SDS talent evaluators Jon Cooper and Brad Crawford spent several months breaking down last year’s highlights, incoming talent and projected 2014 impact following spring practice to compile a list of the SEC’s Top 100 players heading into fall. Athletes were selected by position then ranked overall counting down to No. 1.
Stick with SDS throughout summer and get in on the action using the hashtag #SDSTop100 as we unveil a new player daily leading up to opening night on Aug. 28.
99. Justin Malone, Jr., OL, Mississippi St.
Believe it or not, Malone — not quarterback Dak Prescott — is the key cog in what promises to be an explosive offense under Dan Mullen in Starkville this season. Standing 6-foot-7 at a massive 325 pounds, Malone fills a void at guard after missing nearly all of last season following a foot injury suffered during the fourth quarter of the opener against Oklahoma State.
Malone’s return to the lineup softens the blow of All-SEC guard Gabe Jackson’s departure, a third-round pick of the Oakland Raiders. Sandwiched between veterans Blaine Clausell at tackle and center Dillon Day, Mississippi St. is relying on Malone to re-enter the comfort zone he found as a redshirt-freshman in 2012 when he was an all-freshman nominee with four starts.
During that season, Malone recorded a season-high eight pancake blocks in his first career start and graded out at 81 percent during a homecoming victory over Middle Tennessee St. His grit at the line of scrimmage is an essential element to the Bulldogs’ success in the run game this fall.
2013 statistics: Played 3.5 quarters before being sidelined for the season.
2014 projection: Can join several teammates as an All-SEC caliber blocker along one of the league’s best offensive lines.
Photo Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports