Making freshmen impacts in the SEC is tough, but these 13 SEC West players significantly helped their teams in 2012. This isn’t a projection based on breakout players, but it’s players who already made impacts as freshmen and are primed for big sophomore seasons.
Related: SEC East super sophomores
Vadal Alexander, OL, LSU: Pressed into action due to injuries, Alexander stepped up to the plate. He started nine games at right tackle and played in all 13, and he is a powerful run blocker who oozes All-American potential.
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: The consensus All-American became one of Alabama’s most important weapons down the stretch run last year. He caught 59 passes for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns. What will Coop do for an encore?
Trae Elston, DB, Ole Miss: Named the SEC’s hardest hitting freshman, Elston was an All-SEC freshman who posted 61 tackles and six pass breakups as the Rebels’ safety. Elston is primed for a big season in Oxford.
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M: The 6-5, 225-pound former hoopster became Johnny Manziel’s biggest weapon. Evans caught a freshman-record 82 catches for 1,105 yards and five touchdowns. He catches everything in sight and is due for a huge season.
Rohan Gaines, S, Arkansas: As bad as Arkansas’ secondary was last year, Rohan Gaines is often overlooked. The freshman All-American made 11 starts and recorded 75 tackles, and he’s the leading returning tackler. With another offseason and a different system, Gaines should have a big season for the Hogs.
Isaac Gross, DT, Ole Miss: The 6-1, 250-pound undersized tackle became a freshman All-American in 2012. He finished third on the team with 10 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. Gross was a big reason the Rebels finished with the most tackles for loss in the SEC.
Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU: Hill’s excellent freshman season was overshadowed by TJ Yeldon and Todd Gurley. He rushed for 755 yards and 12 touchdowns and became the Tigers’ most potent weapon down the stretch, registering four 100-yard performances in the last seven games.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: The unlikely freshman went from a nobody to a celebrity overnight with his electrifying play. Manziel became the first ever freshman to win the Heisman, totaling over 5,100 total yards and 47 touchdowns.
Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State: McKinney may be the best linebacker you’ve never heard of. He was a freshman All-American for the Bulldogs, notching 102 total tackles, good for sixth in the SEC.
Jalen Mills, CB, LSU: In Tyrann Mathieu’s absence, freshman Jalen Mills was thrust into action. He became a freshman All-American after starting all 13 games. Mills finished fourth on the team with 57 tackles.
Denzel Nkemdiche, LB, Ole Miss: The former zero-star recruit became a freshman All-American last year, registering 82 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and three INTs. Nkemdiche has a little Honey Badger in him as an undersized linebacker with an attitude.
AJ Turner, LB, Arkansas: Like several others, Turner had to play out of necessity. He played in all 12 and started the final six games. He was an All-SEC freshman and recorded 53 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack. Let’s hope a lingering wrist injury doesn’t keep Turner out.
TJ Yeldon, RB, Alabama: Another obvious super sophomore, Yeldon emerged as the No. 2 back behind Eddie Lacy, rushing for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has more potential than Mark Ingram, Eddie Lacy and Trent Richardson. Did I just go there? Watch his 10 best freshman plays here.
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