5 fresh faces in the SEC West who will shine in 2016
As the season approaches, SEC fans look forward to seeing their returning stars and favorite players back in action again. And while the returning All-Americans might be the players who make tickets sell, it’s often the new or somewhat forgotten guys who make the difference between a good or a great season. With that in mind, here are five players for each West team who didn’t see the field for their teams in 2015 — whether they are new recruits, transfers or redshirts — but could make a big impact in 2016.
QB Jalen Hurts — As fall camp begins, it’s anybody’s battle at quarterback for Alabama, but true freshman Jalen Hurts showed enough upside in the spring game to ensure that he’s got a fair shot of seeing the field this fall for the Tide.
WR Gehrig Dieter — Dieter is a senior transfer, and the 6-foot-3 wideout had over 1,000 yards receiving at Bowling Green in 2015. He’ll be a valuable complement to all-SEC receiver Calvin Ridley for the Tide.
OT Jonah Williams — Watch out for talented frosh Williams, who could end up winning the starting spot opposite Cam Robinson.
LB Lyndell Wilson — Alabama isn’t exactly hurting at linebacker, but Wilson is the real deal. A speedy, tough tackling machine who may be a special teams star in 2016, Wilson could play more of a role … if the Tide needs him.
LB Ben Davis — See comments on Wilson above. The Tide would love to redshirt one or both of these young backers, but either or both may just prove too good.
RB Devwah Whaley — With Alex Collins now gone, Whaley will get a shot at filling his shoes and rushing totals as a true freshman.
WR Keon Hatcher — A senior, Hatcher has a little over 1,000 career receiving yards but missed most of last season with a broken foot, which forced him into a redshirt.
OT Colton Jackson — A 6-foot-6, 302-pound mountain of a man, Jackson has played his way into the Arkansas line as a redshirt freshman.
DE McTelvin Agim — The crown jewel of Arkansas’ recruiting class was in for spring and looks likely to see time in the defensive line rotation for the Razorbacks.
DT Austin Capps — At 6-foot-4, 309 pounds, Capps is just too big to keep off the field. He may not be ready to star, but he’ll be a noticeable presence in the middle of the Arkansas line.
QB John Franklin III — A tremendous spread-offense threat, Franklin is trying to unseat returning QBs Sean White and Jeremy Johnson for the Tigers’ starting job.
WR Nate Craig-Myers — A stud prospect, who at 6-foot-3 has the size to make big plays for Auburn on the outside. He’ll play as a true freshman this year.
OT Darius James — James is a junior transfer from Texas who sat out last season. He will compete for a starting spot on the Tigers’ line.
DE Marlon Davidson — At 6-foot-3, 273 pounds, Davidson is an elite prospect as a true freshman. He’s almost guaranteed to start by the end of the season.
LB T.J. Neal — A graduate transfer from Illinois, Neal approached 100 tackles in 2014 and surpassed it in 2015.
QB Danny Etling — LSU is Brandon Harris’ team, but in the SEC an experienced backup is a big asset, and Etling, a Purdue transfer, boasts plenty of experience.
WR Dee Anderson — The 6-foot-5 Anderson is a true freshman who had a productive spring. Even among LSU’s tall receiving corps, Anderson stands out.
WR Stephen Sullivan — Much like Anderson, Sullivan is a talented and tall (6-foot-6) target who played well in the spring and should at least see some time as a reserve this fall for the Tigers.
P Josh Growden — The Aussie star is LSU’s third punter from down under in recent years. He redshirted last season but is the favorite for the starting nod in his redshirt freshman season.
DB Saivion Smith — A true freshman, the 6-foot-3 ballhawk made a name for himself in the spring, and while LSU returns all four starters in the secondary, Smith will be too good to keep off the field.
QB Shea Patterson — Ole Miss has the conference’s top passer in Chad Kelly, but Patterson’s time, despite being a true freshman, is right around the corner. Ole Miss will probably play Patterson just enough to get his feet wet, but if more is needed, he could step up.
WR Van Jefferson — A highly touted receiver who redshirted in 2015, Jefferson showed impressive skills in the spring game and will carry part of the load of replacing Laquon Treadwell at wideout.
OT Greg Little — It is a rare player who can step into an SEC offensive line and have the possibility of starting from Day 1. Little, maybe the best prep offensive lineman in the country, is such a player. He’s a star in the making.
DT Issac Gross — A part-time starter for three seasons, Gross did play briefly in one game in 2015 before a season-ending injury. At 265 pounds, he’s a bit small for his position but is an effective player who is a likely starter on the D-line this season for the Rebs.
LB Rommel Mageo — Mageo is a graduate transfer from Oregon State, where he led his team in tackles (87) in 2015. He should help shore up an uneven Rebels linebacking corps.
QB Damian Williams — An athletic QB who redshirted last season, Williams has positioned himself to get a crack at replacing Dak Prescott this fall as a junior.
OT Martinas Rankin — A huge JUCO tackle (6-foot-5, 307 pounds), Rankin redshirted last season but finds himself in the thick of the race for a starting spot in 2016.
DE Jeffery Simmons — Mississippi State decided to stick with Simmons despite a disturbing assault, which may present legal fallout beyond the one-game suspension levied by coach Dan Mullen. He is a tremendous prospect who is doubtlessly eager to play.
DT Tre Brown — A solid JUCO pickup, the 309-pound Brown will be asked to clog up running lanes in 2016.
LB Leo Lewis — A highly touted linebacker, Lewis was able to redshirt last season but is likely to start in 2016 as a freshman.
QB Trevor Knight — An Oklahoma transfer, Knight played little in 2015 but showed signs of stardom in 2014. Leading a passing attack with several potent receivers, he could shine in 2016.
RB Keith Ford — Another Oklahoma transfer, Ford is a junior and has the strength at 215 pounds to break down SEC defenses.
C Erik McCoy — McCoy is a redshirt freshman who will anchor the Aggies’ offensive line in his first college football action.
LB Otaro Alaka — Highly regarded linebacker who had a solid freshman season but played only briefly last year before injuries forced him into a redshirt.
CB Priest Willis — Willis is a transfer from UCLA who is challenging for a starting spot in the Aggies’ secondary, which was superb against the pass in 2015.