8 SEC true freshmen who were better than we thought … and 3 who weren’t
Life in the SEC is never easy for true freshmen. The transition from high school to the top conference in college football is often a jarring one.
Still, there are those who manage to excel amidst the chaos and become household names while still in the process of learning the names of their teammates.
For others, their recruiting hype never quite materializes on the playing field in Year One, and fans are left wondering if more experience will yield better results.
Here are the SEC’s true freshmen who were better than we thought and those who haven’t lived up to expectations quite yet.
8 who were better than we thought
Benjamin Snell Jr., Kentucky RB – Kentucky’s running game was one of the SEC’s best in 2016, and Snell was a big reason why. Both Snell and Stanley “Boom” Williams reached 1,000 yards on the ground, giving the Wildcats their second pair of 1,000-yard rushers in school history.
Snell was a 3-star recruit coming out of Westerville (Ohio) Central High School and the 56th overall running back in his class. Now, he’s one of the top young backs in the SEC.
Brian Herrien, UGA RB – Most expected Elijah Holyfield to become the star freshman running back for Georgia this year, but Herrien (below) stepped in to claim that role. Herrien was the last player to commit to the Bulldogs for the Class of 2016, but the first to make an impact. He’s run for 362 yards while averaging nearly 6 yards per carry in spot duty for Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.
Like Snell, Herrien was a 3-star recruit. He nearly didn’t qualify academically, but his hard work allowed him to enroll at Georgia and that could end up paying off in a big way down the line for the Bulldogs.
Cale Garrett, Mizzou LB – There haven’t been many positives for Missouri on the defensive side of the ball this season, but the future looks bright for Cale Garrett. The freshman linebacker finished tied for eighth on the team with 37 total tackles, including four tackles for a loss.
Garrett, a 3-star recruit and 82nd-ranked linebacker prospect, was the lowest-rated commitment for the Tigers in his class. In one year, he’s gained valuable experience and proven he belongs in the SEC.
Damarea Crockett, Mizzou RB – Another Missouri freshman, Damarea Crockett, joins Snell in the exclusive 1,000-yard club. Crockett (1,062 yards going into the season finale against Arkansas) has emerged as the future starting running back for the Tigers and gained over 100 yards in four out of his past six games, including a 225-yard effort at Tennessee.
Crockett also wasn’t a highly-rated recruit. Another 3-star prospect, Crockett was the 31st-ranked back in the Class of 2016. But with one game to go, he has already passed Brad Smith (2002, redshirt freshman quarterback, 1,029 rushing yards) for the school’s all-time freshman rushing record.
David Reese, Florida LB – The Gators’ defense is among the best in the SEC, but they still found ways to get young players involved. Reese was one such player and he made the most of his time on the field. The freshman linebacker finished sixth on the team with 43 total tackles and also had two tackles for a loss.
Reese was a 3-star prospect coming out of high school and the 14th-rated inside linebacker for the Class of 2016. After earning SEC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in a 16-10 win at LSU, Reese has already proven his worth.
Jalen Hurts, Alabama QB – Easily the top freshman in the SEC this season, Hurts has emerged as one of the most dynamic players in college football. Leading the Crimson Tide this season, Hurts has thrown for 2,168 yards with 18 touchdowns and 7 interceptions while also running for 803 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Hurts was the third-ranked dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school, but his level of play this season has been nothing short of remarkable. Now, it’s up to him to prove he can lead Alabama in the SEC championship game and back to the Playoff.
Marlon Davidson, Auburn DL – Davidson was one of the higher-rated defensive recruits for the Class of 2016, and he’s made the biggest impact of a talented freshman defensive line group thus far. Auburn has developed one of the top defensive lines in the SEC, and Davidson has played a role this season.
He is ninth on the team with 33 total tackles and has 6 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks thus far. Davidson, the 30th-ranked prospect out of high school, was expected to do big things at Auburn, but he’s arguably ahead of schedule.
Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M RB – This was a great year for freshman running backs, and Williams certainly belongs among the group. He leads the Aggies in rushing with 1,024 yards and has eight touchdowns. He became the fourth freshman in school history to top 1,000 yards rushing in Thursday night’s loss to LSU.
A&M FRESHMAN RUSHING LEADERS
Williams’ success is not unexpected, but his level of contribution to a talented offense is. Few expected him to overtake junior transfer Keith Ford as the team’s featured back, but he did just that.
3 who haven’t lived up to expectations … yet
Nate Craig-Meyers, Auburn WR – Craig-Meyers (below) was the top receiver prospect in an Auburn class that had quite a few. The Tigers sought to reload at the position, and this 4-star prospect was one of the gems of his class.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t made the impact many hoped he would during his freshman season. Craig-Meyers has only 3 catches for 58 yards and a touchdown this season, and he is a distant third behind fellow freshman receivers Kyle Davis and Eli Stove in on-field production.
Elijah Holyfield, UGA RB – The son of boxing legend Evander Holyfield had the look of a future star in the SEC coming out of high school, but he’s struggled to see many snaps in a crowded Georgia backfield. His lack of playing time could be understood as Chubb and Michel are two of the best in the conference, but Holyfield seems to be behind Herrien in the pecking order as well.
There is likely still a bright future ahead for this 4-star running back, but his first season in Athens didn’t go the way many expected.
Brandon McIlwain, S. Carolina QB – McIlwain was the 2nd-ranked dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school, which was a spot higher than Alabama’s Hurts. He was given the chance to claim the starting job as his own at different points this season but struggled to lead a lackluster offensive group.
McIlwain has completed just over 50 percent of his passes for 567 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception while adding 114 yards and 2 scores on the ground. He lost his job to Perry Orth, who eventually was benched for another freshman quarterback, Jake Bentley.