Help is on the way: The 2016 recruit who will save each SEC team
Playing true freshmen in the SEC can be a mixed bag. Some players enjoy breakout years and become household names from the start. Others struggle with the learning curve and need a year of maturation and growth.
In their second year, these players are much more likely to contribute. Either the in-game experience earned as a freshman or a redshirt season to learn and practice can work wonders for an up-and-coming player.
Here are the 2016 recruits that figure to make an impact for each SEC team next year.
Alabama – Ben Davis, LB: While Alabama in no way shape or form needs to be saved, what with the Crimson Tide entering yet another Playoff, there is a scary thought for other SEC teams. Ben Davis, the Crimson Tide’s top prospect in the Class of 2016, has yet to take the field after redshirting his freshman season. Davis has the ability to become an impact player in the mold of Reuben Foster, which is further testament to the fact that Alabama just reloads each and every year.
Arkansas – T.J. Hammonds, RB/WR: The Razorbacks return a dynamic pair of backs in Rawleigh Williams III and Devwah Whaley, which would figure to leave Hammonds as the third wheel. The 4-star athlete carried the ball only 14 times for 86 yards and a touchdown as a freshman, but he could make an impact elsewhere. With several senior receivers on their way out of Arkansas, Hammonds could become a legitimate threat as a versatile slot receiver.
Auburn – Derrick Brown, DL: There may not be a new player who will have a bigger impact for Auburn than transfer quarterback Jarret Stidham, but he is not a member of the 2016 class and thus ineligible for this list. Instead, the Tigers’ top prospect from 2016 is the choice. Brown didn’t play much during his first year on campus, but he showed flashes in his limited action. A dominant lineman in high school, Brown could pair with fellow freshman Marlon Davidson to make Auburn’s defensive line even more frightening.
Florida – Feleipe Franks, QB: Florida must fill two major holes in the secondary, but its biggest problem remains the quarterback position. The No. 5 quarterback prospect in his class, Franks has the potential to provide stability for the Gators. With a nice variety of weapons around him, Franks should be able to distribute the ball and make a big play here and there. The offensive line will need to improve as well, but Franks is a bit more mobile than his predecessors.
Georgia – Ben Cleveland, OL: Cleveland is really close friends with both Jacob Eason and Isaac Nauta, and it’s time for the third member of that group to make an impact on the field. Georgia’s offense must have improvement at the line of scrimmage, despite the loss of three starters. Although he was recruited as a tackle, Cleveland projects to play guard for the Bulldogs. Georgia is making a concerted effort to improve in the trenches, and Cleveland should be a part of this new-look offensive line.
Kentucky – Jaylin Bannerman, LB: This is a bit of an outside-the-box selection, but Kentucky’s pass rush desperately needs to improve. Bannerman played in only one game this season and will likely receive a redshirt, but he’s someone the coaches have mentioned often among the freshmen. Players like Stephen Johnson, Gunnar Hoak, Benny Snell and Landon Young may have a more important role moving forward, but Bannerman is an interesting player who could give the defense a boost next year.
LSU – Donavaughn Campbell, OL: Quarterback is a major priority for the Tigers, but until a player emerges at the position, LSU’s offense will continue to operate through the run game. Derrius Guice has Heisman potential, and he should get solid play from his offensive line. Campbell should be a big part of that unit. After serving as a backup this season, Campbell figures to slide into the starting lineup with Josh Boutte set to graduate. Guice should find plenty of running room behind this big guard.
Mississippi State – Reginald Todd, WR: Although Nick Fitzgerald appeared determined to do everything for the Bulldogs’ offense this season, he could have some help on the way. Todd, Mississippi State’s top receiver prospect from 2016, sat out his freshman season but has opened the eyes of the coaching staff. He could be in line to give the team a big outside threat and help Fitzgerald in the passing game.
Missouri – Tre Williams, DE: Missouri’s defense took a major step back last year, but it still featured one of the SEC’s top pass rushers. With Charles Harris headed to the NFL, Marcell Frazier looks poised to take his place as the team’s premier rusher. One candidate to take Frazier’s spot as the talented complement is Williams. He redshirted this year but has flashed the potential to become a nightmare off the edge. He should get a nice look in the spring.
Ole Miss – Shea Patterson, QB: This is an easy choice. The nation’s No. 1 quarterback prospect in 2016, Patterson dazzled in his debut and showed the type of play he is capable of. He should have weapons around him, although the loss of Evan Engram will certainly hurt, but Patterson will be key to the Rebels’ revival. With a quarterback in place, the coaches need to focus on building around him for the next two or three years.
South Carolina – Jake Bentley, QB: Since the days of Stephen Garcia and Connor Shaw, South Carolina has struggled mightily at quarterback. Bentley’s consistent play down the stretch really helped to turn the Gamecocks’ season around. Combined with the dynamic play of Bryan Edwards and Deebo Samuel, Bentley could lead an above average offense next season. Will Muschamp knows what he’s doing on defense, and Bentley gives the team a great shot on the other side of the ball.
Tennessee – Baylen Buchanan, CB: Cornerback could be a major question mark for the Vols next season, and Buchanan will be an important player to watch. Buchanan was in and out of the lineup throughout his freshman season, but he needs to take a step forward next year and help solidify the secondary. There won’t be a lot of youth on the field for Tennessee’s defense, but it needs some major improvement. Buchanan could be one such piece.
Texas A&M – Justin Madubuike, DE: Obviously, no freshman had a bigger impact for the Aggies than running back Trayveon Williams. We’ve seen the impact he can have, and expect him to continue to build upon that next year. Losing Myles Garrett, among other members of the defensive line, will hurt, though, and those losses will need to be mitigated. Madubuike sat out this season, but he can slide in on the edge and try to become the next great rusher for this defense.
Vanderbilt – JoeJuan Williams, CB: Vanderbilt was one of the best stories of the season, and actually looks like it is improving under Derek Mason. A stout defense kept the Commodores in nearly every game, and it can continue to improve even with the loss of players like Zach Cunningham. One important piece could be Williams. The top prospect in Vanderbilt’s 2016 class, if Williams can become a shutdown corner he will give the coaches a lot of flexibility. Kalija Lipscomb is another player to watch on offense.
All recruiting rankings courtesy of the 247Sports Composite, unless otherwise indicated.