Published January 9, 2014 - 5:00pmNEW: Follow on facebook -
Several top players have already made official declarations to the NFL, and we already know which players are graduating.
Let’s take an early look at every SEC East team and one player who will be missed the most:
Florida: WR Solomon Patton
Buzz: Florida is actually in great shape for next season, with several impact players returning. Although defensive backs Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson are gone, Vernon Hargreaves is the best corner on the team. Florida will replace the corner opposite him rather easily, but the biggest productive offensive player this season was Solomon Patton. No, he wasn’t a big-time receiver, but he was a playmaker at receiver and kick returns. He led the Gators with 44 catches for 556 yards and six touchdowns.
Georgia: QB Aaron Murray
Buzz: Georgia has 17 of 22 starters returning next season, but Aaron Murray isn’t one of them. The record-setting senior quarterback will be tough to replace, as we saw in the Gator Bowl with Hutson Mason. Although Mason could become a great player, Murray leaves a legacy. He owns the SEC career passing numbers, and he became the only quarterback in SEC history to throw for four straight 3,000-yard seasons. That’s remarkable.
RELATED: SEC final team stats of 2013
Kentucky: LB Avery Williamson
Buzz: Kentucky returns talent on offense, but there will be a noticeable hole at linebacker from Avery Williamson. Williamson racked up 102 tackles this season, after making 135 tackles last season. Williams allowed the defense to play with an edge, and he was an emotional leader. There’s a strong nucleus of talent returning, but Williamson’s absence will be noticeable.
Missouri: CB EJ Gaines
Buzz: Yes, Michael Sam, Kony Ealy and Henry Josey are all leaving, but the toughest player to replace will be All-SEC corner EJ Gaines. Gaines recorded eight passes defended and five INTs, even after missing time with an injury. The Tigers lose several on defense, but Gaines may be the most talented of them all. He has a big future at the next level.
South Carolina: QB Connor Shaw
Buzz: The epitome of Carolina’s overachieving program was QB Connor Shaw. Shaw threw for 24 TDs and only one INT in 2013, and still, nobody was talking about him. He exits as one of the best underrated players in conference history. He did everything: made big plays down the field and picked up pesky third-and-mediums with his legs. The Gamecocks’ offense changes without the dual-threat Shaw, and his leadership and ability will be sorely missed.
Tennessee: OT Antonio Richardson
Buzz: This was a tough one. Tiny Richardson didn’t have the big season everyone thought, and he often jumped offsides or was called for some sort of penalty, but the mere fact that Tennessee has to replace all starters along the offense line is critical. The greatest asset of Tennessee’s team this season was the O-line. Maybe they were over-hyped, but Rajion Neal would tell you differently. Losing Richardson to the draft was expected, but the reality of replacing all offensive linemen in a line-of-scrimmage league is sobering.
Vanderbilt: WR Jordan Matthews
Buzz: The SEC’s leading receiver Jordan Matthews was a pleasure to watch throughout his four-year career. His silky-smooth athleticism and great route running will make him a go-to receiver for one NFL franchise. Matthews will be remembered as a pillar for the Commodores’ success during his career, and he continued to impress and entertain anyone who watched the Commodores play.
Photo Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports