The stockpile of freshman talent in the SEC may be at an all-time high. Along with the Golden Age of the SEC we currently are living in, the best players in the country are taking note and choosing to play against the best competition. And no longer do they have to wait to play in two or three years; they are playing right away and making a major impact on their teams.
These are not only the most dominant freshman duos in the SEC, but they are tops in the country, too.
Alabama: WR Amari Cooper and RB TJ Yeldon
The emergence of Amari Cooper and TJ Yeldon was a major reason why the Tide are national champions. It wasn’t so much that they needed either against Notre Dame, but these two made running the SEC gauntlet possible. When Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart were injured, Yeldon stepped to the forefront of the depth chart behind Eddie Lacy and delivered. He not only made his team better, but he made Lacy better, too. Yeldon is such a polished runner who has the total package to be a monster for years to come.
When DeAndrew White tore his ACL, Cooper became AJ McCarron’s main target, and he once again picked up the slack when receiver Kenny Bell went down late in the year, too. Alabama’s offense started to really explode when Cooper provided McCarron with the best deep threat in the SEC. He’s not just the best receiver at Bama since Julio Jones; he’s better than Jones.
Again, we see the benefits of enrolling early, as both Cooper and Yeldon enrolled this time last year in Tuscaloosa to get a head start on the competition. The duo combined for 2,108 yards and 23 touchdowns. And these are true freshmen we’re talking about, too, not redshirt freshmen.
Georgia: RBs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall
If not for Texas A&M, Georgia would have had the most explosive offense in the SEC. Obviously Aaron Murray is the main reason why, but Murray throwing for nearly 4,000 yards and 36 touchdowns would have never been possible without Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall toting the rock behind him. ‘Gurshall’ combined for 339 carries for 2,144 yards and 25 touchdowns while averaging 6.32 yards per carry.
Simply put – Gurley became the back everyone thought Marshall would be. And he won the starting job in preseason camp. Being compared to Trent Richardson with his physical gifts seemed hilarious even before his first game, but we started considering it fact after about week five when he torched Tennessee’s defense for 130 yards and three touchdowns. He showed just how physically ready he was against Alabama in the SEC Championship.
Marshall, on the other hand, was great against less physical competition. He’s a burner who can punish teams by attacking the edge of the defense. And he will put on some needed weight while keeping the burst and explosiveness to hopefully evolve into an every-down back. His spinning touchdown catch against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl showed how much he had grown and just how versatile he really is. He’s a homerun hitter who will only get better.
Texas A&M: QB Johnny Manziel and WR Mike Evans
Unlike Georgia or Alabama’s duo, Texas A&M featured the redshirt freshmen duo of Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans. The Aggies have a number of stellar first-year stars, but Manziel and Evans are the two best.
Manziel became the first freshman to hoist the stiff-arm trophy, with his record-setting 5,116 total offensive yards and 47 touchdowns. Manziel notched a lot of ‘firsts’ and broke SEC and school records in the process. He becomes just the fourth quarterback in the history of college football to join the 20-20 club, too, joining former SEC greats Tim Tebow and Cam Newton. And I would argue Manziel will only get better, and that his best football is in front of him. It’s a raw athleticism that is unmatched by anyone in college football.
If not for Cooper, Mike Evans would be the best freshman receiver in the SEC. And he even had better numbers than Cooper, too. Evans caught 82 passes for 1,105 yards and five touchdowns. He’s not a big-time deep threat like others, but he’s a 6-5 possession receiver who doesn’t drop passes, ever. He and Manziel have a great rapport and will be so explosive next season.
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