playing behind Jarvis Jones, but he could be Jones 2.0. Jones’ protégé is due for a big year as Georgia’s outside linebacker. Might we forget all about Jones? That’s not possible, but Jenkins should be dynamite…Florida’s Buck Dante Fowler is ready to have a big season. He played every game as a true freshman, and he’s been manhandling Florida’s O-linemen during practice. He totaled eight tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks last year and will lead Florida’s improved pass rush…Better quarterback play would help Dorial Green-Beckham become the player we know he’s capable of being. The 6-6, 220-pound Baby Lebron could work his way into elite status, because he has all the physical tools. He caught just 28 passes for 395 yards, but he led the team in touchdown receptions with five.

Related: Predicting every game in the SEC for 2013

Impact newcomer

4. Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn (JR)

Nick Marshall isn’t Cam Newton, but the comparisons will be there. He’s an exceptional athlete, but he must cut down on his 20 INTs from JUCO. Still, Marshall stands to become the SEC’s best newcomer simply because Gus Malzahn’s style of offense fits him perfectly.

Next in line

5. Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina (SO)

Mike Davis is ready to replace Marcus Lattimore. Davis is a fantastic looking prospect who will finally get his shot in 2013. He looks like a 1,000-yard back who will share carries with Brandon Wilds. Don’t expect a drop off in the running game.

Related: Ranking the SEC stadiums

Impact freshmen

6. Robert Nkemdiche, DE, Ole Miss (FR)
7. Demarcus Robinson, WR, Florida (FR)

Everyone will be tuning in opening night against Vanderbilt to watch the big fellow, Robert Nkemdiche. He should start, as he’s been working with the first teamers during preseason camp. Nkemdiche is the throwback Reggie White, but living up to that hype will be tough…Some have already thrown around comparisons to Sammy Watkins-type ability and impact for Demarcus Robinson, and from what we’ve seen so far in practice, Robinson will be a major factor in Florida’s passing game. He’s just a freshman, but his maturity as a route runner and pass catcher, along with gifted athleticism, is very impressive.

Related: SEC team rankings by position 

Four newcomers

8. Justin Cox, DB, Mississippi State (JR)
9. Marquez North, WR, Tennessee (FR)
10. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama (FR)
11. Ricky Seals-Jones, WR, Texas A&M (FR)

Losing Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay is tough, but JUCO transfer Justin Cox is ready to replace either. He recorded 11 INTs and 19 pass breakups in two years at EMCC. At 6-3, 190, Cox can play either safety or corner for the Bulldogs’ defense and fill major holes…Marquez North could become Tennessee’s best offensive weapon. North is just a raw athlete with tons of playmaking potential at 6-4, 215 pounds. Now, if the Vols can just find a quarterback…Derrick Henry is a man-child at 6-3, 245 pounds. Sure, Alabama’s depth chart is stacked in the backfield, but Henry is physically ready to become TJ Yeldon’s primary backup. He’s been the most impressive backup in preseason camp, and he could be a 500- to 600-yard rusher as a freshman…Several questions surrounded Ricky Seals-Jones and what position he would play at TAMU, but at 6-5, 240, RSJ is lean and fast enough to play receiver and make an instant impact. He’s been turning heads during preseason camp, and he’ll be another weapon for Kevin Sumlin’s passing game – could be the No. 2 receiver aside from Mike Evans.

Talented defenders

12. Geno Smith, CB, Alabama (SO)
13. Justin Garrett, LB, Auburn (SO)

Geno Smith has All-American potential at corner. Sure, he made a very dumb decision driving under the influence and is suspended for the first game, but he’s Alabama’s next great cover corner. He became one of the Tide’s top pass defenders as a Nickel in 2012…More than anything, Auburn’s new system will allow Justin Garret to flourish. He had a great spring as Auburn’s Star, and the Tigers can get back to having top linebackers. Garrett is a part of Gus Malzahn’s new foundation at Auburn.

Photo Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports



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  • I think Laquon Treadwell belongs on the list, and probably higher than Nkemdiche. Treadwell will probably be starting in the slot on Thursday, and he’s going to get the ball thrown to him. The coaches have raved about him.

    • You may be right. Going to be interesting to see when Vince Sanders returns what impact Treadwell will have. He may be too good to leave off the field.

      • Yeah, and Sanders’ absence is a big reason I think Treadwell’s going to have an immediate impact. He’ll certainly have an earlier impact than Nkemdiche, though I think Nkemdiche will catch up a bit later. A lot easier for a freshman WR than a freshman DE.

  • If I were Kiel Frazier, I would transfer!

    …and watch out for O.J. Howard, Bama’s freshman tight end.

  • Missouri could have an All-SEC center in Sophomore Evan Boehm, this State Wrestling champ started every game as a true freshman last year, but was putting out fires the whole year due to injured upper classmen. This year he is ready to lead the whole Missouri offensive line to some surprise point of attacks. DGBeckham will seem like he is walking on the clouds with defenders in slow motion but the eye test will be blurred by a mass receiver cluster where every week a new name seems to show up as a star for Missouri.

  • I think Jonathan Allen could make some noise playing end this year. He’s quicker and we don’t really have an established great pass rusher out of the older guys so he might stick out if he can do what he’s able to.

  • Tray Matthews, freshman FS, UGA

  • Would you say that Damian Swann had his breakout season last year? Or was that just a tune up for what might be the most spectacular season by a secondary from UGA ever this year? (major hyperbole I know, but I hope the point got across)

    • Would definitely say his breakout year was last year, but he has a really high ceiling and will improve. Numbers may not show it, because few teams will pick on him when there’s so many questions everywhere else.

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