SEC’s 10 best freshmen in 2013

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Previous Rankings:

It’s becoming more of a reoccurring theme that’s much different than the times when freshmen were merely seen and not heard. Now, we are seeing freshmen take over their teams from leadership positions and become instant-impact players year after year.

You never know how the top-ranked high school prospects will translate to the SEC, because the game is much faster and the physical toll the body takes is much different.

This year was a little bit of an anomaly where we saw several offensive and defensive line players make instant impacts. Usually, immediate impacts are made by skill position players like running back and wide receiver, but five freshmen made impacts in the trenches.

Let’s get down to business…

Lockdown

1. Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida

If there was a better freshman at any position around college football than Vernon Hargreaves, please show him to me. Hargreaves Island is alive and kicking after he locked down half the field for Florida. Marcus Roberson and Louchiez Purifoy are said to be coveted corners in the NFL, but Hargreaves was better than both. All total, he made 38 tackles, 11 pass breakups and three INTs. Assuming he stays healthy, he’s a first-round lock in two years.

Related: Alabama find their next QB?

Offensive stars

2. Maty Mauk, QB, Missouri
3. Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas
4. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss

Maty Mauk wasn’t even the starter this past season, but he lived up to the hype filling in for James Franklin. Mauk set all kinds of high school records and flashed why in 2013. With some added touch and decision-making to his game, Mauk will be a force in Mizzou’s spread attack, and he threw for 1,071 yards, 11 TDs and two INTs in four starts. Oh, and he added 229 yards rushing with one TD…Alex Collins is a five-star South Florida native who lived up to the expectations, and he – at times – carried the Hogs’ offense, rushing for 1,026 yards and four TDs on a team that had no passing game. Collins will remind you of Trent Richardson and Maurice Jones-Drew…Laquon Treadwell Football showed why he was the top-ranked receiver in the 2013 class. He caught a team-high 72 passes for 608 yards and five TDs. He has all the tools needed to be a first-round pick in two years.

Top defensive linemen

5. Chris Jones, DL, Mississippi State
6. A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama

How often do you see true freshmen defensive tackles making a big impact? Chris Jones flashed his crazy ability in 2013, making 32 tackles, seven tackles for loss and three sacks, along with 10 QB hurries. He’s versatile and athletic enough to play tackle or end, and he’ll be force for two more years…A’Shawn Robinson became the Tide’s most impactful defensive lineman in a backup role. Robinson made 38 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks, the most of any Alabama player. Robinson is the Mt. Cody of Nick Saban’s defense for two years.

Big boys

7. Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
8. Alex Kozan, OG, Auburn

Rarely will you find a freshman offensive lineman better than Laremy Tunsil. Tunsil slid right into a starting role immediately, and he played lights out the entire season. With Ole Miss’ fast-paced offense, and despite being a massive human being, Tunsil showed just how athletic he was this past season. Tunsil gave up one sack…Alex Kozan helped set the tone for the country’s best rushing attack that averaged more than 328 yards per game. One of three redshirt freshmen on the ranking, Kozan has it all – smarts, athleticism and is a fast learner. He played between two future NFL players in OT Greg Robinson and center Reese Dismukes.

Stud defenders

9. Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia
10. Darius Philon, DT, Arkansas

Leonard Floyd has the highest ceiling of any rush linebacker in college football. His 6-4, 220-pound frame is slammed full of elite athletic ability, and he’s going to be a force for Jeremy Pruitt’s 3-4 scheme. Floyd made 55 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and 22 QB hurries, and he’s a weapon against option attacks. Floyd has a ways to improve his tackling, but that will come with more reps and experience…Darius Philon really came out of nowhere at a huge position of need for Arkansas. He made 46 tackles, nine tackles for loss and three sacks, and Arkansas fans are going to grow to love Philon.

A couple notes:

  • I thought Robert Nkemdiche flashed great athleticism and tremendous upside, but I also thought the above 10 were better over the course of the season. Nkemdiche started coming on strong once he settled into his tackle position towards the end of the season.
  • Alabama RB Derrick Henry is going to be a monster, but he didn’t get enough touches to garner being ranked with the players above.

Photo Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

REFERENCES

COMMENTS

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  • You left out Arkansas TE Hunter Henry, and O-Linemen Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper! How could you leave out a guy (Skipper) that’s 6’10” and 320 lbs?! He’ll easily be 340-350 by the time he is a senior.

  • The name that I believe you are over-looking is Marquez North from Tennessee. He single handedly kept the South Carolina game alive so that the winning FG could be possible. (Pun intended) He was a highlight reel of WR play even with Tennessee’s QB woes. I think you missed one here.

  • Carl Lawson of AU? Did you hear of him this past year?

    • Yeah…I watched Alex Kozan and not Carl Lawson… Lawson was a baller. But he didn’t even start on his own team. Great player with tremendous upside and will be great, but the others were integral pieces to their team’s success. Love Lawson though.

      • I don’t think starting on your own team should be a factor in deciding the most deserving players though. I mean, Clowney was behind Ingram and Taylor as a freshman and was used a situational player and won SEC Freshman of the Year. You put Mauk up there, a nonstarter, even though he had mediocre games against SC and UF (sub 50% completion percentages, turnovers) and padded his stats against UT and Kentucky.

        • South Carolina and Florida finished two of the top three in scoring defense. It isn’t like you show up and score points or complete a large % of passes against them. Would also love to hear a coach say his player “padded” stats against other SEC teams. Mauk played really well, especially compared to other backups around the league. Better than any other backup as a freshman, and that includes Dylan Thompson. Mauk would have started on several teams around the SEC. He has the ability to take Mizzou’s offense to another level. So, he went 3-1 in 4 starts to help MIZ get to Atlanta. Which other player even in the top 10 had that type of impact on their team?

  • Although it is true, North didn’t have the stats of many of the others. He came through in critical times when the O needed him. The way he did it amazed me this year. Give us a great QB on Rocky Top and no doubt he’ll be the best.

  • I’m gonna mention Tony Conner: 66 tackles, 5 TFL’s, 1 sack, & 6 pass-breakups. Pretty solid for a freshman safety. Fewer picks, but better overall stats than Hargreaves…..

  • Wow! I can’t believe you forgot to mention “insert player here” from “insert team here”, who did “insert impressive feat here” in “insert game here”!! This list is horrible. I am a genius football analyst who watches only my team play, and then probably the SEC game of the week. I then form my own opinions of all SEC players from watching them play a handful times of year. Pass me my beer.

  • I would have to say I disagree with this list a little. First off, I think the best freshman in the country was Ole Miss’ LT Laremy Tunsil. He started all but the first game of the season at LT and only gave up one sack the entire season. That’s just about unheard for any lineman, much less a freshman LT in the SEC. I also think Laquon Treadwell should be higher, he did win the SEC Freshman of the Year. Also you have redshirt freshmen on this list like Matty Mauk, with I don’t think they should be on this list. Robert Nkemdiche is a beast. He may have not had great numbers, but he made an impact in most of the games and toward the end of the season he was really getting into beast mode. There is now way he shouldn’t be on this list. But that’s just my humble opinion. I would also like see Tony Conner at least get a honorable mention because he had a really good season and if Evan Engram wouldn’t have gotten injured he would have put some huge numbers at TE.

    • You and the Arkansas fan up top should just make your own top 10, because between your two teams, you can fill it.

      • Well Brianbrenner, Ole Miss can probably can fill most of the this list with it’s freshmen. Arkansas on the other hand has only one freshman that really deserves to be on this list and that’s Alex Collins.

    • so in your criteria an 18 year old who has never been allowed in a game can’t be a freshman but a player who will turn 20 before the end of his first ncaa season can be. And the difference is attending practices at the college vs, high school + elite showcase/camps? No I think the NCAA does a good job of defining this. It essentially tries to give every player a chance to have 4 years of college playing experience and those four years are: Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years

  • I’m a little disconcerted about your lack of respect for Robert Nkimdeche, you’ve constantly left him off lists such as this. You rave over Chris Jones, as you should because he is a beast, but say Nkimdeche was a disappointment. I understand he was the #1 overall recruit, but that puts a bullseye on his back. Let’s not forget Chris Jones was #2 in the nation at his position. Nkimdeche had more tackles, one less sack, and just as much or more impact in the games he played. He just like Jones can be moved inside to outside, he also missed three games due to injury. On the interior he required double team blocking, and sometimes a chip from the running back. He like most Freshmen have to adjust to not being able to bull over their opponents, which he did in the second half of the season in which he became a dominate force. I think you maybe forgetting him on purpose. I would like your critic of him other than you think he is overrated. I feel that Jones and Nkimdeche are almost mirror images of each other, and should be recognized together.

    • Where did I state Nkemdiche was overrated? I’ve never said he was even a disappointment either. I’ve always raved about his frame, crazy athleticism and tremendous upside, but recognition and respect is earned once in the league. Nkemdiche has more upside than any D-lineman in college football, but I also thought there were four better ones this season, starting with Jones. You’re putting words in my mouth when stating the “overrated” talk. It’s fair to say recruiting agencies may have overhyped him exiting high school, but unless you put much stock into all the stars, it means nothing.

      • If there is one freshman that doesn’t get enough credit and love it would Laremy Tunsil. If Cameron Robinson can go to Bama and have half as much success as Tunsil did in freshman season he will really good. But Tunsil has to be considered as one of the best freshman LT’s to ever play. The guy only gave up one sack while playing in the SEC and that was against Auburn on the last play of the game. He is only going to continue to get better and better.

      • I understand where you are coming from, it may have been more of an insinuation of him not being as good, but I think his season matches Chris Jones at least by the number and in his improvement over the year. When I read “The heralded recruit Robert Nkemdiche switched from defensive end to tackle once in Oxford. His 6-5, 300-pound frame is unbelievable, and it oozes with huge potential. However, I thought Chris Jones, Darius Philon and A’Shawn Robinson had better seasons, but Nkemdiche can erase all of that in 2014.” What does he need to erase? It almost sounds as if you were disappointed in his play. And somewhere on SDS say he didn’t live up to his potential, but I believe without missing the three games to injury he breaks the 40 tackle mark and maybe a few more sacks too. I think that if we go by the numbers and not by the hype he had as good a season as Jones. I guess I am going by that, but I do still think you are a bit harsh on his actual play compared to other freshmen. So may I ask why if their numbers are so similar why, one is more successful than the other?